The IEM World Championships in Katowice showcased the best teams Europe had to offer, as well as a few other participants from across the globe. Although limited compared to the level of competition of the Intel Extreme Masters of recent years, the LMS’s Flash Wolves ultimately emerged victorious with a 2-0 sweep over Europe’s G2 eSports in the Finals – a major disappointment for a region sending their three best teams to this event… but would the results would have been different had the tournament been stacked with NA teams instead?
This was the tournament Europe was supposedly destined to take. Playing in their home region, Europe was able to send their three best teams to IEM in G2 eSports, Unicorns of Love, and H2K-Gaming. Eventually sending two teams to the semi-finals along with Korea’s ROX Tigers and the LMS’s Flash Wolves, dreams of an entirely European final affair were destroyed when Flash Wolves came back to steal the series from H2K-Gaming. After defeating G2 on the first day of the tournament, Flash Wolves once again bested them in the Finals to claim the crown of IEM Champions.
— Intel®ExtremeMasters (@IEM) 26 February 2017
As the EU vs NA debate inevitably continues to rage on, let’s flip the script to NA for this tournament. Imagine that instead of Katowice, the IEM World Championship is being played in front of a sell-out crowd in Boston, with no European teams present, replaced instead NA’s three best in Team SoloMid, Cloud9, and FlyQuest eSports.
If we strictly replace the European teams with North American teams based upon their current records (TSM ahead of C9 based on the recent series), our new groups would be as follows;
Group A consisting of ROX Tigers, M19, FlyQuest eSports, and Hong Kong eSports.
Group B consisting of Kongdoo Monster, Cloud9, Team SoloMid, and Flash Wolves.
Team SoloMid head into the tournament on a high after defeating both Cloud9 and FlyQuest in the previous week. The biggest adaptation of note is the significant improvement of the rosters shot calling, something that can be seen when examining their comms; Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell has begun to assert himself. Likely the strongest NA team coming in to the tournament, they receive a tough draw having to play Flash Wolves in the first game of the tournament.
Cloud9 enter the tournament at their lowest point of the season. Entering last week with a perfect record, they fell to both TSM and Phoenix1 for an 0-2 week, making uncharacteristic mistakes in the mid/late game. C9 will need to fall back on the strength of their coaching staff, specifically head coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, to quickly fix their mistakes and have them prepared for the tourney.
Another NA team entering the tournament on a low, FlyQuest also suffered a 2-0 week at the hands of TSM and the surging Team Dignitas. Questionable decisions in the pick/ban phase created situations for FlyQuest that their superior shot-calling could not pull them out of. Team leader Hai “Hai” Lam continues to impress on picks such as Orianna and would need to have a strong tournament for FlyQuest to advance. Fortuitously, they were drawn into a group with the two teams considered weakest in the tournament, M19 and HKE.
Flash Wolves first game of the tourney against G2 may have been the best single-game performance of the event, and assuming they brought the same level of preparation and execution to the first game against TSM, Flash Wolves would likely secure the top seed coming out of Group B, followed by Team SoloMid.
In Group A, FlyQuest would likely continue their recent struggles from the NA LCS, yet still perform well enough to overcome M19 and HKE and advance as the second seed from Group A. This would leave very familiar pairings for the semi-finals, with ROX Tigers vs. TSM, Flash Wolves vs. FlyQuest, all set up nicely for a TSM vs Flash Wolves rematch in the finals.
TSM has shown a resurgence in the past few weeks, but that should not overshadow Flash Wolves’ incredible tournament performance at IEM Katowice. It is reasonable to expect a Flash Wolves victory in a three games series against TSM.
Looking at the potential of the Intel Extreme Masters with NA teams in place of the EU teams, it’s still very likely that Flash Wolves would have won the tournament. Keeping this in mind, its hard to be overly critical of an EU team being unable to capture the IEM Championship. It is very easy to condemn EU for their perceived failure in Katowice, but in reality, Flash Wolves played like a top international team and had a very consistent, well-executed tournament from their draft phases to their play on the rift.
While the relative strength of Europe and NA is still unknown, the looming Mid-Season Invitational will give us an opportunity to see the best from each region go head to head. G2 eSports look to be that team once again for Europe, whereas the NA champion seems less certain. Either way, we need only wait for a clearer picture of where the regions stand.
The 7 Things IEM Katowice Taught Us… That We Already Knew