During the Group Stage phase of M2 World Championship, several teams decided to play intriguing strategies and incorporating their own META into the mix. What were they like, and what advantage do some of them bring to the table?
This week (week 3 of January 2021) in esports has been nothing but full of intense competitive actions. In the PC gaming world, the Dota Pro Circuit 2021 has commenced in various competitive regions, showcasing the world’s best teams. Similarly, the counterpart mobile MOBA game, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, had just ended its M2 World Championship Group Stage phase.
Like DPC, M2 is filled with the world’s best Mobile Legends teams, ranging from the Southeast Asian giants to the beasts of Brazil, Russia, and Japan. These teams fought their very best to ensure their advancement to the Playoffs stage which starts on 22nd January. However, not all teams made it to the Playoffs stage, as four teams failed to deliver adequate results and have to head home.
The Group Stage draw split the 12 participating teams into four groups, Group A to Group D. Every team faces every other team in their group, and whoever wins the most number of matches advances to the Upper Bracket of the Playoffs stage. While the team which lost the most number of matches are the ones who won’t continue their M2 journey.
Group Stage Recap
In the first two days, the outcome of the matches was relatively expected. The strongest teams in each group delivered what most viewers had expected. Burmese Ghouls of Group A, as well as Omega PH Esports of Group B, dominated their respective groups with a clean 2-0 match win. Likewise, Bren Esports and Rex Regum Qeon Hoshi turned out to be the toughest teams in Groups C and D respectively.
Hence, the four aforementioned teams successfully secured an Upper Bracket seed in the Playoffs, while the remaining two teams of each group have to face each other off in order to survive the wave of departure. Day 3 was when the crucial deciding matches took place and upset happened.
Previously, teams that were part of the Mobile Legends Professional League (MPL) system — Indonesia, Malaysia/Singapore, Myanmar, and Philippine — showed utter dominance over non-MPL teams and they truly did advance to the Upper Bracket with ease. However, in the match between RSG and 10s Gaming Frost, it seemed that the Japanese squad had the upper hand this time.
First Non-MPL-Team Victory in M2
10s Gaming Frost struggled initially in Game 1, where they were absolutely crushed by the MPL Season 5 MY/SG Champions. Surprisingly, 10s Gaming made a dramatic comeback victory in both Games 2 and 3 against home team RSG with a unique draft of their own. Their victory did not only mark the first non-MPL team victory in M2, but also how surprising the foreign META could be.
Although a team could very well be the last season’s champions, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a definite win in every match they play – that’s the beauty of MOBA games. Time and time again, we saw how dark horses could overcome the reigning champions across numerous MOBA esports titles, even with a seemingly unique, anti-META draft.
10s Gaming Frost’s draft reminded me of Wings Gaming’s victory back in The International 2016 in the realm of Dota 2. At that time, Wings Gaming was a nobody in the professional scene, yet they completely crushed the crowd favorites in their journey to securing the Aegis of Champions. What allowed Wings to perform such a miracle was their immensely unique strategies.
Instead of opting for META-relevant heroes of that era, Wings chose to play out-of-the-box draft by picking heroes like Pudge and Techies in TI6 Playoffs. In a similar fashion, 10s Gaming’s victory, despite being their first, really showed how flexible and versatile MOBA games could get, even in Mobile Legends’ most prestigious tournament title.
Foreign META Paying Off
Professional players are indeed aware of this mind-boggling possibility that comes in this genre of games. The world’s best Mobile Legends players do admit that foreign META shouldn’t be treated as easy wins all the time.
For instance, Naing Linn Swe, better known as ACE of Burmese Ghouls, admits that the MPL teams are currently the best in the Mobile Legends competitive scene. But, that doesn’t mean those who aren’t part of the MPL scene should be considered a piece of cake.
In a virtual interview before M2 started, ACE said that “we can never really underestimate the other teams, they all have their own style and unique plays.” Furthermore, ACE emphasized that “everyone has their own plan to win against you, no matter who they are.”
ACE is a living example of how strong a team can get regardless of how young their competitive scene back home is. In fact, MPL Myanmar is the youngest MPL system out of all the regions involved. Yet, Burmese Ghouls are looking fiercer than ever in their recent M2 performance. According to ACE, if his team would like to beat the world’s best, they would need to “play very carefully, learn their movement, and their mistakes.”
