The GE Tigers are without a doubt the best team in the LCK and widely considered the best team in the world. They enter the IEM World Championship as the prohibitive favorites, and I can understand why it is difficult to imagine any other team apart from CJ Entus giving them trouble solely because CJ Entus is the only other Korean team present and we’re programmed at this point to assume Korean teams are just better. I still believe they are the favorites to win, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to at least consider that they might struggle against some teams. The GE Tigers are the best team in the LCK, but the LCK is definitely weaker overall than it was last year despite the merging of rosters. While many expected this to result in more strong teams since the good players would be condensed onto eight teams, the combination of players leaving for China and teams keeping hold of their players even when they had obvious positional conflicts (Easyhoon and Faker on SKT1 are a prime example) has resulted in the league getting noticeably weaker. The question then becomes how good are the GE Tigers on an international scale, and in that regard, they have yet to be tested.
*Note, teams are listed from most likely to least likely.
1. Gambit Gaming
It’s been a roller coaster season for Gambit, who started the split 0-5 before embarking on a 7 game win streak to arrive at their current 7-5 record. Statistically speaking, Betsy has been the second best Mid Laner in the EU LCS since his arrival two weeks ago. However, the primary reason for Gambit’s extreme improvement is a familiar face. Diamond hasn’t looked this good since his Season 2 heyday. In fact, he might just have returned to that level. His stat line over the past three weeks, 27/6/58, reads like a co-op game. If Gambit is going to pull off the upset, it will be in his capable hands. IEM is their house. Even if the full original lineup isn’t there, here’s betting that the magic hasn’t completely dried up. Of course, they’ll have to reach the finals first. Diamond should be their trump card, as CJ Entus’s jungler Ambition has been fairly weak this year. Coco is strong, but his Champion Pool is limited. I just don’t have much faith in Gambit being able to exploit that weakness in Picks and Bans. The battle for the spot in the finals will likely come down to TSM vs Gambit.
Bjergsen is going to need a big back
2. Team Solo Mid
The more things change, the more they stay the same. TSM is still a top team in North America, and they still play Mid Priority to impressive success. However, some cracks are beginning to show and TSM has never been a strong performer at IEM in the first place. TSM’s primary issue is their extremely poor Dragon Control. They have 3rd fewest Dragons in the NA LCS, tied with Coast, and ahead of only Dignitas and Team 8. That is not company a top team should be keeping. This isn’t a problem when they’re dominating their opponent, but it becomes tricky when they’re behind. It’s not unusual to see the enemy team have three or four Dragons to TSM’s one or none. The issue stems from their strong tower priority. They will trade a dragon for a tower any day of the week, and while that’s a more than fair trade early, it becomes less so as the game goes on. And that doesn’t count the instances where they just let the opposing team get dragon without getting anything in return. The threat of the fifth dragon then forces TSM to play around the Dragon Pit in situations where they wouldn’t normally want to. Now, their early game flaws have been mostly masked by their exceptional team fighting this season. Even when substantially behind (14k deficit against Liquid), they’ve been exceptionally resilient and able to climb back into the game. However, that only works against weaker opponents and the GE Tigers aren’t weak. TSM is going to have to drastically improve their early game map movements if they’re going to beat the GE Tigers.
3. CJ Entus
It’s hard to call this an upset, since a lot of fans are expecting an all Korean final. But CJ Entus has some definitive flaws that might prevent them from even reaching the finals. Ambition has been a shadow of his former self, while Space has quickly returned to his former uh, notoriety. Their star player, Coco, has a fairly small and exploitable Champion pool that pretty much includes Kassadin, Leblanc and Jayce. With the tournament being played on patch 5.4, that effectively eliminates Coco’s strongest champion. Either way, CJ Entus will have to get by Gambit and TSM before they can worry about the GE Tigers. And that’s going to be a tall talk in of itself.
4. yoe Flash Wolves
The LMS typically goes unnoticed by the western community until the World Championship, so I think most fans will underestimate the region’s representative. The LMS has arguably the best team fighting in the world, and the Flash Wolves hold a dominating 13-1 record in league play. Just as an example, their Mid Laner, Maple, has a 19.6 KDA. Those who follow the LMS have long known that it’s best teams are more than capable of beating Western Teams. But can they beat the best Korea has to offer? Probably not. It’s likely that the Flash Wolves need a little more time before they are ready to really break out. Watch out for them at Worlds though.
5. Cloud 9
We’ll start off with the GE Tiger’s first opponent. Cloud 9 looked weaker than they ever have at the start of the Spring Split but have slowly clawed their way back. Thanks to other top teams beating up on each other, Cloud 9 is now just one game out of first place. They have long been considered the most strategically advanced team in the west, and for good reason, but it’s hard to believe they will ever be at full strength again. Hai is their shot caller, and the team’s biggest asset and liability. It is his shot calling that led to Cloud 9 pulling off some upset victories over Korean teams at worlds. However, the inadequacies of his Champion Pool was one of the main reason Cloud 9 lost to TSM at Summer Regionals, and has been one of the primary reasons they have struggled this year. While Cloud 9 seems to be on this great win streak, the vast majority of those wins have come with Hai playing Zed, far and away his best champion. The only two games Cloud 9 won against TSM at Summer Regionals was when Hai got Zed. I think Hai’s health issues last Summer will go down as one of the great eSports tragedies, as its robbed us of one of League’s most unique talents. Watching Hai play is like watching a once great pitcher on his last legs. Clearly diminished, but every now and then capable of spinning a masterpiece.
6. SK Gaming
When the qualification procedure for the IEM World Championship was announced, SK Gaming was dominating the EU LCS in remarkable fashion. Fans watched their games simply to see whether the opposing team would be able to kill Forg1ven. Then SK lost to Fnatic, which seemed to set off a ripple effect across the league. SK lost to H2K the following day, and UOL the following week before righting the ship against Elements. Regardless, it appears the league has figured out SK Gaming’s fairly one dimensional style. They now enter the IEM World Championship in a significantly weaker position. Despite holding the superior record, it’s Gambit Gaming that looks like the stronger of EU’s two representatives. A large part of their struggle is that they don’t seem to know how to play from behind, or even when they’re even. So if they don’t come out of the laning phase with a lead, they are likely to lose. That doesn’t bode well for their chances against the GE Tigers. In fact, I actually expect them to lose to the yoe Flash Wolves.
7. World Elite
The only team without even a remote chance of upsetting the GE Tigers. World Elite is currently 11th in the LPL standings, and easily the worst team in the tournament. Their biggest weakness is their solo laners, and with their first match against TSM, it’s likely that they’re on a one way trip to the loser’s bracket, followed by a swift boot from the tournament. That’s a sad fate for Spirit, who remains one of the best junglers in the world. But it’s going to essentially be 1v5 for him in all of their matches. R.I.P.