Two weeks ago Intel Extreme Masters held the first professional League of Legends event featuring American and European teams since the World Championships. This was a strange little tournament, many teams were invited and we supposed to be selected by community vote, but in the end only 2 teams from North America and Europe respectively were interested in going. Fortunately those teams were, NA’s Cloud 9 and Counter Logic Gaming, and EU’s Fnatic and Gambit Gaming. These teams are not only world class and full of super popular/skilled players, but they almost never get the chance to face each other. This gave us a chance to get some NA vs. EU grudge matching going on. NA’s C9 had a chance to redeem themselves from their less than stellar best-of-3 series against Fnatic at worlds. We got a first look at CLG’s tentative new roster; and we got to see if Gambit could fall into their former glory now that Edward (Support who had left for the NA Summer Split) is back on the team. And this tournament should hold a special place in League history as the final tournament of patch 3.13. Professional League of Legends is going to see a lot of changes with the 3.14 patch and it’s going to take most teams a while to get settled.
You can watch every match from IEM Cologne on their YouTube channel here:
Champs to look out for this tournament:
Shyvana – You may have noticed this champ make a serious resurgence in solo queue and she’s considered pretty overpowered in the competitive scene. She’s strong in the jungle but has shown to be an incredible top laner. Similar to champs like Renekton; she just does incredible damage without building a single offensive item, just get a Sunfire, pop W, stand in the middle of everyone, and laugh. Whether or not she has a bad match up top is hard to say because all she needs to do is W down every wave, applying tons of pressure, and maybe roaming mid, Ulting over wraiths for an easy tower dive.
Lucian – The first tournament where this guy has been available. He recently received some small tweaks and quality of life adjustments and has a nearly 100% pick rate in the NA armature circuit and Korea’s OGN. He has taken Corki’s place as the super strong AD caster-type marksman. His mobility, range, poke, and wave clear make him a safe and effective pick in most any team. We know these players have been practicing him and you will see a lot of him this tournament. Bonus Doublelift Lucian play (spoilers):
Riven – If you’ve played League in the past month and a half or so you’ve had the Miss Fortune (haha get it?) of – for better or worse – seeing Riven in just about every game. Since sweeping nerfs to some of the strongest Mid lane assassins, Riven has made a resurgence like non-other. She has become an extremely popular Mid laner (as well as in Top laner) and has a really good match up against, probably the other strongest Mid lane assassins, Kassadin. Her lane snowballs like no other, has incredible wave clear, and (thanks to her new ability to jump small walls with her 3rd activation of Q) has more roaming potential than ever before. She has an amazing mid game power spike and can go even, or smash, almost all popular Mid laners at the moment.
Jinx – This champ has shown a lot of strength and popularity since her release. For a late game, hard-scaling ADC she does well in lane against most match ups. She fills a similar role to Kog Maw, Caitlyn, or Tristana – abuse extremely long auto attack range with perfect positioning and proceeds to smash face after a few key items. She does this well without having the agonizing laning phase of Kog Maw and Tristana, while also ramping up faster than Caitlyn. She clears waves very easily with Statikk Shiv and has strong siege potential, plus two forms of Crowd Control. All of this, along with an AOE global execute, make her a really good pick for certain compositions. You know who else has an AOE execute ability? Riven. Huh.. I wonder if we’ll see these guys together? Yes, we will.
Ziggs – With less assassins being played Mid lane and some nice quality of life changes Ziggs has proven one of the strongest mages in the 3.13 meta. His incredible poke and strong auto attacks (for a mage) make him ideal for sieging objectives. His Ult was recently changed so that it does double damage to minions. This might not seem like much, but in professional League minion control is crucial for making optimal map rotations, slowing down a split push, or applying minion pressure to parts of the map you otherwise wouldn’t want to spend the time going to.
There were a lot of great matches played this tournament. Last year had a severe lack of international tournaments so IEM Cologne felt like a real treat. What you will see in this tournament is a general shift away from the “pick meta” we saw in Worlds – where teams would spam the map with pinks and just try to catch someone out with hard cc and a nearly inescapable assassin – to a “siege meta” where teams play champions with high range and poke to make acquiring objectives, particularly towers and inhibitors, very safe to push down. If you get the enemy team low enough you use some kind of hard engage and win an easy team fight which leads to more objectives. This tournament was great in that is featured high profile teams, was very straight forward, and only lasted 2 days. If you’re a CLG fan I strongly recommend watching their games. It was an amazing Bo3. Aphromoo and Doublelift are back and were laning incredibly well in all of their games. We saw a CLG that was playing as team, making great map rotations, and staying proactive in their approach to winning their games – something CLG fans haven’t seen for quite some time now. The finals were a really fun, fast paced, slug fests – a joy to watch. Also the amateur finals between SK Gaming and Copenhagen Wolves proved to be surprisingly good.
