...and only one of them leaves alive.
It was, of course, Seth Oakley who came out alive, since Intel Extreme Masters is an event, not a living organism. That had a lot to do with it.
IEM is a tournament and trade show type event for Intel to showcase its products to a crowd of eSports enthusiasts. They occupy a convention center somewhere around the world, moving from Shenzhen to Toronto to San Jose, then to Cologne and Taipei and ending up in the championship in Katowice. This past weekend was the San Jose weekend, so I grabbed three friends Scott Joe and Greg and went down to watch League of Legends team Cloud9 clean up on Sunday. Oh, yeah, spoiler warning. We came into the games after Unicorns of Love had a tremendous showing the previous day and upset the home country favorite, TeamSoloMid. TSM was a quarter-finalist at the World Championship, and have a huge fan base in the US, even when traveling abroad - TSM chants are quite common during matches.
In the middle of the center, down on the floor where the ice usually is, when the Sharks play at their home stadium (which, by the way, explains the abundance of plexiglas), there was a trade show going on for all of Intel's new toys. There was a racing simulator that I was able to try out, even though they didn't really have the leg room for a guy my size. The new Tomb Raider was on display, a new Batman game was out, and a ton of people crowding around a booth with League of Legends clients set up running at 200+ FPS. Yes, that is correct, more than 200 frames per second on LoL. Your eye can't really track motion faster than about 50 FPS, but Intel said, "Fuck you biology, this is our trade show, not yours," and cranked those rigs up to the max.
OK, down to the nitty gritty, the reason you are coming to this blog: in depth and detailed journalism covering a topic near and dear to your heart. Chris' post are off to the left, I'll get my coat, it's been fun.
Oh, you're still here. Well then, the matches. I'm going to assume that, if you're reading this write up, you have a working knowledge of League of Legends. If not, sorry.
The first set on Sunday was Alliance from the EU servers vs Cloud9 of NA. Alliance didn't make it out of the Group stage in Worlds, but they have a new ADC, Reckless, now and gave it their all in Sunday's game. Both teams were playing on the new Beta map so the first couple of matches were very conservative, observant games were the two teams poke and prod and get used to their opponents before they go in for a kill. The bans show a lot of respect for Balls' Rumble ability, and he never got a chance to play Rumble in this tournament.
Game 1 Bans: Rumble, Zed, Syndra, Irelia, Lee Sin, Gnar
Alliance: Maokai, Elise, Xerath, Corki, Soraka
Cloud9: Lissandra, Jarvan IV, Fizz, Lucian, Thresh
Alliance built a poke comp with Maokai as their center figure to absorb most of the retaliation. Cloud9 built a pick/assassination comp and won the early game with it. They were able to snag 6 kills early in the match, until they slipped and let Reckless come back for 7. Putting all their eggs in one flying, rocket shooting basket didn't help when C9 pulled off better rotations and grabbed 5 dragon buffs. It was pretty much just crying left at that point.
Game 2 Bans: Irelia, Lee Sin, Orianna, Rumble, Syndra, Corki
Cloud9: Gnar, Jarvan IV, Fizz, Lucian, Soraka
Alliance: Maokai, Warwick, Lissandra, Graves, Janna
The Cloud9 bot lane looked good in the start, with 3 kills to none. They reached for another 2, but overextended and turned it into a trade. Gnar in the top lane was not able to shut down Maokai for long enough to push him out of the game, so that's pretty much all Alliance needed to turn the game around. They grouped up, put Maokai in front and Janna right behind for a sustained, AoE, heal and murdered people. C9 sent Fizz to flank, but that just turned a 5v5 "I don't know about this...." fight into a 4v5 "No, this is a terrible idea," fight. Alliance won the team fights and the match.
Game 3 Bans: Irelia, Lee Sin, Gnar, Syndra, Corki, Rumble
Alliance: Maokai, Warwick, Xerath, Graves, Soraka
Cloud9: Lissandra, Jarvan IV, Orianna, Lucian, Thresh
Looking to fix their mistakes of the previous game, Cloud9 put a target on Maokai's head and sent an Order 66 style kill squad after him. It worked, they shut him down to the point that he had trouble deep into the late game and could not provide the same kind of ridiculous body cover for his team that he did in the past. Pretty soon the only thing left to do was wait for Orianna and J4 to pull out the wombo combo ult that you know everyone was looking for. It came right before the end of the game and took down Warwick and Xerath before they could say, "Isn't Orianna a sub-optimal choice in the new meta?" By the way, the answer to that is evidently, "No."
