This weekend the first offseason League of Legends tournament of the year gave us a taste of what 2016 holds after a tumultuous offseason.
Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) San Jose featured a wide array of competition, with teams coming from North America, Europe, China, and Korea coming to California to showcase just what their new lineups, freshly minted after an eventful transfer season, can do. Five of the six teams in attendance featured significant changes to their rosters.
Europe’s Origen and Unicorns of Love were joined by North America’s Team SoloMid and Counter Logic Gaming, as well as Korea’s Jin Air Green Wings and China’s LGD Gaming. The weekend also brought in a fun show match between American businessman Mark Cuban and Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich.
Ultimately, World Championship semifinalists Origen came out on top after defeating Counter Logic Gaming in the grand finals.
The tournament showed both positives and negatives for each team involved, so here’s what we learned from IEM San Jose:
Hauntzer fits Team SoloMid’s needs
When Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell joined the Team SoloMid roster on Nov. 14, he wasn’t what fans were expecting. While certainly a standout as a rookie on Gravity Gaming, he was never a superstar player like the other three the organization added to flank mid laner Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. Yarnell wasn’t a star player in the League Championship Series (LCS), and his team only posted mediocre results—Gravity took fifth-six both splits this year.
Hauntzer also had big shoes to fill after the retirement of fan-favorite Marcus “Dyrus” Hill. The veteran always adjusted well to whatever playstyle his team needed. But this weekend, Hauntzer showed he’s capable of playing Hill’s role—and more. The player had two successful games against legends Lee “Flame” Ho-jong and Choi “Acorn” Cheon-ju, including one where he scored a solo kill against Acorn. And while he did fall to Origen’s veteran Paul “sOAZ” Boyer later in the tournament, Yarnell put up a good fight in the process.
Jin Air struggled without GBM and Chaser
In what is one of this off-season’s biggest roster moves, North America’s newly formed NRG Esports acquired Jin Air Green Wings’ Lee “GBM” Chang-seok, one of Korea’s best mid laners. Jin Air turned to Lee “Kuzan” Seong-hyeok in his stead.
That was an expected lineup change, but the team competed at IEM without another of their stars: They didn’t field jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun. Without their two stars, GBM and Chaser, the squad looked shaky.
Jin Air’s coordination was absolutely awful, and its opponent Counter Logic Gaming took advantage. Counter Logic top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya made a spectacular backdoor with his signature Jax, ending the game as Jin Air scrambled to answer a Baron attempt from Darshan’s teammates.
Jin Air may struggle next League Champions Korea season if it can’t work out its synergy problem. The Green Wings will have a lot to work on when they return to Korea.
Stixxay deserves to start in the LCS
As in the case of Hauntzer, Counter Logic Gaming fans were unsure of what they would be getting this weekend with substitute AD carry Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes replacing former superstar marksman Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng for the event.
Luckily for Counter Logic fans, Hayes showed he has what it takes to play in the big leagues. He was a large part of the team’s two wins over Jin Air Green Wings. Then he held his ground against Origen star Jesper “Niels” Svenningsen, one of the best and most consistent AD carries in Europe.
Overall, Hayes showed that he deserves the starting position on a permanent basis. And if he doesn’t get it for Counter Logic, there’s a good chance he’ll find a starting spot elsewhere in the LCS.
sOAZ is still one of the West’s best top laners
One player in Origen’s lineup really pushed them to their IEM San Jose victory, and it was not new mid laner Tristan “PowerofEvil” Schrage. Instead, top laner Paul “sOAZ” Boyer took the reigns at the event.
Boyer’s first off-season match was against Team SoloMid, where he managed to carry his team on both Riven and Rumble. After that he faced off against one of North America’s best top laners Darshan, who he made look silly.
Unlike his longtime teammate Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez, who is taking periodic breaks from the game to spend more time managing the team, sOAZ showed that he’s still in prime form. His ability to adapt to different metas is incredible, which is part of what makes him one of the best top laners in Europe.