———– From this Point on Beware of Spoilers ———-
The most important match of the weekend, the one I would like to go into some detail about, was Game 2 of C9 vs Gambit Gaming. This match features the relativity new (and probably best) NA team going up against an old favorite, long time veterans, and proven champions, Gambit Gaming. If C9 can win this set they will have proven their worth against one of the best EU teams and get a chance to redeem themselves against Fnatic. Well, as you know by now or as you will find out, they most certainly do not get a chance to do any of these things. They lost in a 2-0 thrashing, but the games were incredibly well played by both teams. In particular, game 2. Game 2 was neck and neck from the awkward 2/2 level 1 start to when Gambit was mercilessly beating down C9’s nexus. Let’s get right into it with the picks and bans:
There’s not a ton to discuss with C9’s team comp. It’s classic C9 with some adjustments to fit in the current OP’s. C9 generally plays compositions with the primary goal of diving the enemy ADC incredibly hard in order to snowball a team fight in their favor. They also tend to run mana-less, or otherwise not blue buff reliant, mid laners so their jungler “Meteos” can take most of the early blue buffs. They also tend to make teams that will be particularly strong for the first and second dragon fight of the game. The team comp shown above has all of these characteristics, plus the bonus double ranged execute combo in the form of Riven and Jinx’s ultimates. This increases a dive composition’s chances of successfully finishing off that first crucial target.
Gambit’s team composition is a little out of the ordinary for them. Their top laner “Darien” isn’t running his standard immovable object-type tanky Top laners, and Gambit’s infamous jungler “Diamondprox” is back on Lee Sin which we don’t see too often from him these days. Their composition seems fairly straight forward as well. Use massive AOE magic damage and hard cc to wreck team fights using the high mobility of Lee Sin and Lissandra to set it all up, or get away if things turn sour.
My initial impression is that neither team has a particular advantage over the other maybe with a slight advantage in Gambit’s favor just because they can dump their load on C9 if they don’t choose their fights perfectly. Lulu is one of the best support for dealing with the currently OP support – Annie – and this game is really just going to come down to which team executes their strategy the best.
Level 1 –
Pretty standard level 1. Gambit rarely goes for level 1 invades. They more often prefer to ward up their jungle and play it safe. C9 has notoriously questionable level 1 plays. The few games they lost in the NA LCS summer split were because of games that snowballed from poor level 1 map movement and botched invades.
C9 decides to invade Gambit’s blue. It quickly becomes apparent that Gambit is ready for C9’s invade and is prepared to fight. C9 commits 4 to their invade as they are planning on sending their duo lane bot. What C9 most likely didn’t realize (or chose to ignore) was that Gambit’s support Annie (Edward) stuck around blue in case of a fight. Hiding over the wall to blue, just outside one of C9’s wards, Edward waits for the perfect moment to flash W in for an AOE stun that he charged up. Edward, living up to his name as one of the original god-tier supports in the pro League scene, pulls off a perfect 4 man stun on C9.
Despite this great play from Edward, they end up going 2 for 2 and effectively even – although Orianna (Alex Ich) did pick up a kill which will make it hard for Riven (Hai) to snowball his lane.
C9 sends their duo lane top as originally planned and goes for a fast push on top tower – pretty common for them. They do a good job of keeping Lissandra (Darien) away from CS and experience range. C9 is going for a pretty common early game strategy of pushing down top tower with their duo lane, hopefully before the 5 minute mark, back to base, rotate for an easy 5 man dragon, and then send your duo lane and top laner back to their more common positions. This plan gets into a bit of a snag when Lee Sin (Diamondprox) pulls off a really nice gank on Rumble (Balls) forcing him out of lane. This lets Gambit get an uncontested dragon to counter the gold gain from C9’s top push. It also has the combined effect of not letting C9 snowball super early from getting two key objectives back to back.
At this point Balls is in a particularly frustrating situation. He was set back pretty bad from Lissandra harass and Diamond’s gank pushing him out of lane, and Darien froze top close to his inner turret making it almost impossible for Balls to get some crucial CS he had been starved of. That being said, the game is again at a bit of stalemate. C9’s duo lane goes all in against Gambit’s and manages to narrowly pull off a kill on Edward. At the same time C9 spots Lee Sin going for a tower dive on Rumble. C9 is smart enough to send Nocturne and Riven top. Gambit sees this development and is able to escape, and this is where C9 get a little ahead of themselves. Meteos seeing red just came up conceded that the counter gank didn’t work and starts heading into his jungle while Rumble and Riven continue the chase. A questionable flash from balls allows them to trade 1 for 1 and again the game is pretty much dead even.
