Once a year the eSports world collides dramatically with the real world. In the beginning of March during CeBIT, the biggest computer expo in the world, the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship takes place.
Some tournaments are just special. Not because of their prize money or the media attention they attract. Maybe not even because of the insanely high level of competition in them. They are special because of the atmosphere, the venue and the stories that are told about them. The Intel Extreme Masters World Championship is one of those tournaments. It concludes the 2011/2012 season of IEM, a world wide gaming circuit with more than $635,000 in total prize money.
The qualification process for the tournament has been long and winding for many of the teams and players. Starting with several tiers of online qualifiers, the lucky winners would then have their travel paid for to attend one of the five Global Challenges that took place in Cologne (Germany), Guangzhou (China), New York (USA), Kiev (Ukraine) and Sao Paulo (Brazil).
At the Global Challenge the players would then have to work their way through a tough field of opponents, and gather enough points on the IEM ranking to qualify for the World Championship. With 144 of the world’s best gamers in Hannover, Germany, it is now time to kick off the tournament. We are ready and on these pages we have gathered all the information you need to get ready too.
Date: 6th of March through 10th of March
Location: CeBIT – Hannover, Germany
Schedule: Can be seen here on ESL (Opens esl-world.net)
Players in attendance: 144
StarCraft II: $83,000
Counter-Strike 1.6: $100,000
League of Legends: $100,000
Prize money distribution (Opens esl-world.net)
Official ESL Channel for the IEM World Championship (Opens ESL.tv)
Complete overview over channels broadcasting IEM World Championship games (Opens esl-world.net)
While the individual Global Challenges haven’t been the most stacked StarCraft® II tournaments, this year’s World Championship would easily challenge both MLG and DreamHack for the most competitive tournaments in the Western world. If you have your doubts, just take a look at the six Global Challenge champions, who between them have won more than $500,000 in prize money.
The odds are stacked against almost anyone else entering this tournament with a hope of winning it, because SK Gaming’s MC seems to be on top of his form. At the time of writing this, the 21 year old had been knocked out on a 5 th8th place in GSL February, but has otherwise build up momentum since his victory at HomeStory Cup in the beginning of 2012. The combination of being an amazing player and an incorrigible showman has cemented MC as the crowd favorite, and on the biggest stage of them all in Hannover that could give him momentum to take down the victory.
PuMa is the weirdest case in StarCraft 2. He is the only guy in the top 8 that has never cashed in at GSL. As a renowned StarCraft® Brood War player with massive success in tournaments overseas, it is beyond all belief that PuMa has never once cashed in the GSL. He showed that he can win in Germany when he won at the Global Challenge in Cologne this summer, but since his victory at NASL we really haven’t seen a lot of him. PuMa has something to prove in Hannover, but the question remains whether he’ll be able to do it.
Not since Fatal1ty was at his prime has any American been so such a focal point as IdrA currently is. Love him or hate him, no one can deny that the bad boy from EG is one of the best players and students of the game, outside of Korea. Training with HuK and PuMa in the SlayerS team house will obviously have an impact on him, and it is going to be interesting to see whether he can continue the good form he was on at the end of 2011.
A two time GSL Code S champion and a recent winner at the Global Challenge in Kiev, MMA has to be one of the biggest favorites to win the World Championship in Hannover. He is on form, he has the experience and he knows that he has the ability to beat everybody. The BoxeR-prodigy has stepped up his game over the last year and even though his rampage in GSL has been put to a stop in the first event of 2012, he looks set to tie NesTea and MVP for total GSL wins in 2012 if he can continue his run of form. And for nothing else, he is a favorite because every StarCraft II fan out there would die for a Grand Final between MC and MMA – the two most acclaimed players at the event.
The former SK Gaming WC3 player has been on the verge of breaking through for some time now. Three GSL Code S appearances and a 4th place in HomeStory Cup IV was the closest he had been to the real stardom, but with his victory in the Global Challenge Sao Paulo, is now one of the hottest names around. Going into the World Championship with a 3rd puts a lot of pressure on him, but judging from his play in Brazil, he might surprise people once again.
With both DongRaeGu and FruitDealer dropping out of the tournament, the IEM World Championship will lose two very prolific Zerg-players. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be top quality challengers however, because these guys could just aswell be the next dominant players on the scene.
