History overshadows all international tournaments. The western fan community’s perception of China’s regional strength stands as the largest example of this due to Chinese teams collapsing at Worlds last year. Due to an increasingly large glut of games per region and the mere handful of times that teams from different regions play each other at international events, history is often used to compensate for a lack of attention to a particular region or an inability to watch that region because of the massive time commitment required.
Deviating from the historical crutch is even more difficult when evaluating International Wildcard tournaments. Eight teams from eight different regions, all of which have their own strengths, weaknesses, playstyles, and pocket picks. Going into this tournament, Brazil’s INTZ e-Sports and the CIS’ Albus Nox Luna were favorites based on previous international performances and perception of regional strength. Dark Passage was sometimes mentioned due to Turkey’s prior performances — most recently, SuperMassive won the 2016 IWCI and managed to take a game off of Counter Logic Gaming at the 2016 MSI. Yet two teams on Day 2 — Oceania’s Chiefs eSports Club and LAN’s Lyon Gaming — made large strides towards rewriting their narratives and disproving those who used history to predict their actual strength.
Is this finally the Chiefs’ year?
The Chiefs eSports Club don’t lack for hometown support — Oceania fans have fervently supported the Chiefs since their first International Wildcard appearance in 2015. Yet the Chiefs have failed to make it to the bracket stage of both IWCI tournaments and, while they finished in first place following the group stages, lost to Bangkok Titans in the Grand Finals of the 2015 IWC Tournament in Turkey.
After a year-and-a-half of losses and near-misses, Oceania fans have tempered their expectations, and the Chiefs were not on the radar as a top team going into this tournament due to their prior appearances. Day 1 further dampened the Chiefs hopeful with a one-sided loss to Albus Nox Luna.
On Day 2, the Chiefs went a long way towards redeeming themselves in the eyes of both their fans and international audiences, with a 2-0 day against Kaos Latin Gamers and Saigon Jokers. They weren’t the cleanest of wins, but proved that the Chiefs should be included in the bracket stage speculation, and evaluated on their current performances rather than Oceania’s past.
The rise of Lyon Gaming
The most pleasant surprise of the tournament thus far has been Lyon Gaming. Lyon finished in dead last during the last IWCI, with only one win to their name which came against Japan’s DetonatioN FocusMe. Then, Lyon fielded Uri “Uri” Schölderle in the mid lane and former mid laner Edgar Ali "Seiya" Bracamontes in the off position of AD carry. They were uncoordinated and often overwhelmed in comparison to their International Wildcard brethren and were quickly discarded as a potential winner as the tournament wore on.
Lyon carried that stigma with them into this IWCQ, but have looked like the most coordinated and intelligent team on the map, eschewing all expectations. Seiya is currently atop the leaderboard in KDA (8.0), second-highest CS differential at 10 minutes (16.0), and second-highest gold differential at 10 minutes (643) of any mid laner at the tournament. He’s a strong laner who can hold down the fort so jungler Sebastián “Oddie” Niño can focus on snowballing Lyon’s side lanes and applying early pressure. Seiya also receives the lowest percentage of his team’s gold of any mid at this tournament (20.7 percent) making his immense laning pressure and strong performances all the more impressive.
The final day of the tournament features Lyon Gaming taking on Albus Nox. If both teams continue with the level of play that they’ve shown on the first two days, this is a likely clash between the two best teams in attendance.
Players to Watch
The Chiefs eSports Club’s (OCE) Simon “Swiffer”
Taliyah was a weak point for many teams on Day 1, including the Chiefs, who lost with it in their first match of the tournament against Albus Nox Luna. This had far more to do with an unfortunate skirmish in Albus Nox’s jungle that gave mid laner Mykhailo “Kira” Harmash a double kill on Vladmir at four minutes, and far less to do with Taliyah herself or Swiffer’s abilities.
The Chiefs redeemed themselves on Day 2, beating Kaos Latin Gamers and Saigon Jokers. While only Rampage had shown prowess in using Taliyah’s kit for sieging on Day 1, Swiffer and the Chiefs impressed against Saigon Jokers with perfectly-placed Weaver’s Walls. Taliyah will likely continue to be a high-priority pick throughout the tournament, and Swiffer proved that he is more than ready to play the Stoneweaver en route to a Chiefs victory.
INTZ eSports' (BR) Felipe “Yang” Zhao
Yang has been one of, if not the best, top laner in Brazil for well over year. His five-man Gnar play in the 2015 CBLoL Summer Finals against Keyd Stars remains a top highlight in the region, and a reminder to ban Gnar against INTZ.
On Day 2 of the IWCQ, Yang reminded INTZ’s adversaries to never let the Missing Link fall into into his hands with another fantastic Gnar showing. Yang’s crucial Gnar ultimate just before 35 minutes zoned out four members of Rampage, leaving only Rampage top laner Shirou “Paz” Sasaki untouched. Tockers cleaned up Paz with Cassiopeia while micaO dealt consistent damage on Ezreal across the stunned Rampage four.
It’s doubtful that Yang will play Gnar again in this tournament after yesterday’s showing. Teams won’t want to risk his ability to turn around teamfights, and zone out an entire enemy backline for micaO and Tockers to mow down.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.