Xmeik's Wednesday Long Read: IEM San Jose Power Rankings
(Author’s note: numerous rosters have yet to be fully announced. This list is subject to change as more information regarding the present teams is revealed.)
With six League of Legends teams descending upon the SAP Arena in San Jose this weekend to relieve local hockey fans of the Shark’s painful adequacy, the likes of the new Team SoloMid lineup and an exciting Jin Air team will provide us with another weekend of exciting matches. As players fly to new teams faster than the rumors about them, it can be hard to predict how teams will fare against one another.
Thankfully, I’m here for you with my IEM San Jose power rankings. Below are each team’s rosters as of November 17, 2015, and the IEM playoff bracket.
If you disagree, feel free to tell me about your opinion and reasoning why. Open, civil discussion is a great tool. Comment below or let me know your opinion via Twitter (@lolXmeik).
Without further ado, let's dive into the rankings!
6. Unicorns of Love
It’s hard to put a team above last place when they only found out about a week ago that they would be flying to Silicon Valley. It becomes even harder when they are known for playing a “chaos style.” You know what chaos style really means? Try “strategically illiterate”, and you should find the two terms to be perfectly tailored for one another. Seriously, this team is known for having a lack of strategy as a strategy. It’s too bad that “Anarchy” is already a team name in Korea. How can one predict a team like this to do well?
On a more disappointing note, at least for Unicorns of Love fans, their star mid laner PowerOfEvil is now starting for Origen. Not only does this team come into IEM without warning and without strategy, they are also without their dominant mid laner. This is of course not including the fact that they additionally have yet to announce their starting AD Carry and jungler. Only carrying over two members from the previous split, one can only hope that this transition marks a significant change in the team’s strategical portfolio.
There’s not much more to say. Could they cheese their way through like last year? Sure. Is it wise to predict a team to win based off of the slimmest of chances? Not in the slightest.
Best case scenario: After cheesing their way past Counter Logic Gaming, Jin Air absolutely demolishes the Unicorns of Love. Their new mid laner gives a performance for the ages, delivering stellar performances as he solo carries the maligned European outfit against Huhi.
Worst case scenario: Is there a worst case scenario? They come in with no expectations. I suppose getting food poisoning from Chipotle could be considered the worst that could happen to this team.
5. Team SoloMid
My father once took me to the Keenland horse racing track in Kentucky, near Lexington. Instructing me on the finer points of betting on horses, using insight from his fraternity days at UK, he told me to never bet on an unknown. Just as 14-year old Xmeik took this advice in 2007, I refuse to bet on unknown factors, and a team with three new members and no announced coaching staff qualifies as such.
Now, TSM has talent. The two hardest carries from the last split of the NALCS are both under contract, and the other players added are either established talents or have significant upside. This team will be great, but it will not be in time for IEM San Jose. This stems from the fact that there simply has not been much time for TSM to bond and that the coaching staff was only officially announced yesterday.
The Team SoloMid coaching staff for IEM San Jose simply does not have enough time to create a thorough game plan that can effectively be taught to the players before facing LGD. The Chinese side not only has more individual talent than TSM, but furthermore is the only team coming to IEM that has yet to make an off-season roster move. Despite all of the star power on TSM, I fail to see how it would be likely for them to defeat a team with better-planned strategy and more individual talent.
(Side note: why are League of Legends coaches seemingly always hired after players are signed and forced to work with the hand dealt to them? Each coach has a system, and the players should fit that system, rather than coaches needing to fit the players initially. Look at Liverpool being willing to buy Jurgen Klopp players so that he can obtain players that fit his ideal team image instead of being stuck with what he's given.)
Once again, if Team SoloMid keeps this roster together, they will be a good team. It will just take time, a resource that they haven’t had yet.
Best case scenario: Team SoloMid’s star players all go on a tear against LGD, replicating week 1 of Worlds as Svenskeren abuses TBQ in the jungle. However, the North American outfit is downed by a more refined Origen in the semifinals.
Worst case scenario: Team SoloMid’s lack of strategy is not only exposed, but similar problems from the past arise once more. Bjergsen and Doublelift hog all of the team’s resources, and Hauntzer is “Dyrus’d” by both TSM and their opponent as they exit in the quarterfinals. Because of the lack of a coaching structure, egos clash, and TSM finds themselves with more questions regarding their starting roster than before the tournament.
4. Counter Logic Gaming
I get it, you’re mad about Counter Logic Gaming being placed ahead of TSM. I’m a Nashville Predators hockey fan, so I know the feeling when your favorite team, despite its obvious talents, is put behind seemingly weaker teams in power rankings. However, I side with the notion that strategy will beat out individual talent. Just as Barry Trotz was never going to out-coach Mike Babcock’s Red Wings, TSM does not have the strategical backbone that Counter Logic Gaming has coming into this tournament. Furthermore, Counter Logic Gaming is only changing over one player (remember that Huhi was going to start in the recent summer split had it not been for visa issues) while filling the head coach vacancy by promoting another member within their own organization.
