Well, LCS fans, the Spring split has officially begun. Fans everywhere celebrated the opening week of the European LCS, eager to determine which of the rosters they’d come to love over the course of the offseason would work out, and which would be proven to be experiments gone horribly wrong. And now that Week One is in the books, people are able to speak definitively on the strongest and weakest teams the region has to offer.
Maybe not. In the interest of determining how meaningful these opening week games are in the broad scheme of things, I went back and looked at the standings in Europe after the opening weeks of each previous split, dating back to the beginning of the LCS in the spring of Season Three. Keep in mind that those results were even more likely to be significant than the matches that just occurred, given they represented a larger total of the overall matches being played due to the super week format. The results were, as one could imagine, a bit scattershot. Sure, teams like Fnatic have found repeated success during both the beginnings and ends of splits, but one can’t ignore teams like Alternate and the old MeetYourMakers teams that shot to the top of the standings and then fell like a brick for the rest of the split. Every Alliance first place spot is countered by eventual disasters like Team Millenium standing on equal ground.
All of this is to say that initial results have a tendency of being deceiving. In fact, I figure the best way to examine these teams is to ask the one burning question that each team will undoubtedly answer this split. They can range from simple things like, “Wait, you still do articles?” to more complicated questions like “No, seriously, where have you been the past four months?”1 Without further ado, let’s ask some questions! As always with my articles, all stats come from the official LoLeSports website.
- Is this the year everything comes together for the Copenhagen Wolves?
The Copenhagen Wolves have always been a fascinating organization to watch. With the exception of their notorious Season 3 debacle, the team has managed to consistently put together a product that was just good enough to make it back into the LCS, while doing a great job of highlighting players like Amazing that could fetch big sums on the open market. Even ten hours before the ladder lock for the EUW Expansion Tournament, it was unclear whether the Wolves were even going to resign their old roster, then playing under the banner “Unlucky Rejects”. Of course, they eventually found their way to new contracts, even managing to sign Freeze to replace the departed Woolite.
Now, the question becomes whether running nearly the same roster back for another split was the right call. Fans should take comfort knowing Airwaks, by far the best of their revolving door of junglers last year, has solidified his starting spot, ensuring he gets the time needed to develop chemistry with the rest of team. Signing Freeze surely brings some good karma to the team, as they’ve ended his streak of almost getting there, and combining him with Unlimited could make the bot lane far scarier than people might imagine.
As always, the issues with the Wolves come from the solo lanes. Youngbuck had all of Season 4 to prove himself and failed to do so, posting an abysmal 1.82 KDA.2 It’s hard to see what promise the Wolves still see in him when he’s finished last in gold per minute (GPM) and KDA for his position for two splits. SorenXD was a bit better in the mid lane, finishing sixth in GPM, but dead last in KDA for his position. He’s a much younger player, however, so there are reasons to believe the promise he showed on Cassiopeia against H2k-Gaming is the real deal. Fans will have to bank on the Wolves organization knowing what they’re doing with those two. If their solo laners can turn their performance around, there’s a good chance the advantage of team chemistry could help them out of the bottom of the standings. If not, it’s going to be another long split for these players.
- How will Elements handle their role as defending European Champions?
John Wooden, famous UCLA basketball coach, once said, “Winning take talent. To repeat takes character.” The quote perfectly summarizes how hard it is to remain at the top for a long period of time. It’s one thing to strive to be the best when you’re hungry for a championship; hell, Froggen went so far as to hand pick a team specifically to achieve that goal, tired of looking up at the Fnatic juggernaut that had ruled the region since the LCS began. There’s no doubt the Elements organization feels good knowing they have that monkey off their back.
However, now Elements faces an entirely different strain of challenges. Every team they play throughout the season is going to bring their A game simply because they want to be seen taking out the best. Fans and critics alike will be analysing their every move, scrutinizing over every minute detail until they find a hole in the way they play the game. Every bad week will be met with articles stating how Elements “lost their touch” while journalists go out of their way to pick against them, knowing they’ll receive credit for being the first to acknowledge the new champion while still having the “Well, of course Elements won; they’re the champions” card if they’re mistaken.
