There is nothing better in all of competitive League of Legends than international tournaments. That’s what made IEM Katowice so frustrating.
Sure, it was fun for what it was, with nostalgia trips from caster Leigh “Deman” Smith and some funny camera hi-jinx on top of some interesting picks. But IEM Katowice was also the perfect tournament to define the 2016 season so far — for better or worse — and showed again the declining state of third-party tournaments.
First, it’s strange the League of Legends Championship Series took a break in the middle of the split so four teams could play at IEM. Invitations were given out early in the season, and the teams just didn’t muster much hype for the event. Four teams — Origen, Counter Logic Gaming, Qiao Gu and EVER ESC — qualified by their finishes in IEM San Jose and IEM Cologne, which both took place last year. Team SoloMid was a favorable choice for an invite as the defending Katowice champion, and Fnatic, Royal Never Give up and reigning world champion SK Telecom T1 were the others selected.
Still, the picks fell flat. Fnatic has replaced a lot of its roster and is yet to show the strength of last year’s worlds run. Much of the rest of the field has also endured an uninspiring spring. China is the only region that actually sent its top-placing teams for a competition dubbed the “IEM World Championship.”
So what was the point of this whole thing? It’s a slap in the face of the old days of Season 2, when third-party international tournaments were the only events around. The hype was incredible, the meta was always changing, and there was a lot of pride in actually winning. Teams had to grind through the online qualifiers before they even reached the stage. Now these tournaments have become a training ground for these teams to try out new things or test a new roster, which became quite frustrating. SKT and QG used substitutes in Katowice, and it just makes you question on how seriously teams have been taking not only IEM Katowice, but the entire spring split.
Then there’s the strange format where teams first play a best-of-one to advance. It’s baffling that Fnatic can play almost as many games in one weekend that it has during the entire LCS split, but alas. Best-of-ones will go away by the summer split of the LCS. Can they be eradicated from tournaments next? Obviously, not every event can have a format like Riot’s World Championship, but there’s gotta be a way to eliminate best-of-ones.
What’s the point?
The point is for teams to gain more experience and grow. This weekend should greatly help a team like Fnatic, but it’s hard to say that the rest of the field will take much away from it.
Looking at the global scale, China’s struggles loomed large. It was the only region to send top-ranked teams to Katowice, yet both teams placed worse than Fnatic, the fifth-place team in Europe.
It’s ironic that the West is still at the forefront of the lane swap metagame, even ahead of the Korean teams. In the grand final, despite being swept by SKT, Fnatic consistently had the better early game due to a better execution of the lane swap. Stupid mistakes and inferior team fighting were the biggest reasons Fnatic lost its lead during the mid game. Game 2 was the most telling, as SKT looked lost during the lane swap but managed to capitalize on small Fnatic mistakes to take advantage.
The No. 5 team in Europe beat No. 2 in North America and No. 1 in China. Is Europe is a lot stronger than anyone realizes? Is Fnatic coming together at the right time? Was it a string of unlikely upsets? It’s probably a combination of all three, but it’s also a reflection on the best-of-one format of the LCS, which is thankfully going away soon. IEM Katowice has really put everything in perspective. It really questions all of the rankings in both Western leagues.
So I guess that answers it. What is the point of third-party tournaments other than just practice? To show how bad the LCS format is for team growth.
It will all be over soon. Thankfully.