The Intel Extreme Masters circuit has arrived in Taiwan for the first time with the final portion of the circuit before the World Finals in Katowice. For Westerners this is going to be an understandably low key affair, as Korea and China have been completely snubbed in favour of focusing on the region it is hosted in. Yet here is an opportunity to see something different; this tournament presents a rare opportunity to see the lesser represented regions. Three Taiwanese teams await the wildcards from SEA and Oceania for the final tournament of the IEM IX circuit and a shot at an IEM championship.
Chen “Winds” Peng Nien (Jungle)
Wong “Chawy” Xing Lei (Mid)
Kim “Lupin” Do Yeop (ADC)
Li “Jay” Chieh (Support)
Undefeated in the LMS, TPA comes into this as the overwhelming favourites. After a poor run at Worlds, only beating SK without Svenskeren, Bebe decided to retire and Achie was benched. Afterwards TPA somewhat overhauled their roster, moving Morning to Top lane, making Chawy the starting Mid, and importing former Najin sub ADC Lupin in Bebe’s place. The new roster was certainly interesting and their 7–0 record is a testament to how the roster is working out. In terms of decision making, TPA seems to still be a cut above the rest, still showing the patience and objective control that has been a decisive edge for them in Taiwan. Against the other Taiwanese teams in attendance, TPA looked completely dominant, crushing the Yoe Flash Wolves 11–1 and taking every dragon and baron. There were no points when the Wolves looked in control. While AHQ was a closer affair, TPA showed sufficient poise and team fighting skills to overcome AHQ’s unique Mordekaiser pick.
Their Bot lane has been a particular highlight; Lupin has settled into his role magnificently. Looking far more aggressive and less greedy than Bebe, he has been the clear MVP of the squad. His Tristana in the aforementioned AHQ match was a particular treat as his great positioning and brave jumps were key in turning the match around. Jay meanwhile looks substantially improved with a more aggressive ADC. His laning and team fighting has been strong, with many clutch hooks being a key factor to TPA’s current strong run of form. Winds continues to be the strongest Jungler and possibly single best player in SEA, effortlessly dominating his peers at all stages in the game.
However, perhaps there is pause to be found in the grand return of Chawy. After years of struggling with sub-par Singapore Sentinels rosters, no matter how many ex-Dota pros he took on with him, he could never find a team to match his skill. But on TPA he has failed to perform to his previous standards. Poor skillshots and random deaths are abnormally common for him. Deaths such as blindly jumping in on Azir onto a scuttle crab and dying are absolutely unacceptable, especially for a player that should be playing at a higher standard. But it is still just a small pause; as the rest of the team and the overall team play are so strong, it’ll be a significant upset if TPA doesn’t claim the title here.
Kang “MrAlbis” Chia Wei (Jungle)
Liu “Westdoor” Shu Wei (Mid)
Chou “AN” Chun An (ADC)
Tsai “Greentea” Shang Ching (Support)
AHQ is a substantially different team from the one seen at worlds. Prydz is coaching now while Naz and Garnetdevil have departed from the roster. Perhaps it was for the best: Prydz was only a tank player, Naz was mediocre, and Garnetdevil had a virtually non-existent champion pool. Unfortunately AHQ’s new roster hardly looks better than before and may even be worse. They are in fourth place in the LMS with a 4–3 record, losing to TPA, Hong Kong Esports and Yoe Flash Wolves, and have only beaten the lower teams. At a tournament with the Wolves and TPA in attendance this is not a good sign.
To be positive though, Westdoor and Greentea are as strong as ever. Westdoor still has capable pocket picks like Mordekaiser mixed in with standard meta champs and can perform on any of them while GreenTea’s hooks are on point as ever. In spite of AHQ’s mediocre record, neither of them have failed to perform consistently, both in and out of lane. They have been the shining beacons of hope and will need to keep playing like so if AHQ wants to be at Katowice later this year.
