Dec 23 2014 - 2:36 pm

What we learned from IEM Cologne

This weekend the Intel Extreme Masters brought together some of the top League of Legends teams in the Western scene for a little preview of the upcoming League Championship Series
Dot Esports

This weekend the Intel Extreme Masters brought together some of the top League of Legends teams in the Western scene for a little preview of the upcoming League Championship Series.

ROCCAT, Dignitas, Counter Logic Gaming, and Gambit Gaming each put their new lineups on display, or at least part of them—ROCCAT and Counter Logic Gaming each used one substitute.

Despite entering the tournament as underdogs, Gambit Gaming managed to take the title, obliterating Dignitas before smiting Counter Logic Gaming on their way to a historic sixth IEM title.

The level of play in Cologne didn’t match that shown in San Jose, where the top team in Europe, Alliance, and America’s two best squads, Cloud9 and Team SoloMid, clashed. Instead we got to see four of the middle ranked teams from last season’s LCS. But it was an exciting tournament filled with ridiculous plays and excitement.

Here’s what we gleaned from the action.

Gambit Gaming
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Gambit Gaming

The institution of the League Championship Series may be the worst thing that ever happened to Gambit Gaming.

The team added their sixth IEM title to their trophy case, showing much of the same flare and creativity that made them popular when they exploded onto the League of Legends scene back in 2012. But the team seems unable to bring that same gusto to the weekly grind of the LCS, mired as they are in problems with administration, visas, and weekly travel. That grind milled Alex Ichetovkin to dust and saw Gambit nearly plummet from the LCS ranks last split.

At a one-off tournament like IEM, where Gambit Gaming enters the the tournament with fresh, new strategies, they shine.

Game two against Counter Logic Gaming, the ill-fated baserace that doomed the Americans, showed Gambit’s genius and willingness to creatively take advantage of the options afforded to them in League. Most fans focus on Counter Logic’s refusal to back in time, but it was a smart play by Gambit to make the move in the first place. Gambit bought Elixirs of Ruin, which improve siege damage, to stack with their two Dragon buff siege advantage. Counter Logic Gaming didn’t know what hit them.

Danil “Diamondprox” Reshetnikov showcased creative jungle picks like Sejuani. Support player Edward Abgaryan still doesn’t have the best vision control, but his playmaking ability is still one of the top in the world. The two remaining members of the Gambit squads of old both proved they can still perform in Cologne.

The new guys aren’t too bad, either. The team may not have a mid lane star like Alex Ichetovkin in Sebastian “niQ” Robak, who was solid if unspectacular at IEM, but the team’s new top laner and marksman both put together impressive tournaments.

Top laner Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet and marksman Kristoffer “P1noy” Pedersen both shined. Simon-Meslet dominated Dignitas with a 11/4/11 KDA line and kept Counter Logic Gaming top laner Darshan “ZionSpartan” Upadhyaya in check, while Pedersen had breakout games of his own, including 10/1/4 and 10/1/5 KDA lines in the final matches of each series. In the final set against Counter Logic Gaming, Pedersen laned against his hero Peng and accounted himself well. His Graves play in games one and four of the series were the difference for Gambit Gaming.

The current Gambit Gaming may be quite different from the one that dominated the League scene in 2012, but their win at IEM continues their legacy and shows that the team has found worth successors. Whether that translates to better success in the LCS is another story, but it’s a start.

Counter Logic Gaming

This was it. The chance Counter Logic Gaming fans—and Peter “DoubleLift” Peng—were waiting for. A golden opportunity to score a win at a major tournament. But in true Counter Logic fashion, the team fumbled the chance, leaving us with this.

America’s sweethearts impressed in the semifinals by coming back from a map loss to best ROCCAT, the nominal tourney favorites. Austin “Link” Shin shut up his doubters for at least one day, putting together a 10/3/6 KDA on LeBlanc in the third game. Peng was his usual dominant self, putting new ROCCAT marksman Pawel “Woolite” Pruski on tilt by the third game. Upadhyaya did something no Counter Logic Gaming top laner has really managed in years: apply enough pressure by himself to take some heat off Peng.

But against Gambit Gaming, things unravelled. Gambit obliterated them in game one. In game two, Peng pulled out all the stops on Vayne, nearly single-handedly carrying team fights. But that led to the ill-fated base race. Counter Logic underestimated the siege potential of Gambit’s team, a fatal missed call in a game they were winning.

(Sorry, this embed was not found.)That shotcalling mistake was deadly, putting the team down 0-2. While they’d win game three thanks to stellar play from Peng and Shin, the overall result was mostly a foregone conclusion.

