Here’s what Week 1 of IceLAN looked like

by Mitch Reames

Besides triggering a deep desire to watch esports in a packed stadium once again, photos from IceLAN are showcasing the emotions, from elation to despair, that come with one of the biggest esports events in the world this year. It’s an element of the esports experience that has been missing, at least for most regions around the world, as players have been competing from home throughout the spring.

With Week 1 of the 2021 League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) in the books, here’s how it looked.

Editor's note: All photos are courtesy of Riot Games.

As the North American representative, Cloud9 are carrying the banner of a hobbled region following the 2020 League of Legends World Championship. After all three League of Legends Championship Series teams failed to make it out of groups with the top overall seed in TSM going 0-6, the LCS seemingly had fallen from relevance among the four major regions. Losing to overall favorites DWG KIA on Day 1 was not a surprise. However, NA’s doubters got more ammo when C9 dropped to 0-2 following a loss to DetonatioN FocusMe, a team from Japan, which is not considered one of the major regions.

Read more: Zven set to soar with Cloud9 at MSI

After a full weekend of NA slander, Cloud9 rebounded with a vengeance. With the team’s backs against the wall, C9 upset DWG KIA on Tuesday in the final day of the Group Stage. That didn’t lock the team into one of the six spots in the Rumble Stage though. Following that win, C9 kept the momentum and beat DetonatioN FocusMe to raise the team’s record to 3-2. When DFM then lost to DWG KIA, the team from Japan was eliminated, ensuring C9’s MSI journey will continue through next week. The Rumble Stage awaits where they’ll face DWG KIA again, as well as Royal Never Give Up, MAD Lions, PSG Talon and Pentanet.GG.

If you don’t root for Oceania in international esports events, I simply don’t trust you. Pentanet.GG, led by green-haired jungler Jackson “Pabu” Pavone quickly has become a fan-favorite. The team started MSI by choosing an anthem song: Drake’s “Hold on We’re Going Home. The implication was obvious (and hilarious) but turned out to be incorrect after Week 1.

Read more: Welcome to IceLAN: Your guide to MSI and Masters

Playing in the three-team Group A (as opposed to four teams in each of the other two groups) after the team from Vietnam was unable to attend due to COVID-related travel restrictions, Pentanet.GG beat Russia’s Unicorns of Love three times to make it to the Rumble Stage. The quality of competition will surely go up, but regardless of Rumble results, Pentanet.GG have already made history.

At least RNG were respectful as they beat the living hell out of Unicorns of Love and Pentanet.GG during the Group Stage. Without another top region in Group A, the team from China rolled over the other two squads to an 8-0 record in groups. It was never particularly close. The rivalry between China’s LPL, Korea’s LCK and Europe’s LEC has been the backbone of all international LoL debates in recent years. When the Rumble Stage starts this weekend, RNG will face their first real competition of MSI. So far, it’s been a respectful breeze.

If there’s one game to rewatch from the group stage it’s probably DWG KIA vs DetonatioN FocusMe on Day 3. DWG KIA, after winning the 2020 world championship, going 16-2 in the LCK Spring Split and 6-0 in the subsequent playoffs, are the best team in the world. DetonatioN FocusMe dropped an early match to Gillette Infinity, the only match the team from Latin America won, then beat C9. At the time, the narrative was simply that C9 were bad.

Over the course of a hard-fought matchup against the defending world champs that saw DFM take an eight-kill advantage at one point and push the team into DWG’s base not once but twice, the narrative changed. It really looked like an upset was brewing. But on the second push, DFM overextended. DWG KIA struck back like the dominant team they are. One push too far and DWG were back in DFM’s base destroying the nexus within seconds. If DFM had won that game, the narratives would have been completely different. DFM would likely be coming out of groups while people would be wondering what happened to DWG KIA.

DWG KIA escaped some close calls, but that isn’t entirely uncharacteristic for this team. The defending champs have developed a sort of counterattack strategy that seems to give opponents a glimmer of hope before capitalizing on one mistake and punishing them. It’s a strategy that has worked well for DWG KIA all year in the LCK and continues to work well at MSI.

It might look like DWG KIA is struggling but as long as the matches end in a win, how a team gets there is immaterial. At the Rumble Stage we will see how that approach changes with top-flight competition in RNG and MAD Lions waiting to pounce. Considering DWG KIA also lost to C9 -- although that game didn’t really mean anything to DWG -- the Rumble Stage will be a true test of the team’s bend-but-don’t-break strategy.

With the NA region on a redemption arc, so were the MAD Lions. The team wasn’t backing up a disappointing region but a poor performance at 2020 Worlds as they try to cement themselves as one of the LEC teams who can compete with the best in the world alongside G2 and Fnatic. After grabbing the LEC spot in MSI, their performance so far has shown a team ready to compete. At 5-1 MAD Lions had some good matches against PSG.Talon, but to be considered as good as G2 and Fnatic internatilly, MAD have to take some games off the LPL or LCK.

For any fans of international soccer, PSG Talon’s kits are some of the best in esports. The iconic jerseys of Paris Saint Germaine have been tied to the team from Hong Kong since brokering a deal in 2020. As part of the recently created Pacific Championship Series, PSG Talon have consistently been on top of the region. Formerly the League of Legends Masters Series -- which used to place highly in international events including winning the Season 2 World Championship -- PSG Talon carry the banner for an underappreciated region of LoL esports.

Among the teams that didn’t make it to the Rumble Stage, Russia’s Unicorns of Love had the best chance to advance. In the three-team Group A, both UOL and Pentanet lost all four of their games to RNG and then beat each other twice, giving them both 2-6 records. UOL ultimately fell to Pentanet in a tiebreaker match.

Gillette Infinity Esports’ highlight of the tournament was beating DetonatioN FocusMe. With DFM looking strong against DWG KIA, it was a good win for Latin America’s representative at MSI.

After starting the tournament 0-3, the Istanbul Wildcats stunned many when they handed MAD Lions their only loss of the MSI Group Stage.

PaiN Gaming beat the Istanbul Wildcats twice, but it wasn’t enough to advance as they failed to pick up any wins against either MAD Lions or PSG Talon.

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