The rest of the squad has failed to live up to the standard set by their Mid and Support, as none of them have really turned in strong performances. While some may remember AN as the perpetually role-swapped OhReal, his latest stint as ADC is his weakest performance to date. His positioning is poor, and in spite of having Greentea at his side he doesn't seem capable of performing. Top and Jungle are a more pressing concern. MrAlbis seems to suffer from many of the same issues Naz did. Like Naz he is capable of strong early game – jungling on champs like Lee Sin his jungle pathing is solid and he can get the ball rolling. But then he and Ziv will drop said ball very hard; they will force poor teamfights, fail to peel properly for AN, or just completely fumble the initiation. Their team play is also sub-par: poorly coordinated dives and sloppy objective control has been a big part of their LMS defeats, especially when the responsibility of initiation is thrust upon the top side of their squad.
Fortunately AHQ has a bye to the semi-finals, and therefore has more time to prepare for their likely match with Yoe Flash Wolves. Making the finals certainly isn’t an impossible prospect but defeating TPA in the finals and taking it all seems like a long shot.
Hung "Karsa" Hau Hsuan (Jungle)
Huang “Maple” Hau Hsuan (Mid)
Hsiung “NL” Wen An (ADC)
Hu “SwordArt” Shuo Jie (Support)
With a 4–1 record, only losing to TPA, the youngsters of The Flash Wolves have been one of Taiwan’s most promising squads for a very long time. Maple and SwordArt are regulars of Korean Challenger Solo Q, and NL occasionally finds his way into the Challenger ladder as well. Unfortunately, their previous appearances in big tournaments have been mixed to say the least; getting utterly annihilated by season 3 SKT K is forgivable but an underwhelming WCG loss to Lyon is less understandable. Afterwards, they skipped out on GPL for a year because of SwordArt’s age and have been patiently waiting until now.
As reflected by their Korean soloq successes, Maple and SwordArt are the keys to victory for the squad. Maple is the Mid laner that people have put over Westdoor as the best Mid in Taiwan, and his importance to the team cannot be denied. Maple is frequently thrust into the role of carrying and play making, and he can be a spectacular Mid laner with a solidly diverse mix of champions, emphasizing assassins. More often than not, it is on him to completely carry the game, and given the right tools, he’ll be able to do so. SwordArt isn't quite a star on the same level of Maple, but he’s an excellent Support nonetheless. Generally he’ll take the engagement role for the squad and places more emphasis on individual play making than protecting NL; he can impress at times and overall his plays are important for Yoe’s success, but occasionally he’ll be out of sync with the squad and give up a silly death or two.
In a similar way to AHQ, the weaknesses can be found in team play and the other roles. NL is a bit more solid than AN at the very least, but NL certainly isn’t the spectacular hard carry like Lupin is for TPA. A defensive player all round, his workman-like approach lets him get the job done, and is part of the reason SwordArt has so much freedom to focus on his play making. But if they want an AD carry to hard carry, NL will come up short in that department. Steak and Refrain, like NL, are more solid than their AHQ counterparts but at the same time still have substantial weaknesses. Steak is at his best when all he has to do is be a solid tank. He doesn't often win lanes and he rarely carries, but his team fighting is solid and is overall a decent choice in the somewhat sparse Top lane talent of Taiwan. Refrain one of the more easily identifiable weaknesses of the Wolves. He struggles to make plays happen in the early game and his team fighting is often very suspect. More often than not, it’s instead on Maple to get the team rolling. Refrain has given up many sloppy deaths and will need to tighten up his play if Yoe wants this championship.
Karsa has replaced REFRA1N on the roster. Refrain struggled in many aspects of the jungle while Karsa has shown promise in his first matches for the Wolves. This will be a substantial test for their new jungler as he has yet to be tested in a major best of series
Above all though, the team does seem poorly coordinated when Maple doesn't lead the charge: it’s not uncommon for Steak, Refrain or SwordArt to start a fight only for no one to actually go in. At best, cooldowns are wasted, and at worst what might have been a good initiation goes poorly because of this lack of communication. If the team continues their sloppy team fighting then they may be in for a difficult time against in a Best Of series against AHQ or TPA.
