Invictus Gaming are the best team in the world. This isn’t just a matter of being reigning world champions. The style and power with which the LPL champions play is a terrifying sight to behold. Teamfights are their playground and you never want to meet iG in a fair 5v5 teamfight. In fact, you don’t want to meet them in a man-advantage teamfight either. What other teams take years to perfect, for iG it’s almost a Pavlovian reflex, built upon unmatched individual talent and an almost sixth sense-esque feel of the game.
“It’s in us like a muscle reaction,” AD Carry Yu “JackyLove” Wen-Bo said. “We basically don’t talk during team fights and play the game, guided by our own understanding of it. I don’t know how to explain it, but it really is based on our game sense.”
iG’s MSI 2019 campaign has furthered the case of their towering superiority over the competition. For the past week, the best teams in the world have been trying to take them down, only to face an unsolvable puzzle. Any time one of iG’s carries had a bad game, another stepped up to take the baton. iG have overcome gold deficits, bad early games, and man-down teamfights to come within inch of the perfect 10-0 run. It took a prime-form, Ryze-fueled Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and an MVP performance from Kim “Clid” Tae-min to stop it. And even then, the loss was merely a blip on iG’s record.
And now, as MSI enters playoffs, fans look up to arguably the weakest of the four semifinalists to stop this invincible iG from achieving the hat-trick of Worlds, LPL, and MSI titles back-to-back-to-back.
Team Liquid outclassed
Team Liquid only made the MSI playoffs midway through the last day of the group stage: a performance which raised many questions about the team’s ability to perform on such stage. Perhaps the best team North America has ever assembled survived more than outperformed its competitors. It hobbled through the Rift and into the top 4, only to collide with an opponent which seemingly has no weaknesses.
Even if they had a better tournament, TL would come into this match-up outclassed on every position. The gap is largest in mid and jungle — the two playmaking positions in League of Legends. Gao “Ning” Zhen-Ning leads the MSI leaderboards in average kills (5.4) and comes second in GD@15 (309) and XPD@15 (344). On the other side of the ring, Jake “Xmithie” Puchero ranks last — or close to — in all.
Song “Rookie” Eui-jin and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen are not that far apart, but Rookie still has the far superior GD@15 stats. In fact, of the three solo lanes, it is surprisingly Kang “TheShy” Seung-lok (iG’s star player) and Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong (Liquid’s weak link on most days) that are the closest, mostly due to TheShy’s (comparably) poor form at MSI so far.
For Liquid to win the solo lanes would be a Herculean task. It’s unlikely that TheShy will have another 1/8/9 Kennen game and for all the flashy plays Rookie has had in MSI so far, that’s still below his usual form and his popping off in the LPL Playoffs. With Ning outperforming Xmithie on every level this tournament, iG have in theory won two of the three lanes already.
So with that, Team Liquid turn their focus to the bot lane, as they’ve always done.
JackeyLove. Why did it have to be JackeyLove?
Half a year ago, Invictus Gaming would be a far less scary opponent for Team Liquid. The LCS champions pride themselves in the power duo that is Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and former world champion Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in and they’ve been their primary win condition all split long. The best AD Carry in NA and perhaps the West too, Doublelift has made winning late-game teamfights his business card and his most defining characteristic. Protect Doublelift, get him past minute 30, and he will win it for you.
At the same time, iG’s own bot lane of JackeyLove and Wang “Baolan” Liu-Yi has oft been forgotten. Between TheShy’s rise as the best top laner, his uncanny synergy with Ning, and Rookie’s massive individual development, few thought to look down bottom and see what JackeyLove and Baolan were doing because most of the time, it paled in comparison to iG’s solo lane excellency.
What MSI did was kill that narrative and show how fail-safe Invictus Gaming are. This is no longer a team that only plays through top, while mid pops off on its own. On a stage that features all of TheShy, Rookie, Faker, Caps, Clid, and Teddy, MSI has been JackeyLove’s tournament.
So far, JackyLove ranks first in all of MSI by average number of kills, more than doubling Doublelift’s own (6.5 to 2.9). He also has the highest GD@15 (924 to Doublelift’s -346) and CSD@15 (23 to Doublelift’s -16) in the entire tournament without receiving that much help from Ning.
This is the match Team Liquid are supposed to be better at. Half a year ago, they would be. Maybe if they slow down the game and survive long enough, Doublelift can still take over, although nothing points to the likeness of that happening. Doublelift’s early game has not been good at all this tournament while iG’s has been the best and they won’t make the mistakes of Phong Vu Buffalo of playing Liquid’s tempo.
Any other ADC, even Kalista god Park “Teddy” Jin-seong, would’ve been a more preferred opponent for Doublelift on Friday, as they would at least give him the courtesy of playing an equal early game.
Instead, there’s an on-fire JackeyLove. Why did it have to be JackeyLove?
I could see G2 Esports beating SK Telecom in a best-of-5. I could even see iG lose the grand final to either of those teams. But if Team Liquid triumph on Friday, this would be the biggest upset in MSI history.
The whole field is stacked against TL and there’s no lane they can realistically win. Their on-paper win conditions — survive early to win late game teamfights —are exactly what Invictus Gaming either directly counter or thrive on.
If this was a best-of-1, maybe TL would have a chance — especially after showing promise in the last group stage — but even that is questionable. And while it’s true that Doublelift hasn’t lost a best-of-5 since 2016 Spring, that should be as far as his good fortune goes. My heart tells me that Team Liquid will at least make iG bleed, but my brain seriously questions that.
Final prediction: Invictus Gaming 3-0 Team Liquid