IWCI Teams Preview Part 1: BJK, Hard Random, SF5
The IWCI, which will decide the final representative to the MSI, is fast approaching, and given that it features teams from lesser known regions I figured I would put together some team by team previews to give people some context as the event comes closer!
A little background on me, I'm a Japanese expat splitting time between the eastern US and Hokkaido for work purposes. I've been avidly following the wild-card scene since season 3, partially because Japan is part of it but also because I think it's really cool to see scenes start up and develop over time. Also, I like rooting for underdogs.
My comments and predictions are based on watching as many VODs of the teams in question as possible, though they are obviously biased by my personal feelings about what is strong in the current meta, how effective various playstyles are, and lots of other factors that would take too long to fully list. I'm relatively new to writing analytically about League, so if you have any comments or suggestions please send them my way!
Team Name: Be?ikta? e-Sports Club
Qualified By: 1st place TCL Winter Playoffs
- Top: Thaldrin (Turkey)
- Jungle: Theokoles (Turkey)
- Mid: Energy (Norway)
- ADC: Nardeus (Czech Republic)
- Support: Dumbledoge (Turkey)
Owned by one of the most famous sports clubs in Turkey, Be?ikta? e-Sports Club (BJK) is a striking example of the growth of e-sports over the past few years. Formerly Aces High e-Sports Club, they first gained notoriety for taking a game off of Dignitas at IEM Cologne despite playing with two substitutes (neither of whom stayed with the team after the event). Ironically, much of their success in that series was achieved on the back of strong play by their ADC HolyPheonix, who left the team shortly afterwards to rejoin rivals Dark Passage. Filling his shoes is Czech talent Nardeus, formerly of EU Challenger teams Reason Gaming and Heavy Botlane, who joined alongside Energy and Dumbledoge to fill-out the new look roster that was then acquired by Be?ikta? and became BJK.
Despite being a newly formed team, BJK dominated the TCL Winter regular season from start to finish, their only losses coming when Nardeus and Energy were unable to play and Dumbledoge filled in as their mid laner. The playoffs were no different as BJK went a perfect 6-0, sweeping both Atlas eSports Team and Dark Passage on route to the title. The sweep of Dark Passage was particularly impressive, given that their opponents had never failed to win a previous edition of the TCL going all the way back to 2013 and their current lineup featured such stars as Naru and HolyPheonix, who are both ranked in the top 10 of the EUW solo-queue ladder and have been called LCS caliber talents by their fellow players.
Having established their position of strength against their local rivals, BJK now turn their attention to the IWCI with high hopes that they will be victorious on home turf.
It’s hard to overstate how dominant BJK were in the TCL. When their full roster played they went a ridiculous 18-0, only really being challenged by perennial Turkish power Dark Passage. Such dominance makes it hard to pick out specific strengths, but a few things stand out in BJK’s play.
First and foremost, Nardeus. While little known prior to joining BJK, Nardeus has demonstrated consistently outstanding play for his new team, with particularly strong performances on Lucian in the finals against Dark Passage serving as prime examples of his ability to impact a game. He’s shown himself to be adept in either standard lanes or lane-swap situations and can generally be relied upon to carry the game for BJK as long as they’re at least close in gold.
The second thing that stands out as particularly strong for BJK is their map control. Once they get a lead, which they did against virtually everyone, they immediately invest in vision control tools to make it even harder for their opponents to come back into the game. Theokoles and Dumbledoge both do a good job of keeping up vision, and Thaldrin has shown a willingness to invest in an Oracles Lens fairly early in the game to ensure that their opponents have an even harder time establishing their own vision. This also leads to strong objective control and allows them to outrotate their opponents to pick up towers and dragons, making giving BJK even a small lead in the early game a dangerous proposition.
In some ways, their impressive dominance at home in the TCL is a weakness and of itself. BJK were forced to play from behind so rarely that it’s hard to say how they will respond if an opponent puts them in an early hole. Indeed, only Dark Passage was anywhere near their level of skill, so adjusting to a higher level of competition may require some changes in mentality.
