The Mid-Season Invitational is bringing the League of Legends world together for one of the few international events of the year, a chance for fans and players of every nationality to finally show just what they can do.
For many players, like SK Telecom T1 top laner Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan, it’s a tournament of firsts. Their first time on foreign soil. Their first time competing on an international stage. Their first time facing teams from outside the Korean metagame. His first time getting interviewed in front of 10,000 screaming fans.
“I haven’t had that many interviews in front of such a big crowd before so it was really new to me and since we were doing it in a foreign country, I thought it was really interesting and fun,” he said.
MaRin’s certainly enjoying his brief time in America. “Just as I had expected it’s pretty awesome here,” he said. “I think the food is quite nice. Especially the hamburger that was served here [the venue]!”
He’s also been served up a steady diet of the best top laners every region has to offer, but he hasn’t stomached them as well as he’d like, so far.
This is a chance for MaRin to claim the world’s top lane crown. Ever since he burst onto the competitive scene in 2014, a solo queue talent hailed as the top lane Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, MaRin’s struggled to live up to the hype. Of course, in the top lane role, a position notorious for the way the metagame limits its impact, that’s been hard to do. But this year, after seizing the top lane position on SK Telecom T1 when Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong left for America, he’s grown more and more into the throne prepared for him, including impeccable play in SK Telecom T1’s playoff run to the Champions title.
“My desperation to win has been the greatest the past few months,” he said. “Based off that motivation I have really given it my full effort and I think that’s what’s made the difference.”
“If I were to win the MSI, then that will mean I would become the best top laner in the world,” MaRin said. “Koro has actually said that he was going to beat me and become the best, so I think we’re fighting for the same spot.”
Of course, to face EDward Gaming again, SK Telecom T1 needs to reach the finals. That means they have to get past Fnatic. While SK Telecom T1 looked great on Thursday, on Friday the team fell behind against both Fnatic and AHQ e-Sports Club before pulling out victories thanks to some amazing late game play.
MaRin places much of the blame on himself. “The reason that the game went so close was because of me, I think,” he says. “I did not perform as well as I did yesterday.”
That’s because he wasn’t as “nervous,” he says. Usually nerves are a bad thing, something that threatens the ability of a player to maximize their play. But for MaRin, they make him ready. Today he may have taken his opponents a little too lightly: “I was kind of relaxed and not in the right mindset for the matchup.”
That definitely won’t happen tomorrow. He’s hungry to show that today was certainly not his best, and he’ll have a chance for a bit of personal revenge when they face Fnatic in a best-of-five semifinal series. There he’ll again face Europe’s rookie of the year, Korean import Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, who had a monster game on Gnar against MaRin’s Rumble today.
That isn’t a good matchup for Rumble, and to make matters worse, SK Telecom T1 played the weak ganker Nunu in the jungle, giving Huni more freedom to pressure with no fear of reprisal. But MaRin, known for his ability to avoid feeding in tough situations, didn’t hold up as well as he had hoped.
“We had a rough time because of my mistakes,” MaRin said. “I did not perform that well. Tomorrow, the mindset I have is I’m going to teach [Fnatic] a lesson and win comfortably.”
That’s easier said than done, perhaps, but no one would be surprised if SK Telecom T1 simply swept the Europeans off the stage. Today they survived two deficits that few teams ever recover from, and it’s hard to see the talented Korean team falling in such big holes consistently.
The Mid-Season Invitational is an important event for Korea. It’s the region’s chance to reclaim their international title after relinquishing at the Intel Extreme Masters World Championships in March.
“I think it will be possible to show that Korea is still the best region by winning here at MSI,” MaRin said. But at his first international event, it isn’t only Korea’s crown that interests MaRin—he wants to complete his evolution into a star at his role.
“As a top laner I don’t think I was able to show very incredible moves so far this tournament,” he said. But he plans to show the fans something special the rest of the way. If he can do that, shutting down Fnatic’s carry Huni and EDward Gaming’s foundation Koro1, then he’ll bring SK Telecom T1 and Korea on top of the world, just like MaRin himself.
Screengrab via lolesports/YouTube