Despite a 1-9 finish in the Rumble Stage of the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational, Pentanet .GG's performance is universally considered a success. And why wouldn't it be? After all, PGG's run at MSI 2021 is the best international performance in the OCE region's history and the first time its appeared in the second round of an international event. The fact that it came six months after Riot Games dissolving the Oceanic Pro League makes it all the more impressive.
It's undeniable that Pentanet .GG has given hope to its destabilized region, but what about the five regional representatives that were eliminated in the Group Stage? Let's take a look at the MSI 2021 performances of Unicorns of Love, paiN Gaming, fastPay Wildcats, Gillette Infinity, and DetonatioN FocusMe to contextualize the competitive strength of their respective regions.
UP: Unicorns of Love [LCL]
It may seem strange to be optimistic about the CIS region after Unicorns of Love's performance. UOL has established itself as one of the stronger wildcard competitiors over the past few years, and for the squad to not make it out of the Group Stage over Pentanet .GG can only be described as a disappointment. UOL's poor adaptation to the meta certainly held them back, but there were other external factors disadvantaging the team, too.
AD carry Stanislav "Lodik" Kornelyuk has only been with the team since the final week of the LCL Spring Split, and even as the matches at MSI were being played, Lodik was finishing the thesis for his Bachelor's degree.
Time won't fix all of the problems that were on display for UOL at MSI, but it will allow Lodik to return to competitive play with a full focus now that his studies have concluded. Furthermore, he will have the time to actually gel with the team across a full split. UOL's performance left a lot to be desired, but the context surrounding those struggles point towards a more consistent future for the squad.
DOWN: paiN Gaming [CBLoL]
MSI 2021 brought back a Brazilian team familiar with the international stage in paiN Gaming, and with it, megastar AD carry Felipe "brTT" Gonçalves. Brazil has one of the most passionate and robust scenes of any wildcard region, and the improvements to its infrastructure has led to improvements in macro play within the top teams in the region.
A ban was thrown towards brTT's signature Draven every game paiN played, and while some individual plays were made by top laner Leonardo "Robo" Souza and mid laner Thiago "tinowns" Sartori, the latter of whom last competed internationally at Worlds 2014 with KaBuM! e-Sports, paiN simply lacked the firepower to compete with PSG Talon and MAD Lions in Group B.
Aside from one close loss to a briefly-stumbling MAD, paiN's losses were convincing and it only managed to take a pair of wins against fastPay Wildcats. What Brazil might need is a team with younger, less established who can topple the established veteran of paiN Gaming to see the region have a better performance at Worlds than paiN's at MSI.
UP: fastPay Wildcats [TCL]
Make no mistake: fastPay Wildcats' performance at MSI was a letdown. The Turkish representative finished 1-5, and the entire tournament was essentially a 1v9 for AD carry Anıl "HolyPhoenix" Işık. The Wildcats finished last in Group B, managing only a single win over MAD Lions.
When evaluating the results, it's worth mentioning that the four other players on fastPay Wildcats are first-time international competitors. Furthermore, the fact that HolyPhoenix, a veteran of eight years, had the best international tournament of his career this late into it speaks to the region's continuing infastructural development. fastPay Wildcats' performance was below expectations, but is not indicative of a struggling or stagnating competitive region.
DOWN: Gillette Infinity [LLA]
Like many wildcard teams at MSI 2021, Gillette Infinity's roster features a veteran AD carry in Matías "WhiteLotus" Musso, and alongside support Gabriel "Ackerman" Aparicio, Latin America was supposed to boast arguably the best bot lane duo of any wildcard region at the tournament.
While mid laner Cristian Sebastián "cody" Quispe Yampara was able to respectably hold his own, WhiteLotus and Ackerman had a largely forgettable Group Stage, and the top side of the map for INF was heavily outclassed by the competition on an individual level. Gillette Infinity's one win against DetonatioN FocusMe was a come from behind win due to superior macro, proving that in both wins and losses that the team had good strategy, but simply lacked the firepower to compete.
This didn't look like an underperformance from Gillette Infinity, either, but fans should hope it is. If not, then that would imply that this is Latin America's best effort, and if the region loses more stars like Brandon Joel "Josedeodo" Villegas, the future for Latin American League of Legends could be one of tumult.
UP: DetonatioN FocusMe [LJL]
Outside of Pentanet .GG, no other wildcard team had a Group Stage as impressive as DetonatioN FocusMe. The League of Legends Japan League champion showcased a strong early game in the internationl stage and took a game off of Cloud9. In both of its matches against defending world champion DWG KIA, DFM jumped out to an early lead and came within inches of winning the first time around.
DFM finished 2-4, but its score might have been reversed if its impressive individual play had been matched by its macro. For years, LJL teams have been plagued by the inverse of Latin America's problem: it has firepower in spades, but has suffered in the macro department. This was on display when DFM handed Gillette Infinity its only win of MSI despite handily winning the early game.
Still, DFM's performance points towards a bright future for Japan. Despite dominating the LJL for the past few years, the team showed improvements in both micro and macro play. South Korean mid laner Lee "Aria" Ga-eul is an all-around upgrade from Kyohei "Ceros" Yoshida, and at his first international tournament, Japan had its best international performance in history.
This isn't even DFM's final form, either. Because of import restrictions, coach Kazuta "Kazu" Suzuki has been playing support throughout 2021, including MSI. However, jungler Mun "Steal" Geon-yeong will be able to declare his residency ahead of the Summer Split, which means support Yang "Gaeng" Gwang-woo will be able to return to the starting roster. DFM had its best international performance in history at MSI 2021, and it's guaranteed to get better.
All images by: Riot Games