The IEM series of tournaments provide a valuable service to the League of Legends community; depending on the field of competition at each event, we're able to get an idea both of regional and individual power levels, which fuels speculation at least until the next competition, or Worlds.
This year's IEM World Championship actually has decent representation in terms of regions, perhaps with the exception of China. Omitting them, we should get a pretty definitive ranking that should have us all arguing about whether it "counted" or not for the next couple months.
GE Tigers: The Juggernauts
The GE Tigers have not lost a match in the LCK, and come into the IEM World Championships as the favorite to win the whole thing. They teamfight well, win with power, and most importantly they adapt to the odd loss that they have as part of a best of three.
That last point is key in a large international competition, where they may be unfamiliar with the teams that they'll be facing. Despite scrimmaging other teams while in Katowice and taking part in EU solo queue, there's always that "what if" factor when it comes to the actual tournament.
Many expect a GE Tigers vs. CJ Entus final, and it would be a tremendous upset for the Tigers to suffer their first match loss here. The Tigers won their previous match against CJ in the LCK 2-0, which also kind of pulled back the curtain on CJ's resurgence — the Tigers may have their number again.
Look for Smeb (Top), PraY (AD) and GorillA (Support) to form the team's core power, as each one of them are capable of carrying the team. In particular, GorillA has taken on a Mata-like role as someone who the Tigers can count on consistently.
Team Solomid: The Hopefuls
Team Solomid are the perennial frontrunners in North America, and they come into this tournament looking for their first match victory against a Korean team and to make a splash internationally.
They arguably have the easier Korean matchup in their group with CJ Entus, but it's difficult to ascertain how well they stack up against them; CJ have been in a slump, but TSM have also had a questionable LCS losses against teams like Liquid, Team Impulse and Team 8.
TSM's strengths lie in the individual talent of their mid-lane carry, Bjergsen, and the consistent performances in their other players. While WildTurtle may not lead every game, he has proven he can run with the ball when it's given to him. Lustboy's addition to the team has given them a reliable, play-making support which was what the team severely needed; if the bottom lane want to back up mid's strength, he will need to be in form.
Cloud9: The Rebuild
Cloud9 were poised to supplant TSM as the go-to team for North America, but their current season has left a lot to be desired. While each member of the team is solid in their respective roles, their dominance over objective control doesn't seem to have the same stifling effect it's had in the past.
It was this objective control that made each player's weaknesses a little less pronounced; a common complaint about Cloud9 in fantasy leagues is that the team will win, but at least one member will die a lot to do it.
While the ends justified the means in the past, teams seem to have figured out ways of mitigate Cloud9 leads and keep them from playing their game. Their middling results also highlights Hai's limited champion pool, Sneaky's tendency to go really hot or terribly cold, and Balls' climbing death count.
C9 have the unfortunate luck of facing GE Tigers in the first round in Poland, but they will likely meet the yoe Flash Wolves in the loser's bracket after the latter's game with SK Gaming. Providing they win there, an SK/C9 second round could be the stage they need to prove that they're back to former strength; maybe not "crushing Koreans" strong, but still good enough to hang.
CJ Entus: The Uncertainty
CJ Entus started their season hearing "Space Prison" jokes and decided to do something about it. After rifling off a series of wins, they seemed to have reclaimed some of their former glory; this trend didn't last long, as teams began to notice some glaring flaws.
Shy's champion pool tends to limit the team's options, and their victories tend to involve him doing well. Fortunately for them, their group opponents (Team WE, TSM and Gambit Gaming) have competent, but not juggernaut counterparts for him to face.
While these players are no slouches in their own respects, they rarely are the entire lynchpin of their teams' success; you can count on people to zero in on CJ's weakness, especially with many predicting them to finish second.
yoe Flash Wolves: The Hope
Coming in from the IEM Taipei qualifier, the yoe Flash Wolves are made up of multiple members from the Season 3 World Championship-qualifying Gamania Bears. It was that squad that was unfortunately matched up against SK Telecom T1 in the semifinal round, and the results were not the prettiest.