Time will tell how Elements handles that level of pressure. The last time we saw this much scrutiny on the roster was the opening weeks of the Spring split last season, but the team has matured greatly since then. Also helping their case is the acquisition of Rekkles, a player whose hunger to win was the driving factor in his decision to come play for the team. While some consider the move an upgrade to a position that was already a strength rather than a move that could eliminate a potential weakness, it’s never a bad thing to sign the MVP of the previous split. The talent is surely there for this roster, but that opening loss against Fnatic coupled with the sheer sense of relief Rekkles showed during his Day 2 Interview showed just how much pressure these players are under. How they handle everything else that comes with being successful will determine where they finish this split.
- What do their new Korean imports bring to Fnatic’s roster?
Some of you were probably expecting a question on how the new roster will fill the void left behind by their predecessors. To me, that’s a silly question: they can’t, and trying to do so will only hurt what the new team could be. If there was an LCS Hall of Fame, xPeke, Cyanide, and sOAZ3 would be first ballot choices, and Challenger teams should be collectively terrified that Origen will be carving their way through the scene as they work to claim the automatic promotion slot. This new roster was always going to be a very different team, and their success or failure will be determined not by what the organization was, but by the new identity these guys give themselves.
To that end, two of the new players appear to be great fits for the Fnatic mould. Febiven is a very strong mid laner who hopes to lead the next generation of talent, and Steeelback is the type of aggressive ADC that Fnatic has been able to repeatedly turn into success stories. There’s a lot of reason to believe that the coaches and support staff present know exactly how to handle these new talents, and combining them with YellOwStaR gives them a stronger foundation upon which to build than most people likely give them credit for.
The more head scratching signings appear to be the new Korean players. Fnatic fans haven’t taken too kindly to the decision to bring in players from Korea, expressing more than a little venom of Reddit and other social media forums. A lot of this comes from the collapse of the notion, right or wrong, that teams should consist entirely of players from their region rather than the best players available; in a world that embraces globalization more every day, such a notion is more than a bit antiquated. More jarring, perhaps is the fact that Huni was almost unheard of in the West, while ReignOver was only known for his less than stellar performances for Incredible Miracle.
Fnatic made an incredible first step towards silencing their critics with both Huni and ReignOver submitting two strong performances this past weekend. The ability for ReignOver to communicate fluently in English4 is a godsend to this team, as it gives them a link between Huni and the rest of the roster when trying to determine what objectives to push and how to coordinate focus during team fights. There’s still certainly much more work to do for this team, but fans who trusted in the organization to make the right call have to be feeling pretty good right now.
- What does it mean for Gambit to have finally solved their long standing logistics issues.?
Even if you’re a CLG fan, it was hard to not be happy to see Gambit Gaming back on top of an International Tournament. It was only two years ago that fans were celebrating the success of Moscow Five, anticipating the LCS would be the perfect place for the Russian squad to prove their success was far from a fluke. Season Three seemed to confirm that fact, earning them second and third place finishes in the spring and summer respectively. If you’re a Gambit fan, however, you know those days feel like they are much farther away, as the team struggled mightily throughout Season Four, ending with a seventh place finish in which they were forced to fight for their very jobs. It looked like the end of the Gambit dynasty was upon us.
For Gambit fans, IEM Cologne was proof that the team’s death had been greatly exaggerated. The opening week of the split, however, was proof that the offseason showings are meaningless when they’re not representative of the final product. Enthusiasm for this roster was tempered with the fact that nobody wanted to talk about: according to their new coach, Leviathan, the team would still not be living in the same gaming house together. Players like Alex Ich have already spoken at length as to how exhausting having to fly back and forth from Berlin to Russia every week is for these players, but the political situation in Russia made it seem like Edward and Diamondprox had no real alternative. It’s hard to believe that the dysfunction that comes from having the team live in two separate places was accountable for Gambit’s abysmal Week One performances, though missing their head coach for the opening matches likely didn’t help either.
