IEM San Jose primer: 6 teams vie for preseason dominance

by Sean Wetselaar Nov 18 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Robert Paul / theScore eSports

Now that the dust has settled in the wake of the 2015 World Championship, the professional League of Legends scene has entered the awkward offseason — rife with roster swaps, rumors and general shenanigans. While some teams will use this time to evaluate and bolster their rosters, front office and training regimen, a few teams will be taking a break from the offseason madness to participate in IEM San Jose.

Six teams have confirmed they'll be attending the event, and though it's not an international competition on the scale of Worlds, it should provide an interesting window into new styles before we head into the 2016 season in earnest.

Although two of the teams attending have not yet confirmed their complete rosters for the tournament, here's a look at what contenders we know so far.

TSM — The new kids on the block (sort of)

TSM has long been a staple of North American League of Legends, and, despite some shaky international performances, they've always been favored to do well in tournaments that have a heavy NA presence. But this month things are different for the stalwarts of NA. They're coming into San Jose with an almost completely altered roster as only their ace mid-laner Bjergsen remains from their October lineup.

This puts TSM in an unusual situation. Instead of hoping to prove themselves at an international tournament for the first time, they are looking to give their shiny new roster a trial by fire. Though everyone on the team has professional experience, it's yet to be seen how they will play together as a unit. Doublelift has always been an extremely mechanically talented player, but we've never seen him play alongside KaSing. Bjergsen and Svenskeren are both touted at their positions, but apart from Regi's assurances they will gel back to their old Copenhagen Wolves days, we've not seen them play together in a modern context. Hauntzer is another question mark, though he too was a standout member of Gravity this year.

Long story short, TSM has a whole lot to prove at this tournament, and a lot of roster shuffles to justify. This will not just be their first appearance as a team, but an interesting preview of how the NA split could go.

Counter Logic Gaming — Return of the kings

Counter Logic Gaming are NA's reigning Summer Split champions after a historic run at MSG saw them sweep TSM 3-0. But their performance at the World Championships left something to be desired as they failed to make it out of group stages, alongside their North American brethren.

Historically, CLG has played around their world-class bottom lane, alongside carry potential from ZionSpartan up top. They like to lane swap, push down turrets and funnel farm onto their AD Carry to win the late game.

The team has since changed, with their longtime ace ADC Doublelift moving to TSM, and they've yet to confirm a new starter for that position, although the Daily Dot has reported that Stixxay is likely to move from the substitute position to starter for the tournament. We've yet to see how CLG will play with a new bottom lane.

Jin Air Green Wings — The hopeful happy planes

The Jin Air Green Wings have long been the picture of unpredictability in the Korean scene. Capable of taking down top teams in best-of matches in the LCK one week, but falling to low-tier opposition the next, they're a tough bunch to nail down. They finished the Summer Split in sixth place with a 10-8 record, and have since appeared only in the KeSPA Cup, where they went down in the quarter finals to CJ Entus, finishing 5-8th.

It's hard to nail down Jin Air's style — particularly since they've played relatively few pro matches in the past months — but their classic strengths are in hyper-late teamfights, in which they are often able to clinch games they had no business winning. They pulled off several of these ridiculous victories in the Spring Split, and attempted to stall in a similar fashion in the summer to somewhat less success.

All this said, Jin Air is a strong, stable LCK team, and should not be discounted as they head to America this month.

LGD — Back for vengeance

The 2015 World Championship was, simply put, full of heartbreak for fans of Chinese League of Legends, and when LGD — touted by some as tournament favorites — bombed out of the group stages ahead of only TSM, it was one of the worst. But the team that could have taken the world by storm in October is headed to San Jose in the hopes of proving themselves on another, perhaps smaller stage.

The big story for LGD will be which version of the team shows up — the one that convincingly dismantled the LPL in the summer playoffs, or the one that failed to adapt to the new meta at Worlds. There's no question that there is extreme talent on the team. Imp is widely considered as one of, if not the best, ADCs in the world and his lane partner Pyl is also widely regarded as a top support in the world rankings. GODV's prowess in the mid lane is a storied a tale, and their swapping top lanes Flame and Acorn are both world-renowned.

LGD's weakest point is probably their jungle, where TBQ has often been exploited by more adept opposition — though LGD often covered his weaknesses through smart lane swaps in the summer. A lot of whether LGD is able to recover from their struggles at Worlds may depend on whether stronger junglers like Svenskeren are able to punish TBQ's play.

Origen — Great Xpeke-tations

Hot off the heels of a Top 4r finish at the World Championship, Origen is actually the highest ranked global team to attend San Jose — depending on how much stock you put in Worlds.

Origen is still a relatively new team in the grand scheme of things — they came out of the challenger circuit to participate in their first LCS split in the summer. But they are backed by a slew of veterans, and the only true rookie on the squad, Niels, has had a stand-out performance so far this year, with many putting him among the best in the world in his position.

Origen boast both strong macro play and impressive mechanics on their fairly stacked roster. It was built to be a super team, and Origen has performed as one since their team's inception. When they finally lost at Worlds, it was only to even better macro and micro play from eventual tournament champions SKT, and the best way to topple the European powerhouses at this even will likely be to simply step up and outplay them at their own game.

Unicorns of Love — The believers

The Unicorns are coming into this tournament, and ostensibly next season, with an almost entirely new lineup and new hopes at success. The only members of their old roster to remain are Vizicsacsi in the top lane and Hylissang, their support.

Their bottom lane will be rounded out by much-touted ADC Steelback, who helped pilot Fnatic to their first-place split finish in the spring of 2015. He joins former SK mid laner Fox — often a standout performer on the team even when it was lagging — and Gilius in the jungle, whose abilities to kill other junglers have spawned the meme “God Gilius.”

In all, their new team looks like a powerful roster full of top-European talent. The three additions looks especially promising, and paired with a coaching staff that has never been afraid to innovate and pick unusual compositions, they look like they could be the real deal. The true test, of course, will be how they play as a unit.

Sean Wetselaar is a writer for the Score eSports and a Toronto journalist. You can follow him on Twitter.