We are two days down in Tallahassee and with two still to go, the field of six has been cut to four. With a tournament consisting of the domestic champions from each of the five major regions plus the Wildcard champion — Turkey's Beşiktaş needs to beat out six other regions to qualify for the tournament — you knew that the outcome couldn't end happily for everyone. Each of the six teams won the highest honor in their region to be at Mid-Season Invitational, giving each of the teams, even the underdogs from Turkey, ideas of a future filled with grandeur.
The Wildcard team couldn't become the first non-major region team to make the playoff stages of a Riot-produced premiere tournament, and Beşiktaş followed in the footsteps of Mineski (2013) and Dark Passage (2014) by going windless in the group stages.
IEM World Champions and 2014 World Championship quarterfinalist Team SoloMid were the second team to not qualify, only salvaging a single win against the Turkish side on the first day of the event. After winning the IEM World Championship against China's Team WE and the most recent NA LCS in a 3-1 victory over Cloud9, it was a failure of expectations for the North American based squad.
Beşiktaş eSports Club: Closer, But Not There Yet.
Pre-Tournament Expectations: Get beaten up by everyone, and maybe, if they played to their absolute best, steal a game off the consensus fifth-seed AHQ from Taiwan.
What Actually Happened: They got beaten up by everyone, and AHQ, the team that was overlooked coming into the tournament, was the big story of the group stage by playing above predictions.
Turkey's champions can leave this weekend with their heads held high, providing fun games against the world's best. Their first game against SK Telecom T1 was one of the highlights of the first two days, four of the Beşiktaş members converging on the middle lane to surprise SKT's Faker and pick up an unlikely First Blood against the former world champion. Things went downhill from there. They were not able to keep up in the mid-game against the opposing domestic kings and they put up little fight in cases and having games where they were blown out from the laning phase on.
The biggest takeaway from BJK's performance in the tournament is that the Wildcard regions are improving, putting up better showings than they did in previous years, but they're still the designated root-for-the-underdog-spot at every major international tournament. INTZ e-Sports, Brazil's champion, were getting the majority of the hype going into the International Wildcard tournament, yet it was the hometown Turkish team that battled back from a weak group stage to go onto win the tournament through a strong playoff run. While most would still say Brazil's CBLoL or Southeast Asia's GPL are still the best non-power regions — the latter's champion, Saigon Fantastic Five, not even able to compete in the Wildcard tournament due to visa issues — we still need a team to crack the Top 8 at a Worlds or a mid-season event like MSI or All Stars to start talking about them as legit threats.
Nonetheless, we have moved on from the early days of major regions playing against small countries at events, where we used to see teams blatantly pick obscure champions and strategies due to the lack of danger the smaller team posed to them. BJK can now relax, enjoy the Florida sun, and take in the lovely humidity for the rest of the weekend knowing that while they didn't shock the world, they did take a modest step towards a day where a Wildcard competitor can make a Cinderella run come true.
Team SoloMid: Great (and Failed) Expectations
Pre-Tournament Expectations: At least a Top 4 spot going into the playoffs, giving the Asian titans SK Telecom T1 and EDward Gaming a run in the playoff bracket. IEM World Champions, back-to-back North America victors, and the team that forced Cloud9 to finally, after two years, change their lineup.
Yeah, at least Top 4.
What Actually Happened: Teams constantly banned out Dyrus and camped him in lane, killing him constantly and snowballing their leads through the early gold. Everyone didn't play up to their proposed potential. Fans chanted, "TSM! TSM! TSM!" constantly, their voices echoing across the Florida State arena, but it almost always ended with two to three TSM players dying a few seconds later to a disjointed team fight or gank by the enemy team.
Yeah, not Top 4.
The greatest enemy for TSM this weekend were newfound expectations following their recent success, winning two NA LCS titles and picking up their biggest international tournament in over three years at IEM Katowice. They didn't come into this tournament as a cute Western team hoping to be plucky and give the Korean and Chinese teams a scare before eventually kneeling down their superiors for the past three years. With their wins against CJ Entus, Yoe Flash Wolves, and finally Team WE at the IEM World Championships, Team SoloMid came into this tournament with the goal of testing their mettle against the best teams in the world.
With higher expectations comes a bigger disappointment if they can't live up to those presumptions. If TSM came into this tournament and never won the IEM world title, maybe finishing in fourth after getting crushed by an Asian team in the semifinals, this weekend's losses wouldn't have hurt so badly or created such a swirl of anger and demands for change from the fans. By winning that tournament against perceived elite level teams, it put TSM in a position where they entered the tournament as a favorite — a team that didn't only dream of making the Summoner's Cup Finals, but believed they could bring the trophy back home to the United States.
Make no mistake, the teams a IEM were and are high level teams, although it does show something that none of the teams made it to the Mid-Season Invitational. CJ Entus, the Korean team TSM beat, were knocked out by SK Telecom T1; the Yoe Flash Wolves, the team that gave TSM the toughest time in Katowice, were beat in the LMS Grand Finals by AHQ; and Team WE, who continued the success they began at the IEM World Championships, were still beaten 3-2 by EDward Gaming in the quarterfinals of the LPL Spring Playoffs.
TSM are a predictable team. Even when they won IEM with only one loss, they were still a team that filled into their archetypes. Dyrus as the sacrificial lamb worked during the NA LCS and at IEM Katowice, but TSM's were exploited in full with this tournament. Not only were his main champions of Maokai (tank), Sion (tank), and Lulu (utility) banned out constantly in games, TSM left him on an a lone isle for the entire tournament. This was able to work for the most part during the past few months, but it didn't fly here — teams didn't give up towers or not convert the early gold they picked from Dyrus' pockets. The end result was Team SoloMid getting crushed in four out of their five games, their only victory coming against the Wildcard team.
No one on TSM had a good tournament. Bjergsen is their ace and a guy that was seen as the make-or-break player that gave TSM a shot at winning MSI, and it was one of his worst weeks as a professional player, his KDA actually ending up below Dyrus'. They were sloppy and got punished for being a team that plays a foreseeable style who can be scouted easily.
Does this mean TSM are awful? No, they're still a good team. A really good, top Western squad that played substantially below their potential. While this could be a tipping point that sends TSM into a nosedive, this could also be a wake-up call for the team. Their predictable tropes and over reliance of Bjergsen and disregard for Dyrus was not going to win them Worlds. It might have gotten them back to where they were last season, a Top 8 team that gets beat by a world-class Korean or Chinese team, but not the Summoner's Cup.
This was TSM's litmus test and the results have come back clear as day: this way of playing will not get them to their ultimate goal. Time to get back to the drawing board, start working for NA LCS Summer season, and try to clinch their spot at Worlds before thinking about winning it.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports. He says the best pizza topping is sausage — fact.