Cloud9 still the team to beat in the West with IEM San Jose win

This weekend the Western pro League of Legends scene got its first taste of the new meta

This weekend the Western pro League of Legends scene got its first taste of the new meta.

Alliance, Cloud9, Team SoloMid, Unicorns of Love, paiN Gaming, and Lyon Gaming clashed at the Intel Extreme Masters tournament in San Jose. The $50,000 tournament showcased the new Summoner’s Rift and a lengthy list of changes to the biggest esport on the planet.

The weekend was a tale of two teams. On Saturday, underdogs Unicorns of Love made their claim on the season’s hot cinderella team by beating Team SoloMid 2-0. But it was Cloud9 who would take the tournament, besting European rivals Alliance 2-1 on Sunday morning before sweeping the Unicorns out of the finals.

The Unicorns of Love managed to enter IEM through the fan vote, garnering support largely based on their unconventional team name. The squad managed to qualify for the League Championship Series by upsetting Millenium in a close 3-2 series, backed by strong performances from Hungarian top laner Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás and German mid laner Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage.

In San Jose, both solo laners again showed their talent, backed by outstanding play from their jungler Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek, who recently replaced Berk “Gilius” Demir, substitute for the team during their promotion match.

Unicorns of Love opened the tournament by easily beating Mexican team Lyon Gaming, who were forced to substitute in Team8 bottom lane Ainslie “Maplestreet” Wyllie and Jun “dodo8” Kang due to visa issues. In an interview, the team revealed they wanted to win so Schrage could face Team SoloMid’s Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and prove himself on the big stage. He did.

The Unicorns topped Team SoloMid in two slick games showing the power of their solo laners. In the first match, Unicorns of Love outpicked SoloMid with the flex Twisted Fate, preying on SoloMid’s tendency to pick a winning lane for Bjerg. The Americans chose Xerath, allowing Schrage to grab LeBlanc and absolutely dominate the hapless Dane. Schrage posted a 10/1/5 KDA line on LeBlanc while Szkudlarek’s jungle Twisted Fate went 4/2/9.

Game two was a bit closer, but Team SoloMid couldn’t get going against Unicorns of Love’s aggression. Bjerg pulled out the new threat Azir but couldn’t withstand Schrage’s Syndra. Tamás in the top lane took advantage of his favorable Irelia against Maokai matchup, and SoloMid’s new jungler Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen failed to make an impact.

Team SoloMid apparently entered the tournament a bit behind practice wise, considering their coach and support were stuck in Korea settling their visas until two weeks before this tournament. But it was still a disappointing showing for the Americans as they were overpowered across the map.

Their brethren from the States, however, fared much better. As the community hyped the solid performance of Unicorns of Love on Saturday night, Cloud9 was planning a massacre. This tournament held special meaning for the top team in America: The Cloud9 organization was created in San Jose.

Cloud9 and Alliance settled the debate after their 1-1 head-to-head showing at the Riot World Championships in San Jose. The Americans topped Europe’s best squad, debuting superstar marksman Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, in a close 2-1 series.

While Larsson put on a show, his counterpart Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi performed just as well. The Cloud9 marksman posted a 28/5/15 KDA line over the three games, though Larsson kept up as the two traded blows through the match, including an iconic one-on-one duel where both players ended up dead.

The teams traded games leading to a close third match heading to the late game. But a perfect engage by William “Meteos” Hartman on Jarvan IV leading to a massive Orianna ultimate by Hai Lam won Cloud9 the match. The difference in the series proved to be Hartman’s play over Alliance’s Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema, whose 4/15/22 KDA line belies his inability to successfully engage through the series.

That sent Cloud9 into the finals against Unicorns of Love. It wasn’t particularly close.

The Americans swept the European squad 3-0 in a series defined by their patience. Cloud9 played their usual style perfectly: trade objectives, build small advantages, and wait for the foe to make a mistake. Unicorns of Love managed to put up a fight after a dismal game one, but they simply weren’t able to figure out how to crack the experienced Americans, culminating in a Corki pentakill for Scuderi in the final game.

(Sorry, this embed was not found.)Still, it was a solid showing for one of the LCS’ newest teams. Unicorns of Love has little experience on the big stage, and a performance like this one should give them momentum heading into the LCS. The team clearly has the talent to make an impact in the solo lanes and jungle, and their bottom lane may not be flashy but they get the job done.

Cloud9, though, remains the Western scene’s most prominent team. One of the few top teams to keep the same roster, they continue chugging along, adjusting well to the new patch by utilizing strategies like their double AD composition in the first match against Alliance.

Since Cloud9 entered the scene, the West has yet to find an answer for them. Team SoloMid managed to best them for the first time last season but, as IEM shows, Cloud9 is still floating above everyone else.

Will that change this season? And can Cloud9 rise even higher, heading into the 2015 version of Worlds? These are the questions the next 10 months will answer. But now, at least, we know where we’re starting. 

Screengrab via ESL/YouTube