In StarCraft: Brood War, fellow Ukranian Strelok gained the nickname “Beast from the East”, but in StarCraft II it is Dimaga who runs the show. He had an incredible tournament on home soil in Kiev in January, and his beastly Zerg-play will be a daunting task to go up against for right about anyone. Dimaga is 4th seed for a reason and will be the European beacon of hope for this tournament.
He was the main favorite to win IEM Sao Paulo, but SuperNova looked distressed in a few games and eventually ended up losing the Grand Final to viOlet. As a seasoned GSL Code S players he should be able to swing right back, but the competition in Hannover won’t be local Brazilians and a mix of Europeans, it will be some of the very best players in the world. SuperNova should be on the groupstage, but from there on it’s going to be tough.
While most of the other Koreans in Hannover are seasoned veterans, Sound had his International LAN debut during HomeStory Cup IV. He took a second place in the tournament and qualified for the World Championship after beating players like Stephano, Dimaga and ReaL. There are limits to his play however, as we clearly witnessed in MC’s 4-0 Grand Final thrashing of him. We haven’t seen much of Sound the last month, but as all the other Korean attendees he looks ready to get onto the groupstage, albeit he probably won’t be gunning for the title.
In Kiev he was touted as the best Terran player outside Korea after Kas had played an impressive tournament on home soil. He ended up taking third after beating Zenio in the consolation final, further cementing his place amongst the very best players. Nicknamed “The Destroyer”, Kas has the tools to bring the pain on all of then attendants, but the odds (read: number of Korean players) are stacked against him and realistically it would be a fantastic feat for him to break into the Top 8.
Evil Geniuses’ much hyped Winter transfer has yet to make a big mark. The former TSL player qualified for the first GSL Season in 2012, but was quickly eliminated and sent down to Code A. He then took third at HomeStory Cup IV and together with his Top 8 finish in IEM Guangzhou, he gathered enough points to qualify for the World Championship. JYP is a solid bet to pass the groupstage, but it will be a major surprise if he breaks into the Top 4 in Hannover.
Actually there are no “outsiders”, the 24 participants in the World Championship are all incredibly amazing players. For example the two lowest ranked players are Zenio and Killer who between them have participated in 15 GSL Code S seasons…
Most of the European players have qualified for the event in Hannover by participating in more than one tournament. One player stands out however. The only Finnish representative, elfi, only participated in IEM Guangzhou where he shocked the entire community by grabbing second place after a loss in the Grand Final against Idra. Since then he has been flying under the radar and it will be interesting to see how the former WC3 player can perform in Germany.
The remainder of the list is a “who’s who” of European StarCraft. MaNa and Nerchio comes into the tournament as the Polish representatives, HasuObs, DarKFoRcE and Socke will try to appease the home soil audience, while Strelok is the third and last player from Ukraine to make it to the IEM World Championship. Other notable names in attendance are the up and coming Belgian Protoss Feast, who showcased fantastic play in both Kiev and Sao Paulo, South America’s only attendant, KiLLeR, North America’s only representative; SeleCT, and the German based Korean ReaL, who has a fourth place in Sao Paulo to show for his efforts.
Not everyone will have a realistic chance to win, but the quality of the tournament is so high that for all of the players in attendance it’s possible to snatch a BO3 win from one of the top favourites.
The undisputed favorites for the IEM World Championship are found amongst the three Global Challenge champions, Natus Vincere, SK Gaming and Fnatic. Collectively they have won over 15 International major tournaments and have racked up countless top 3 placements over the last year.
Two months ago it looked like the reigning Intel Extreme Masters World Champions, Na`Vi, wouldn’t be able to defend their title in Hannover. They hadn’t qualified for any of the Global Challenge events, not even the one on home soil in Kiev, Ukraine, consequently not having any ranking points to show for themselves.
However when Evil Geniuses pulled out of IEM Kiev, Na`Vi was asked to stand in for the Americans. They duly stepped in, not wanting to let their last chance go to waste. Apart from a hiccup in the group stage where they lost to SK Gaming, the Ukranians were simply flawless in the tournament. They beat Fnatic 2-0 in the semifinals and got revenge on SK Gaming in the Grand Final with a 16-3 and 16-5 scoreline on inferno and train respectively.
