IEM (Intel Extreme Masters) is noteworthy in the professional League of Legends [official site] calendar as it's one of the last international tournaments not to fall under Riot's own umbrella. Katowice is the IEM World Championship; a culminating event that takes the winners from a year's worth of IEM tournaments as well as selected teams who are invited from the more popular regions. With $100,000 at stake there's plenty to play for.
Without further ado here are the teams who made it to Katowice for the IEM Season X World Championship and the stand-out moments of the tournament!
This year saw eight teams attending, two each from the EU, NA, Chinese and Korean regions. From North America we had reigning LCS champions Counter Logic Gaming, alongside their fierce rivals Team Solo Mid. TSM came into the tournament with pretty flaky form as the new roster had struggled to gel as a unit. CLG, meanwhile, were on a high going in, having recently toppled Immortals who until that point had looked unbeatable at the top of the North American LCS standings.
The EU contenders were Fnatic and Origen, two of the standout performers from last year's World Championship. Both sides have struggled to recapture their 2015 form, languishing in the mid-table of the European LCS. Fnatic have the excuse of three of their best performing members from that successful squad departing to play in North America, while Origen's fall from grace is not so easily quantified.
From Korea we had 2015 world champions, SK Telecom T1. While they were easily the best team in the world last year, the curse of the World Championship winner looks to still be in play (no winner of the LoL World Championship has gone on to qualify for the tournament in the following year) as they sit in the middle of a fiercely competitive Korean league. Despite that, they came to Katowice as strong favourites. The other Korean team was ESC Ever, who are essentially a Korean Challenger team (the tier below the professional league), here because of their success at IEM San Jose.
Finally, we had the Chinese region's Qiao Gu Reapers and Royal Never Give Up, the two squads from that region that sit atop their respective groups. Qiao Gu were last year's upstarts in China, missing out on Worlds qualification by a hair's breadth. In 2016 they've matured into one of the regions finest teams. Royal Never Give Up, meanwhile, are a new side who boast a lovely name and a huge roster of talent that includes two former world champions in their starting line-up.
If you missed the full tournament here are the matches to watch:
TSM vs ESC Ever - Group A Opening Match
A game that technically has everything, including a pentakill from TSM's AD carry Doublelift and a thrilling finish as the unfancied Korean side (it's rare that you'll read that sentence) somehow managed to overcome TSM, despite gifting them a gigantic lead in the opening minutes of the game.
The game-winning moment is a 35th minute team fight around baron. TSM are sat on a healthy 11,000 gold advantage, with 9 towers taken down to Ever's lonely 1. The opening moments of the fight go well for TSM as they blow up Ever jungler Ares' Graves before the rest of his team has arrived. From there things get a little bit crazy as TSM don't seem to have a plan to after said team's arrival. Preferring to skirmish and focusing far too much on Ever's tank Nautilus, Ever's carry players are mostly free to deal damage from the back line, whittling a bewildered TSM's health down before a lovely Twisted Fate Wildcard seals their um.... fate with a double kill.
TSM have one last opportunity for redemption as they respawn in time to mount a defence of their nexus but it's not enough. The Korean Challenger team claim the first game of the tournament, to the surprise of everyone, not least TSM.
TSM vs Origen Group A - Losers Semi-Final (game 3)
The tournament's first opportunity for transatlantic bragging rights saw North America's TSM and EU's Origen go head to head after being beaten in their opening matches. For the first two games it was an evenly matched affair with one victory apiece. Both games handily showcased each team's weaknesses. TSM's shotcalling around team-fights is what you'd kindly call suboptimal, but if you're feeling less gracious you'd call it incredibly sloppy. For Origen, their play is littered with individual mistakes and players constantly caught out of position. In game 3 they pay the ultimate price for this.
After an unsuccessful push into the mid-lane, Origen's jungler Amazing wanders into the TSM jungle to grab the raptor camp, with no vision nearby. TSM capitalise on this to devastating effect, taking Amazing out with ease, before chasing down Origen's surviving members and putting two in the ground. They then take Baron, grabbing themselves another kill in the process. From here, the game's momentum shifts rapidly in TSM's favour. Despite a meagre gold lead, they retain control of the game and put Origen's tournament hopes to rest.
Fnatic vs Royal Never Give Up - Group B Final (all three matches)
Fnatic's performance at IEM was the story of the tournament. A team with a proud heritage in the EU region, their performance in the 2016 LCS has been distinctly underwhelming as their three new members struggle to adapt to the rigours of the region. It's safe to say they came into IEM as not the favourites. After surprise victories over Qiao Gu and CLG in the losers' bracket, the question became "Just how far can they go?"
But after a gruelling tournament schedule (they'd played seven games to get to this point) the EU side were about to come face to face with Royal - perhaps the Chinese region's strongest side. Surely they were about to head home? But it was in this series that Korean imports Gamsu and Spirit finally showing why they were picked up, with excellent synergy and wonderful play-making ability.
Fnatic vs SKT T1K - Grand Final (game 3)
As is often the case when SKT are on form, the final turned out to be something of an anticlimax. After strolling through their opening matches (thanks to their winners' bracket position SKT had only played four games to Fnatic's ten byt this point), SKT demonstrate the gulf in class between the Korean region and the rest of the world. Their signature style appears to be - do nothing very much for the first 20 minutes of a game, then win a decisive team-fight and snowball the match to a quick conclusion. Tired and outclassed, Fnatic are powerless to stop them and the third game in the best of five takes on a farcical quality, eventually ending in a surrender. As analyst Montecristo points out, this is perhaps the first time ever in an international LoL tournament that a team has surrendered in the final.
Either way, both teams are winners here, SKT can go back to Korea with the winnings and another international accolade for their overstuffed trophy cabinet, while Fnatic look a different (and far better) side to the one that came into this tournament.