For this week's edition of staff picks, our League of Legends experts took a look at IEM Katowice and made a number of bold predictions about how the tournament will play out.
Who will win IEM Katowice 2016?
Kelsey Moser — SK Telecom T1
SK Telecom with Blank in the starting lineup loses to emFire, so predicting they'll win IEM with him is a proverbial slap in the face to the rest of the world. Yet I'm doing it anyway. In reality, I believe the top tier is a fairly close battle between SKT with Blank, the QG Reapers, and Counter Logic Gaming, as any of those three teams could fly home with the win. Unfortunately, they're all in the same group, meaning that the other group will be more disappointing.
Emily Rand — SK Telecom T1
The largest question mark surrounding Korea's SK Telecom T1 is the absence of starting jungler bengi in favor of Blank. Some of bengi's current troubles would have been alleviated on the recent patch, but "Mr the Jungle" has struggled throughout spring, presumably inspiring the roster change.
Even in bengi's absence, I find it difficult to bet against SK Telecom T1 based on their prior success and experience. Both Bang and Faker have done well this split and that's unlikely to change going into this tournament. Provided that Blank doesn't donate early kills to SK Telecom T1's opponents, the team should function at about the same level as they have at the end of the spring 2016 round robin.
Nicholas Doucet — Qiao Gu
They've looked dominant in the LPL so far, only dropping a match to the also fearsome Royal Never Give Up. In that same vein, SK Telecom T1 has struggled domestically as has Origen, Fnaitc, and TSM. Barring a complete disaster, Qiao Gu should redeem China's end to 2015 and claim the title.
Kelsey Moser — SKT's jungler
Regardless of who starts, SKT's jungler has been a pain point for the team. Bengi's effective champion pool seems stunted. Blank has lacked synergy. With the rise of Gragas, the wave could carry SKT's jungler forward, putting him into a position to defy expectations as they take the tournament.
Emily Rand — Bang
Based on my presumption that SK Telecom T1 will take it all, I'm putting my money on Bang. The team has trended towards giving Bang his comfort picks (Lucian, Ezreal, and Kalista) on which he's performed admirably, even when his team has not. Bang currently has the second-highest KDA (6.1), averages the second-highest in CS per minute (9.2) and deals the second-most damage per minute (584) of any AD carry in Korea.
Nicholas Doucet — Peco
He's having a career year as Qiao Gu has played their way to the top this split. He was already great last time we saw Qiao Gu at IEM Cologne, and I expect his performance to once again put him on the international radar as a must-watch player.
Kelsey Moser — Lane swaps
A lot of people will say that this is QG or Royal Never Give Up's tournament to win. With the exception of Counter Logic Gaming, almost every other team at this tournament is mid to bottom tier in their respective regions, but QG and Royal top their groups in the LPL. After a disappointing Worlds, China needs to win in Poland or they will become a meme until the Mid-Season Invitational.
The way Chinese teams handle the early game, though, is just weird. QG and Royal have reacted to the current lane swap meta by either freezing multiple lanes at once or actively avoiding it completely by trying to predict blind swaps. Bizarre lane swap tactics could very well be their undoing, keeping China from success at yet another international event — or they can surprise every analyst, including me, by making them work.
Emily Rand — Blank
bengi is a known entity, and his play style often defines SK Telecom T1 regardless of whether he and his team are performing well or not. There are rumors of Blank performing well in scrims in spite of his throughly underwhelming Champions Spring 2016 appearances, and it's not like bengi was performing well as of late. The decision to bring Blank could cost SK Telecom T1 the tournament, or it could be the young jungler's international coming out party.
Nicholas Doucet — SKT's mindset
As mentioned, SKT have struggled mightly, most recently losing an LCK series to the lowly Africa Freecs. Frankly, even with a nearly identical team to their World Championship roster, they haven't maintained their form. If SKT can pull it together when staring down Qiao Gu and RNG, it will speak volumes about their ability to be competitive down the stretch in the LCK and international events moving forward.
Kelsey Moser — QG not getting so overwhelmed in a lane swap that they FF at 20 minutes.
I feel like people expect this to happen, but I think the semi-efficiency of their freezing tactics will be a surprise.
Emily Rand — Counter Logic Gaming's upset potential
Counter Logic Gaming's upset potential, for lack of a better word, is huge. They know how to play the map, they're coordinated, and they've recently started to address their largest team weakness: a lack of proactivity. All eyes will be on CLG as they recently went 2-0 against their toughest NA opponents, and look to be firing on all cylinders going into this tournament.
If CLG wins it all, it will be the tournament's biggest surprise, but a welcome one for North American fans.
Nicholas Doucet — The importance of the pick/ban phase
The biggest surprise of this event will probably not be in the results, but in the details. In this case, it'll be pick/ban phase. The meta has started to become a bit stagnant, but an international tournament tends to shake up expectations with it's melting pot mentality. Counters to Korea's dangerous top Quinn, perhaps an appearance from Jihn. Who knows? That's the fun of it.
Most picked/banned champion
Kelsey Moser — Lulu
With Lulu just generally being annoying, several attending teams bringing proficient Lulu players, and my favorite KOGGLES being as overtuned as he is, Lulu is still ridiculously good. She should probably be removed from the game.
Emily Rand — Alistar
Most likely Alistar, followed by Kalista and Corki. Additionally Elise and Gragas will be hotly-contested jungle picks. A champion that we may see an isolated amount of focus on is Bard, a favorite of aphromoo and Ever's Key, the latter of whom carried Ever through the KeSPA Cup with that champion.
Nicholas Doucet — Alistar
This one is pretty self explanatory as Alistar one of the best supports right now — he fits into a variety on different team compositions and is one of the most contested champions in the world. The teams that don't play it will take it away, and the teams that want it will highly prioritize the minotaur. Not much else to say here.
Kelsey Moser — Origen will beat Royal Never Give Up
Origen look a bit like a disaster with communication flaws and splits in the late game. Yet Royal have been moving more toward getting advantages through 2v2s, and mithy and Zven are at least surprisingly stable in the laning phase. As long as Origen keep Baron warded around 20 minutes, this is actually a winnable Game 1. In a series, I think Royal are favored, but Origen can get the drop on them in one game.
Emily Rand — Counter Logic Gaming will win it all
I really like CLG, so my bold prediction, is that somehow CLG will win the tournament.
Nicholas Doucet — Origen will make it out of groups
Another team who has been searching for directions domestically, a strong performance at IEM could be just what the doctor ordered for Origen. Thankfully, their route is probably the easiest of any of the LCS teams, as they only need to top the equally unsure TSM and EVER to make it out of the group. I'm not saying it'll be easy, but that Origen has more than enough talent and experience to do it.