Albeit qualifying in the very last moment, Natus Vincere are the favorites to win the World Championship. Having won the tournament two years in a row, the Ukranians aren’t strangers to exactly how hard it is to take down the biggest and most prestigious Counter-Strike tournament in the world. And they will need all their experience and skill to accomplish what would be one of the most impressive feats ever done in eSports; to win the biggest tournament for three consecutive years with the same lineup.
Much like their Danish counterparts from Spirit of Amiga, SK Gaming never dies, they just go to hell and respawn. Having been in the business of Counter-Strike for more than ten years, the organization has managed to continously refresh itself and shrug off disappointments. Their recent replacement of Delpan for Trace is a testament to just that, they take action whenever it is needed.
Will it be an issue for them? Definitely. When Fnatic added Friis and Mousesports added karrigan, both teams struggled as a result. With more than a months worth of practice between adding Trace and kicking off the games in Hannover, there is however hope that SK will have eliminated the worst problems at that point. And if they do, they become one of the most feared opponents in the world to face. While people tend to highlight that SK will miss one of the world’s best AWP-players in Delpan, they often forget that Trace has played both primary and secondary AWP player for mTw before. That is in addition to being one of the three best players in the world with rifles. Oh yeah, and another of the three best players in the world with rifles is GeT_RiGhT, who he will be teaming up with. Imagine their opponents’ dilemma when they are Terrorists: Go to the A bombsite and get cut up by GeT_RiGhT or assault the B bomb site and run directly into Trace’s bullets – hard choice is hard.
There is no denying in that Fnatic is one of the best teams in the world, but a team that has had to change its lineup four times in the last year’s time is dependent on solo actions more than anything else. Just like SK Gaming, the Black and Orange boys have just been through a restructuring of their team. Pita stepped down and moddii has been picked up to take his spot. Bullet for bullet, the latter is a better player, but pita has – except for a short stint outside of the team – been with cArn and Xizt for a year. He was a core part of the team that won in Guangzhou and Jönköping, and from the outside he looked like the social glue which held up Fnatic when it got rough.
In contrast to SK Gaming, Fnatic will have an easier time implementing their new recruit moddii. He plays much of the same role as pita, he speaks Swedish like most of the team and he isn’t completely unfamiliar with how they play. The success of Fnatic however, singledhandedly comes down to Friis. It is alot of emphasis to put on one player, when he is backed up by headshot machines like Xizt, Gux and moddii, but the fact of the matter is that Fnatic looked bewildered at DreamHack when Friis wasn’t performing. The fluid game with no defined tactics that cArn employs, seems only to unfold correctly when the Dane hits his shots.
Being slow starters Fnatic are at risk to run into a stupid defeat or two in the beginning of their World Championship groupstage, but if they can avoid that we know that they are a team which becomes better over the course of a tournament. They should be headed for top 3 unless they run into either Na`Vi or SK Gaming in the relegation stage.
When there are favorites to win a tournament, there will also be challengers, and with the size of the IEM World Championship, these challengers have more than a fair shot of actually mounting a serious claim to the title.
It must be damned to be amongst the top 10 teams in the world, but still get beaten over and over again in every national tournament. That’s the harsh reality for the 2nd place finishers at DreamHack Winter 2011, Lions, who are only the 3rd best team in Sweden. They are still a quality side however, and if FYRR7E can play at the level of his DHW Grand Final performance against Fnatic, then Lions could be this tournament’s beautiful swan.
The Germans from Mousesports haven’t been in contention for an International title for the last few years, but with the addition of some Danish dynamite the team seems revitalized. The addition of karrigan was a stroke of genius, but it is the newest addition, zonic, who propels Mousesports into the medal contention. If the former mTw player can get accustomed to the team’s play style – and if they can overcome the language barrier – he is an enormous asset with his vast tournament experience. In Kiev, Mousesports didn’t look all that impressive, but with over a month of extra training I expect them to be an uncomfortable opponent for all the teams in the tournament.
Ever since Russian players started attending LAN tournaments in Western Europe their performances have had a high WTF factor. From total blackouts to rampant runs through the brackets (like Virtus.Pro’s 2nd place at the ESWC 2004), the Russian teams never fail to create headlines. Moscow 5 is no exception.
They have won two BO3s in a row against Fnatic, played two insanely close games against SK Gaming in Kiev and has recently climbed very close to the Top 5 teams in the world. They could lose most of their matches in Hannover, or they could win everything, you never know. One thing we know though; Moscow 5 will be well prepared and all of their opponents will take them seriously.
