IEM San Jose - What Does it Mean For The 2016 Season?
IEM San Jose -- a tournament which featured four teams from this year's worlds as well as two other middling teams from their region, was a place where new rosters were put to the test. Some, like Origen's swap of PowerofEvil for Xpeke succeeded while others, such as the Jin Air Green Wing's rapid replacement of Kurzan for GankedByMom, failed horribly. However, with the new mishmash of roster changes, mediocre lineups, and brand new squads, let's see how things stack up after the competition.
After the offseason, TSM lost Dyrus to retirement, Lustboy to wrist injuries, and Santorin to Reddit hate. Then, they opened up ADC tryouts because they were dissatisfied with WildTurtle's play during the Summer Split as well as Worlds. What came out of the ashes of these once legendary players (and Santorin) was a conglomeration of superstar western players.
Reddit's Greatest Photoshop
So how did the roster of Hauntzer, Svenskeren, Bjergsen, Doublelift, and kaSing do? After going 1-1 with former Worlds favorites LGD at Worlds, they swept the Chinese squad 2-0. Even though PlatEvil tried to shed the name GoldV, he couldn't carry the shaky performances of Acorn, TBQ, and Pyl against TSM's new two-and-a-half threat combo. Hauntzer's Gnar and Renekton picks both impressed, while Bjergsen was able to pick up the defensive Orianna and Anivia, knowing with full confidence that Doublelift could also carry. The series against LGD seemed to show how this particular western dream team could stack up against eastern teams, even after only five days of practice. Though they may have faced a struggling squad -- LGD haven't looked great since the LPL summer finals, TSM's day one performance made the TSM fans believe in their new squad.
However, TSM's run through the tournament was cut short. Running into fellow Group D member and semi-finalist Origen, TSM were quickly crushed, with notable under-performances by Svenskeren and kaSing, especially highlighted by a 1/7/5 performance by Svenskeren on Kindred and a 0/6/2 performance on Alistar by kaSing. However, I think that even if they got stomped by the eventual victors of IEM San Jose, TSM fans should view this tournament positively. After only four days of practice, the team did tremendously, showing how they weren't solely reliant on Bjergsen anymore, but were able to go top or bottom focused as any moment, as shown in how Hauntzer actually got carry champions such as Renekton and Ryze. The only weak link so far seems to be Svenskeren, but time will tell if the veteran jungler is on his last legs or is just shaking off a bit of rust.
Counter Logic Gaming
"Last time I play with you guys I just want to stomp PaiN Gaming so I don't get those stupid Facebook messages about how brTT greater than Doublelift." What was once dismissed as an "end of season" farewell turned out to be telling words, CLG vs PNG was Doublelift's last hurrah with CLG. (It also ended with a CLG loss, proving that brTT > Doublelift). To replace Doublelift, CLG held tryouts, and former CLG Black member Stixxay claimed the starting ADC position. CLG also decided to bench Pobelter for Huhi, prompting Pobelter to leave for a new team. So how did the North American reigning champions stack up at IEM San Jose?
It's Huhi's Turn
Well, the first series turned out to be a clean sweep of UOL. Not that this surprised anyone, UOL was a middling squad during the Summer Split, finishing 4th place after being 3-0'd by H2k and then Origen to be knocked out of Worlds contention. PowerofEvil leaving didn't help, and while the quick band-aid fix of Fox did decently, they eventually crumbled under Darshan's new-found powers of not being called ZionSpartan. In Game 1 of the series, CLG showed the world that they have evolved, having Darshan's Fiora and Stixxay's Tristana carry them with 11/3/3 and 5/1/8 performances respectively. Free from the shackles of the Donezo Manifesto and Protect the Doublelift, CLG's other lanes shined, with a 7/1/9 Leblanc from Huhi sealing Game 2 and the fate of the Unicorns.
Will he be the next Doublelift?
