Crafting a Narrative: A look at each team's story heading into IEM San Jose
IEM San Jose marks the first international competition of the off-season and serves as a preview of what me can expect from some of the best teams in each of the four major regions in Season Six. We have LGD, the LPL Summer Champions out of China. World's Semi-finalist Origen and the rebuilt Unicorns of Love from Europe. The redesigned rosters of TSM and CLG out of North America, and the Jin Air Green Wings serving as the LCK representative. These six teams will compete in a standard six team bracket with Origen and JAG receiving byes into the semi-finals. Both the Quarterfinals and Semi-finals will be best of threes, while the final will be a best of five. With Season 5 firmly in the rear view mirror, yet not so far behind for past failures to be forgotten, all of these teams enter San Jose with something to prove. Here's a look at a potential narrative for each team.
Redemption for LGD
LGD entered the 2015 World Championship as one of the three tournament favorites, alongside SK Telecom and Edward Gaming. But they weren't just a favorite, they were widely viewed as the most mechanically talented team from top to bottom in the entire world. They were world beaters and as such, most expected them to roll into the group stage and simply overpower their opposition. But when the first week of groups rolled around, they fell apart. Origen laid down a blueprint for exploiting their weakest link, TBQ and his miniscule champion pool. GODV and Acorn inexplicably tanked, and Imp and PYL were left trying to carry three players that were barely more than dead weight. If we're talking about the biggest upset of the year, it isn't Ever taking down SK Telecom in a Best of 3 where Scout started half the games. It's LGD, a team literally every analyst worth their salt expected to stomp their way through the Group Stage, going 0-3 in the first week of Worlds and failing to make it out at all.
What San Jose represents for LGD is a chance to retake their narrative and end 2015 on a high note. Adding fuel to that narrative is the fact that two other members of that fateful group at Worlds, Origen and TSM, are also competing. This is LGD's chance to recapture their dignity and as one of the few teams to not making any major roster changes, they look poised to do so.
Sadplane.jpg. The Jin Air Green Wings ongoing fight to to live up their potential.
The Jin Air Greenwings are an enigma. They have talent. At their best, they're capable of taking down the very best teams in the world. They're also capable of getting 2-0'd by the likes of SBENU and Samsung Galaxy. Unfortunately for JAG fans, the latter seems to happen far more often than the former. That they enter San Jose as a lukewarm favorite has more to do with the unstable state of most of the teams competing and the preparation advantage gained from having already played a series of competitive games on 5.21 in the KESPA Cup than their own level. Their highs and lows essentially balance out to make JAG your standard middle of the pack LCK team and their 4th place performance in the Spring, 6th place performance in the Summer and 5th-8th placing at the KESPA Cup bears this out. A JAG victory here could be one of two things. A tantalizing reminder of unfulfilled potential before yet another fall into mediocrity or a chance for JAG to be more than just the origin of a dank meme as they build towards a brighter future. [Insert awful plane taking off pun here].
More than just their Mid Laner, TSM strives to forge a new identity.
The presiding narrative with TSM has always been their fight for international relevancy. That narrative is still there, but should rightfully be on pause while the North American side completes the most substantial remodel in their history. TSM has stayed at the top of North America by making minor changes as needed throughout the years. They've mostly avoided the disastrous roster shakeups that have plagued other old guard organizations. That strategy has been enough to maintain their domestic dominance, but lasting international success has mostly eluded them. Now, TSM is looking to follow the path forged by Fnatic a year ago, having blown up their roster in the hopes of achieving even greater heights. In all likelihood, the fulfillment of that dream is at least a few months away. With just a week or two together as a team, it's unlikely that TSM has had enough time to fit all their new parts into a cohesive unit unless they just have this magical synergy together. This is a problem shared by a number of teams at San Jose, and the primary reason why a team like Jin Air is favored when they normally wouldn't be. There is definite precedent for this type of magical synergy though. Sometimes, a team forms and everything just clicks and success comes quickly, but usually its an established roster changing a piece or two. Cloud 9, SSW and SSB are three prominent examples. SSW and SSB swapped mid laners and suddenly the rosters just fit. Cloud 9 went from average NACS team to North American power house when the roster that took NA by storm in season 3 was assembled. Should that happen, should TSM be able to win an international tournament while this roster is in its infancy, one can only dream of what they will accomplish in the future. That said, it's much more likely that TSM follows the Fnatic path of early struggles building into eventual dominance once they've had the time to mesh.
Life After Doublelift. CLG looks to prove they're more than just a single player.
For many, Doublelift has defined CLG as long as there has been a CLG. When he succeeded, CLG succeeded. When he failed, CLG failed and he bore the brunt of the criticism more than anyone save his erstwhile owner.. His often erratic decision-making mirrored the decisions of an owner who fiddled with his roster a little more than was probably wise. It's only fitting that CLG's rise to the top of NA coincided with what was perhaps Doublelift's greatest season to date. He was their crutch when all else failed. And when things were failing a lot, that crutch held more than it's fair share of weight. But now that crutch is gone. There are benefits to having a lightning rod, especially one as forward as Doublelift. They detract, yes, but they also distract. And it's easier to blame them for the team's collective failures than for each player to accept their own weaknesses. There's no one to blame now. No one to shoulder the criticism, or announce to the public that the team's failures are on him, as Doublelift often would. It's on them now. How they handle the pressure, and how the man billed as Doublelift's replacement fits into the team will be the primary factors in CLG's success or lack there of going forward. In Stixxay they trust.
Unicorn's of Love hoping Lightning strikes twice.
A year ago, UOL shocked the community by upending TSM 2-0 at this exact same tournament using a combination of flair and pocket picks to throw the North American champions off their game. Like TSM, UOL fields a rebuilt roster. Unlike TSM, it's hard to imagine this roster is capable of capturing the same magic that made UOL an instant fan favorite a year ago. Gone are Kikis and Power of Evil, the two primary innovators of that original UOL. In their place are Gilius, who was a part of UOL when they originally qualified for the LCS, and Fox, formerly of SK Gaming. Joining them is Steelback, who replaced Vardags in what is the only obvious upgrade of the three roster changes. Hyllisang and Vizicsacsi round out the roster as the lone holdovers from last years team. Frankly speaking, it's hard to see this team making much of a run in either San Jose or the EU LCS. Without the innovation and unpredictability that made them so hard to prepare for, they're just your average to below average EU team. Add in the fact that the roster has had little time to practice and you have a roster that's likely to prove the old adage that lightning rarely strikes the same place twice.
POE looks to prove he's capable of filling xPeke's monstrous shoes
xPeke is a legend. Three players have made such an impact on the competitive scene that their name has been woven in into the fabric of the game itself. We all know the xPeke, the Madlife and the Insec. When the stakes were high, xPeke rose even higher. He wore his heart on his sleeve and the community loved him for it. We loved him as much as he loved the game and he really loved the game. These are the shoes that Power of Evil must fill. Fans will expect him to match the heroics. They'll expect him to rise when others would fall. If he fails, they'll talk about how xPeke never failed, even though he did. Even though xPeke was just as human. We love to romanticize our heroes when they retire. We forget the warts and remember just the shining youth. In many ways, stepping into the shoes of a player as beloved as xPeke is a lose lose scenario. You may be able to match the performance, but you'll never be able to match the personality because none of us are the same. If POE is to succeed, he's going to have to be his own man and give the fans a reason to love him. Judging by his career so far, I don't think that's going to be a problem.