With only three qualifying events and several teams cancelling their participation, a few teams that didn’t qualify from their ranking position get a second chance. For better or worse.
Of the three bottom seeds, it is semXorah who seems to be in for the biggest whooping. They ‘qualified’ with three consecutive 3-16 losses and an abysmal last place in New York. Until a week ago there was not much consolation for them and one could just really hope they liked German food. They however swapped four players and are consequently lining up with four players (nak, fnx, FalleN and bit) who knows which end of the AK47 that you fire from. Before this lineup change the team wasn’t given much of a chance, but now they could end up as the Cindarella story of the event.
Anexis is the best Danish team at the moment, but that doesn’t really say much these days. The four best active Danish players are distributed amongst foreign teams and losses of Friis and Trace has left Anexis with little to no chance of making an impact in Hannover. Atleast they don’t have a 10 hour flight to get back home after the event.
It has been a while since the Finnish community had a worthy contender on the International scene, and WinFakt doesn’t seem like a team that is likely to break into the top 5 the next few weeks. Granted, they got a 2nd place in New York, but that was against a very mediocre competition. A 5-6th place in Kiev doesn’t bode well either, as the competition gets a nod upwards in Hannover, but you shouldn’t ever count a team that field lurppis out. The Finnish team-leader has been in the game for almost ten years and his vast experience could be the difference between early elimination and a playoff spot.
While TyLoo is definitely amongst the least favored teams to win the event, they still show glimpses of brilliance now and then. They took a map off SK Gaming in the playoffs at WCG 2011 and they almost drew with eSahara in the groupstage of the same tournament, but realistically the Chinese dragon won’t wake in Germany.
If Na`Vi qualified in the last moment, ESC Gaming and eSahara qualification to the World Championship is long overdue. Both teams are generally counted amongst the top 10 teams in the world, but neither of them managed to qualify for a Global Challenge. As such they actually had no chance of qualifying, but when no other teams accepted their invite ESL looked for the teams that came the furthest in the Global Challenges’ online qualification-tournaments.
When they won the WCG 2011 the Polish side of ESC Gaming truly became ‘The Golden Five’. While their two first triumphs in the tournament came with LUq and not Pasha swinging the AWP, the amazing triple is still a feat to be admired. The Poles went undefeated through the tournament, only dropping a single map on their way to being the only team who has ever won three WCG titles. In Hannover they will be… a favourite-ish. We haven’t seen them on LAN since WCG and their recent online outings have been far from perfect. A clear loss against Fnatic and a Group of Death with SK Gaming, Na`Vi and Mousesports bodes bad for them in Hannover.
On paper the eSahara team should be a force to be reckoned with. In real life… not so much. Three consecutive losses against KerchNET, Anexis and Moscow 5 in their last online cup doesn’t really raise the expectations to the team. They took a shared 5-8th place at SEC in October, and has since then added mSx to the team. The French madfragger was a huge part of the emuLate lineup that won a gold medal at WCG in 2007, along with current team mates HaRtS and drizzer. Despite adding mSx to the team it would still be a huge surprise if the French team gets out of the groupstage and enters the top six in Hannover.
Four different Global Challenges with four different Global Challenge champions is a testament to exactly how competitive the League of Legends community is. The field of teams for the biggest ever League of Legends tournament is sure to match the grandness of the venue, as the likes of SK Gaming, Dignitas and Team SoloMid have every chance of walking away with the $50,000 1st place prize.
If there ever was an equivalent to Barcelona CF in League of Legends, it would definitely be Counter Logic Gaming. Led by Canadian George ‘HotshotGG’ Georgallidis, the team boasts one of the most developed fanbases in eSports and continuously attracts up to 20,000 simultaneous viewers on personal streams. And it isn’t for naught. Since a disappointing 5th place at the League of Legends Season 1 Finals in the Summer of 2011, the team has only gotten stronger, winning MLG Raleigh, IEM Global Challenge Cologne and NESL Premier League 2011. In addition to that, they took 2nd in the Global Challenge in Guangzhou and got 4th in New York. Going into the World Championship, CLG is the top seed of the tournament and looks set to avenge their bad Season 1 Finals performance.