In terms of individual players, BJK have enough talent at each position that there’s no tremendous cause for concern on that front. However, it is possible that their mid-laner Energy will have trouble against opponents featuring strong mid and jungle play, as he did show some vulnerability against the combination of Naru and Crystal versus Dark Passage. That being said, Naru is an extremely talented player and it’s not clear that any of BJK’s opponents at the IWCI will have a stronger mid laner to attempt to put pressure on Energy.
Coming off an extremely impressive debut season in the TCL, BJK are rightly one of the favorites to win the inaugural IWCI. Playing at home in Turkey in front of local fans will add both excitement and pressure to the experience. Correspondingly, it will be interesting to see how they respond if they are pushed early on by their opponents, though It’s hard to imagine a scenario where BJK don’t qualify for the playoff rounds at least. Their overall strong play will make them a very tough out for anyone over five games, so at minimum I expect them to make the finals. They are my personal pick for winning the entire event.
Team Name: Hard Random
Qualified By: 1st place SLTV StarSeries Spring
- Top: Smurf (Russia)
- Jungle: Symphony (Russia)
- Mid: Kira (Ukraine)
- ADC: LeX (Moldova)
- Support: Dimonko (Russia)
The SLTV StarSeries has historically been virtually impossible to predict and this most recent season was no different. Despite floundering to a mediocre 7-7 record in the round-robin portion of the event, Hard Random made a strong run through the playoffs, losing only a single game to Moscow 5 (alas not the M5 of old, but a new roster featuring CIS standouts like Archie and Flashy) in the final after beating Carpe Diem, M5, and Virtus.Pro to the tune of a 9-1 record (the first two rounds in the playoffs were best of three, the finals featured a winner’s bracket advantage of one game).
Surprising playoff surges are not a new experience for mid-laner Kira, who was on the roster of Carpe Diem that came from the loser’s bracket of the first SLTV StarSeries and ended up winning the entire event, upsetting the team that eventually became Virtus.Pro in the finals, and is the only remaining member of the Hard Random roster that finished 2nd in the 3rd SLTV StarSeries despite finishing only 6th in the regular season.
The rest of the roster is made up of veterans of the CIS regional scene. LeX and Dimonko, Hard Random’s ADC and support respectively, played for Empire and RoX before joining Hard Random, Symphony was the jungler for the roster that eventually became the current iteration of Moscow 5, and Smurf joined from Internationally 5. As such, they feature plenty of competitive experience heading into the IWCI.
Hard Random are a difficult team to get a read on. During the regular season they looked disjointed and appeared to lack motivation against teams they probably should have beaten comfortably. However, once the playoffs started they found their on-switch and blazed through the field with barely a hitch.
Much of their success stems from their mid-laner Kira who has a long track record of success in the CIS scene, particularly in best of series. The current meta seems to suit him very well and he has shown himself able to match up with seemingly anyone he faces without needing to make serious adjustments to his playstyle or losing any effectiveness. If he has a good tournament, Hard Random will have a chance to make some noise.
Consistency, consistency, consistency. Which Hard Random will we see? The hot and cold mess from the regular season, or the well-oiled machine that ploughed through the playoffs like a bulldozer through a playground? If they can’t find their groove quickly in Turkey they may not stick around long enough to show their chops in a playoff setting.
Most of their players are at least solid, but top laner Smurf may find the going tough versus better overall competition than he faced in the SLTV, particularly if teams punish him in lane-swaps. The tactical sophistication of most teams in the SLTV is mediocre at best and Hard Random may end up on the back foot against clever foes, especially if they take aim at Smurf’s occasionally fragile early game.
I have no confidence in my ability to predict this team’s performance. They could win the whole event or lose every game. I’m going to lean towards them underperforming based mostly on a hunch (and the still looming possibility of visa issues which have repeatedly plagued every CIS representative to an international event in recent memory). I believe they will finish 5th and miss the playoffs narrowly, losing at least one game to a team they should almost assuredly have defeated.
Team Name: Saigon Fantastic Five
Qualified By: 1st place GPL Spring
- Top: Auzeze (Vietnam)
- Jungle: Jinkey (Vietnam)
- Mid: Optimus (Vietnam)
- ADC: MinaS (Vietnam)
- Support: Uzi (Vietnam)
Formed back in 2013 for one of the early editions of the GPL, SF5 started out as whipping boys for the giants from Taiwan and Singapore, as well as local rivals Saigon Jokers. Eventually a series of roster changes saw them begin to improve their overall performance, eventually leading to a surprising swap of players with Saigon Jokers that gave them NIXWATER and MinaS, who carried them to their first appearance in the GPL playoffs during the 2014 GPL Spring.