That’s a significant amount of continuity for a team in the chaotic, rampant world of transfers that we currently live in. The familiarity of the players with both one another and their in-game strategy puts Counter Logic Gaming one big step above both the Unicorns of Love and Team SoloMid.
However, for the stability that Counter Logic Gaming brings with them to IEM, an even bigger step separates them from the likes of the teams ranked ahead of them. The remaining teams have more pound-for-pound talent than Counter Logic Gaming while carrying with them the same continuity within their organizations. If Freeze or Forgiven arrive in the SAP Arena in blue and black, then I could change my mind and potentially move CLG to third, but as of right now the remaining teams will simply outplay them.
The one other thing that Counter Logic Gaming has going for them is their side of the bracket. With the top two teams in the tournament placed on the other side, the only team that they will face difficulty navigating past is Jin Air. While I do believe that Jin Air is the stronger side in that match, I would hardly say that the match is impossible for Counter Logic Gaming to win. Should they bring their best on the stage, I believe an upset is possible.
Best case scenario: Counter Logic Gaming arrive with Freeze or Forgiven, forging a powerful duo lane with Aphromoo. The dismissal of Doublelift seems to have reinvigorated the roster, as they have never had better communication. They savor their free pass to the semifinals after vanquishing the Unicorns of Love, Overcome Jin Air in the semifinals in a tough fought series. Ultimately, CLG is beaten handily by LGD or Origen in the Finals.
Worst case scenario: Counter Logic Gaming fails to find an answer for the oddball "tactics" that the Unicorns of Love throw at them, and make an incredibly dissapointing first-round exit from IEM.
3. Jin Air Green Wings
Korea had an interesting tier system this past season, with Jin Air joining Najin and CJ as the “we’re almost good enough” teams. After making a tear through the gauntlet, Jin Air was finally put down by KT Rolster in the series that sent KT to Worlds. Afterwards, their star mid laner GBM decided to bolt his fame in Korea to join the newly formed NRG organization in the NALCS. Replacing him is the up-and-coming talent Kuzan, who has so far synergized well with the team. Replacing Trace in the top lane is SoHwan. Additionally, although Chaser performed admirably in the LCK summer split, their substitute Winged played in the jungle for the recent KESPA Cup.
In the recent KESPA Cup, Kuzan, SoHwan, and Winged managed to showcase some of their talents and, in contrast to the other teams changing players, have already played in a competitive tournament in their new team. This gives Jin Air a definitive leg up on their opponents on their side of the bracket, who have yet to perform as cohesive units. Furthermore, they will be the only team at this tournament to have played prior in a highly competitive match on the patch 5.21, the patch this tournament will be played on. This means that they will be better prepared for the changes and how they affect competitive play, and they additionally have already proven their understanding of this patch. In their series against Longzhu-IM, their game 3 composition was the best ensemble of champions arranged in the entire KESPA Cup.
In the classic “Juggermaw” composition, the strategy has been found wanting when a tank is played in the top lane rather than a secondary threat. The logic behind wanting a Shen or Maokai up top is sound in that it helps protect the Kog’Maw, but in practice it simply has not worked. However, with the introduction of Kindred, Jin Air saw an opportunity to bolster the core strength of the Juggermaw – protecting the Kog’Maw – while simultaneously running a secondary threat. In taking Kindred in the jungle, Jin Air was able to run Shen top because Kindred’s damage potential negates the need for a threat out of the top lane. Furthermore, Kindred’s ultimate, Lamb’s Respite, is able to heal and keep Kog’Maw alive should the Kog’Maw be bursted down. It’s a fabulous composition, and a prime example of how Jin Air are more than prepared to play at IEM San Jose.
Best case scenario: After beating Counter Logic Gaming in the Semifinals, they use their prior experience on patch 5.21 to take out Origen in the finals, punching their ticket to the IEM World Championship.
Worst case scenario: Jin Air’s aggressive playstyle is exposed by the strategy of Counter Logic Gaming. Furthermore, Zionspartan exposes SoHwan as an inexperienced weakness and snowballs games off of the mismatch in the top lane.