By all definitions Fnatic is the team to beat in Hannover. Flying under the myRevenge flag, the team won the League of Legend tournament here last year and followed that up with an amazing Season 1 Finals victory in their first event as Fnatic. Of all the favorites, Fnatic is the biggest question mark going into the World Championship though. They took 3rd in Cologne, but didn’t qualify for Guangzhou. That disappointment was released by joy as they swept the New York title without losing a single game, only to crash out of the qualification for the Kiev event surprisingly early.
Despite only sitting on the 4th seed in the World Championship, record suggests that few teams match Fnatic’s LAN performances, and with Maciej ‘Shushei’ Ratuszniak able to pull off a worldclass Gragas at any point in time, there are few teams feared more than the team in Black and Orange.
It would seem weird to call the team that went undefeated through the Kiev Global Challenge underdogs, but there is an inherent degree of uncertainty about a team that has only participated in one LAN event. The Russians from Moscow Five took Kiev by storm and completely dominated the event, but the doubters will ask whether they will be able to do the same against the likes of Fnatic, CLG and World Elite.
It is one thing winning an event against a restructured SK Gaming team and a Team SoloMid side which seems like being in little slump, but it is something entirely different to go to Germany, play on the biggest eSport stage in the world and still perform. Will the stellar performances of Edward ‘GoSuPepper’ Abgarian be enough to carry the team to victory, or will they falter under the expectations of an entire nation?
It seems to be a trend that Global Challenge champions are usually undefeated in tournaments. Albeit World Elite wasn’t as numerically superior as some of the other teams have been in their victory, the Chinese team beat CounterLogic Gaming twice on their way to victory on home soil in Guangzhou. In an interview on Fnatic.com in July 2011, World Elite’s Ayayaya said that the Asian League of Legend community could be the best. With World Elite’s victory in Guangzhou and both Invictus Gaming and EHOME attending the World Championship, the Chinese teams ARE indeed coming, and either one of them could be the surprise of the tournament.
Not since Riot’s Season 1 Finals have we seen as competitive a lineup of teams as is the case with the IEM World Championship. With three teams from each group going to the playoffs and three teams being eliminated, the challengers might find it hard to even get out of the groupstage.
If people only remember winners Team SoloMid won’t go down in history as a very well known team. The Americans have continously been placing in the top 3, but they are yet to win an event with the International top gathered. Two 2nd places in the Global Challenges in Cologne and Kiev have secured their Hannover attendance, but they will have a hard time taking the final step to the top of the podium. If they do however, they will be the new highest earning team in League of Legends and thus cement their names in League of Legends history.
There are only a few European teams who can keep up with the big boys of League of Legends, but ever since the Season 1 Finals, SK Gaming has been playing a secondary role to Fnatic. Much like TSM, SK Gaming has yet to step up to the plate and win an International event. The World Championship could be Carlos ‘ocelote’ Rodríguez Santiago’s time to shine, but the last months’ inconsistency of the lineup has put them back in the field of competitors. If given a few months, SK Gaming might take top 3, but as of right now it seems like a battle to even qualify to the playoffs.
Since their amazing victory at the IPL Season 3 in October 2011 Team Dignitas hasn’t been able to pick up their form. They ended up taking third in Kiev, besting SK Gaming in the 3rd place decider, but lost handidly to both Moscow Five and TSM. Led by William ‘Scarra’ Li, Dignitas will have to perform amazingly to get out of a group which includes WE, Fnatic and CLG.
Of the French teams, Sypher seemed to be the one most on track after the 3rd place in New York, but an abysmal 7 th-8th place in Kiev, losing all three groupstage matches, doesn’t spell a good fortune for them. Their fellow country men from Millenium are a big questionmark going into the tournament. Having not attended the Kiev tournament, nobody know how their form is, and with a fourth place as the highest result so far, there is little chance of a surprise from them.
The Americans from Curse have been knocked out of the groupstage with 1-2 in matches in Cologne, New York and Kiev, so if they swing their luck around they might have a chance. On the other hand, they have to beat either SK Gaming, TSM or Moscow Five to progress, making it very unlikely that we’ll see them defend that 5 th/6th place of theirs.
Last, but certainly not least, the two late entries Alternate Attax and against All authority will do their best to upset the favourites, but with a group consisting of Fnatic, CLG, Dignitas and Millenium it won’t be easy pickings for either of the teams.