IEM San Jose and the Group D redemption story

by theScore Staff Nov 20 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot eSports Flickr

In the aftermath of the 2015 World Championship Group Stage, admitting that I thought LGD Gaming would win the entire tournament will likely cause a few people to stop reading. The LGD Gaming I’ve described at length didn’t appear on the world stage and was either a hallucination-based product of the many energy drinks I consumed watching the League of Legend Pro League or a team that just decided not to show up.

It all began with a game against Origen that AD Carry Gu “imp” Seungbin predicted would be simple as he sipped his coffee during champion select. A horrendous fight at dragon slapped him straight. LGD’s situation worsened with play from Wei “GODV” Zhen that earned him the less-than-affectionate nickname, GOLDV, whatever Choi “Acorn” Cheonju was doing at any given moment, and letting Mordekaiser through—twice.

Origen’s players and coach Tadayoshi “Hermit” Littleton said they believed LGD started the game strong, but over the first week, they looked worse and worse. One might even say that Origen tilted LGD harder than Cassiopeia tilted Team SoloMid at the Mid-Season Invitational.

LGD Gaming have the opportunity to right their problems against Origen at the Intel Extreme Masters San Jose, but first they have to get past their other western nemesis from Group D: Team SoloMid. Team SoloMid won’t be the same team that crawled over LGD Gaming’s poor positioning in a cringe-worthy Mordekaiser game. They’ve revamped their roster around Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. LGD Gaming split 1-1 with both TSM and Origen in Group D.

With a new TSM and a different mid laner for Origen in Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage, the top side of the bracket is both a theoretical redemption story for LGD Gaming and a moshpit of unknown elements. IEM San Jose gives not only LGD Gaming, but also TSM the opportunity to rewrite the results of Group D. With low expectations for the new Counter Logic Gaming and a tepid recently released roster for Unicorns of Love, this is the side of the bracket to watch.

Team SoloMid has other lanes

I know, it came as a surprise to me, too.

Working theory is that Bjergsen was discovered in his hotel room in Paris with a hair crimper and ripped leather rewriting the lyrics to Twisted Sister’s “We’re not Gonna Take it” before Andy “Reginald” Dinh finally got the hint. TSM unveiled their roster for the Intel Extreme Master San Jose to include Gravity’s Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, SK Gaming’s Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, and H2K’s Raymond “kaSing” Tsang in addition to Bjergsen and Doublelift.

The largest debate followed Hauntzer, whose name didn’t seem to match the others on the list. Some posited he’d make a strong Marcus “Dyrus” Hill stand-in, but it’s unclear if that’s exactly what the team needs. Svenskeren spent his recent summer split camping Hampus “Fox” Myhre to limited success. kaSing worked with an AD Carry he’s personally described as quite talkative on H2K, which is something few have attributed to Doublelift, but his ability to share in shotcalling is something TSM fans have raised as a need for two years running.

This TSM roster looks good, but so many rosters that look good don’t amount to much in game, including the most recent Team Liquid and OMG examples from last year. TSM has also added a brand new coaching staff to the equation, making the form they bring to San Jose this weekend a riddle to decipher.

I don’t completely buy into the credo that TSM’s new roster will need time to gel. Most new teams, as long as their players are experienced, will give a hint of the future in their first games. Both OMG and Team Liquid, even when they eviscerated other teams early on, moved like tin soldiers, a piece at a time, without cohesion.

kaSing, noted for his communication, could help alleviate the curse of the TSM jungler, as much of the jungle indecision in TSM’s previous rosters has been chalked up to inactivity in comms. Bjergsen’s tendency to place his own wards could compensate for Svenskeren’s infrequent warding on SK Gaming. Hauntzer is used to a team that doesn’t pay attention to him.

The bottom lane has me guessing. Though H2K’s bottom lane often gained compliments for their synergy, kaSing was the playmaker, and I thought he looked better coordinating with Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu than his AD Carry. I don’t know Doublelift’s ingame style, but Peter “Hjärnan” Freyschuss’ gift for gab is uncharacteristic of AD Carries. This could be the kind of union that ends with one party expecting the other be a mind reader.

Let's dispel a few gold distribution concerns. Though Svenskeren has a reputation as a carry jungler, most of the resources on SK Gaming still went mid. Bjergsen has shared resources in the past. kaSing and Doublelift may have a gold drain habit, but the bigger concern is whether the team may have to deal with the same personality clashes that plagued Counter Logic Gaming.

If the new TSM roster has some semblance of cooperation, LGD will have to actually bring the flashes of minion control and map movement they showed us in LPL Playoffs to win, as rolling over them in a free-for-all might not be as easy as it was in Week 2 of the World Championship.

The team that has no remaining excuses

They really, really don’t.

LGD Gaming enters Intel Extreme Masters San Jose as the only team without a roster change. The team returned to LGD House after a break on Nov. 5 and have prepared for the tournament since. Discarding the misconception that they could win an international tournament without preparing, LGD cut their break short. As soon as LGD Gaming heard San Jose was a possibility, they saw it as a chance for redemption, an ability to go back to China without having to enter the witness protection program.

