It's hard to know how many apologies were exchanged in Europe this offseason to fix December's bent feelings. A number of squads that signed new AD Carries ahead of the 2015 EU LCS Spring Split are now reverting back to the players they had replaced: Rekkles has returned to Fnatic, Tabzz to Elements and CandyPanda to SK Gaming.
Many of the top European teams drifted toward a more early game skirmish style of play last split, so the question now becomes whether these roster changes will affect that style of play.
Of all League of Legends regions, I would say that the laws of Thermodynamics best apply the the European LCS. First, everything trends toward equilibrium, hence the reversion of multiple roster changes. Second, it all trends toward entropy — or chaos and disorder.
After Fnatic brought SK Telecom T1 to the brink of elimination in the Mid-Season Invitational semifinals, it appeared to vindicate Fnatic's all-in attitude from heavy helpings of engage to warrior enchantment Rek'Sai. When LPL's Edward Gaming then toppled SKT by taking more and faster to another level, turning up the pace became a new ideal.
Not every team will follow the heavy hitter example, but it doesn't seem like squads that had success with the formula so far will back down. In a solo lane-centric environment like Europe, mid laners dictate a team's playstyle much more than AD Carries do. You can expect to see a few bewildered marksmen mains dragged along for the ride.
As the only new team in your European LCS lineup, most of Origen's roster is anything but green. After experiencing a year's worth of criticism in 2014, sOAZ has gone back to his roots as a near cornerstone of the squad. Adjectives like "stubborn" no longer describe his champion pool as he's adapted to a variety of meta picks.
xPeke has been sOAZ's stalwart companion since the latter joined the Fnatic squad in 2012. He's still xPeke. He still will bring out the split-pushing Kassadin like he did in the Fnatic of old. Niels and Mithy play safe cleanup while their solo laners distract.
The primary difference between this Origen team and the split-pushing Fnatic is their jungler. Amazing has branched out from his TSM days into a carry threat reminiscent of his time on the Copenhagen Wolves. For whatever reason, Copenhagen Wolves Academy made the mistake of allowing Amazing to play Rek'Sai in two of their three games during EU Challenger Series finals and paid dearly for it.
The theme for Origen going into EU LCS Summer is their champion pool. No one on the team can be banned out, but there is a question as to how well xPeke and Amazing will fair as mid lane moves into more of a scaling mage over assassin environment and Amazing tries to play his carry role as a tank.
The last time we saw the Giants, they were still very much the PePiiNeRo show. A talent like PePii would have found another team after a split like 2015 EU LCS Spring in almost any other region, but mid lane talent in Europe is, as it always has been, stacked. Success is about how mid laners differentiate themselves and about how your other roles measure up.
Unfortunately for Giants, the answer to the second question is "not well." Outside a bizarre and always banned Jax comfort pick, Werlyb is critically outclassed. Fr3deric, a bit of mess, couldn't find a new pickup after Vi fell out of favor. Adryh and Rydle have had gem-like performances, but Adryh isn't strong enough to be a consistent carry threat with a poor front line in the tank-heavy meta. Noxiak has been added to the roster as a sub, and if the team decides to start him, it's possible he could have an impact like he did with MYM, but when the team needs meat shields, there's not much he can provide.
When the Giants win, it's because PePiiNeRo manages to make a nuisance of himself. Like xPeke before him, the rising Spanish mid laner has fond success by splitting the focus of his opposition. Teams with low rotational strengths will fall prey to PePiiNeRo's unwillingness to keep a side lane unoccupied.
Last split, ROCCAT made a couple praise-worthy roster changes, so it would seem absurd for the team to remain stagnant after such a poor spring showing. After losing 12 of 18 regular season games, ROCCAT have acquired a new top laner who, by all accounts, can provide for the team that which Overpow failed to offer.
