*** UPDATE – FNATIC HAVE WITHDRAWN AND WILL BE REPLACED BY UNICORNS OF LOVE ***
Taking place from November 21st to 22nd in California, IEM X San Jose looks to be one of the most competitive and exciting international tournaments outside of Riot’s own in many years. All six of the invited teams would be top 20 ranked teams in the world and five of them were in attendance at the Season 5 World Championship, with FNATIC and Origen even finishing in the final four there.
In this preview I have divided the six teams up into three different categories, based on their peer group and chances of placing well in the tournament.
These are the teams who are very likely going to be playing in the final on Sunday and have the best chance of winning the tournament. There is always uncertainty about who will win a specific tournament, but collectively there is an overwhelming chance the victor is one of these teams.
LGD were a team who bucked the trends of needing intensive coaching or particularly competent Jungling. The fusion of top Korean and Chinese talent saw them a single game from winning the Spring split of LPL, China’s top competitive league, and would result in them taking the Summer split title. They seemingly needed little coaching due to the veteran status of so many of the players, four of whom were considered world class at their positions.
Such a wealth of impressive individual talent also allowed the team to hide and cover for the problems of erratic and mistake prone Jungler TBQ. As such, a team without the same advantages as some of the others at the top of their domestic leagues managed to twice put together excellent play-off runs and overcome fairly mediocre regular seasons. It’s little wonder many expected LGD to be a force at the Season 5 World Championship, even in spite of losing their coach from the Summer split winning campaign.
At Worlds, LGD fell flat on their face in the first round robin, failing to win a single game. Substituting Acorn out for substitute Top laner Flame enabled LGD to win two of the remaining three games, but it was not enough to allow them entry to the play-offs. That move and the change in fortunes it had leaves some questions for LGD coming into San Jose.
Will they go back to the trusty Acorn, one of the most versatile and stable players in history, Worlds withstanding, or will they continue to use the substitute Top laner Flame, the best player in history at his position, who got them their only wins at the biggest tournament of the year? I suspect LGD will return to Acorn, trusting that he has overcome whatever issues plagued his play and spoiled his tournament.
The core quality of LGD which makes them a heavy favourite for the tournament in spite of their Worlds performance is their roster. In terms of raw individual skill, this is legitimately one of the very best teams in the entire League world. That they failed once does not yet suggest this team is incapable of performing internationally.
Not only was Acorn missing at Worlds, but more importantly their Mid laner GODV fell apart. In the LPL, GODV was both one of the best Mid laners in the world and an essential part of LGD’s identity. With LGD’s laners known to be impressively self-sufficient, it allows the Jungler TBQ to get away with not being at a world class level. If some of their laners can not accomplish that status, such as happened to Acorn and GODV, then it’s hardly surprising their game begins to unravel.
The one player who was unaffected by the Worlds meltdown is the enigmatic and devilish imp, star AD Carry and arguably the best at his position in all of League of Legends. Needing to make up for a second Worlds failure in his career, imp will be driven to make sure LGD don’t leave IEM with a second international failure. At his best, the arrogance of imp bolsters the confidence of his teams and creates a championship aura.
In San Jose, LGD will return with a force to their play and individually dominate the field. If LGD’s players come with the kind of form they showed in their Summer play-off run, then a team like FNATIC can find themselves on the back foot early on in their games and heading into some very difficult team-fight scenarios.
LGD should be heavily tipped to win this IEM tournament, but their failure at Worlds likely means many will not be betting on them to win, providing some surprising value for them as a potential tournament champion. Ultimately, LGD are the team I am backing to win IEM San Jose.
FNATIC were a little up and down over their World Championship run, but it did see them slay the legendary EDG in a clean sweep and reach the final four. The problems for FNATIC were their shaky start to the group stage, losing to Cloud9, and then the unconvincing end to the tournament, slammed out of contention in three straight losses in the series against KOO Tigers.
The big problems for FNATIC were the failures of Top laner Huni, who could not stand against KOO’s Smeb, admittedly an MVP candidate for the tournament and perhaps the world’s best Top laner, and the disappearance of the bot lane. At this tournament, Acorn and TrAce can certainly provide Huni with some trouble, especially with their wide champion pools.
For Rekkles, he will face very strong competition here, as Pilot has always been a satisfying ADC to watch work in LCK; Niels was one of the stand-outs of Worlds, playing the kind of carry role Rekkles fans can only dream of; Doublelift has always been an aggressive ADC with a mind for rivalry with the Swede; and imp is a monster who has no regard for the strength of his opponent.
The only bright spot for Rekkles is that CLG’s ADC has yet to be announced and it seems unlikely it can be anyone who on paper will be a threat for the consistent botlane of FNATIC which performed well in Europe.
FNATIC have the best team construct in the West and EDG learned that it takes top individual performances to at least hang with FNATIC in series. Tactically, FNATIC have a legitimate chance to be the best team in the tournament and they have the individual talent across the lanes to not be bullied by most of the sides in attendance.
