Intel Extreme Masters is quite easily the strangest tournament on the League of Legends calendar. It’s the longest running tournament and for other esports, it’s the highlight of the year. But for League of Legends, it stands somewhere in-between a legitimate competitive tournament and a series of for-fun exhibition matches. IEM Oakland in particular comes only a few weeks after the World Championships concluded, and being played on the final patch of the 2016 Season makes it difficult to determine how exactly teams will treat the tournament as well.
That means it’s likely going to be difficult to draw any large scale conclusions from the tournament. But I don’t see any reason for that to stop me. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what to watch for at IEM Oakland:
IEM Oakland kicks off in Oracle Arena on Saturday November 19 at 1 p.m. EST. You can find the full schedule here.
This isn’t so much a prediction as it is a desperate hope. After Worlds we were all pretty familiar with the standard swath of champions being played. Not to say that’s a bad thing, but if the tournament itself is going to be a little less serious, why not make the picks a little more fun. As I already mentioned, it’s impossible to tell how each team will enter the tournament, but it would be incredibly refreshing and a great way to close out the 2016 season if we got to see a few champions who have been missing for the rest of the year. Why not give us a Bjergsen Zed? This isn’t to suggest that teams take the tournament any less seriously, simply to say that it would be fun for everyone if teams were willing to go out on limbs and give us something unexpected.
Perhaps the most interesting story coming into IEM Oakland is TSM using former AD Carry WildTurtle to step in for Doublelift while he takes a break from competitive play. The temporary addition of WildTurtle gives us an interesting opportunity to grade both Doublelift and Team SoloMid as a whole. During the regular season and playoffs of the 2016 Summer split TSM were unstoppable, but come Worlds they seemed to hit a brick wall with Doublelift leading the charge.
With WildTurtle filling in for IEM Oakland, we might have a chance to see just how big the impact of Doublelift was for TSM and what the team may look like with an AD Carry more focused on mid-game team fighting.
The final, and most wildly speculative, aspect of the substitution is whether or not it might be an audition. After all, we have heard that Immortals is looking to make serious changes to their roster, and the whole reason WildTurtle is playing at IEM to begin with is because TSM doesn’t currently have an AD Carry. Truth be told, I think this is fairly unlikely. Team SoloMid has had the most success of any NA LCS team at developing talented young players into stars - WildTurtle himself being a prime example - and I think that should be the direction they look in for their next AD Carry.
Longzhu vs the World
As I said already, IEM isn’t the best place for a definitive statement on one team vs another. But when Korea and North America, or any other region for that matter, face off, it’s always going to be a referendum of some kind. The only problem with this is that Longzhu is not a good Korean team. Longzhu has finished 7th and 8th in their only two LCK splits and was knocked out in the first round of the Kespa Cup earlier this month. The roster is made up mostly of players that didn’t quite fit on other teams. Meanwhile some of the other teams at the tournament are using subs and always have the out of saying they weren’t focused on the tournament.
This makes the tournament a bit of a lose-lose scenario for Longzhu. On the one hand, a win will be categorized as meaningless because they were playing hamstrung teams. On the other, a loss makes them a disappointment as a Korean team, because they are handed the expectation to dominate.
It’s almost too easy to assign a IEM a greater sense of meaning. To bend it’s events around our pre-existing narratives and use it as further fuel for the endless arguments of competitive League of Legends. But I think that does the tournament a disservice. It isn’t a tournament that has a relationship with the larger Riot sponsored competitive season. So let’s allow it to be that. A fun tournament that gives teams an opportunity to face each other without the wider pressures of the World Championship being on the line.