The 2016 International Wildcard Qualifier is about to enter its final day of the group stage.
All four bracket teams are known. Lyon Gaming have locked in first, while INTZ e-Sports took the second seed. Dark Passage and Albus Nox Luna, while guaranteed a spot in the bracket stage, will battle for the third seed in the last day of groups.
In a tournament full of recognizable faces from teams that have represented their region nearly every year, familiar storylines crop up. This year’s IWCQ is the third time that the larger pool of wildcard regions have met over the past year — the separate qualifying tournaments in 2015 split the available regions in two.
|International Wildcard Groups 2015-16||IWCI 2015||IWCI 2016||IWCQ 2016|
*Out of seven teams, not eight (LAS and LAN were considered one region)
Looking at the results of this current qualifier in addition to previous tournaments, Turkey are the clear winners with two Mid-Season Invitational teams. Turkish teams have also never missed the bracket stage of these international invitationals — Dark Passage clinched their spot on Day 5, despite having one more day of games to go.
Next up are Brazil, CIS and Southeast Asia, all of whom have qualified for previous bracket stages, but only SEA has managed to send a team to the World Championship. Last year’s Bangkok Titans topped the 2015 International Wildcard Invitational group stage in first place before they were taken out in the bracket stage by eventual tournament winners Beşiktaş e-Sports Club. In the separate qualifying tournaments for the 2016 World Championship — which only involved Turkey, SEA, Oceania and Japan — Bangkok Titans were victorious over Oceania’s Chief’s eSports Club. This year at IWCI, SEA’s Saigon Jokers finished in fourth, again meeting the Turkish team in the bracket stage and losing.
The Saigon Jokers are SEA’s representative at this tournament as well, and have looked like the worst team in the tournament. They fight regardless of circumstance, and lack the most basic of macro knowledge to keep up with their wildcard counterparts. When combined with the Taiwanese teams and called the GPL, Taiwan dominated the standings with far superior teams, precipitating the splitting off of the LoL Masters Series for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao. As the top LMS teams have continued to improve, the GPL — now a loose collection of regional circuits that are chosen for a qualifier into the IWC tournaments — has sunk like a stone, evidenced by Saigon Jokers’ performances in both 2016 wildcard tournaments.
The demise of the Southeast Asian region has made room for the rise of LAN’s Lyon Gaming, who have taken this tournament by storm. Lyon has been the strongest team at the 2016 IWCQ by a significant margin with better coordination and map movement than any other wildcard team. Thought of as the worst team coming into the tournament based on their results in the 2016 Lyon has impressed with strong synergy between jungler Sebastián “Oddie” Niño, and mid laner Edgar Ali "Seiya" Bracamontes in addition to phenomenal performances from former Kaos Latin Gamers and Last Kings AD carry Matías "WhiteLotus" Musso.
Lyon Gaming underwent roster changes from their 2016 IWCI appearance — acquiring Whitelotus and swapping Seiya back to his initial role as a mid laner. They also made a point to scrim in North America prior to this tournament, something that has become increasingly common as teams reach a plateau within their own minor region, effectively capping their growth unless they can play elsewhere or bootcamp in a major region.
Another team to seek stronger competition in a major region was Brazil’s INTZ e-Sports, who entered the tournament heavy favorites after their bootcamp in Europe. Yet, Brazil has entered as a favorite in all of their international wildcard appearances, and only once have they managed to make it into the larger tournament including the major regions — paiN Gaming at last year’s International Wildcard Tournament in Chile. Brazil’s narrative is often one of inevitable heartbreak, as favored Brazilian organization INTZ has attended three international tournaments and failed to make it out of two of them.
INTZ started off incredibly shaky at this tournament. After suffering losses at the hands of Lyon Gaming and the Chiefs, INTZ looked like they might fail to even qualify for the bracket stage. According to AD carry Micael “micaO” Rodrigues, a team talk ended up being what they needed to push through their nerves and move forward.
“Before we were playing kind of scared so the talk last night was basically we need to be INTZ, we need to pressure early and that's what we did,” micaO said on broadcast after their Day 4 victory over Dark Passage. “This comp, if we made a mistake early we would be screwed but we had that confidence that we could pull it off and just dominate the whole game.”
Another bracket stage team focused more on their own playstyle rather than countering other teams is CIS’ Albus Nox Luna. Formerly called Hard Random, this team has also attended multiple wildcard tournaments and nearly made it out as the IWC representative. Support Kirill "Likkrit" Malofeyev spoke of confidence in a broadcast interview saying that his team focuses on their own playstyle rather than others. “We just play our game and if we’re better, we’ll win,” he said.
International Wildcard teams are an odd mixture of promise and mess. It’s a tournament that can feature the best of what the minor regions can offer, and also have a 50-minute, 71-kill monstrosity. Teams must prep for seven others, while keeping their own strengths in mind. With three wildcard tournaments to date, familiar faces are often featured in the bracket stage. Despite the visible growth from some regions, and the demise of others, the most stable contenders this year are CIS, Brazil, Turkey, along with the newcomer LAN.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.