Then, shining brightly as if it came from on high, the news finally rang out that Gambit had finally found a fix to their housing situation. This was the break Gambit fans and players have been waiting for since the LCS first began. While it will certainly take some time to adjust to their new surroundings and schedule, there is no doubt that having a stable environment in which the team can work and live together without the constant hindrances of travel can only be a positive thing. When this split ends, Gambit fans will no longer have to wonder what might have been with this roster; the team will have two months now to show the world what they are capable of…
…Which, to be honest, isn’t entirely clear yet. Sure, IEM Cologne was a lot of fun for Gambit fans, but it’s hard to tell what that means in the broad scheme of things, since they never actually competed against a European team at the event, and the ROCCAT that lost to CLG in the semis was not really representative of the final product due to Ryu subbing in mid. Gambit fans will have to hope that their younger players like P1noy and NiQ are able to learn from the veteran leadership that Diamond and Edward bring, and the team’s overall success will hinge on their development. For now, Gambit fans can sleep soundly with the knowledge that it wouldn’t be housing or logistics that hold the team back anymore, which may be a victory in and of itself.
- Can the Spanish Giants surprise people this split?
Surprised? You’re not the only ones. It wasn’t shocking to see Giants Gaming at the bottom of the Paravine’s own Power Rankings.5 After all, this is a team that hadn’t gotten much attention before the EU Expansion Tournament. They finished third on the EU West ladder, which pit them against what appeared to be an unwinnable match against Millenium, who was fighting to get their LCS jobs back. When Giants won the series 2-0, most of the focus was placed on Millenium’s collapse rather than Giants’ strengths, and being defeated 3-0 by H2k in the semifinals surely didn’t help their case. To the average fan, they looked like a team that squeaked into the LCS because someone had to get there.
To people that follow the Challenger scene for living, however, there’s a very different narrative for this Giants squad. Casters like Reid “RAPiD” Melton can’t help but get excited when talking about the potential this Giants squad brings to the LCS. Unlike most European talents, the Giants pride themselves for their very aggressive playstyle. Adryh and Rydle search for as many kills as they can find in the bot lane, while xPepe made some fantastic plays on Xerath and Ahri. If Fr3dric can produce consistent performances in the jungle, they’re little reason to believe the team can’t pull off a few upsets throughout the split.
To be clear, even after a nice week one start, I doubt that even the Giants organization sees this roster as playoff ready right out of the gate. These players have little to no experience on such a big stage, and in a region in which having strong mid lane/jungle synergy is the bare minimum to compete, the team will likely live or die by surprising their opponents with unconventional strategies6 while they gain some much needed experience. But if the Giants can figure out how to avoid tilting when things don’t go their way, they have the ability to be much more than a placeholder for Origen.
- Can Ryu find his big break with H2k-Gaming?
It’s more than a bit sad that fans will never get to see what H2k would have been like with a full split of Febiven on the roster. Even after coming short in their promotion matches the last two splits, players like Odoamne, Hjarnan, and Voidle had already made names for themselves as members of the next generation of European talent, and Febiven could have easily been the star of the show. That roster would have been a strong contender for a playoff spot, as the team’s synergy and communication put them head and shoulders over teams at their skill level; the advantages of playing in the LCS could have put them over the top.
Instead, the team is left with Ryu, a player who also probably deserved better than to end up with this roster. At the end of Season Three, Ryu had proven himself to be the second best mid laner in the World. Unfortunately, fans of the game, most of whom weren’t following OGN at the time, are far more likely to remember him for the Faker play rather than his own accomplishments. It almost seems cruel in retrospect that, instead of cutting to a celebrating Faker, the camera immediately cuts to Ryu’s crushed face. The game was already over when the play was made, and he’d submitted a great performance throughout the series. But history only remembers the image of that face alongside the legendary “FAKER! WHAT WAS THAT?!?” call from Montecristo.