Mid Game –
One thing C9 really has going for them moving forward into mid game is Riven. Hai has been farming pretty well and has a brutalizer and pickaxe – all he needs to wreck some team fights. Plus Jinx has been doing well bot, slowing down Lucian’s T-Force power spike.
Both teams trade towers, and are generally staying close to dragon because the next dragon fight will be a major factor in deciding who wins this game. Darien pushes up bot a little too hard (as he is prone to doing), get caught out, and dies. Surprisingly enough C9 doesn’t decide to do dragon off of this catch. To be fare they were kind of low and used crucial ultimates in getting Lissandra so it is understandable that C9 would be scared of flash Tibbers into Ori Ult into “GG you just lost a 4v5 scrubs, we’ll be taking dragon now.” C9 gets their buffs and buys in preparation for the inevitable dragon fight.
Lee Sin goes for a Blue steal and narrowly misses his smite. C9 sees that Orianna is mid and decides to force a fight. They kill off Lissandra quick and almost get Lee Sin too. C9 get’s all of Gambit very low but can’t finish them off. They end up going too deep for some kills and trade 2 for 2, but luckily, Nocturne, Jinx, and LuLu are able to pick up dragon off of this extended skirmish. At this point C9 is looking pretty good, their over 1k gold ahead and it looks like they might be able to bring this series to game 3. Almost immediately after though, Riven, Jinx, and LuLu think they can get a pick on Lissandra who is quite far out into bottom lane. Unfortunately despite Hai seeing all of Gambit collapsing on them, C9 tries to go for the kill on Lissandra. This leads to a 0 for 3 in Gambit’s favor and the game is all tied up again.
Once dragon number 3 spawns both teams get ready to fight. This time around, Gambit is feeling a little more confident in winning an all out team fight and just starts dragon on top of C9’s ward. C9 watches them take it and tries to get a Smite steal with Nocturne Ult, but fails. Kind of silly considering that Lee Sin’s Q does execute damage which makes him very hard to smite steal from. And even more silly considering that C9 picked Rumble for this very situation, “look they’re doing drag, wait for it to get low and drop a Rumble Ult under all of them to force them decide between getting drag and taking WAY too much damage, or to turn and fight in the middle of a Rumble Ult”. Instead C9 ends up looking for a fight after drag is already down and then we get a little bit of deja vous from level 1.
That’s right another 4 man stun out of support Annie. Even after previously completely missing the Orianna Ult; it is quite easy for Gambit to win this team fight. Edward is showing us why he was/is considered one of the best supports in the world – all HAM all the time, making the big plays, just what we love to see.
This SHOULD have been the tipping point for Gambit but they proceed to try for a Blue steal and C9 decides to seriously man up, and thanks to a perfect Rumble Ult and amazing Riven play, C9 manages to pick up a 3 for 0 in their favor – again evening up the gold. C9 tries to get a baron off of this but Lucian manages to pop Rumble instantly, preventing the baron attempt.
At this point gold is even AGAIN, but Jinx does scale better into late game than Lucian with her incredible auto attack range and AOE damage, so things are looking alright for C9. Unfortunately Jinx extends a little too far into mid for some CS and gets picked off. Nocturne and Riven were already deep into Gambit’s jungle at the time so Gambit had ample time to push down C9’s middle inhibitor. Gambit then immediately moves towards baron and sets up a bush gank. Rumble gets just close enough to be engaged on by Lee Sin. At this point Jinx is back up and Lee Sin Ults Rumble in a less than optimal direction. For a moment it looks like Gambit might have bumbled the fight enough that Jinx would be able to come in and clean up. But then this…
After this team fight it’s pretty much over for C9. Gambit is sufficiently ahead at this point and is easily able to push down another inhibitor into the nexus.
Of course I was rooting for C9. Would have been nice to see the NA powerhouse make a stand against some of the best teams from EU. Gambit made better plays and in general did a good job of dealing with C9’s hard dives, and played to their team comp’s strength well. Gambit went on to crush Fnatic in the finals.
It’s sad to see patch 3.13 go. We saw from this tournament how comfortable all of these teams are on this patch. No one seemed lost, every team has clear strategies and was executing them with precision. It’s one of the best and most frustrating things about League – it’s ALWAYS changing. This tournament has made me and many others even more excited for the upcoming LCS season, kicking off with the “ Battle of the Atlantic” so check back for more coverage. And make sure to check out my weekly League of Legends Video Roundup Series here and here.