Welcome to IceLAN: Your guide to MSI and Masters

Welcome to IceLAN: Your guide to MSI and Masters

by Mitch Reames

In a year marked by turmoil, esports has been able to continue, albeit without a key cornerstone of all esports events. Without competition taking place in-person via LAN, esports events must take place online. They work, but can be marked with inconsistency, controversy and, if we’re being honest, a lack of some of the excitement that comes with in-person esports.

That’s what makes IceLAN so special. It’s the fan-given name for Riot Games’ month-long esports celebration in Rejkjavík, Iceland, comprising the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) for League of Legends and Stage 2 Masters for VALORANT.

It marks a return to semi-normalcy in esports. Besides Riot Games bringing teams together for the League of Legends World Championship in Shanghai in October, this is the biggest esports event since the pandemic began. When the top teams from around the world in both League of Legends and VALORANT get together for IceLAN, the competition will be fierce, but mostly it will be a celebration of bringing esports back to the global stage.

For VALORANT, Stage 2 Masters in late May will be the first international LAN in the esport’s history. This tournament will determine the dominant region, best playstyle and top team in VALORANT for the first time ever. It is the first of a handful of international events for VALORANT planned for this year, including Stage 3 Masters in Berlin in September. For League of Legends, MSI returns for the first time since 2019 after last year’s event was canceled due to COVID. It’s the second biggest event on the League of Legends calendar after Worlds.

To get you up to speed on the biggest month in esports this year, here’s our guide to IceLAN.

Photo credit: Riot Games

MSI teams

For Worlds, multiple teams from the major regions are able to qualify. But for MSI, which begins Thursday, just one team from each region receives an invite. This year, only 11 regions are represented compared to 13 in 2019. Vietnam is unable to send a team due to COVID travel restrictions, and the Pacific Championship Series now encompasses two regions that used to each send one representative.

With Vietnam unable to attend, Group A has only three teams. Instead of playing every team in their group twice like teams in Group B and C, Group A teams will play four matches against each of the other two teams in their group. Here are the 11 teams at MSI, their groups and the region and league they represent.

Read more: Getting to know the heavy hitters at the Mid-Season Invitational

Group A teams

  • Royal Never Give Up -- League of Legends Pro League (China)
  • Unicorns of Love -- League of Legends Continental League (CIS/Russia)
  • Pentanet.GG -- League of Legends Circuit Oceania (Australia)

Group B teams

  • MAD Lions -- League of Legends European Championship
  • PSG Talons -- Pacific Championship Series (SE Asia, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan)
  • Istanbul Wildcats -- Turkish Championship League
  • PaiN Gaming -- Campeonato Brasileiro de League of Legends

Group C teams

  • DWG KIA -- League of Legends Champions Korea
  • Cloud9 -- League of Legends Championship Series (North America)
  • DetonatioN FocusMe -- League of Legends Japan League
  • Infinity Esports -- Liga Latinoamérica

Photo credit: Riot Games

Masters teams

Beginning May 24, VALORANT fans will get to see teams from different regions facing off in an international tournament for the first time. Riot Games awarded a set number of qualifying spots to different regions as each one held its own regional tournaments to determine who was going to IceLAN. North America, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and Brazil all had two teams qualify. Korea, Latin America, Japan and Southeast Asia all sent one representative.

In addition to prize money and international bragging rights, teams competing at Masters will earn Circuit Points, which are necessary to qualify for the end-of-year Champions tournament. Besides Brazil and Latin America, whose representatives will be decided this weekend, the seven other teams are locked in. Here are all the VALORANT qualifiers for Masters: Rejkjavík.

Read more: Vanity and Zellsis react to making first VALORANT international LAN for Version1

North America: Sentinels and Version1

Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA): Fnatic and Team Liquid

Brazil: Six remaining teams, one team qualifies on May 7, another on May 8

Korea: NUTURN Gaming

Latin America: Winner of the KRU Esports vs. Infinity Esports match on May 9

Japan: Crazy Raccoon

Southeast Asia: X10 Esports

Schedule

May 6-9 (MSI Group Stage) -- Six games per day beginning at 9 a.m. ET

May 14-18 (MSI Rumble Stage) -- Six games per day beginning at 9 a.m. ET

May 21-23 (MSI Knockout Stage) -- Semifinals and Finals begin at 9 a.m. ET each day and will be best-of-5

May 24-30 (VALORANT Stage 2 Masters) -- Schedule TBD

Here’s what to watch at IceLAN between MSI and Masters

Photo credit: Riot Games

MSI: C9 vs. DWG KIA in Group C

After DAMWON Gaming won the League of Legends World Championships in Shanghai, the team got a major new title sponsor with KIA making the team DWG KIA. With a 16-2 record in the LCK this spring season, DWG KIA is still in the same form that grabbed the Summoner’s Cup.

While DWG KIA proved they are one of the best teams at Worlds, the NA region went the other way. After NA showed incremental progress at the last few Worlds, 2020 brought the LCS back to earth. None of the three teams from the LCS made it out of the group stage. TSM, NA’s No. 1 overall seed, went 0-6.

However, Cloud9 are usually the NA team that performs the best on the international stage. In 2018, C9 even made the semifinals, but in 2020 they didn’t qualify. The first matchup of MSI 2021 will give C9 a chance to represent the NA region against arguably the best team in the world.

Plus, now they have Luka “Perkz” Perković. Formerly the star of G2 Esports, the mid laner has plenty of international experience, including a finals appearance at Worlds 2019. Still, while C9 have been the best team in the LCS this year, the gap between them and the rest of the LCS is less than the gap between DWG KIA and the rest of the LCK.