Since the end of Season Three, Ryu hasn’t been able to catch much of a break. The KT Rolster Bullets forced him into an ill fated lane swap to the jungle, and while his talent was clear, it was obvious that the new position wasn’t the right fit. Joining forces with a Millenium team that many considered to be filled with talent appeared to be his best chance back into the spotlight, but the series ended up being a complete disaster. It almost feels like ROCCAT, unable to formally sign Nukeduck due to his previous ban, took Ryu on as a sub to give him one more chance to make a good impression in hopes of finding him a job. Losing his lane to the often maligned Link probably didn’t help his case, but with Febiven out, H2k made the call to give him that chance.
H2k’s season will almost certainly depend on whether that was the right call to make. In a region filled with strong mid laners, Ryu will have to be at the top of his game to outweigh the costs of being unable to communicate well with the rest of the team. Meanwhile, Loulex, the least experienced member of the team, will likely have to pick up a good share of the shot calling responsibilities to keep the rest of the team on point. That loss against the Copenhagen Wolves showed just how far H2k still has to go. But the beginning was always going to be rough; how H2k finishes will be far more important for the team’s future. If Ryu can return to his Season Three form, he may still be able to carve out the legacy he deserves. If not, this team will struggle, and the Ryu face will flood Twitch chats everywhere.
- Did MeetYourMakers drop the right players this offseason?
When reading the subreddit and speaking with other analysts within the scene, there appear to be two schools of thought as to why the artists formerly known as Supa Hot Crew didn’t perform as well in the playoffs as their regular season record made them out to be. The first school of thought says that SELFIE, now Kori, had grown into one of the best mid laners in Europe by the end of the split, pointing to his LCS-leading 410 GPM stat line,7 and that Impaler wasn’t adding enough to the team’s ability to group together and fight towards the end of games. When it became clear the two didn’t get along, the decision was easy. From that point of view, it was clear that the team needed to find a new jungler to help Kori reach his full potential.
The other narrative is far less exciting one for MYM fans. When I went to visit the EU LCS in Cologne, the rumours that Kori had let success get to his head had already begun to swirl, and some say that his MVP award in Week 10 served only to convince him that he was the sole star of the team. Regardless of whether that was the case, there’s no doubt that Kori and Impaler did not get along, and players like Brokenshard openly reached out to give their support to Impaler saying things like, “If people knew what was really going on, they’d be furious.” The organization sided with Kori, releasing Impaler unceremoniously soon after the playoffs were completed. When talking to KaSing for a previous story, he pointed out that one of the biggest reasons he came to the team was to play with his former Dignitas UK teammate, so it stands to reason that when his friend left, he wanted to leave as well.
As if going out of his way to make the point, Kori spent last week at home while the rest of his team battled on the Rift due to “disagreements with the new direction of the team“. Given the new MYM roster was announced December 8, and the new coach was announced on January 10, it’s hard to imagine what new development could have led to this decision. More distressingly, there seems to be no sign that he’ll return, as his most recent tweet at the time of this writing indicates that he could be gone for good, while admitting that no matter what the truth behind his departure ends up being, it was “unprofessional“.8
At the end of the day, MeetYourMakers is left with the worst of both worlds, as the team that’s left is a shell of the successful SUPA HOT CREW team that finished third in the regular season last split. Mimer continues to fail to live up to expectations as a mid tier top laner, while MrRalleZ continues to march his way to the title of “EU Cop”, playing with his fourth support in just three splits. Add to this mixture a jungler who can’t communicated effectively with his team and a mid laner who’s in way over his head, and this team has all the ingredients necessary for a total disaster. If this team wants to remain an LCS team, the MYM organization will have to do everything in their power to keep this team focused on the goal ahead while keeping morale from sinking during the early adjustment period. If they fail, this team could be dead in the water before it even starts.