Sadly, their loss at worlds confirmed the speculation that Southeast Asia's space in competitive League of Legends was in a downturn; the yoe Flash Wolves are first in the LMS (their region's main competition), but with this current field of competition that isn't as big a vote of confidence as it could be.
Look for the Wolves to take advantage of their enjoyment of roaming around the map to get kills. As SK Gaming have been having noted vision problems as of late, this may work to the Wolves' advantage; however, it's a matter of tactics overcoming raw skill, which can be very hit or miss.
At IEM Taipei the Wolves did beat the Taipei Assassins to take the finals, but it took them two matches in order to wake up enough to clinch the win. They will not have that luxury in this tournament, as the two losses will be enough to eliminate them.
In short, it's put up or shut up.
Gambit Gaming: IEM Kings
Seemingly able to pull out amazing performances at Intel Extreme Masters tournaments regardless of their current station, Gambit Gaming are a wild card coming into the World Championships. While their results suggest they are a mid-pack EU team, they seem to thrive in longer series and international competition.
Veteran players Diamondprox and Edward have seen a resurgence of form alongside the growth of Pinoy and Cabochard. Betsy's addition seemed to complete the puzzle for the team, giving them consistency and a player who can take kills and run away with a game.
Gambit have a lot to prove in this tournament, mostly to people who view their recent surge with skepticism. Pinoy has shown flashes of brilliance in the AD carry role, and Diamond's experimentation with junglers like Sejuani possibly signal a return to the Moscow 5 "see hero, kill hero" mindset.
In order to succeed at IEM, they will need to do a lot of killing.
SK Gaming: The Power
SK Gaming have been revitalized by off-season acquisitions, so they're carrying a lot of momentum into IEM. After clinching the first place in the European LCS this past week, SK have a lot to gain by taking some wins off of international teams at this event.
The main criticism of the team tends to be their lack of vision, which when exploited can be costly. However, a deluge of criticism to this point may have given them adequate time to fix it. As they face the yoe Flash Wolves first round in groups, they will have a low-stakes chance to experiment while relying on their individual players power to push through.
FORG1VEN has consistently shown that he is one of the top ADCs in the European region, and Fox's recent performances have given a clearer vision of the top mid he's supposed to be. Nrated, fredy112 and Svenskeren are solid enough to enable their carries to do the job they need to, and adapt to different situations as needed.
The question for SK Gaming is not if they're competent, but the degree of that competence. Will they be able to beat or take games off TSM? Cloud9? While obviously they'd like to take the trophy home with them, IEM provides an extremely valuable stage to fix their weaknesses before Worlds.
Team WE: The Experiment
Team WE is a bit difficult to place because of their addition of two new players in time for the tournament. With a new mid lane (Xiye for Ninja) and AD carry (Mystic for Styz), WE look to patch up some of their holes and make sure they're in form for the international stage.
Qualifying via the four-team IEM Shenzhen, WE did beat Edward Gaming, but it's important to realize that the roster that did has zero members returning to this tournament. WE qualified in July, and might as well be named something completely different.
As our Chinese expert Kelsey Moser explains, WE was hit hard after multiple retirements and a rebuilding phase. Their jungler's champion pool is limited, and suseptible to banning out, and the change in the midlane may not even be the best move.
From Kelsey's article:
The question becomes whether Mystic's theoretical upgrade over Styz is enough to offset the removal of Ninja. While Ninja isn't consistent or near the list of best mid laners in LPL, his occasionally otherworldly performances have kept WE afloat, and right now he looks like Spirit's only ally in his quest to hard carry.
Xiye, on the other hand, had a fixation with Annie mid in LPL Spring that was easily countered by teams running double Locket of the Iron Solaris. Expectations aren't high.
WE's tournament looks rough, with Solomid in the first round and Gambit/CJ meeting them in loser's bracket. It's easy to brush them off and assume an early exit, but for the sake of the competition let's hope that isn't the case.
Matt Demers is a Supervising Editor for theScore eSports. You can follow him on Twitter.