Now, don’t get us wrong, this game will be fun to watch, but the most likely outcome is C9 getting absolutely smoked. If C9 manages to stay close with DWG KIA and advance out of Group C, that’s a win for NA overall.

Photo credit: Riot Games

MSI: MAD Lions vs. PSG Talon in Group B

Group B features the other interesting matchup for most League of Legends fans. PSG Talon, despite being formed through a partnership with famous French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain, is representing the Pacific Championship Series, not Europe’s LEC.

This will actually be the first time the PCS gets to compete at MSI considering the league was formed after the 2019 season and MSI 2020 was cancelled. PCS brought together the League of Legends Masters Series (LMS) and League of Legends SEA Tour (LST) into one division.

The PCS, like the LCS, is considered a tier below the LPL, LCK and LEC in League of Legends esports. While LMS was a well-respected league, where the PCS sits in the international fabric of League of Legends esports still remains to be seen. MSI will be a good benchmark.

MAD Lions have redemption on the mind. Like the NA region, Worlds 2020 didn’t go well for MAD. Despite playing well in a tough LEC, MAD Lions were eliminated by a Turkish team in the play-in knockouts. That Turkish team then lost to Unicorns of Love from Russia. So losing to the team from a lower-tier league who then lost to another team from a lower-tier league wasn’t a good look for MAD Lions.

Both PSG and MAD Lions should qualify for the Rumble Stage, but watch whoever loses the first matchup between these teams as an upset may be brewing.

Photo credit: Riot Games

MSI: Likely matchups between DWG KIA and Royal Never Give Up

Without G2 or Fnatic representing LEC (the only two teams who have consistently been competitive against LPL and LCK teams), DWG KIA and Royal Never Give Up are the two heavy favorites. RNG should go undefeated in the three-team Group A, and DWG KIA should have no issues either.

Whenever these two teams meet up, the games they play might as well be for the finals. They are likely to match up at least during the six-team Rumble Stage. RNG had a tough 2020 with the surprise retirement of star player Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao in the middle of the summer split. This has been a bounce-back year for one of the more renowned LPL organizations.

An MSI championship would certainly point to a new era of RNG dominance. Plus, with the Summoner’s Cup back in Korea for the first time in a few years, an MSI championship over DWG KIA would push the competition between the LCK and LPL back in China’s favor.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Masters: Korea’s Vision Strikers fail to qualify for IceLAN

League of Legends esports has plenty of international history to rely on. VALORANT has none. For the first time, VALORANT fans will get to see what regions, teams and playstyles are really the best in the world.

During the first year of VALORANT esports, one organization has dominated its region like no other team. Korea’s Vision Strikers at one point won 100 straight matches without losing a series.

Well, that hype didn’t end up amounting to much as Vision Strikers were eliminated from Korea’s contenders bracket by NUTURN Gaming. With a 2-0 beatdown in the semifinal against Vision Strikers and then a 3-0 sweep against DAMWON Gaming (only their League team goes by DWG KIA) in the finals, NUTURN certainly earned Korea’s sole bid.

Vision Strikers were considered by many to be the biggest lock of all teams to reach Iceland. Nuturn will be a fascinating team to watch because esports fans are used to Korean players dominating esports on the world stage. It happens in both League of Legends and Overwatch (not to mention Starcraft). So the question is, will Koreans dominate VALORANT as well?

On one hand, the pedigree stands out, but on the other hand, if Korea was such a strong region, why did Riot give them only one qualifier, not two like NA, EMEA and Brazil? Korea has never been a top-tier region in CS:GO but players' prowess in other games has many people giving them the benefit of the doubt. If NUTURN wins it all, that shows Vision Strikers are likely a top-five team in the world as well. If Nuturn are eliminated in the group stage, Vision Strikers’ success would point to a weaker region.

We won’t have an in-depth picture of the best regions for VALORANT esports following one tournament but the storylines start here. The 16-team Stage 3 Masters in Berlin announced this morning should give a much clearer picture.

Photo credit: Sentinels

Masters: Where does NA stand among other regions?

Please let NA do well, please let NA do well, please let NA do well. For years, NA has been a bit of a punching bag in esports discussions. The two biggest esports in the world are League of Legends and CS:GO, and NA isn’t very good at either one.

Read more: C9 Blue’s Floppy says NA CS:GO is ‘in the toilet’

NA has some games they excel at, most notably Call of Duty and Rocket League. But Call of Duty is basically a game only played in NA, and Rocket League never caught on in Asia. EU Rocket League fans will also claim they are clearly the best, and they have a strong case.

Read more: Top 5 winningest orgs in Rocket League esports history

Simply put, NA isn’t very good at esports on the international stage. VALORANT could change that. Sentinels and Version1 will carry the weight of a region that realllllllyyyyy needs a win in a high-profile competition like this one. There will never be another chance to make a first impression on the world stage, and these matches will go a long way in determining the global pecking order of VALORANT esports for the time being.

Read more: Dapr and TenZ react to Iceland: “Us representing NA gives [NA] the best shot internationally”

Most NA-based VALORANT fans are in agreement that Sentinels is the best team NA could send. Version1 is an upstart squad that earned a spot by beating tons of top-tier teams in Challengers as well. Success for one or both of these teams will give a much clearer picture of NA’s talent level compared to the rest of the world.

Lead image credit: Riot Games

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