MSI is starting in just a few minutes with a highly anticipated match between NA's Counter Logic Gaming and China's Royal Never Give Up. These teams missed each other at Katowice as CLG followed a predictable loss to SKT with a discombobulated 2-1 series loss to European contender Fnatic, despite having substantial leads in multiple games. FNC went on to shock Qiao Gu Reapers and RNG in successive fashion before falling to SKT - but that performance served as a springboard for them into the second half of the EULCS season where they re-established themselves as one of Europe's best.
So if CLG were close to beating FNC and FNC dominated against LPL teams, does that mean CLG (who have been on a tear in the second half of the NALCS) better than RNG? I don't think it's quite that simple.
No analysis of this matchup is complete without a discussion of changes over the last few patches. One that's gotten a lot of attention are the substantial nerfs to Poppy that seem to target Darshan - Poppy was the one constant on the winning side in the NALCS finals between CLG and TSM. But depending on how CLG have prepared, I don't think that nerf will affect them as much as it may appear. Remember that Darshan at heart is a split pusher - Poppy gave him a ton of safety in long lanes while having an impact on teamfights. I think he played her more because she was OP than because of any stylistic preference for one top laner over another. There are other split push threats he'd love to play: Jax (though nerfed as well), Fiora (though not quite as good in teamfights), etc. I wonder if we'll see a resurgence of a true lane bully in Darshan's hands.
On RNG's side, they won the LPL in a bloodbath against EDG in which the most popular top laners were also Poppy/Ekko tanks. In fact, they won the series largely as their veteran, Looper, played a supportive role in letting XiaoHu and Wuxx shine. Both young carries showed proficiency on a wide variety of champions. However, if the meta does indeed shift to more split pushes and top lane carries, I think that benefits CLG. Not that Looper can't play a carry - he has brought Quinn to the table a few times this year, but I think RNG's preference to group may be blunted by CLG running them around the map.
RNG, like most Chinese teas, prefer to fight early and often. Don't believe me? Watch the first 5 minutes of Game 1 against EDG. That's madness. And RNG won the game! 3 of the 4 games went over 30 combined kills. CLG should be familiar against this style - it's basically what Immortals ran the whole year in NA, though with superior side lane control. I think Huhi and Stixxay will be well prepared to deal with the fighting. Where I think they may struggle is predicting the RNG dives. In their two wins in the Finals, Team SoloMid flat out-rotated CLG to spots, and those rotations were somewhat predictable. I was surprised in fact that they didn't put Bjergsen on more utility midlaner with teleport in the decider. RNG will pose a similar macro challenge with a twist - sometimes they'll aggressive roam to dive for the sake of diving - making them less predictable. It's telling that Twitch was noticeably absent from the NALCS this year, while Wuxx and Deft played him with glee.
And then there's the RNG team fight - TSM, when ahead, constantly caught CLG in compromising fights. If I had to label their single biggest weakness, it's their propensity to get caught in fights when they don't need to. At IEM, they let FNC back into games by teamfighting when they were split-pushing to a lead. Against TSM, they would pick fights while down in gold and needing to turtle to item breakpoints. It seems that they can panic sometimes against pressure, which RNG are well prepared to punish. Mid game death timers are now shorter, but RNG know how to snowball a lead.
But there are some changes to the meta that I think can benefit CLG's more deliberate style. Can RNG successfully siege against stronger towers? Getting a bunch of kills will be empty if they don't have any map pressure, and throughout the season, RNG struggled with proper objective fights. That's something CLG generally excel at, if they can get the vision that they need and not get caught. And if they can get to full-on split push mode, I can see them trading kills for objectives and making the map a perilous place for RNG's roams.
It's really tough to say what will happen in this game without having seen the last few patches in a professional setting (I'm an ADC main so won't even touch on the changes to mages). I want to say that CLG are good enough to win this, and I believe they are, but I think they need more help. They need the top lane picks to go their way. They need to avoid a bad duo lane matchup; Stixxay has pocket picks but Wuxx has a larger champion pool. They need to slow the game down and avoid bad teamfights. On the other side, I think RNG will be more empowered to do what they would like to: fight over and over. I hope, for NA, CLG prove me wrong. Maybe this is a good omen - after all, I picked #TSMWin in 4 in the NALCS Finals.
The pick: Royal Never Give Up.