The IEM League of Legends World Championships will run March 2-6 and will showcase some of the best League of Legend teams from their respective regions battling it out for $500,000. Four teams -- Team SoloMid, SK Telecom T1, Fnatic and Royal Never Give Up -- received direct invites to the IEM classic while four other clubs -- Counter Logic Gaming, Origen, ESC Ever and Qiao Gu -- were invited due to their high ranking in the last IEM event.
The first match will kick off with Team SoloMid squaring off against ESC Ever at 3:30 p.m. PST on March 4. For the rest of the schedule, feel free to click here.
ESC Ever (Korea)
Ever posted a dominant performance at the last IEM event it attended, but don't expect similar results this time around. The team lost star players Hyeong-gi "Police" Park and Ha-woon "Athena" Kang, and has not been the same since. Ever has performed well in Challengers Korea, but this was expected after its domination in the KeSPA Cup. It is unlikely the team will advance past the group stage portion of the event without a surprising win in its first match of the tournament against Team SoloMid, as the loss of talent and level of competition may be too much to overcome on this international stage.
Royal Never Give Up (China)
Royal is one of the more interesting teams coming into this event. The Chinese team has had some success this year, starting the LPL 4-0, but started to decline as other teams have come to form. The most notable thing about Royal is its utilization of a 10-man roster. Unlike most teams who possess a five-plus member roster, Royal constantly rotates its players to use each and every one of them.
The team's success depends primarily on Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao, who has helped lead Royal to a tied first place standing in its group in the Legends Pro League. Despite this, the Chinese squad seems to have weaker shot-calling than other teams, which could prove to be problematic in an international setting where split-second decisions are crucial to a win. However, considering recent performances, expect this team to easily make it out of the Group Stage portion of the event and show up big during the playoff run.
Origen has had a disappointing split, to say the least, after its amazing debut last season. Expectations were extremely high as this split started, considering the team's success in the recent World Championship, which ended in a memorable run to the semifinals before losing to eventual World Champions, SK Telecom T1.
Origen certainly hasn't been able to live up to those lofty expectations, as it has seemingly collapsed after coach Tadayoshi "Hermit" Littleton opted to move to North America and take over for NRG eSports. Since then, Origen has been riddled with inconsistency, barely maintaining an even 7-7 record in the league it was favored to win. A lack of cohesion almost certainly seals its fate in the tournament, as the squad faces Chinese powerhouse Royal Never Give Up early in the proceedings. Origen is unlikely to be able to advance unless it makes drastic improvements in the weeks prior to the tournament.
Team SoloMid (North America)
Despite racking up more wins than losses, Team SoloMid has seemingly lost its identity, and it has happened at one of the worst possible times. The team placed third/fourth at the last IEM event, but has since replaced its support with the veteran Bora "Yell0wStar" Kim.
Since his addition, the path has been rather rocky, as the team currently sits in fourth place during the spring split. However, TSM's record seemingly masks its poor play as of late, as a loss to Team Dignitas and an utter demolition by NRG has the team reeling. TSM is lacking synergy; each player has different ideas during the game, which shows through their play.
TSM's chances to advance far in the tournament seem slim, but it was able to show up last IEM World Championship. In addition, the team has an easier first-round opponent in Ever. Considering Group A seems to be the weaker of the two groups, TSM could have a shot to squeak into the playoff portion of the event. After that, anything can happen.
SK Telecom T1 (KR)
The current world champions do not seem as strong as they used to be. After losing top lane starter Jang "Marin" Gyeong-Hwan to LGD during the offseason, (and rotational mid laner Lee "Easyhoon" Ji-hoon) SK Telecom T1 has lacked its former domination. The team on paper is strong, but is not living up to the hype, remaining in the middle of the LCK pack currently. While some of its losses have been close, SKT has also fallen to the likes of Afreeca, a result normally thought to be impossible.
This slump may affect SKT against the likes of Qiao Gu and Royal Never Give Up, but don't anticipate the Korean team having a problem against the Western teams that are mired in their own slumps. If anything, SKT are still favored to storm into the playoffs, and not doing so would be a major surprise.
Counter Logic Gaming (NA)
Counter Logic Gaming has been innovating in North America a little bit, most recently bringing out a top lane Pantheon in its victory over Renegades and Udyr when they took down the unbeaten Immortals. Despite the loss of star ADC Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes has been able to adequately fill his shoes and bring the team success, ranking currently behind Immortals in the NA LCS standings.
The team looks stronger than its counterparts from the West, but the question remains: How will CLG show up against international competition? Whether or not it will be able to rotate around its opponents for a victory is up in the air, and it will be a true test of strength as the North American squad will face world champions SKT in its first match of the tournament.
After a dominant summer split, Fnatic has seemed lost after the likes of Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon, Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin, and Yell0wStar all left for North America. After trying Lewis "Noxiak" Simon Felix as a replacement for its former superstar shot-caller, Fnatic was forced to make a change again, opting for rookie Johan "Klaj" Olsson to fill the previously vacant support position. The team's performance remains lackluster, as it dropped from a world semifinalist team to a middle-of-the-pack EU LCS team, recently losing a game against Splyce, dying 13 times and failing to pick up a single kill of its own.
With such an unimpressive performance in its home league as of late, it is unlikely that Fnatic will be able to shape up against international competition. An opening match against Qiao Gu, the tournament favorites, will be a tall order and anything shy of a miracle will result in a disappointing performance in this event.
Qiao Gu (CN)
Speaking of Qiao Gu, the Chinese team is considered the favorite to win the tournament and arguably holds the mantle for best team in the world. After coming into IEM Cologne with the expectation of a middle-of-the-road team, it was able to place second, falling 2-3 to ESC Ever in the finals. Since then, Qiao Gu has had a dominant run in the regular season of the LPL. The team currently sits alone atop the standings with an impressive 7-0 record, while the second-place team, Snake Esports, is down at 4-2.
Last split, Qiao Gu was equally as impressive, narrowly missing qualifying for Worlds. Its impressive team fighting was offset by the tendency to fall behind and rely on a good fight to turn the game in its favor. While Qiao Gu continues to resemble team-fighting gods, it has been able to initiate the battles to seize advantages in the game, not fight in order to maintain a slim chance at success. It's safe to say that anything short of a top two placement will be surprising for this team of superstars.