The Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) has been a staple of the League of Legends tournament landscape for years. Now in their 11th season, IEM has brought exciting international competition to an entire generation of eSports fans, unsatisfied with only the World Championship and the Mid-Season Invitational as a showcase for their favourite teams. This year however, IEM has fallen flat with poor international participation and lacklustre talent.
The IEM World Championships will once again take in Katowice, Poland. Four of the five major regions will be participating, with the notable missing region being North America. Cloud9 had originally been scheduled to participate but backed out as the tournament approached citing loss of practice and preparation for the NA LCS as a reason for not attending. With a hole in their lineup to fill, IEM reached out to TSM, CLG and FlyQuest, all of which also declined.
“With their fantastic form and performance in the NA LCS, Cloud9 wishes to focus entirely on maintaining their undefeated record and continuing to dominate in the league.”
Intel Extreme Masters Official Announcement
The unwillingness of NA teams to participate in the event hints at the cracks forming in the IEM foundation. IEM was once considered a prestigious event, an event where an invitation was a prize to be desired. It is evident that teams in NA now feel the value of the international competition has diminished, and the potential prize money IEM offers simply isn’t worth the travel and practice time the event would consume.
Outside of NA, the teams from the only other region to win an IEM Championship in the last three years, South Korea, are distinctly unimpressive. With a combined 1-11 record between them, the ROX Tigers and Kongdoo Monsters have the two worst records in the LCK. With a void of strong Korean or NA representation, the tournament has lost a large amount of its international appeal.
One region who will be heavily represented at the tournament is the European LCS. With three of the eight teams in the field, Europe is sending what may be their three strongest teams in G2 eSports, Unicorns of Love, and H2K-Gaming. Although the acclaim of winning the tournament may be dampened by a weakened field, this is Europe’s tournament to lose. Anything less than one of these three teams winning the tournament would be a serious disappointment.
While it is too late to improve the field for this year’s IEM, a decline in the quality of the IEM World Championship is a warning sign that cannot be ignored by the tournament organizers. As leagues become more competitive and the stakes continue to rise higher within their respective regions, IEM must find a way to attract a better field to their tournaments than what they were able to secure for this season.
Cloud9 are not the first team to pull out of IEM this season, and unless major changes are made IEM will likely struggle to find participants again next season. With teams focusing on the Mid Season Invitational and World Championship, outside tournaments could find themselves in a precarious position where they risk paling into insignificance. Unless significant changes are made soon, this may be the beginning of the end for IEM.