Steve is known best as a strong Gnar and Rumble player who hasn't excelled on carries like Hecarim. The bright side is that what ROCCAT desperately lacked last split was some form of consistency. Steve brings a wider array of stable front line champions to the table, while Overpow couldn't seem to settle on a pool and fluctuated from over-performing to straight feeding with no middle ground. If Steve can at least go even in the majority of ROCCAT's games and provide a solid front line, Woolite's tendency for over-extension will seem less severe.
In the end, it comes down to Nukeduck. ROCCAT picked him up to carry, and if Steve can set a more stable pace for the team overall, he won't have any excuse not to step up his game.
Elements needs to perform well this split for Europe to grow.
The reason I say this is because, while Fnatic's over-eager playstyle had success on the international stage, long back-and-forth series prove that there are easy openings in an early skirmish style to exploit. If pick and ban doesn't go the way a team likes or vision isn't properly controlled, a more patient style can win out by taking less risks.
A strong, slow building team will test more aggressive European squads and force them into a position where they need to think before they leap, secure vision, and then dive a tower. Both your Fnatics and your Elementses will be stronger for it.
Patient play has always been Froggen's forte. In a region where mid lane play dictates a team's overall style, Elements knows that best. Froggen minimizes his mistakes with a more conservative early game to maximize his late game team fight effectiveness.
The problem with Elements last split was solo queue syndrome. Every lane acted as an island. Questionable roster changes actually helped. It shook Elements out of their funk so they were forced to think about a game plan. Unfortunately, they weren't the right roster changes.
This time around, Elements has completely rebuilt their team. Jwaow, speculated as the original top laner Froggen had in mind when he first started his "super team experiment," has graced the lineup, but he's more solid than exceptional. Dexter should provide what the team needed last split in a strong, marshaling voice. Tabzz was always the balancing id to Froggen's ego, looking for earlier engagements to serve as a bridge.
The remaining question mark is new amateur support promisQ. A pain point for Elements last time Tabzz was on the team was a lack of bottom lane synergy. So far this year, EU has been good to rookies, and it's time to see if the magic holds.
In the past, the Copenhagen Wolves team has served as a waystation for promising carry players who inevitably leave the team after a disappointing split for greener pastures. This time around, the Copenhagen Wolves haven't made any roster changes, retaining both of their impressive carries, Soren and Freeze, from the 2015 EU LCS Spring Split.
As the only team to fail to win a single game in the EU Playoffs, the Copenhagen Wolves don't exactly come into the summer split as favorites. Reportedly, Youngbuck's strong captaining makes him a foundation of the team, despite his smaller champion pool and top lane inconsistencies. Airwaks' unconventional jungling and Unlimited's tendency to give up kills have earned the Wolves' supporting cast a lot of criticism. Poor early performances, despite attempts at more aggressive play to get leads, often see the team playing from behind.
From behind is luckily where Soren and Freeze excel. Cassiopeia and Draven were common bans against the pair last split because of their tendency to roll over teams in the late game with signature champion picks. With Cassiopeia back in form and tanks making life difficult for AD Carries, a lot more pressure will fall on Soren to lift the Wolves. With a split under their belts as a team, the Wolves may be able to support him better, but I'm not optimistic.
At the moment, Gambit Gaming can only claim that they managed to take a single game off Europe's second place team in the quarterfinals before dropping out of playoffs.
At times, Gambit appeared disjointed. The P1noy-Edward and Diamond-Cabochard duos had their own agendas, and Gambit often piled on more carry threats than warranted. Simply put, this style of play would do them a disservice in the Cinderhulk meta.
P1noy, Betsy, and Cabochard were all, at times, primed as team carries but never had star quality. P1noy's tendency toward hyper carries will differ drastically from new AD Carry Forg1ven's who bring burst on his favorite champions to follow up Edward's picks. This easy lane will allow Diamond to focus on building Cabochard as a front line.