This should be FNATIC’s chance to win an international title and grab some more wins over Asian teams. In terms of consistency and recent results, you’d have to heavily favour FNATIC to take the title, but the individual failings they showed against KOO can be exploited by LGD if they come in strong individual form.
This category contains the teams who all have a chance of making it to the final and, in peak form, have also shown they could also win the title.
Jin Air Green Wings
The loss of GBM will hit Jin Air hard, since he was such a force within his region and the clear strength of Jin Air. Chaser is still considered by many to be the best Korean Jungler and perhaps the best in the world, so JAG does pack a surprising punch, but that patient control game they had will be more difficult to execute without GBM.
TrAce and Pilot are both competitive at their positions domestically, so they can provide some problems for the Western players, but JAG have never been a brawling team, so it does feel as if they will need to reinvent their style or execute it phenomenally if they are to win this tournament and out-place the likes of FNATIC and LGD.
Korean teams have often looked better abroad than against domestic competition, so there is perhaps some hidden value in JAG, being as few of their players are known by those who do not watch the Korean region. If I had to pick a team outside of FNATIC and LGD who would win the tournament, I would tip JAG to take the title, though they are a dark horse at best.
Origen were one of the surprise of Worlds. On the one hand, it was understandable they would have some upset potential, being as they were placed in the lowest seeding pool, but they were entered into the group of death and every known expert had LGD and KT Rolster, elite level Korean sides, advancing over them into the play-offs. Instead, OG shocked the world with a three game winning streak to start that group and an eventual progression in second place.
It has to be pointed out that Origen won the quarter-final draw lottery, in contrast to losing the group stage draw lottery previously, by getting Flash Wolves, easily the worst number one group stage seed play-off team in Worlds history. Even with such a simple match-up, relative to all of the other second place sides in that round, Origen struggled at times against the LMS runners-up. xPeke was out-performed by Maple and OG found themselves close to losing most of the game. In the end, they did win the series 3:1 and it was largely a carry performance from Niels which made the difference for them.
Against SKT, OG could do very little and were forced out of the tournament in a clean sweep from the eventual champions. OG showed us the full spectrum of their performance. Their botlane has consistently impressed, perhaps even earning the honour of being the best at Worlds, but their solo laners were less noteworthy. sOAZ did have some quality games, but he will face some good competition here.
xPeke might be the biggest issue for OG, as GODV, Bjergsen and Febiven would all be favoured in those individual match-ups against the legendary Spanish Mid laner. Worlds saw xPeke shying away from his traditional carry champions, instead trying to play a passive farming game. For such a great player, in the context of history, it seems as if the time is here for the newer breed of star Mid laner to surpass him.
An advantage for OG can be Amazing, who is one of the better Junglers in attendance. TBQ and Xmithie could certainly have difficulties dealing with Amazing, but the world still looks for who TSM will bring to match with him. In the end, OG will likely go as far as their botlane can carry them, ever aggressive and willing to create kills which can be acquired thanks to the unique dual teleport style of the team.
OG’s style is unique, but the strength of their solo laners is the question mark when they face elite Asian sides.
These teams will definitely be going out in the group stage.
TSM are the biggest wild card coming into this tournament, being as the two players we know will be featured in their line-up were contenders for best Western player over the Summer split. With good players filling some of the other positions, TSM could be the dark horse to make a deep run, being as they will have a huge surprise factor on their side. Of course, that relies upon TSM showing instantaneous synergy.
For the sake of entertainment, one would hope for some peak form performances from Bjergsen and Doublelift, to give TSM some upset potential, but it seems unreasonable to imagine they can win the tournament. Without a full line-up, any practice regime or routine in their style, what is there to put TSM as a would-be champion?
Counter Logic Gaming
While CLG only need to reveal one of their line-up, make no mistake that this team is almost entirely different in nature from the one which competed underwhelmingly at Worlds. Doublelift was the face of the team and star, so the team’s approach always stemmed from a strong botlane. Missing their ADC, CLG can certainly go the approach of focusing around the Top lane and having ZionSpartan be a carry, as he has always wanted to be through his career.
The most interesting change is less the ADC and more in the Mid lane. Pobelter was too weak of a carry threat on the international stage, but HuHi will be chomping at the bit to show himself a strong player. It’s hard to imagine a CLG team carried by the Top and Mid lane, considering the last three years of their team’s strengths.
Certainly, CLG can come with a legitimate surprise factor, but the collapse of the remaining members at Worlds does seem dangerous for CLG and they are primed to go out in last place on home soil.
About the author: Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields is one of eSports best known journalists. Since 2001 he’s worked with and for numerous high profile online publishers. He hosts a regular League of Legends talk show, Summoning Insight, discussing topics that of interest to hardcore LoL enthusiasts. He also has his own video series, Thorin’s Thoughts, providing eSports enthusiasts with highly entertaining content. We recommend you check them out.