EU LCS in review: SK the tragic hero

by Kelsey Moser Apr 23 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Matt Demers / theScore eSports

Of all the stories to tell in Europe this split, I've settled on the tragedy that is SK Gaming. I refer not to the broader use of tragedy as something deeply sad, but to dramatic tragedy, in which a hero is often lead to his downfall by an inherent flaw. SK's flaw was visible early on in the split, and viewers could feel their impending fall even as they ended the regular season with an impressive 15-3 record. Even so, we wanted them to succeed.

We wanted what looked like the best team in Europe to actually be the best. We wanted them to head to international competition and prove themselves the best possible champion of the EU LCS by far.

At the same time, we could watch their games, we could see their flaws, and we knew the end was coming. The question was — who would take them down. The tragic hero of the 2015 LCS Spring split would ultimately be their own undoing, but we liked to image a true champion would stand at the end: someone every inch a king.

Week Patch Most contested champions Rising teams Falling teams
1 5.1  Jarvan IV; Rek'Sai; Graves; Lee Sin; Janna; Kassadin; Leblanc FNC; GIA; SK H2k; MYM
2 5.1 Gnar; Rek'Sai; Lissandra; Jarvan IV; Kassadin; Zed FNC; SK; EL; H2k GIA; CW; ROC; GMB
3 5.2 Ahri; Kassadin; Gnar; Leona; Graves; Jarvan IV; Zed SK; CW; ROC H2k; GIA; MYM
4 5.2 Ahri; Jarvan IV; Kassadin; Gnar; Lissandra; Nidalee SK; UOL; H2k; GMB EL; ROC; GIA; MYM
5 5.3 Ahri; Kassadin; Rek'Sai; Corki CW; H2k; GMB; GIA SK; UOL; EL; MYM
6 5.3 Kassadin; Rek'Sai; Morgana; Annie; Zed FNC; H2k; GMB CW; GIA; ROC
7 5.4 Nidalee; Rek'Sai; Ahri; Zed; Corki; Morgana SK; H2k EL; GIA
8 5.5 Maokai; Leblanc; Rek'Sai; Sejuani; Zed SK; UOL CW; GIA
9 5.5 Maokai; Ahri; Lulu; Sejuani SK; FNC UOL; ROC

Most contested champions refers to those picked or banned in at least eight games in a given week (except Week 9, where only those picked or banned in nine or more games are listed). Rising teams refer to those with a 2-0 score for the week, while Falling teams refer to those with an 0-2 score for the week.

Team Weeks rising Weeks falling
SK 7 1
FNC 3 1
H2k 5 2
GMB 3 2
UOL 2 2
CW 2 3
EL 1 3
ROC 1 4
GIA 2 6
MYM 0 4

Outside of SK Gaming, playoff teams in the European LCS were riddled with consistency issues. Fnatic and the Unicorns of Love would only go 2-0 in three and two of their weeks respectively this season. Part of the issue was that they, like Gambit Gaming, relied on heavy skirmishing. 

The heavy skirmishing style isn't inherently flawed; it just requires a certain amount of finesse and setup to execute consistently. You have to know where your opponents are to enter into a fight. This typically wasn't the type of skirmishing we saw from UoL and Gambit. Sometimes Fnatic would pull it off with clever champion select and securing vision in the area.

In a sense, there were two rivalries of the European LCS: the rivalry of the scrappy teams that made the finals, Fnatic and Unicorns (Fnatic was 0-2 against the Unicorns in the regular season), and the rivalry of the teams with more consistency and finesse, SK Gaming and H2k (1-1 in the regular season), the only two teams to go undefeated for the majority of their split weeks.

Perhaps the problem with SK and H2k was that they were almost too consistent in what they did. It was easy to unravel their win conditions and stump them. In fact, the first time we saw SK falter was at the hands of H2k. SK didn't lose their match against H2k in Week 3, but poor vision in the early game granted H2k an early dragon and a lead over Svenskeren's reckless Nidalee. That's when we were first exposed to our hero's flaws — or at least when we realized they mattered.

Early on in the split, nRated informed the broadcasting crew at Riot that you could save money on wards by predicting the location of your opponent. You could then spend that gold on combat items to snowball a lead. That was SK's fundamental flaw: the need for snowball, the importance of winning lanes and taking the outer ring of turrets first for a gold lead. As tragic flaws go, it's a common and relateable one, a near Macbethian impatience and ambitiousness to find a lead, to establish dominance as soon as possible — it made us love them more.