Betsy will likely continue to function inside Gambit Gaming as an afterthought. Whether they succeed will depend on whether Gambit can integrate their three parts effectively. At the moment, I'm the most on the fence about Gambit. They could find themselves a ticket to Worlds or they could bomb out in the first round of the playoffs the same way they did in Spring.
At the start of last split, no one truly expected to find SK Gaming finishing in fourth place. After performing worse in playoffs than they did in the 2014 EU LCS Summer season, SK have decided to revert to their same roster with the exception of maintaining fox in the mid lane. With CandyPanda's lacking mechanics, the team will look to fox to carry, and so far he hasn't shown he's up to the task.
Prior to last split, SK Gaming played a more patient game, using side wave control to set up for ideal dragon fights with a man advantage. This smart style would be a breath of fresh air, but it's unlikely that SK will play exactly like they used to. Fox's assassin favoritism and Forg1ven's brutal laning helped Svenskeren enjoy more aggressive and invasive jungling. Finding the balance between the two will be the key to success for SK.
A lot of pressure falls on CandyPanda's return to the LCS. He won't fill Forg1ven's shoes, and SK's bottom lane will become more "serviceable." Fancy Vayne fingers helped SK come out with late game surprises last year, but the landscape has changed. I don't think he has it in him. This is my written challenge to SK Gaming; prove me wrong.
H2k was the last outpost of order in a sea of disorder at spring's end. The team relied on getting picks with good vision from Kasing and snowballing Ryu to take advantage of free objectives. It's hard to say what direction this team will take when their coach, Pr0lly, admitted a loss of faith in a rotation-based playstyle on Summoning Insight.
H2k will still be H2k. Ryu and Odoamne stand out as one of the best mid and top lane duos in a deep pool of mid and top lane duos. Hjarnan, while not the strongest AD Carry, has shown proficiency using Sivir to supplement H2k's already strong turret control.
It will be sad to see Europe lose some diversity if H2k changes their playstyle to adapt to the pathways paved by the all-inning Fnatic, but they have the tools to do so. Regardless of the outcome, I look forward to Ryu picking Orianna more often.
Unicorns of Love
Love them or hate them, the Unicorns climbed to the finals of the European LCS last split. They epitomize the early skirmish style and brought off-meta picks to the forefront. No matter what they chose, however, their formula remained the same.
Fight early. Fight often. Get the dragon. Support player Hylissang often lead to the charge to the point where Fnatic looked to attempt to ban out his champion pool during the LCS finals. His and Vizicsacsi's setups allowed PowerOfEvil to carry the day.
Yes, yet another mid laner in the primary carry role with a janitor AD Carry.
Kikis added flavor and entertainment to the Unicorns' games with nearly randomized jungle picks, but over time his tendency toward Level 2 ganks and similar jungle pathing meant he could be found out. The key to taking down the wildcard team was Fnatic beating them at their own game, turning unicorns into mere horses.
The Unicorns' triumph over SK last split seemingly came as a shock even to them, if you believe recent interviews. Time to test if their lucky streak continues despite an inconsistent regular spring season.
Fnatic joined the great AD Carry reversion by reclaiming Rekkles. I've waxed more broadly on how I think his addition will only make what Fnatic wants to do more seamless. He should keep a safe distance for cleanup, and the pickup doesn't set off any alarm bells.
At bottom, Fnatic is a trend-setter in the skirmish revolution in Europe. They dive you and pick fights around dragon, and they do it the best. Perhaps they don't always select compositions that play to their strengths, which raises the question of whether this Fnatic can grasp when their power spikes set in.
Huni takes charge through the top lane with plenty of ganks from Reignover. Febiven can handle himself as a secondary carry threat, but both of them need to win early to be effective. The thing that might tip the scales for Fnatic is if Rekkles can truly bloom into the late game carry he's always been billed as. Until then, expect Fnatic to remain at the top, but their reign is far from a comfortable one.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for the Score eSports. She believes in a well-rounded European LCS. You can follow her on Twitter.