CLG then moved on to face the sixth place Korean team Jin Air Green Wings. The long held myth of if a middling Korean team was better than a 1st place western team was to be tested here, as the two teams loaded onto Summoner's Rift. However, the Jin Air Green Wings quickly ran into a problem. After the departure of their mid laner, GankedbyMom, they no longer had the superstar mid laner to rely on, having to instead clean up their macro play and hope that their mechanics could hold up to CLG. Game 1 was extremely close, with kills being 15/20 in favor of JAG. However, after the slow 55 minute games, some late game heroics by Darshan's Jaxpeke were able to save CLG. However, game 2, Jin Air seems to have made an error leaving their third ban open, allowing for some pick ban mind games between the Fizz, Kindred, and Gragas picks, with Huhi picking up Kindred and Darshan using Fizz. The Tidal Trickster dominated the game, going 11/1/3, destroying Jin Air and keeping CLG Darshan's positive at a 4-0. However, the tide would quickly change after a meeting with Europe's powerhouse, Origen.
Game 1 of Origen CLG was a 37 minute bloodbath, with PowerofEvil's Kassadin absolutely dominating poor Huhi's Ekko and Xmithie's Gragas. However, a decent performance from Darshan and Stixxay kept the faith train rolling for CLG. In Game 2 however, Origen seemed to have CLG figured out, keeping Darshan down with Soaz's maphite pick while absolutely dominating the bottom half of the map, lead by Niels' 6-0 performance on Tristana. One game later, and focus the Darshan led Origen to it's third and final victory to seal CLG's fate as runner up to IEM San Jose.
It's all on the Chosen One
But how did CLG do overall at IEM San Jose? Well, many expected that after the "questionable" management decisions to release Doublelift and Pobelter that the team would collapse. However, the team managed to show how its top-heavy style could work, and also fail. Since CLG had easy opponents until the final, facing middling squads from Europe and Korea on its trip to face Origen, we currently cannot really determine how much potential the team has, however, if worrying trends stack up, we can expect a strong start to the Spring Split.
They have Imp! They have GodV/PainEvil! They bring in Flame now! Thorin's dream top laner came in to IEM as the starter with LGD, a squad that seemed to flame out after being expected to win worlds two months prior. After a decent week 2 which showed improvements from week 1, many expected LGD to have fixed or at least try to address the problems is suddenly received since the end of the 2015 LPL Summer Split. However, they did not live up to expectations, going down 0-2 to TSM's brand new squad. The first game showed that GODV had leveled up from Gold V, with his Kassadin going 7/4/10 and flashing the new name of "PainEvil" to boot. Imp on the other hand put his heart and soul into his 8/4/10 performance on Tristana, however, to no avail. After a back and forth game of TSM completely dominating LGD, only to continually throw their lead away by over extending, TSM were able to defeat LGD in a teamfight, with super minions knocking on the LGD base. For Game 2, LGD subbed in Acorn, hoping that his tactical advantage of Flame would propel them to a victory. And while it was less back and forth, the final 2 for 5 teamfight sealed LGD's fate.
And we once thought these guys were better than SKT
After this tournament I honestly still don't know what's up with LGD. While their drafting has definitely improved since Worlds, with Game 2 featuring a solid team composition, it seems that their macro play is crumbling even more, being defeated by a team that only had four days together before the tournament. Despite Imp and PainEvil's best efforts, the weak play by Pyl, Acorn, and TBQ seem to be holding this team back, and it will be interesting to see how they do back in China, where EDward Gaming, Invictus Gaming, and the Qiao Gu Reapers are waiting in the wings to take the crown off of LGD's heads.
Jin Air Green Wings
The first international tournament attended by Jin Air Green Wings seemed fated for disaster. After the departure of superstar mid laner Ganked By Mom for NRG e-sports, the team seemed to be headed for trouble with sadplanes.jpg. However, the team did respectably in its series against CLG, gaining a kill lead by the end of the game. However, League of Legends isn't decided solely by kills, a lesson Jin Air Green Wings learned when the superior macro play by CLG led to CLG's gold league and the western team eventually winning off of a backdoor by Darshan. And while Game 2 featured some strong play across the bottom half of the map, the CLG draft mind games along with Fizz absolutely dominating with a 14 KDA proved to be Jin Air's undoing.
The now infamous sadplanes.jpg as tweeted by MonteCristo
Jin Air Green Wings seems to be on a decline. After a 4th place finish in the Spring Split, they finished 6th in the LCK summer split, and since then lost the star of the team. The team seems to not have a main focus for a carry, with Pilot, Kuzan, Winged, and SoHwan all receiving some kills, but no focus. While this style could be good for a team with fantastic macro play such as Cloud9, the team lacks a key ingredient, a shotcaller such as Hai to lead them to victory. If Jin Air picks up their shotcalling however, they do have a chance of making some decent waves in the LCK.