Like ACE, RRQ Hoshi’s Head Coach, James, shared the same kind of respect towards non-MPL teams coming into M2. Despite having Indonesia’s MPL Season 6 Champions under his nurture, James believes that every participating team in M2 deserves their slot and should thus be respected.
When asked about his thoughts regarding foreign teams’ META and style of gameplay, James pointed out that “the META overseas and in Indonesia, the Philippines, in Malaysia/Singapore are all different, in Japan as well. They all can have their own different META, and they’re kind of gameplay, no one can change that. Although they can watch us and then kind of learn how we play in Indonesia, but still they have their own unique gameplay. That’s what we want to see, and that’s what we expect in M2 in the upcoming few days.”
Unique Strategies and Drafts in M2
As highlighted by the pros, anti-META drafts could work in cases where deemed suitable. MOBA games never really forced their players to pick the same type of heroes in all matches they play, which further encourages players to pick and strategize creatively according to their skills and liking.
M2 revitalized this potential in Mobile Legends as a few teams decided to go the unpopular route, leading to victories in some cases, and losses in others. We shall break them down in the following paragraphs.
Kaja: a Foreign META Favorite
Kaja was frequently picked during the Group Stage matches, and what’s interesting is that the hero is picked by teams from outside of the Southeast Asian region. The Nazar King has not been in the META in both Ranked Games and Tournaments alike.
Most of the time Kaja was used as a Support in the Midlane, but was also used quite a number of times in the Sidelane. What allowed for such a strategy is the hero’s Ultimate Skill, Divine Judgement. It’s a game-changing ability that could turn the tides of a game, given how reliable it is in catching the enemy team’s Hyper Core.
Once caught off-guard, Divine Judgement guarantees an instant death when utilized properly and is supported with a perfect follow-up from the rest of his teammates.
Harley is indeed expected to come out in the current META, especially in the professional scene. Many were speculating it to either be used as a Hyper-Core or a Mage-Support. In the second game between Todak and Omega PH, Hyper-Core Harley was picked by Todak, but it didn’t perform as expected as they lost the game pretty badly.
The reason for their loss is actually pretty simple. Harley played as a Hyper-Core isn’t as reliable as it is in the early stages of the game, since Tankers would have finished building Magic-Resistance items by the late game.
Moreover, Harley could only deal a huge amount of damage when his Ultimate Skill is off cooldown. Thus, Omega PH dominated in the late game, and there’s really nothing that Harley could do for Todak at that point of the game.
Support Kaja & Hyper-Core Roger
During Game 2 between Unique DeVu vs. Burmese Ghouls, both Kaja and Roger were picked and this was the first time they were picked after being gone from the competitive scene for some time. Both heroes were picked by the Russian team Unique DeVu, known for their surprising drafts.
Kaja was picked to counter Burmese Ghouls’ Ling as Kaja’s Ultimate wouldn’t be able to be cancelled by Ling’s Ultimate. But the results weren’t very satisfying as they, in fact, lost the game. Kaja just didn’t work so well since ACE’s Ling was completely covered by his team’s Tanker throughout the game.
In addition, Ling is by far the hero with the highest mobility in Mobile Legends due to its ability to jump from wall to wall and his escape-mechanism Ultimate skill.
Tanker Benedetta & Support Silvanna
To everyone’s surprise, RRQ Hoshi decided to use Benedetta as a Tanker/Support in the Midlane, along with Silvanna as a Support, against Dreammax in Game 1. This surely caught Dreammax off-guard as this is the first time Benedetta was picked as a Tanker/Support.
This META is a bit similar to how Alter Ego usually plays their Tanker/Support Natalia strategy given how both teams do not utilize any normal Tank heroes in their lineup. Instead, an Assassin was used to fill in the missing piece.
This peculiar strategy worked so well since RRQ Vynnn’s Support Silvanna provided Crowd-Control effects and acted as Semi-Tanker for the rest of his team. As a result, it brought a definite-positive impact to the team despite their mid-game struggles with the lack of pushing-capabilities.
At the end of the day, RRQ Psychoo’s Benedetta was able to kill Dreammax’s Core heroes over and over again which gave space for Alberttt to farm and dominate in later stages of the game.