- Is SK Gaming a strong candidate for the “Too Many Knuckleheads” theory?
Bill Simmons has long purported the “Too Many Knuckleheads” theory, which states that in sports like basketball with small rosters, it is in management’s best interest not to have too many players with potential off the field issues in the same locker room, lest they group together and either make the issues exponentially worse or butt heads until they destroy each other. It’s easy to see how this theory would make sense in a League of Legends context: while still largely underappreciated in the media’s analysis of top teams, there’s no doubt that team chemistry makes a big difference in how a team performs. Teammates need to get along in order to communicate effectively, and nothing kills a talented team faster than silent mics in team fights.
On the surface, SK Gaming looks to be a candidate for this issue. Despite being banned for three games at Worlds for his racist remarks, the team decided to bring him back for another year. In addition, they replaced the underperforming CandyPanda with FORG1VEN, a player well known for his fiery personality, and another player who has been fined for toxic behaviour in solo queue. On the surface, it’s not particularly hard to imagine a scenario in which their strong personalities get in the way of their otherwise talented play, and if they don’t get along, it will only serve to punish Fox, a young mid laner who will need stability within the team in order to achieve his full potential.
Once you delve a bit further, however, there’s a reason that fans and analysts have so much love for this new roster. FORG1VEN’s issues have always come from a desire to be the best, and nRated is the type of support that knows how to channel that passion for winning into something constructive. nRated’s tactical mind mixed with FORG1VEN’s instinctual understanding of each match-up makes them a force to be reckoned with. Fredy122 will likely serve as the sign of how to carry oneself for both Svenskeren and Fox, as the soft spoken player showed at Worlds that attention to one’s play comes not from words, but from stellar performances. From talent alone, performances like these do a good job of showing just how much talent this SK roster has in its arsenal. It will be up to the coaching staff and the players themselves to ensure they get the most out of it.
- Has Nukeduck found a home in ROCCAT that will help him reach the next level?
Speaking of players with controversial pasts, Nukeduck has been known throughout Europe as one of the region’s best mid laners despite having not played in the LCS since the Season Three Summer split. He spent that split on a Lemondogs roster that deserved to be remembered far more than it is today, as they were the first European team to figure out how to use assassins to devastating effect on the LCS stage. The team finished second in the region on the backs of the strong synergy between Nukeduck and Dexter1.
It’s hard to tell why exactly he was convinced that joining up with former SK Gaming jungler Hyrqbot was the best idea for his career, but the plan immediately backfired when Team KMT, who later became ROCCAT, upset the “improved” Ninjas in Pyjamas roster in three straight games. It’s only fitting, then, that the team that ended up crushing Nukeduck’s LCS dreams is the same team that has given him new life. It’s a fresh start for a man in desperate need of one, eager to prove that his toxic, overconfident days are in the past.
Assuming Nukeduck’s maturation is the real deal, there are a lot of reasons to believe ROCCAT is the perfect place for him. First, there’s already a strong foundation built around him. VandeR is a very strong support who was held back last year by the far weaker Celevar. This year, VandeR will be paired with Woolite, a promising ADC talent who came from the seemingly limitless supply of strong AD Carrys that come from the Copenhagen Wolves roster. The top lane will feature Overpow, whose versatility is a strong asset to the team. While a large champion pool alone doesn’t make a strong player, the ability to keep enemy teams constantly guessing which champions will play where is always valuable, and their win against Gambit proved there’s plenty of room for a less traditional top lane champion pool in this meta.