Not content with that, further roster swaps landed them top laner QTV, jungler Jungleology, and mid laner Optimus who formed the core of their roster going into the 2014 GPL Summer tournament. Finishing second behind ahq e-Sports with a record of 7-3, including a stunning pair of wins over ahq, they finally beat their main rivals Saigon Jokers in an intense 3-2 quarterfinal, earning the right to face TPA in the semi-final. SF5 ended up losing 3-1, but even that result was impressive considering it was the only loss TPA suffered during the entire playoffs (they went on to sweep ahq in the final). SF5 disappointed against ahq-Fighter in the 3rd place match and ended up 4th, but they were clearly on the upswing.
The culmination of their improvement came in the SEA Regional qualifier for the 2014 World Championship. Once again they faced Saigon Jokers in the first round of the gauntlet, this time dispatching them 3-1. They then faced TPS. At this point, no team from Vietnam had EVER won a series against a team from Taiwan in a Garena sponsored event, and when TPS went up 2-0 it looked like that streak was set to continue. However, SF5 stunned their more heralded opponents by reverse sweeping them and advancing to the final to face their old friends from GPL Summer group stage, ahq. Unfortunately, the fairy tale ended there, as Westdoor and co. swept SF5 and moved on to Worlds.
Following that defeat, QTV left to form a new team with some of his former Saigon Jokers teammates, Jungleology retired, and support TSU moved to Saigon Jokers. Replacing them were a pair of relative unknowns in Auzeze and Jinkey and a veteran of the SEA LoL scene, Uzi (no, not the Chinese ADC, a Vietnamese support who has played for the three major teams in Vietnam, Saigon Jokers, SF5, and Full Louis). Combining that with the changes to the GPL format for 2015 which resulted in the Taiwanese teams leaving the field, it was anyone’s guess as to how this new roster would fare in season 5.
It turns out the answer is quite well! SF5 went a resounding 27-3 in the VCS (Vietnam’s national league), and after recovering from a mediocre performance in the first group stage, outlasted all opponents and emerged victorious in the 2015 GPL Spring playoffs, defeating Bangkok Titans 3-0 in the final. Clearly the kings of the SEA LoL scene, SF5 will look to show that SEA should never have been downgraded to a wild-card region when they compete at the IWCI.
Resilience. SF5 were repeatedly in difficult positions during this past GPL season, needing a victory on the last day of matches to secure their progression from the first group stage and falling down 2-1 against 269 ZOTAC Gaming in the semi-finals, but they never buckled under the pressure and managed to secure the results they needed in order to progress. They’ve also shown consistent improvement since the beginning of the season and looked in peak form against Bangkok Titans in the final, never giving their opponent and opportunity to get a foothold in the series.
Mechanically, SF5 are led by mid-laner Optimus and ADC MinaS, both of whom are among the strongest at their positions in SEA. Optimus is a very stable laner who almost never gives up solo kills and has a deep champion pool that allows him to adapt to most situations and team-comps. MinaS is in many ways a classic ADC, preferring to farm up in the early game and then take over as the game progresses into the later stages. He was dominant against weaker competition, but has shown an ability to tone back his aggression against stronger players who were more likely to be able to take advantage of it. He’ll need to make good use of that talent when SF5 face their international brethren if they hope to succeed.
SF5 are solid tactically and mechanically, but are outstanding in neither area. They lack obvious weaknesses, but by the same token have no dominating strengths they can leverage. They may find themselves unable to muster the necessary “flash”, for lack of a better word, to win close games against teams with greater overall talent, which was never a problem against local competition but could easily manifest here.
In much the same vein, Jinkey, SF5’s jungler, is a solid player who makes few egregious mistakes. However, he is not outstanding in any facet of the game and can fade into the background against more assertive junglers.
Their team synergy and consistent play will get them out of the group stage, but will fall short of winning them the title. The semi-finals will be as far as they go.