For the first time since Korean teams began attending international tournaments, an American team has won a major League of Legends event.
On paper the American squad was heavily favored against Team WE, the 14th place team in China’s LPL, using two players new to their lineup at IEM. But yesterday the Chinese squad pulled off the biggest upset in League of Legends history, beating Korean juggernaut GE Tigers, this year’s most dominant team, in a 2-1 series.
That set up a historic finals in the first international with no Korean teams present in years. It also pitted the world’s two biggest fanbases against each other in an epic clash. Team SoloMid, the New York Yankees of American League of Legends, a franchise famed for their swagger and style and success during the nascent period of the game and their recent re-emergence at the top of the American scene. Team WE, formerly World Elite, one of China’s oldest esports franchises with a rich history and a fanbase that spans multiple esports eras and titles.
If only the actual match lived up to the hype.
Team WE acquitted themselves well in the first game, showing their powerhouse laning ability with new mid laner Su “xiye” Han-Wei and new marksman Jin “Mystic” Seong-jun. Xiye blistered Team SoloMid thanks to jungler Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon’s impeccable setups, putting up a 7/0/4 score on Ahri at one point. Mystic put together a huge farm lead over lane counterpart Jason “WildTurtle” Tran. The Chinese team scored map control and burgeoning gold lead hitting 7.1k at the 34 minute mark, after they secured the first inhibitor.
But it was all downhill from there. Team WE overextended pushing the second inhibitor and Team SoloMid’s heavy engage composition, featuring Sivir, Annie, and Vi, punished them. A key Annie stun into a Vi ultimate on Xiye erased one of Team WE’s two carries, and Team SoloMid cleaned up. The next two team fights ended in similar fashion, with expert engages from Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen and Ham “Lustboy” Jang-sik securing fights. Minutes later, the game was over.
And so went the series. The next two matches weren’t even close. Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg took over, never letting Xiye gain an inch. Santorin was all over, taking over Team WE’s jungle and making sure Bjergsen and WildTurtle got fed. Team WE spent an inordinate amount of time on Marcus “Dyrus” Hill in game two, leaving the rest of Team SoloMid free to conquer the other two lanes. In game three, they left Hill alone, but they had to. Santorin ran roughshod over their team with Nidalee.
The second and third games were an anticlimactic finish to an otherwise exciting tournament, but it’s also the kind of match you’d have expected between these two squads just 48 hours ago, before Team WE beat Gambit Gaming, CJ Entus, and GE Tigers in order.
Team SoloMid took home $108,414 for their title, with Team WE taking $30,000. But the real takeaway from this tournament is that this year, international League of Legends really is anyone’s game. If Korea’s dominant GE Tigers can lose to even Team WE, anything is possible.
The only exciting thing we learned from IEM is that there is no longer 1 Korean team that will dominate for the whole season.
— Josh Raven (@JRavenEsports) March 15, 2015
For Team SoloMid, the win is extremely encouraging, if a bit confusing. On their way to winning the championship, the only team they beat that was expected to place highly at the event was CJ Entus. GE Tigers, SK Gaming, and the aforementioned CJ Entus all fell short early, leaving Team SoloMid open to seize the title against what seemed like weaker competition. But the fact that they were the only team able to do so speaks volumes for the team’s preparation and newfound consistency to perform on the big stage.
While every other team faltered, Team SoloMid did what they had to do. Bjergsen was cool under pressure. Lustboy, despite some early game misses with Annie ultimates, pulled through to win the later games. Santorin stood up to the player many were calling the best jungler in the world a day earlier, playing a similar map control style and excelling. Dyrus was his usual self, feeding to win. WildTurtle made mistakes early, but pulled it together for one of his most consistent tournament performances ever.
TSM’s experience won them this tournament. All their failures and heartbreak helped them overcome the more green teams in Katowice.
— The eSports Writer (@FionnOnFire) March 15, 2015
Of course, Team SoloMid did not beat a Korean team in a best-of series at the event. Their win in the best-of-one group stage against CJ Entus was convincing, but that’s only enough to wrench off one hand and leg of the monkey still clinging to their back.
But for now, Team SoloMid, and by proxy America, gets to bask in the glory of a historic victory on international turf.
Winning feels great, thank you so much everyone who supports us! #IEM TSM. TSM. TSM.
— Søren Bjerg (@Bjergsen) March 15, 2015