With one group of the MSI Play-in Stage complete in its course, the first matchup of the Play-in bracket stage is set. Phong Vũ Buffalo of the VCS is set to duel with North America’s Team Liquid on Monday after conquering Group A. And as Phong Vũ might face an immovable mountain in one of the West’s strongest teams, the question raises: do the Vietnamese contenders stand any chance at all?

After posting a record of 5-2 in their group, including a tiebreaker victory over 1907 Fenerbahçe, Phong Vũ Buffalo has already proven to be one of, if not the strongest wildcard team at the tournament. Phong Vũ dominated its group, as impressive statistical dominance and consistently crisp performances from its relative superstars led the team to precise and convincing victories throughout the course of the tournament’s initial stage.

So far, Phong Vũ’s greatest strengths have been their most prominent players, as the talent that lines the roster stands firmly at the top when compared to the other regional champions that they’ve had to face off against at the tournament, so far. Specifically, Phạm “Zeros” Minh and Lộc Đặng “BigKoro” Ngọc Tài stood out as Phong Vũ’s greatest contributors.

Zeros managed to stand out as one of the best top laners at the Play-in Stage, with a KDA of 2.2, a KP of 57% and a DMG% of 25%. Additionally, he ranked in the top half for all top laners in eight statistical categories, truly making him stand out as one of the most proficient players at his position up to this point in the tournament.

Down in the bottom lane, BigKoro has turned into one of the most formidable players at the whole of MSI. With a KDA of 5.4 and a GPM of 452, it’s obvious that he’s a serious force to be reckoned with. Posting a DPM of 530.7 and a DMG% of 25%, it’s also clear that BigKoro is doing more than carrying his weight – he’s carrying Phong Vũ Buffalo to the finish line.

And while the top dogs (or perhaps buffalo?) of the VCS are blazing a path of international promise before our eyes, it’s important to keep the caliber of their opponents in mind.

They haven’t faced a beast quite like Team Liquid before.

While Phong Vũ might just be the strongest team to participate in the Play-in group stage, Liquid’s role as tournament gatekeeper might prove to be too much for the rising upstarts.

However, if there’s one good omen that can be placed in Phong Vũ’s corner, it’s that they stack up against Liquid better than any other team from the Play-in group stage. While the VCS representative might be facing near insurmountable odds come Monday, they have a better shot than any of their wildcard contemporaries to take down the North American contenders.

Going into MSI, Team Liquid knew that they would have to face off against the winner of Group A, regardless of which teams were in contention for its title. However, the difference in talent between Group A and Group B at this year’s Play-in Stage was monstrous. Arguably the two best wildcard teams in the world, Phong Vũ and Fenerbahçe, were both slotted into Group A, essentially cursing the wildcard regions’ chances right from the start. But still, once TL saw that Fenerbahçe and Phong Vũ were placed into Group A, they knew they’d be going up against one of the two most formidable opponents available.

Regardless of the fact that Phong Vũ is probably the best wildcard team at the event, Team Liquid is still a well-oiled titanic monster in comparison.

Even after Phong Vũ was pushed to its limit by Fenerbahçe, they still must face off against a team that they could have never prepared entirely for. What’s even scarier about that scenario is that Liquid isn’t even the mightiest foe on the horizon should Phong Vũ make it to the tournament’s main event.

Even in 2019, the discrepancy between wildcard regions and major regions is massive. The gap is widening between the stalwart champions of the world and its minor contenders. Gone are the days of Gigabyte Marines tangling with TSM in a 5-game set. Forgotten are the stories of Albus Nox Luna advancing to the top 8 at Worlds. We are entering the dark ages of wildcard regions – an era to be ushered in by Team Liquid come Monday.


Photo Credit: Riot Games, Lolesports