Huỳnh “Safety” Văn Tân (Jungle)
Mai “Lovida” Nhật Long (Mid)
Mai “Prince” Nguyễn Minh Thắng (ADC)
Lê “TSU” Anh Duy (Support)
With the separation of SEA from Taiwan, the Garena Premier League has been thrown into a state of anarchy. The hero of Singapore Chawy's move to Taiwan to TPA blew open the region for the Vietnamese to take the vacant throne. In this new period for League of Legends in SEA, the Jokers have rapidly asserted themselves as the strongest of the pack, sitting comfortably at the top of their group and absolutely crushing the SEA qualifiers. But this praise does not come without pause; last year the Jokers, alongside the Fantastic Five, were the strongest teams from SEA proper, but still couldn't truly overcome Taiwan. Some top four finishes were nice, and the Jokers were able to upset TPA at IEM Singapore, but they never could defeat any of the top Taiwanese teams in the GPL itself. Coming into this tournament then, in spite of their rule over the SEA region, they are still significant underdogs to the LMS teams.
That’s not to say that the Jokers don’t have strengths even relative to Taiwan. The Jokers, in particular by SEA standards, have a strong infrastructure behind them with two Korean coaches including former Xenics ADC Irean. Their pair of Mid laners in Lovida and Carrot, alongside their Jungler Safety, have been their keys to success. While these combinations aren't going to destroy Mid lane and hard carry, their map movements and team play have been excellent. Most of their wins are off the back of roams and counter-ganks from their Jungle/Mid duo and the benefits of the coaching is somewhat apparent in their map play. The rest of the team is reasonably solid, nothing spectacular to note from them but the Top and Bot fulfil their job of receiving and capitalizing on the opportunities created by the Mid/Jungle roams.
There are still substantial weaknesses to exploit, the most significant one in laning. It’s not uncommon for the team to fall behind in farm or even give up early deaths. This was exploited to the fullest when they were handed their only defeat of the GPL so far by Full Louis, who were able to overrun the lanes without answer as the Jokers were too behind to create any plays. Against substantially stronger laning opposition in the likes of AHQ e-Sports club and Yoe Flash Wolves, this may prove to be the Achilles Heel that brings down the Jokers. With the bye from the winner's bracket of the SEA qualifier, they are likely to face the Taipei Assassins in the semi-finals of their bracket; this will be a significant undertaking, and it’s likely the Jokers will bow out in a quick 0–2 exit. However, last year the Jokers were thrust into the position of absolute underdogs against TPA at IEM Singapore and were still able to sneak out the win. History could repeat itself as the Intel Extreme Masters returns to the region.
Chayut “007x” Suebka (Jungle)
Nuttapong “G4” Menkasikan (Mid)
Juckkirsts “Lloyd” Kongubon (ADC)
Panupong “Valen” Pimdee (Support)
For the longest time the Bangkok Titans were the laughing stock of the Garena Premier League, consistently one of the lower, if not worst, teams in the GPL. They have often been cited as one of the big flaws of how the GPL was run, as they perpetually played and were crushed in every season. But in recent times, after countless roster overhauls, the current lineup may finally have been what the team was looking for all along. In the new GPL they are 9–1, absolute dominating their group, and they defeated Insidious Gaming Legends and Saigon Fantastic Five in order to qualify for IEM Taipei.