When asked about the reason behind their choice of playing Benedetta as a Tanker, Vynnn simply explained that the hero suits their gameplay and the rest of the draft. Plus, after their victory over Dreammax concluded, Vynnn also said that “Dreammax’s META displayed earlier was similar to that of the Asian teams. Perhaps they have learned and prepared a lot, especially during the quarantine period that they had. I think they analyzed the Asian server quite significantly. ”
This prior knowledge from RRQ’s side could just be their reason behind such an unexpected choice of gameplay. Given that Dreammax has learned a lot from the Asian servers, RRQ Hoshi needed a fresh and new strategy that no one was aware of.
Objectively, Belerick is not that big of a surprise when the hero was picked, as it gained quite a significant buff that made it viable to enter the current META. RRQ Hoshi’s Lemon picked Belerick during the first game of their series against EVOS SG.
Lemon was tasked as a Sidelaner for this game, but as the game progresses into the mid-to-late game, Belerick transitioned into a team-fight initiator for the team. Belerick brings great momentum on multiple occasions for team RRQ, and their peculiar choice paid off magnificently.
For instance, in the last team fight right before the final Lord, RRQ was in a losing position in terms of where their creep-wave was positioned. It was until Lemon’s Belerick flanked from the opponent’s backside, opening the opportunity of a team fight. Luckily, RRQ Hoshi managed to recover thanks to this window and wiped out the entire lineup of EVOS SG, giving them the space to attain Lord and win the game thereafter.
What’s even more interesting to analyze aside from merely the Belerick pick, was Lemon’s choice of going for a full-Tanker build. Belerick wouldn’t be able to dominate that game if it wasn’t for the choice of the Tank Emblem alongside the Tanker Item build.
As mentioned earlier in this article, 10s Gaming made a decision that is not only out of the current META, but also a game-winning one. The final and deciding game that determined which team was going home between RSG and 10s Gaming ended in an unexpected way, partly due to this distinctive choice.
10s Gaming’s Obuyan surprisingly picked Silvanna as a Support after picking Kaja and Luoyi over and over again. The surprising factor is that Obuyan never picked Mages like Silvanna as the hero doesn’t seem to fit his Mage-Support playstyle. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a pick of a lifetime as they successfully took down the MPL MY/SG Season 5 Champions and advances to the Playoffs. 10s Gaming Frost is the only non-MPL team that made it through the Group Stage.
The Silvanna surprise-pick was intended to counter RSG’s Benedetta pick as Silvanna’s Ultimate Skill wouldn’t let Benedetta escape and it should guarantee a kill for them. On top of that, her second skill synchronizes well with their Ruby pick, since the two heroines combined could produce an enormous amount of damage. Furthermore, the Silvanna pick proved to be absolutely powerful against Claude due to it being an inescapable effect.
Tanker Terizla & Hyper-Core Masha
By far the most interesting pick of the tournament comes from the side of Impunity KH in their second game against EVOS SG. It was the first Terizla pick in M2 after the hero was buffed in the recent patch some time ago. Aside from placing Terizla on the Midlane as a Tanker, Impunity KH went all out and designated Masha as their team’s main Hyper-Core hero.
However, this may just be the first and last time we will get to see Masha being utilized as a Hyper-Core, judging from how the game turned out. Masha is only strong when played in the Offlane or the Sidelane, and she just doesn’t perform quite well with how a Hyper-Core should be playing.
It is indeed true that Masha is one of the fastest farmers in the game and by far the fastest hero to takedown Turtles and Lords on her own. Even so, she is tailored to play in the Solo Lane as she can survive on her own and farm super quick without requiring the assistance of Tankers to kick-start team-fights.
She would be much more valuable to be played as an Offlaner/Sidelaner to win one-on-one situations and push out her lane. The result of the game is as expected, with Impunity KH losing the second game. Nevertheless, this is a very interesting pick and META from the Cambodians, but it is slightly too creative for EVOS SG to easily punish them.
What’s Next for M2
Now that the Group Stage has come to an end, the stakes for every advancing team has significantly risen. We will probably see more comfort picks, just as how most of the teams decided to do during the Group Stage. But there’s still a probability that some teams decided to go a different path with unpredictable outcomes.
The eight remaining teams shall most definitely play their very best in the upcoming matches as all of them would want to lift this year’s title of the world’s best Mobile Legends team. With no defending champions in this tournament, we will soon witness a new world champion emerge from the ashes.
Cover Image by Mobile Legends Bang Bang.