Ultimately, Fnatic would abuse a lack of vision in SK's playstyle, while H2k and the Unicorns of Love would ban Graves to expose the fact that SK couldn't play well without lane dominating AD Carry picks. These three losses occurred halfway through the split, and they should have spelled the end of SK's run. SK didn't fix their problems; teams conveniently left them intact to be taken to task in the playoffs, where SK fell in a five game series to the Unicorns of Love, and then again to H2k in the third place match.

H2k had their own fundamental flaws. H2k should have been the pure champion to rise at the end of LCS. Instead of starting the split dominant, they went 0-2 in the first week. Then, after two wins against Giants and Meet Your Makers in Week 2, H2k dropped their next two games in Week 3. H2k only found their footing when Ryu settled in, and they acquired kaSing. 

The two worked in tandem to set up and destroy wayward targets in the fog of war to allow their team to get a strong rotation for an objective. In a way, they were the perfect, rotation-based antithesis of the headstrong, turret taking SK. They could thrive in a land without their first ring of structures and make comebacks.

But they suffered in the head-on 5v5s. That would prove their undoing when the patch change on 5.5 rolled out, and team fighting became the predominant style.

In reality, outside H2k and SK Gaming this year, the European LCS lacked stylistic diversity. Almost every other team thrived in taking earlier fights, skirmishing around their strong mid laners, and eventually acquiring enough gold to brute force the base.

There were variations of the strategy. Fnatic had the best use of vision to prep areas for fights. Gambit Gaming relied on two-person roam squads. The Unicorns decided their best bet was choosing unexpected strategies like Cassiopeia and Yorick. The Wolves relied on Freeze and Soren to scale in the late game when their dive attempts went terribly wrong early. They all had their rising weeks. Each team had  a moment where they forced fans to ask "are they the real deal?"

But what about the bottom four teams, the one who didn't make playoffs? Meet Your Makers had an extremely rough start, but would start finding wins toward the end of the split, mainly on skirmishes and plays initiated by their new support. They fell in with the Unicorns, the Fnatics, the Wolves, and the Gambits.

The fault lies in Giants, ROCCAT, and Elements. Patient, lane-holding game play has often been the answer to more reckless skirmishes. ROCCAT and Elements failed to bring those strategies to the limelight. It isn't that those styles don't work in the EU LCS' new climate, but more that ROCCAT and Elements executed them terribly.

It came to an obvious head the week before Krepo joined Elements. Elements and ROCCAT faced off on the rift, and ROCCAT were able to play a more aggressive style and three man dive Kev1n repeatedly. Elements showed that their biggest problem was that they just lacked the one fundamental element of team play. Almost all of them remained farming stagnant lanes while Kev1n suffered. No calls were made to react and move pressure or come to his aid.

ROCCAT had their own problems. An over-extending AD carry who should have served as the backbone, a top laner transitioning from mid lane who seemed too stuck on strange picks to become consistent, and a mid laner who seemed to stop caring some time around Week 4 when his team couldn't work around the few champions he could play when he got target banned. Vander and Jankos also failed to live up to their previous season's performance, but it's hard to blame them all other things considered.

That left Giants. While ROCCAT and Elements could have or should have been good, few had high hopes for Europe's all-Spanish team. The one guiding light for the Giants, though, was that they did have some variety to offer the pool. The one pick consistently banned against them was Werlyb's Jax, and Giants would otherwise devolve into the PePiiNeRo show. In both cases, the split pushing threat was a boon for Giants. They led would-be skirmishing teams on chases across the map. With a better concept of how to execute these strategies, Giants could have gotten a lot of free objectives. They just didn't.

With consistent and readable flaws from SK and H2k and teams with varying playstyles like ROCCAT, Elements, and Giants failing to rise to the occasion, the skirmishers were left to rule. Before the heavy fight meta took root, H2k's rotation-based game of avoiding the fight and looking for a single pick seemed like the best option for stopping the skirmishers. Unfortunately for H2k, Fnatic's oppressive solo laners got the better of them in the semifinals.

Once the Unicorns and Fnatic could account for the obvious flaws in H2k and SK's play, they gambled. Every game Fnatic and the Unicorns play is a gamble. Grab as many early game damage threats as you can, and fight over dragon. The winner takes all. There's a reason Fnatic took five games to win both their series, and Unicorns took five games to beat SK. Their styles aren't reliable. They were one game better on the day because SK and H2k failed to adapt. Failing to adapt brought them down. They would have fallen sooner in the regular split to more consistent competition.

If SK was our Macbeth, Fnatic is our Malcolm. They only have two weeks to become the kings their finish pits them as in time to face the encroaching conquerors of the Mid Season Invitational. Next split, we hope Europe's mantra is variety.