Unicorns of Love
What was once the crowd favorites for EU are now just a husk of themselves, having replaced star mid laner and jungler PowerofEvil and Kikis with Fox and Gilius respectively. And while Fox and Gilius are by no means bad players, they don't have the same ability as their counterparts to bring out off-meta champions to confuse the enemy (see: UOL vs TSM IEM San Jose IX). There's nothing really special to say about this team, in both games against CLG they were dismantled by textbook play from Darshan's Fiora and then Huhi's Leblanc. The saddest thing is, Fox picked Kassadin into the Leblanc matchup, a champion well known for being a strong counterpick to Leblanc in lane.
Hard to think that less than a year ago, they brought Fnatic to a Game 5
But how do the new Unicorns stack up in the LCS? Well, according to their showing at IEM, extremely poorly. The Unicorns were never famed for their macro play, instead inventing a new "Chaos" style. However, without Kikis and PowerofEvil to carry games with their off-meta picks, the Unicorns just can't seem to continue playing their poor macro style because the mechanics from the players simply aren't there. I expect a 5th place finish at best for the Unicorns, and relegations as this team's new floor.
Finally, the big powerhouse of Europe. The team that went from the EU Challenger Series to World's semifinals in one year. To say that Origen had an incredible 2015 would be an understatement, as xPeke's squad shone under pressure, being the only team to take games off of undefeated Fnatic in the EU LCS summer split and going 3-0 in the first week of Worlds groups, a feat only matched by SKT T1 and Cloud9. However, recently, xPeke subbed PowerofEvil in for himself so he could focus on managing the team. So how would this EU squad of superstars fare without their team captain?
In their first match-up against TSM, Origen absolutely dominated, thanks to an 11/1/8 performance from Soaz's Rumble and a 6/1/10 performance from Niels' Tristana. They shut Svenskeren's Kindred down, who finished 1/7/5 on the new Marksman jungler. After the quick Game 1, they followed it with another quick Game 2, in which Origen showed off their third threat in the line-up, PowerofEvil and his ability to carry on Orianna, with a 4/1/15 KDA. Against TSM, Origen were able to show off their impressive macro play and mechanical play, even from the now ancient Soaz.
It's really easy to find images when they only had 1 minor roster change
In the Grand Finals against CLG, Origen once again showcased how having three potential carry players allowed each to pick up the slack over another player who's champions may have been banned. In Game 1, PowerofEvil's Kassadin demolished CLG, going 12/2/5 on the Void Walker. After banning out their own Kassadin pick for Game 2, Niels picked up Tristana, going a clean 6/0/0 in the 26 minute victory. Finally, in Game 3, Soaz destroyed Darshan in lane, achieving a Flame Horizon at 18:45 (a Flame Horizon is when one goes up 100 CS to their opposing match-up). Through shutting Darshan down, Amazing's Elise was able to clean up the game with his 6/2/4 KDA.
A veteran super star replaced by a modern day EU mid
Coming off a strong showing from worlds, Origen destroyed both NA teams in clean sweeps to claim their first piece of hardware. This result may have been expected, after all, they've had more practice than TSM and they were the strongest showing of all the teams participating IEM San Jose during worlds. However, with the loss of Huni and Reignover for Fnatic, Origen has an extremely good shot at claiming the EU LCS Spring Split title (unless they face their kryptonite, Roccat). With the new Xpeke/PowerofEvil situation mirroring Faker/Easyhoon in Korea, xPeke can both focus on keeping the Origen brand relevant while having a squad that performs extremely well.
How Valid Was This Tournament?
Well, to say that this tournament was strange is an understatement, this tournament was a real wild ride from start to finish. However, the tournaments results could be called into question for a multitude of reasons. For once, every single series was a clean sweep, suggesting a clear skill disparity in how the bracket was made. Not only that, but CLG's road to the finals was extremely easy, as was TSM's series over LGD, so until the two teams face more consistent opponents it's hard to tell where they stand. However, as an exciting Season 6 approaches, this tournament will be cited for many months as a benchmark of how international competition is stacking up.
What do you think? Say your opinion down below in the comments, and thanks for reading my first article!