More important to Nukeduck’s success, however, is the presence of Jankos, who earned the nickname “First Blood” on top of his in game name due to his ability to consistently score early kills. For a mid laner like Nukeduck that tends to play more passively in the early laning phase, a player like Jankos is a godsend. With Jankos’s help, Nukeduck should be able to take some early leads in his lane, and there are few players as good at playing with a lead as Nukeduck. If he can return to his previous form, there’s no doubt that ROCCAT’s name will be coming up when discussing the best teams in Europe by the end of the split.
- Is the Unicorns of Love’s luck doomed to run out?
By all accounts, the Unicorns of Love wasn’t supposed to be a team that happened. This is a team that had to win a tiebreaker against Playing Ducks just to get into the Challenger Series Playoffs. No one gave them a chance against Gamers2, and you would have been a savant to have foreseen their 3-0 victory over the Ninjas in Pyjamas in the third place game, a loss so devastating that Ninjas in Pyjamas closed their League of Legends branch all together. Even the staunchest of believers could not have expected these underdogs to beat Millenium, especially after Kev1n, Kerp, and company won the first two games handily. It wasn’t until the now-famous Vizicsacsi Poppy pick that the series began to turn, and somehow, despite all odds, they never looked back.
It’s hard to imagine the team that barely even qualified for the Challenger Series Playoffs is pretty much the same team that soundly defeated Team SoloMid at IEM San Jose, yet here we are. Kikis has proven to be an improvement over former jungler, Gilius, and PowerOfEvil has thrown his hat into the “best new mid laner” competition on the back of some incredible Syndra play. Vizicsacsi has shown promise in the top lane, and the Vardags/Hylissang bot lane has turned in a few solid performances of their own throughout the team’s rise to prominence.
Luck has certainly been on the Unicorns of Love’s side so far, but it remains to be seen how long it can hold out. Their series against Cloud9 in the IEM San Jose finals exposed some key flaws in their plan, namely in their rotations and objective control. The top teams should be able to punish them for those mistakes, and while IEM San Jose gave them a bit of experience to learn these things, these are still raw talents that will take time to achieve their full potential. If the bounces stop going their way, it’s not hard to envision them near the bottom of the standings this split. But if they can continue to beat weaker teams along the way, this team could become the most colourful dark horse in LCS playoff history.
- The answer is simple: dissertations are very, very mean. In the midst of thousands upon thousands of words about how dystopian novels function compared to other literary genres, I just didn’t have time to give articles enough time and energy to be sure I did them right, and I’d rather not write anything at all than turn in a product that didn’t meet my standards again. Rest assured knowing I have no such excuse this semester, so feel free to bug me incessantly if I slack off again here. ^
- Let’s just say his performance on Gnar this week didn’t fill me with confidence either. ^
- Yes, even sOAZ. I’m with Thoorin on this one. He may not have been the best at adapting to the shifting meta last split, but when he was able to play the type of game he wanted to play, few top laners in Europe have ever been better. ^
- Is ReignOver’s ability to speak fluent English one of the best kept secrets in eSports? I do my best to consume every piece of new League info I can find, and I had zero clue his English was at this level. I can’t help but wonder if their opponents knew that either; it’d be very easy to rack up high win counts in scrimmages if teams tried picking on a player they thought couldn’t communicate effectively, but was actually perfectly equipped to do so. Hmm… ^
- Given how much of a Challenger Series fan I am, I had more faith in Giants Gaming than my colleagues, ranking them all the way up at ninth on my personal ballot. Truly, I am a modern day prophet. My full predictions, for the curious: SK, ROC, EL, FNC, UOL, GMB, CW, H2k, GIA, and MYM in that order. ^
- Werlyb in particular is known to have a few pocket picks that will undoubtedly make their way onto the rift this split, and his Jax certainly wasn’t too shabby, either. ^
- And completely ignoring the fact that he finished 6th in his position in KDA, meaning that GPM stat is due in large part to the rest of his team funneling him resources. ^
- For all of you who enjoy drama, he also promised to tell his side of the story as to why Impaler got kicked from the team, which I’m sure will in no way negatively impact the team atmosphere whatsoever. ^