Intel Extreme Masters will always be League of Legends’ strangest tournament. The idea of a competition being decided over the course of a week flies in the face of everything we think we want from international tournaments, and it can often result in the tournament’s winner either being over-hyped or undersold. But, to use any of those as a knock against the tournament would be to misunderstand it.
IEM isn’t supposed to be like the Riot tournaments. It is a chance to put League of Legends into a new context and give us a new perspective on the game as a whole. With a limited time and a frenetic pace almost any team can come into the tournament with the chance to win it all. While this may never be the case at the World Championship, or even Mid-Season Invitational, IEM is the perfect place to see the underdogs to have their shot at the spotlight. This year in Katowice that may be more true than ever as the field includes a few under the radar teams and a few teams who still have a lot to prove on the international level.
For full details of on the IEM Schedule check out our breakdown here.
Europe’s favorite tournament
With this particular iteration of IEM taking place in the middle of the Spring Split, a few teams chose to spend their break preparing for their home leagues rather than making the trip to the international tournament. As such, the tournament will have no teams from North America and three of the four best from Europe.
EU LCS teams have always had a special place at Intel Extreme Masters taking the tournament. Over the last several years it has been the only international tournament in which they have consistently made it to the finals. Unicorns of Love won their way onto the Katowice stage with a victory at IEM Oakland last November. Despite their unchanged roster, and strong games in the LCS, they don’t quite seem up to the challenge presented by G2, making this tournament the perfect place for them to raise their domestic stock and prove that they are Europe’s best team.
For G2, who will want to bounce back from last year’s poor international performances, IEM gives them a chance to prove to the world that they have a real eye towards international competitions this year, and aren’t content to simply dominate their domestic league. With their full world’s roster and an unbroken streak of success, G2 come into IEM as the tournament’s perspective favorites. If they are going to transition their winning EU style onto the international stage, the key is going to be Luka “Perkz” Perković in mid lane. If he can continue the aggression on champions who can take over the game, such as Ryze, they should be able to finally prove themselves in an international tournament.
The only EU team remaining is H2K, who underwent substantial roster changes after a shocking run in the World Championship that took them into the top four. While they have been one of EU’s strongest teams so far in the split, the only two teams they lost to happen to be joining them in Katowice. Even still, the truth of this line-up is that we likely still don’t know just how strong it is, and IEM might make for a great place to find out.
Another side of Korea
On the international stage we often only get to see a very certain version of the LCK: the top teams playing their best after a full split of practice. However, IEM Katowice offers us a slightly different opportunity. This time we get to see two bottom-of-the-table LCK teams competing internationally.
While it may be tempting to use this tournament as some kind of proof of how the west stacks up to some of the less strong Korean teams, the truth is that we probably won’t get an accurate reading here. What we may see however is how some of the more unorthodox play in the LCK may translate to the rest of the world.
The version of Korea international fans know well is the measured sureness of SK Telecom and Samsung Galaxy. They play precisely, rarely taking unnecessary chances and pouncing on enemy mistakes perfectly. Kongdoo Monsters and ROX Tigers won’t be able to pull that off. Instead, we are likely to get something similar to how they have played in the LCK. Both teams have spent the first half of the split aggressive to a fault, starting plays but rarely finishing them correctly.
While this may sound resoundingly negative, the truth is, it doesn’t seem that outwardly different from the way that many western teams have spent this split. One of the key difference when it comes to these teams, however, is that they often choose slightly stranger champions, particularly in bottom lane where underplayed champions like Twitch, Ezreal and even Ziggs may make an appearance.
A chance for Flash Wolves
While EU’s bevy of talent may come into IEM the favorites, one of the tournament’s signatures is defying expectations, and there are few things less expected than a Flash Wolves victory. But why not? Flash Wolves came in second at last year’s IEM Oakland, and have been dominating the LMS, including fellow Katowice participant Hong Kong Esports.
The truth is, Flash Wolves have always felt a bit like a roll of the dice internationally. Often times, their domestic success fails to translate to wins on a bigger stage, while counting them is exactly when they have their best tournaments. So perhaps the best thing to say about Flash Wolves is that we will have to see which version shows up. They may be one of international League of Legends’ greatest “wait and see” teams. With that being said, there’s never been a better opportunity for them to swoop in and grab first place out from under everyone.
The return of Albus Nox Luna
Albus Nox Luna took League of Legends by storm when they outperformed any and all expectations at Worlds 2016. After their unexpected run through the group stages carried them through to quarter finals they were stopped short by none other than Europe’s H2K.
Despite entering the tournament with a new name (M19), and sadly, a new logo. The Russian team that fascinated us at worlds is back together to make a run at IEM Katowice. Generally a team from a smaller region like Russia would be counted out, we have seen this roster perform on the international stage before. Their unique play style, combined with a support meta that should greatly favor support Kirill “Likkrit” Malofeev’s damage heavy style may throw some of the tournament’s more conventional teams for a devastating loop.
While there have been tournaments in the past that have seemed good for these kind of underdogs, there has never been one that seemed quite this even. Perhaps M19 are the perfect team capture that magic and finally secure a tournament win for all the smaller regions.