The key to all this is their Mid laner G4 – he has established himself as one of the region’s premier Mid laners. Excelling in and out of lane, he is the player the team calls upon to carry them to victory, a task which he has done many times already. He is a cutabove many Mid laners in SEA, and there is even argument to put him up there with some of Taiwan’s Mid laners. A solid champion pool that excels on assassins fits neatly into the preferred game approach of BKT. The team absolutely loves split push strategies; through vision control and G4’s great play, they excel in 1-4-0 and 1-3-1 split push situations, especially as it gives room for G4 to keep dueling other players. However G4 is going to be tested even harder than ever before. Crushing the likes of Optimus is a solid start, but now, Chawy, Maple and Westdoor await him in Taipei, and those three are on a completely different level from any opposition G4 has faced. If BKT wants to go on a miracle run, G4 is going to have to step up his game to a new level.
The rest of the team has not always performed to G4’s level. Bottom and Top lanes have shown substantial weaknesses especially in lane, and 007x has a tendency to get lost in the early game. His jungle pathing is poor, and he always struggles to keep pace with other Junglers. Fortunately for BKT, Winds sits on the other side of the bracket with TPA so this Jungle weakness may be manageable until the finals. It’s undeniable that this will be a tough road for the Thai squad, and above all else they want vindication. Years of being treated like the bottom trash of the region may be reversed if BKT can somehow take this tournament. It’s a lot to ask, and G4 will be tested against Taiwan’s best and brightest, but the rise of Thailand doesn't seem to be slowing down so perhaps miracles can happen.
Bradley “Yozora” Williams (Jungle)
Samuel “Kenste” Richards (Mid)
Ramsey “Mazui” Aoude (ADC)
The champions of the Oceanic Regional Tournament come into this tournament with a completely different Bot lane, as Veritas has joined Final Five in NA, while NADA has departed from the roster. Defeating the wildcard representatives last year, Legacy eSports is a good victory for the team's name, but they have yet to play any meaningful matches on recent patches, so it is hard to properly assess them. Losing Veritas and NADA is likely going to be a significant blow, as their replacements come in the form of former Curse.OCE Mid laner Mazui and unknown player Junnie. In a young region, roles are somewhat flexible, and it’s not uncommon for players to swap around roles on multiple teams before finally settling.
But perhaps there is more on the line than just the pride of the team. This is an opportunity that few wildcard regions get: a chance to earn some respect. Brazil got their chance by toppling Alliance at worlds, while Turkey found itself utterly annihilated during Dark Passage’s trip to Worlds. Oceania has failed two years in a row to win the wildcard in spite of promising starts from both of their representatives, folding in the playoffs both times. Immunity were defeated somewhat cleanly by GG.EU in 2013, while last year Legacy were comprehensively destroyed 3–0 by Dark Passage. Even by the standard of the wildcard regions, Oceania has failed to perform internationally. So here they are, presented with another opportunity, but it’s no small task. SEA may have been relegated to wildcard status, with Taiwan splitting off into the LMS, but they still have multiple years of competitive experience and can even scratch up a few solid wins against premier regions. Although Taiwan has for a long time been at the bottom of the premier regions they are still a solid step above the wildcards, as demonstrated by AHQ’s annihilation of Dark Passage at worlds.
Avant Garde should not be expecting victory. With a first round match-up against Taipei Assassins, even winning a map may be an unreasonable request. Yet the opportunity is still here, and they have nothing to lose. If TPA crushes them then that’s how it is; there is no embarrassment in being destroyed by a superior team. But if they can at least put up a good fight, then maybe Oceania could be worthy of note alongside the furious improvement of Brazil and the emergence of Japan. It’s not as if the region lacks in talent: Final Five and Curse Academy considered Veritas and Keane worth the investment of bringing them over to NA. In the case of Keane it worked spectacularly, and now he’s in the LCS. But the region has never shown up to be one of the stronger wildcards; they've struggled to overcome CIS and Turkey, let alone Brazil or the recently downgraded SEA. A solid match against TPA may be all that it takes for Avant Garde and for Oceania to earn respect amongst their fellow wildcard regions, and maybe a sign that they may one day play on the world stage. But for now, the team has nothing to lose and much to gain, so there’s nothing more to say than "Good luck and have fun" to the boys from down under.