It's safe to say that Korea’s GE Tigers are the favorite to win big at the IEM World Championships in Katowice. Fresh off the heels of a perfect split in Korea, the undefeated Tigers have never lost a match in the LCK and have only dropped a few games. Between their excellent mechanics, communication and team fighting prowess, they look as dominant as a team can. Not to mention that they will be facing a motley crew of international teams that, on paper, are unlikely to give them much of a challenge.
But there is another factor to consider as we head into the first international competition of 2015 – how each region’s meta might dictate the tournament.
Gone are the days when each region’s meta existed nearly in a vacuum – where Europe could drag games out without first blood for ages while teams in NA thirsted for as many kills as they could rack up. The meta has become a far more global affair - with trends like the gnar-van craze at the beginning of the season spanning across the globe.
But there are still some subtle differences that could make the difference in the Bo1 frenzy that will be IEM’s group stage, and the matches that follow.
Korea: Let’s start with the obvious favorites. Back in seasons one and two, when Korea was still an emerging powerhouse, the argument was too often that Europe had the best strategies while North America had the best mechanics. But when Korea burst into the scene they proved that you can excel at both.
The Korean meta may be one of the most punishing in the world and the LCK this season has mostly been about playing solid early games that simmer into mid game advantages. With such a high level of competition, small mistakes in the early game can be extremely costly and lead to snowball games that would turn into early wins. Typically, Korean games have relatively low kill scores - especially compared to the insanity of the LPL - but it has yet to be seen whether that will change when paired against more aggressive competition.
Korea’s game is about getting all of their members working as a cohesive unit, and getting ahead as a team. Koreans arguably have the best vision control in League, and they’re adept at getting fed as a unit and then becoming unstoppable. Especially against foreign teams, history has shown us that the Korean teams’ much stronger teamwork and mechanics allow them to roll through fights with ease.
North America: Probably the underdogs in this tournament, North America’s hopes ride on the only two NA teams to have taken games off of Koreans in international tournaments. The North American meta is probably the one that most closely resembles the Korean one, with teams such as Cloud 9 saying many times that their strategy is simply to mimic the Korean meta. It’s extremely common to find strategies popularized in Korea mirrored in California during LCS.
Europe: The region that has historically been known for the longest games may have accelerated their play in recent seasons, particularly in the spring split, but Europe still tends to favor teams that are capable of going the distance. With that being said, the strongest of the two EU teams represented, SK, has been known for taking early leads and closing games quickly. They’ve also been known to favour the 1 – 3 – 1 split push strategy, which pressures all lanes and can allow SK to take quickly win games.
China: There may only be one Chinese team at IEM, and many people do not expect the lagging WE squad to make it out of the double-elimination group stages to the semifinals. But if there’s anything China has shown over the years, it is a surprising ability to show up at international tournaments and go toe-to-toe with their Korean counterparts. Though, WE might not be the team capable of doing that.
China is probably the wildest of the four major regions, with games exploding in kill scores and fights compared especially to the low-kill, objective-focused and level-headed Korean play. China was the region known to popularize the early three-man dives on the top laner in Season 3 and they’ve stayed true to their roots, with a much more aggressive style. Whether we get a good chance to see that matchup against the other regions will depend largely on how well WE performs. If their split in the LPL this year is any indicator, though, we may need to wait till the next major tournament to see Chinese players show up.
Taiwan: The Yoe Flash Wolves may have beaten out the Taipei Assassins - widely seen as the top team from the region - for their spot at IEM, but their region still sits largely as a question mark when stacked up against the other major regions. The scene is still among the newest in League and it’s hard to say how their play will match up against international competition.