Surpassing all expectations and bowing out of Worlds in the semifinals, Origen has established themselves as a strong, powerful team to be reckoned with. First, let’s talk about Niels. The one non-established member of Origen has turned out to potentially be the team’s best player. That’s no knock on Mithy, who is a phenomenal support, but rather emphasizes the pure talent that oozes out of Niels’ keyboard. The EULCS was but a “Rocky” montage of Niels learning how to carry before entering the rift at Worlds and demolishing his opposition. Facing Imp, Arrow, and Wildturtle in groups, the rookie managed to more than hold his own as he helped lead Origen through the “group of death.” He then put in a solid performance against the Flash Wolves before respectfully exiting the tournament at the hands of SK Telecom.
The greatest weakness of Origen at Worlds was plain to see, and it was their fabled mid laner Xpeke. While the Spaniard will always be regarded as an outstanding pioneer and ambassador of eSports, he simply could not match up against the new generation of mid lane talent. Faced against Godv, Bjergsen, Nagne, Maple, Easyhoon, and Faker, only Nagne was arguably a lesser talent than Xpeke, and frankly that would be a losing debate. However, Xpeke realized this himself, and went out and acquired PowerOfEvil, an up and coming European star. Formerly trapped in the strategic mess that is and was the Unicorns of Love, PowerOfEvil’s immersion onto a tactically sound squad may be what he needs to reach that next tier of European midlaners. PowerOfEvil's talent is undeniable, and he transforms one of Origen’s only weaknesses into a potential strength.
That all being said, their side of the bracket, also known as Worlds group D light, is no cake walk. They emerged from the group in 2nd place, but in the second week they were defeated by the one team that is, rightfully so, ranked ahead of them for this tournament. If they escape their semifinal match, I firmly believe that they would defeat their opponent in the finals, but they have to get there first.
Best case scenario: PowerOfEvil fits seamlessly into the team, performing exquisitely in the mid lane. After TSM somehow upsets LGD, Origen rolls through them to the finals. After defeating Jin Air, Origen proves that their semifinal showing at Worlds was no fluke.
Worst case scenario: LGD defeats TSM and proves too much for Origen, as PowerOfEvil fails to make an impact. Furthermore, Soaz is given a rude awakening in the top lane as Acorn and/or Flame punish his overaggressive tendencies. After exiting in their first series, serious doubts are cast upon their performance at Worlds.
FINALLY, a professional team that looks professional.
You thought that this team was bad because of their performance at Worlds? LGD went 2-1 the second week, defeating both Team SoloMid and Origen in the process. In the quasi-reunion of Worlds Group D in San Jose this weekend, the only team that could defeat LGD in Week 2 won’t be present. That alone makes it a tough bet to take a team other than LGD to win IEM San Jose.
Furthermore, this is the only team coming to San Jose with no player turnover since Worlds. Despite their showing, this team has the top AD Carry in the world among other outstanding players across the board. The Acorn versus Flame choice is just as much of an embarrassment of riches as SK Telecom’s option of playing Faker or Easyhoon. The only weakness for LGD lies in their jungler TBQ, but given the strength of his teammates, his weaknesses are fairly easy to camouflage against weaker teams.
Do not let Worlds let you mistake opinions as fact: this is a team that oozes world-class talent across the map, and will be incredibly difficult for any team here at IEM San Jose to take down. They defeated both teams in their side of the bracket in their most recent games, so do not think for a second that this team will buckle over to Origen in the semifinals because of the vast difference in their Worlds end results.
Best case scenario: Vanquishing the ghosts of this year’s Worlds, Godv sheds the “Worlds 2013 Curse of Dade” and returns to form, quickly establishing himself as the best midlaner at this event. After disposing of Team SoloMid in quick fashion, LGD prove that their victory over Origen at week 2 of Worlds was no fluke. LGD then unleashes their talent in a ruthless display in the finals, capturing a bid to the IEM World Championship after disposing of their opponent.
Worst case scenario: Rather than a painful memory, Worlds was an accurate reflection of the team’s state. As everything falls apart against Team SoloMid, the biggest problem once more is TBQ in the jungle, as he is thoroughly outplayed by Svenskeren. With no pressure on any of the lanes, TSM manages to escape LGD's laning prowess and somehow pull out an unlikely victory.
Quarterfinal 1: LGD 2 – TSM 0
Quarterfinal 2: CLG 2 – UOL 0
Semifinal 1: LGD 2 – Origen 1
Semifinal 2: Jin Air 2 – CLG 1
Final: LGD 3 – Jin Air 1
If you enjoy this content, you can follow Xmeik on Twitter (@lolXmeik) or on Facebook for updates on future articles. For more of "Xmeik's Wednesday Long Read" series, be sure to check out articles from previous weeks:
November 11th, 2015: Kindred in Competitive Play
November 4th, 2015: SKT vs. KOO and the Anatomy of a Lane Swap
October 29th, 2015: Comparing Marin, Smeb, and Ssumday