With only one day of the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice League of Legends tournament left, we now know the four teams that will face off tomorrow for a chance at a $50,000 grand prize—and the competition should be fierce.
Tomorrow will see two semifinals: the first between North America’s Team SoloMid and 2015 World Champion SK Telecom T1 from Korea, and the second pitting China’s Royal Never Give Up against Europe’s Fnatic. Those matches will take place at the Spodek Arena in Katowice, Poland tomorrow.
Surprisingly, none of these teams are the best domestically at the moment—aside from Royal, which is currently tied with Invictus Gaming in group B of the League Pro League in China. Their peer the Qiao Gu Reapers (currently first in group A) was eliminated today by Fnatic after falling 1-2 in a best-of-three.
But for these final four teams, who are arguably the best-known and most popular in their respective regions, this offseason and its roster changes led to lackluster results so far this year. Even recently Fnatic has made a change in their bottom lane. So what can be expected for tomorrow?
SK Telecom T1
Back home the 2015 World Champions had a bumpy start to the League Champions Korea (LCK). They currently hold sixth, with the World Championship runner-up ROX Tigers dominating the region, and other long-time league giants such as KT Rolster and Jin Air Green Wings performing better.
But SK Telecom only made one roster move this offseason, in their top lane. They switched former NaJin e-mFire player Lee “Duke” Ho-seong for former top laner Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-Hwan. For IEM Katowice (most likely due to the event meaning little in the grand scheme of overall competition), SK Telecom opted to use substitute jungler Kang “Blank” Sun-gu.
He performed well today, as did the rest of the team. Star AD carry Bae “Bang” Jun-sik shredded Qiao Gu Reapers with Kalista, and dominated Counter Logic Gaming on Ezreal. The team’s best player Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok performed well on Lulu and Leblanc, two very different champions in nature.
Tomorrow, Bae Jun-sik and Lee Sang-hyeok will meet strong competition in Team SoloMid’s star duo Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Luckily for Kang Sun-gu, SoloMid jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen has looked out of form recently, which could give the Korean the edge.
If SK Telecom T1 performs in the same fashion they did today, they should beat SoloMid and advance on to meet the winner of Royal Never Give Up and Fnatic.
On paper Team SoloMid looked to be the surefire favorite to win North America this season. But the unfortunate reality is that they’re currently the fifth best team in the region, and have a lot of inconsistency in their play.
This offseason they went through the most changes, only keeping Bjerg in their mid lane. From there they added former Counter Logic Gaming star Peng, former SK Gaming star Johnsen, former Fnatic leader and support Bora “YellowStar” Kim, and former Gravity top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell.
They had a bumpy group stage as well, originally losing to Korean Challenger squad Ever. But they bounced back and beat Europe’s Origen, and Ever, in two best-of-three series to make it out.
If they continue those shaky performances tomorrow, they will lose to SK Telecom T1 and will take third-fourth. SoloMid will need some sort of star miracle performance, likely from Bjerg or Peng, plus consistency from the rest of the group to even have a chance to take down the Korean titan.
Royal Never Give Up
Led by 2014 World Championship MVP Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong, Royal Never Give Up also made a lot of changes this offseason. But unlike before, the team now is one of the best from China—with Cho Se-hyeong and mid laner Li “xiaohu” Yuan-Hao leading the pack this tournament.
That didn’t seem to matter as Royal swept their group yesterday, taking decisive victories over Origen and Ever. Jungler Liu “Mlxg” Shi-yu received a lot of praise on social media for the matches.
Success for the team tomorrow will ultimately come down to Cho Se-hyeong and Li Yuan-Hao’s performances, with the latter needing to bring his A-game as he faces Fnatic’s star mid laner Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten. The series will be the closest of the day, but given their performance from yesterday Royal should have a slight edge.
Like Team SoloMid and SK Telecom T1, Fnatic has had a rough split. They benched their support Lewis “NoxiaK” Felix several weeks ago for rookie Johan “Klaj” Olsson. Olsson has performed better (but not anything all that special) with Fnatic currently at fifth under Team Vitality, G2 Esports, Unicorns of Love, and H2K Gaming.
Tomorrow’s performance really comes down to two players: mid laner Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten and Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon. Both performed well today against Counter Logic Gaming and the latter half of the Qiao Gu Reapers series. Lee Da-yoon in particular showed some impressive performances on his Lee Sin.
Aside from SK Telecom, Fnatic has the best chance against the dominant Royal Never Give Up. The series should be super close, with the winner coming out ahead by only a small margin.
Photo by Helena Kristiansson via ESL/Flickr (All rights reserved, used with permission)