A mishap at the National Electronic Sports Open in early November resulted in LGD playing with Zhu “TBQ” Yongquan as their AD Carry. I have stored several images of TBQ leaping into skirmishes too early as a jungler, and as soon as the team locked in Tristana, it didn’t take much mental gymnastics to predict the game results against new LPL team, Energy Pacemaker All.

Sometimes a picture like this is all that needs to be said.

LGD Gaming forfeited their remaining match against Oh My Dream and didn’t escape the Group Stage. That won’t be the same LGD Gaming we see at IEM San Jose, as they’ve been working their roster, experimenting with which jungler and top laner they should use, and finding a new approach since imp returned to the lineup following NESO.

I expect them to have a better understanding of the patch this weekend and for the best lineup to come out on the first day. Avoiding a group stage and starting with a best of series could aid LGD, as they’re better at adapting and using momentum in one sitting than they are in conquering single games.

That doesn’t mean I expect LGD Gaming to win IEM San Jose. They’re theoretically the best team in attendance, but just as TSM’s roster is theoretically a good move, that doesn’t mean much in practice. Those same images of TBQ could easily be replicated with the new jungle, champion, Kindred. TBQ’s fascination with the AD carry role makes it very unlikely that he won’t at least try to convince LGD to let him play it.

There’s still no real explanation as to what motivates GODV to drink the elixir that turns him into GOLDV or how much GOLDV has taken over the personality of the good Dr. Jeckyl at this stage. There are several gifs of a six item Ryze getting flayed by an AD Carry in solo queue on Chinese forums, and GODV’s recent form has caused him to lose considerable ground in the All Stars polling.

I don’t have expectations for LGD Gaming going into IEM San Jose. I can’t decide the outcome. They sit in the steeper side of the bracket, and the teams they face won’t be the same teams they played against at the World Championship. That could make their triumph more legitimate, but it could also make it nonexistent.

There are no excuses left for LGD Gaming at IEM San Jose, and all signs point to them coming into the tournament looking as powerful as they should have going into Worlds. Unfortunately, however, there’s no reason to believe they’ll win if we can’t pinpoint all the reasons they lost in the first place.

An Origen story

Speaking of tournament favorites, when Fnatic still sat on the IEM San Jose docket, I saw four potential winners. Origen and Jin Air both made the cut.

With so many roster possibilities, Jin Air may as well have filled in “TBD” for every position, as the Unicorns of Love did. The European team with a bye has made their roster fully public. Origen attend IEM as the team with the second least amount of changes.

While LGD Gaming have made their commitment to preparation known, Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez’s introduction to PowerOfEvil made it sound like he and the team had not spent much time practicing before adding PoE. The question becomes how much they’ve prepared since—and whether or not their secret weapon involves playing with a cat.

As Hermit has also left Origen, the team will attend IEM San Jose without a coaching staff in place. That isn’t the end of the line, as many of Origen's players have experience manning their own ship. It still puts them at a disadvantage without a sixth man to guide discussion and set them in the right direction on a new patch and during draft.

Coaches? We don't need no stinkin' coaches...

Patch 5.21 is still a top-centric meta. While Origen made the necessary adjustments to focus on their bottom lane, they still looked off-balance in the top four of the World Championship with a drastically different style from their competitors. Much hinged on Paul “sOAZ” Boyer’s ability to avoid top lane jungle pressure.

Luckily for Origen, none of the teams on their side of the bracket are top lane-centric. Even if LGD Gaming plays Lee “Flame” Hojong, the threat of TBQ or Lisheng “xiaoxi” Wei drifting top to rattle sOAZ is minimal, and sOAZ can contend with the 1v1. GODV roamed to the top lane in the game LGD played to triumph over Origen, but his form remains in question.

Origen’s setup may well mirror TSM’s—right down to the jungler TSM once imported from a relegated European team. I expect the tighter synergy in the jungle and support core to tug Origen across the matchup, but TSM’s mystique still poses a threat. If TSM scrape by LGD Gaming, Origen can study TSM's play in that series to dispel some of the challenge. They can also play to avoid confrontations with TSM entirely, much like they did in their Week 2 World Championship encounter.

An LGD quarterfinal victory is the larger threat, and the more exciting story. With a 1-1 record from the World Championship, LGD have shown they can overwhelm the EU team by discarding composure and snowballing the mid lane. With PowerOfEvil’s fixation on farming for later stages, it could be even easier for LGD to crumple Origen with a similar strategy. This is the possible pre-finals matchup by which I’m most intrigued. It’s liable to go either way.

That leaves only leaves the communication breakdown sOAZ mentioned that Origen experienced in semifinals at the World Championship. He told theScore eSports that Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider's seeming inactivity and teamfight misplays resulted from a failure to communicate. Should the problem recur, it could give them the look of last year's TSM. Thus far, the pheonomenon has only happened against SK Telecom T1, and a direct bye into semifinals should give Origen enough confidence to rattle off pickup lines.

Origen can make the finals if LGD relive the tilt against the team that started their World Championship spiral. They can also reclaim their dignity. IEM San Jose may yet grant redemption wishes for TSM or LGD. Let the games begin.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. She thinks one side of the IEM San Jose bracket is better than the other. Yell at her about it on Twitter.