Minor regions rise up at 2021 Mid-Season Invitational

by Xander Torres

International events are truly the peak of League of Legends. Teams from around the world earn domestic titles and then get a chance to become a global champion. Whether a team is from Oceania or South Korea, that team has a shot to prove their worth in front of a global audience.

Typically, minor regions are forgotten as they struggle to match the best teams in the world. At this year’s Mid-Season Invitational, some argued that their participation was a waste of time, but as is the case every year, some of League of Legends biggest underdogs challenged the top teams.

Photo credit: Riot Games

PaiN Gaming take one step forward for Brazil

As more and more League of Legends servers began to pop up around the world between 2011 and 2013, Brazil was initially one of the most hyped regions to enter the ecosystem. Brazil commanded a massive playerbase and the early talents looked like the real deal when compared to stars in more established regions. Brazil’s first highlight reel moment came on the back of KaBuM! eSports’ upset win against Alliance during the 2014 League of Legends World Championship Group Stage -- a win that secured Cloud9’s place in the quarterfinals. Brazil wasn’t on the level of the best teams in the world yet, but fans were excited and the region looked promising.

Read more: Five takeaways from the Mid-Season Invitational Group Stage

Since then, though, Brazil has struggled to make a serious impact during international tournaments and often fell short when challenged by other minor regions. Brazil’s 2021 Mid-Season Invitational representative, paiN Gaming and their star AD carry Felipe "brTT" Gonçalves know all about that with paiN’s long history of domestic titles and subsequent international struggles. This time, though, they showed some fight and went undefeated against Turkey’s Istanbul Wildcats, a region that often gives Brazil trouble. And perhaps more important than the wins themselves was the manner in which they won.

In paiN Gaming’s first game against the Istanbul Wildcats, they fell massively behind in the early game and looked ready to be defeated, as was typical of matchups between Brazil and Turkey. PaiN’s top laner Leonardo “Robo” Souzo flipped the switch when it mattered though and stole a teamfight with Darius’s Noxian Guillotine, grabbing execute after execute, swinging the gold lead and eventually netting paiN Gaming the win. In the grand scheme of the Mid-Season Invitational, it’s a fairly small moment, but it felt like a sign of better things to come for a region struggling to reach its peak.

Photo credit: Riot Games

DetonatioN FocusMeshine bright

DetonatioN FocusMe might be everyone’s new favorite minor region underdog after their performance at MSI. A victory over Cloud9 and, perhaps more impressively, a near victory against the defending world champs DWG KIA, have put the team on the map. DetonatioN FocusMe top laner Shunsuke “Evi” Murase and AD carry Yuta “Yutapon” Sugiura are already well-known as the best players Japan has to offer, but the rest of the team has often failed to match their contributions. With the international debut of mid laner Lee “Aria” Ga-eul though, those contributions were matched brilliantly.

Prior to this tournament, Aria was a legend confined to the League of Legends Japan League (LJL), spending time on Crest Gaming Act before replacing DetonatioN FocusMe’s longtime mid laner Kyohei “Ceros” Yoshida. He has been an absolute menace for DetonatioN FocusMe since then, and despite being solo-killed in the first few minutes of his tournament run, his explosive Paddle Stars on Zoe against DWG KIA were certainly enough to make everyone forget about that. Funnily enough for DetonatioN FocusMe, though, this isn’t even their final form.

Kazuta “Kazu” Suzuki has retired what feels like four or five times now, and he made one last comeback as DetonatioN FocusMe’s support this season -- he flubbed a few engagements during this tournament so don’t be too harsh on him. Despite being a retired coach, his substitution was necessary as Detonation FocusMe await support Yang “Gaeng” Gwang-woo to earn domestic residency in the LJL. Once that happens, DetonatioN FocusMe will be fully loaded with a roster ready to take on the world.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Pentanet.GG steal everyone’s hearts with memes and dreams

If Detonation FocusMe were the team showcasing a new level of talent and potential, Pentanet.GG were the team showcasing a new level of fun and resilience. At first, fans were merely laughing at Pentanet.GG after numerous losses to Royal Never Give Up, but as the players continued to enjoy themselves on stage with bright smiles, fans started to laugh with them. If that wasn’t enough, Pentanet.GG actually ended up putting wins on the board, stunning the international fan base and becoming Oceania’s first team to advance past the tournament’s initial Play-In/Group Stage.

Read more: Here’s what Week 1 of IceLAN looked like

Given that Pentanet.GG’s success came after the dissolution of the Oceanic Premier League (OPL), it’s hard not to meme their very presence at the tournament. Although the Mid-Season Invitational’s big hitters have all the support in the world, a team like Pentanet.GG managed to make it to the big stage with much monetary support at all. Pentanet.GG’s jungler Jackson “Pabu” Pavone notes that he certainly “feels comfortable with the current situation,” as he gets to compete without much worry. Pentanet.GG might not have the same level of infrastructure, but they have each other and they have plenty of heart.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Pentanet.GG got to play spoiler and deny Cloud9 a chance at reaching the Knockout Stage after defeating them for their only win in the Rumble Stage. Since every player on Pentanet.GG is technically a North American resident, that makes the situation that much more tragic for Cloud9. Pentanet.GG had plenty of laughs and fun, but they also proved that North American teams might have missed something with all their talent. A 1-9 record isn’t so bad when you consider who that win came against.

Photo credit: Riot Games

PSG Talon are still in the tournament!

Royal Never Give Up, DWG KIA, MAD Lions and Cloud9 were all profiled as the heavy hitters of the Mid-Season Invitational, but PSG Talon proved that the Pacific Championship Series (PCS) no matter how minor, can make a major impact. Fans and analysts haven’t been high on the Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macau region since the dissolution of Flash Wolves, but PSG Talon are making everyone care again after outperforming both MAD Lions and Cloud9 for the No. 3 seed in the Knockout Stage.

Despite not being high on most power rankings, PSG Talon brought the pressure with aggressive early game strategies and the moxie to follow it up. It didn’t matter who PSG Talon were up against -- they always played their game and fought for early game advantages with full confidence. Support Ling “Kaiwing” Kai Wing was undoubtedly the MVP in this regard, as he continually made plays happen with his Leona. As the casters pointed out themselves, Kaiwing’s Leona felt like it had targeted abilities with how effortlessly he landed his crowd control in every game.

Kaiwing is a more established talent, but PSG Talon were also able to facilitate and show off their super substitute Chiu “Doggo'' Tzu-Chuan, the PCS’s hottest AD carry talent. While PSG Talon certainly would have preferred to play with starter Wong “Unified” Chun Kit -- he suffered a lung collapse injury and was unable to fly for the event -- Doggo’s talent shone bright as he matched Talon’s fighting spirit each and every game. Kim “River” Dong-woo was also able to fully show his talents as arguably the best jungle Rumble at the tournament, managing his heat perfectly and landing Equalizers with ease.

PSG Talon aren’t Flash Wolves, but they’ve proven that they don’t have to be. Their aggressive style has them set up with a semifinal match against Royal Never Give Up on Friday at 9 a.m. ET and there’s no telling how it will go. The teams split their Rumble Stage matches 1-1 and they’ll certainly both be ready to settle the score as they battle to reach the MSI final against either DWG KIA or MAD Lions.

Lead image credit: Riot Games

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