The match showed Counter Logic Gaming inherited many of their problems from last season—their top laner and jungler failed to match their counterparts performance against Gambit, Shin continues to struggle at times in important series, and their shotcalling is prone to making the one big mistake.

Counter Logic will need better play to reach Worlds in 2015. IEM showed they have the potential to do so. Their bottom lane is still capable of carrying multiple games, and may be the best in America. Shin has the power to put together dominating performances, and just needs to put it together in big games. Regular jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero should improve things over substitute Thomas “Thinkcard” Slotkin.

It’s not the result Counter Logic Gaming fans, hungry for that tournament win, wanted, but it’s not the end of the world either.

ROCCAT

The new lineup for ROCCAT has high hopes entering 2015. The team replaced its worst player, retained its two stars, and retained the impetus behind the sometimes wacky shotcalling that’s made ROCCAT unique.

The team was the favorite entering the tournament despite bringing in ringer Ryu Sang-ook at mid lane. But they didn’t deliver, losing to Counter Logic Gaming in the semifinals.

A large part of that was Ryu—he found himself behind Shin in every game, and seemed to lack any synergy with ROCCAT’s star jungler Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski. Fans calling for Erlend “Nukeduck” Våtevik Holm, the mid laner tabbed for ROCCAT’s open spot in the season, may be vindicated.

The rest of the team had mixed, but promising, results in a small sample.

New marksman Paweł “Woolite” Pruski is a talent upgrade over Paweł "Celaver" Koprianiuk, who was one of the worst marksman statistically in the LCS last year, giving superstar support Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan an uncut gem to mold. Pruski played like it, putting together and uneven and inconsistent performance.

Remigiusz “Overpow” Pusch moved his passive mid laning from last season to the top lane, where the team hopes he can be more aggressive. Pusch looked good against Upadhyaya and Counter Logic Gaming on Gnar, but the Gangplank pick in game two proved ill-fated, even if the global ultimate worked in shutting down Peng, at first. The move looks like it could be a good one, once Pusch acclimates more to his new role. Especially if ROCCAT gets a mid laner like Holm.

A more effective mid laner, one without what seemed like obvious communication issues, would go a long way towards fixing the issues. ROCCAT has loads of potential heading into 2015, but it will take a little work for them to realize it.

Dignitas

To put it mildly, IEM was a disaster for Dignitas.

The team entered the tournament with low expectations, putting on a PR spin even before they lost a map to a Turkish team using substitutes before bombing out of the tournament. They were here to get their new Korean imports, Noh “Gamsu” Yeong-jin and Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in, used to playing with a Western team. They wanted to figure out just what they need to work on heading into the season.

Now they know they need to work on everything.

The 2015 edition of Dignitas is supposed to be the Alberto “Crumbzz” Rengifo show. The veteran jungler took over as team captain, a changing of the guard from the William “Scarra” Li and Michael “imaqtpie” Santana days. But in the server, Rengifo failed to take a true leadership role at IEM, putting together a performance that was uninspired, to say the least. He finished with a 1/11/12 KDA in the series against Gambit Gaming, making a negative impact with every move he tried to make.

The rest of the team didn’t perform any better.

Noh looked solid in the top lane in the first series against Turkish team Aces High, but against Gambit, Simon-Meslet got the best of him. Jo didn’t fare any better. While his mechanics look solid, his positioning and game awareness were subpar. The Jo and Alan “KiWiKiD” Nguyen failed to win lane

The one bright spot for Dignitas was mid laner Danny “Shiphtur” Le, who has made a living out of putting together solid scorelines while the team around him crumbles. Dignitas had chances in some of these games largely thanks to Le’s ability, but Rengifo and company fumbled any advantages afforded them by their mid laner.

All in all, it’s a rocky start to the new chapter of Dignitas’ history. The team needs a lot of work going into the season with plenty of issues to fix. Noh and Jo are likely still acclimating to their new environment, learning the language, and adjusting to their new life. The LCS season is a long one, and Dignitas has plenty of time to work out kinks. At least, if Rengifo steps up and gives the performance he’s shown he’s capable of at times over the past year.


The level of play at IEM Cologne may not have matched that shown in San Jose, but the excitement surrounding the matches topped last month’s experience. Gambit Gaming won a historic championship against all odds, and all four of the LCS teams attending the event learned valuable lessons heading into the 2015 season.

We’re in store for another exciting and an even more competitive League of Legends season.

Photo via ESL/Flickr