The second round was Cloud9 vs the winner of the previous day, Unicorns of Love. UoL is a relatively new team, created in August 2013. They are a European team and pushed TSM out of the tournament in the first day with 4 to 1 odds against. They are newer, oddball players and like oddball picks, so they are something of a fan favorite. They provide a lot of enthusiasm, which is great to watch. Also, how could you not like a team called Unicorns of Love?
Game 1 Bans: Irelia, Gnar, Rumble, Zed, Leblanc, Soraka
Cloud9: Lissandra, Lee Sin, Syndra, Corki, Thresh
Unicorns: Maokai, Kayle, Lux, Lucian, Braum
Another slow start while the two teams figure out what the other is all about. Cloud9 played a very clean game, turning the game with a counter-gank and teleport maneuver that really trapped the Unicorns attempt for early aggression. The best example of Cloud9's maneuvering discipline occurred in a lost team fight in front of the Baron pit. They ran from Unicorns, split up into the jungle, got to lane and then turned it into 2 v 3 fight. Unknown to Unicorns, they had Lee Sin and Maokai waiting in the wings and Corki with a great Valkyrie over the wall to clean up. The final result was a clean victory following a slow and steady push.
Game 2 Bans: Rumble, Zed, Lissandra, Irelia, Thresh, Gnar
Cloud9: Maokai, Lee Sin, Orianna, Lucian, Janna
Unicorns: Poppy, Warwick, Leblanc, Corki, Morgana
Anytime that a player pulls out a champ and the casters say, "Uh, give me a second to figure out who this character is," you know you are going to see a great match. It's kinda like when Tom Brady loses the Super Bowl and still gets his picture on the front of the paper. Except Tom Brady is not a yordle, and doesn't carry a hammer. Poppy dictated the pace of the game to the end. She was able to farm easily, facing Maokai in the top lane and eventually ramped up to a Trinity Force and a Blade of the Ruined King. She ran around on max speed boots and beat everything that came in range. Hunting on her own, she beat back a 3v1 gank, forcing two members of C9 to limp away. It took 5 full members of C9 to stop her, and even then it was close.
Cloud9 took a while to adjust to this new champ on the scene, but they eventually turned it around. Another great example of Cloud9 discipline and spot on rotation ability came in a late game Baron fight. They tried to sneak in a Baron kill and took him down uncontested, but could not get out before they became surrounded. Low on cool downs and mana, dinged on health, Poppy waiting outside like that dude from The Warriors (kids, go see it, there is even a video game about it), and Corki raining down missiles, they held their ground and bunkered down until Warwick blinked and jumped in. Killing Warwick in a flash, 4 of the five members all flashed out the back of the pit and left Maokai to fend for himself, trading a Baron for 1 death, and then another in the chase. Once they figured out that a "Catch and Release" strategy for dealing with Poppy's ult would effectively neutralize her, they cleaned up easily.
Game 3 Bans: Irelia, Zed, LeBlanc, Rumble, Lissandra
Cloud9: Maokai, Lee Sin, Fizz, Corki, Thresh
Unicorns: Hecarim, Xin Zhao, Syndra, Lucian, Braum
Staring down the barrel of 2 losses in a best of 5, Unicorns decided to go balls out and take an early game snow ball comp. They started the game with an opening level 1 dragon kill. Kids, don't try this at home, that is supposed to be patched soon. It back fired and lost them in the early game edge they needed to properly snowball. Hoping for some early game pressure from Lucian, Braum and Xin Zhao, they could not capitalize on any early game advantage once Cloud9 switched Maokai to the bot lane to absorb the damage from Lucian. Corki was able to thrive against the short range and high speed of Hecarim. After the laning phase, Cloud9 decided to spend most of the mid game trading 2 kills for 1 death until they were up by 10 kills or so. Realizing they were just wandering uncontested from one objective to another, they decided to end the game with one last team fight. Corki picked up a spectacular Pentakill to ace the enemy team and win the tournament.
Seth Oakley is an educator and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Daly City, CA. He loves costuming, analog gaming and role playing games. He got this job in a bar after making poor life choices and has to work through 88 more articles before Mike will give him his soul back. If you want Seth to cover an event in particular, leave a comment to let him know.