When the 2016 League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational started just a week and a half ago in Shanghai, the expected result was Korea's SK Telecom T1 far and away at the top, Turkey's SuperMassive eSports far and away at the bottom, and the other four teams jumbled in between.
Well, that's not how things have turned out so far. SKT limped to a 2-4 start and enter the semifinal round as the No. 4 seed with a 6-4 record. Europe's G2 Esports, who many expected to be in the running for second place, took a vacation before the tournament and looked rusty, finishing in fifth place at 2-8.
Instead, it's been China's Royal Never Give Up that has been the star team of the tournament so far, running through the group stage with an 8-2 record. RNG raced out to a 7-0 start before an upset loss to Counter Logic Gaming, and has looked like the team best equipped to handle this tournament's penchant for big team fights.
A big focus will be on the matchups in the mid lane and in the jungle. All of SKT struggled at points during the round robin stage, but Blank in particular had a rough few games and Faker had some uncharacteristically poor showings. Meanwhile, mlxg and xiaohu have been playing about as well as anyone in the tournament so far. But the MSI MVP so far is pretty much undoubtedly Mata, whose incredible performances in team fights and consistently well-timed initiations have helped lead RNG to this strong position.
Don't sleep on SKT, though: the defending world champions finished the round robin stage with four straight victories, including revenge wins against RNG and North America's Counter Logic Gaming. SKT is the most successful team in League history for a reason, and its prowess in best-of-five series can not be ignored.
After winning Worlds for the second time last fall, SKT struggled at the beginning of the LCK season, finding itself in seventh place in the standings. SKT was able to make its way up to third place before the playoffs, defeating Jin Air, KT Rolster and ROX Tigers in a slew of convincing best-of-5 performances.
With a young roster, RNG finished in ninth place in Summer 2015, its first LPL split. The team signed Season 4 World Champions Looper and Mata in the offseason, finishing in first place in Group B in the LPL Spring 2016 Regular Season and defeating defending MSI champions Edward Gaming 3-1 in the LPL Finals.
The best-of-five series will start at 1:30 AM ET (1:30 PM local time) and will be streamed live on Lolesports.com. Below, some statistical comparisons of the two starting lineups, from our friends at eSportsfanz.