EU LCS Roundup: Midseason review

by theScore Staff Jun 27 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

Instead of reviewing the games today, which were mostly significant improvements over yesterday's, I've decided to check in on the development of the European LCS. The second round of the Bo1 matchups has started, and only four weeks remain before Playoffs are set to begin.

It's time to discuss the best games, best moments, best storylines, and best players of Weeks 1 through 5.

The top story: Fnatic shatters previous 9-0 win streak

No team has managed to surpass the 9-0 win streak Fnatic set last spring. SK Gaming got close last split, but got knocked down by Fnatic themselves. The same happened to Alliance last summer. It took Fnatic to beat Fnatic's record.

In today's game against Gambit, Fnatic flexed comeback muscles many didn't know they had. The Jayce pick staved off siege, and the scaling of Fnatic's composition made them competitive. Fnatic's pitfalls last split involved an all-or-nothing approach and only rare instances where they could come back from behind to win.

Fnatic experimented with longer games early on, and with so many power picks on the table now, they're able to maintain a more open draft phase. It's gotten to the point where teams have to find new ways to beat them.

Gambit Gaming targeted Reignover in draft phase and in the jungle. Diamond returned to Lee Sin and looked for openings to control YellOwStaR in the bottom lane. The core of Fnatic's strength is in their jungle and support duo, and Gambit succeeded in putting them down — at least in the early game.

Fnatic still have limits to test, but an 18-0 regular season isn't out of the question. The troubling thing might be finding out their limits haven't been tested until Fnatic reaches the international stage. Until then, they're enjoying the first 10-0 in EU LCS history, and it's well-deserved.

Main rivalry: Fnatic vs Origen

There's a debate as to whether H2K merits the title of Fnatic's biggest rival. Both Origen and H2K had very different losses to Europe's top team. A catch out on Origen's jungler and a poor lane rotation lost them their game, while H2K continuously lost control of minion waves and grappled with the little mistakes.

That's where the nod goes to the stylistic matchup and the history between these two teams. On paper, Origen and Fnatic have a similar setup with strong duo lanes, a positional AD carry, and a strong jungle and support duo. In execution, Fnatic's play functions much more around vision and intelligent lane swapping, while Origen's strategy still has its kinks. The mechanical skill on Origen has allowed them to get away with outplaying their opponents for most of the team's existence. It's time for them to learn.

That doesn't include Rekless and YellOwStaR's history with sOAZ and xPeke and the breakup of Fnatic. That doesn't include the narrative that pits Neo-Fnatic as an improvement over the old. If Origen wants to disprove the narrative, that's motivation enough to learn whatever they can to best Fnatic in their next encounter.

H2K is perhaps too much like Fnatic for the rivalry to really work. Kasing may see YellOwStaR as a more experienced version of himself. H2K wins off lane swaps and dives. Their biggest weakness is their jungler and wave control, but their objective control is second only to Fnatic's.

Biggest disappointment: Gambit Gaming

Many of the signs existed prior to the split. With rumors of a highly critical attitude surrounding most of Gambit's players, this team would either take off under heavy motivation or crash with dissent.

So far, it looks much more like the latter. After two early weeks of allegedly poor internet connection, Gambit pulled together enough to give Fnatic their toughest game of the first half. Since then, they've had very little luck. Outside a few smart ideas like Taric against Kalista, Gambit have only won three of ten games.

Best surprise: Origen

While we knew Origen would be good, conservative estimates had them as a middle-of-the-pack team with potential to ramp up. A loss to ROCCAT set them back, but they've otherwise only dropped a game to the team at the top of the table, Fnatic.

Origen's solo laners are just as talented as they ever were, and their massive champion pools allow them to get a lot of advantages in the draft. If they can begin to implement early game strategies more effectively, they could contend with Fnatic.

Game of Round 1: SK Gaming vs H2K Game 1

While the Round 2 game happened today and went in SK's favor, it was clear SK was one of the best matchups against H2K in Week 3. Despite a somewhat flawed draft, SK gave H2K a struggle in the early and mid game with Svenskeren's strong jungle pathing.

On the other hand, Ryu used Twisted Fate efficiently to pick out Candypanda's Vayne and stopped him from split-pushing. Smart team fights from H2K turned the game easily and had us craving more than one match.

Moment of Round 1: Rekkles Ping Pong

The best single in-game play so far was at the hands of Gambit. Rekkles fell into an unfortunate setup that landed him at the end of FORG1VEN's Sivir boomerang.

So good it had to be made into a gif immediately.

Impact Players of Round 1

It's hard to pinpoint the strongest players in each role for this split's European LCS so far. In positions like AD carry where the heavy tank meta makes it difficult to carry by yourself, it's hard to gauge players outside the context of their teams.

For this exercise, I've tried to look at the players that have the largest impacts on their teams, the most flexibility, the players who might not carry, but have the best cross-section of power performances and results. When their team wins, you can tell they're a major reason why.

Top lane: H2K's Odoamne

Fans have a tendency to assume the best teams have the best players in every role. To a definite extent, a case can be made for Huni, and I deliberated between him and Odoamne. I chose Odoamne as the best top laner in the European LCS for his flexibility. He can play tanks and carries, he can excel as a front line and play from behind.

This was a bad week for Odoamne, but it was one week in five. Odoamne also suffered most of his deficits from heavy dives and poor lane swap decisions. If a minion wave isn't prepped properly, it's easy for an opposing top laner to get a lead.

Even from behind, however, Odoamne had an impact. He wedged himself in the middle of SK Gaming today to open space for Ryu's Shockblasts. His dives in conjunction with loulex and Kasing to snowball games. If left alone in a 1v1, he'll demolish his opposition.

Huni will take off and snowball a game to carry with a lead, but he has a tendency toward forcing the same flawed engagements from behind. It's no longer fair to say Huni has a shallow champion pool so much as a limited playstyle. At the moment, the most elite top laners in Korea and China can play from behind or ahead, can play tanks or carries, can take a backseat or take a lead. Odoamne is the only top laner in Europe right now to demonstrate that he fits the pedigree.

Jungle: SK Gaming's Svenskeren

I debated giving this title to Reignover or Amazing. In the top three teams of the European LCS, Amazing is the jungler most often involved in the action. He receives a high quantity of his team's gold, and he's one of the only effective carry junglers in Europe — because his team allows him to be. Even so, sometimes he's caught out, and Origen's games devolve into sloppy messes.

By the same token, Reignover is a fundamental part of the supportive duo that makes Fnatic excel. Reignover is the second most important player on Fnatic. The key to taking them down isn't targeting Huni. Teams have tried and failed. It's in locking down the roaming Reignover and YellOwStaR duo. In that sense, Reignover's power is more about his strength in conjunction with YellOwStaR and not about himself as an individual. In isolation, it's been easy to pigeonhole him onto certain champions.

Svenskeren is the best jungler in Europe. He is often able to conduct invasions that should fail given how often his laners fall behind. He targeted loulex relentlessly in his jungle today, and he made Kikis look like a sham last week. Even on a team near last place, Svenskeren shines as the only carry jungler who can still carry, and SK's wins are undeniably on his back.

Either Svenskeren's invasion pathing is so creative that stronger teams can't pin him down or other junglers aren't strong enough to punish him. Either way, he's on a tier all his own, and if he finds the motivation to propel SK up the standings, he showed today he has the juice.

Mid lane: xPeke

As much as I was impressed by Febiven's power at the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational, he's not xPeke.

The old arcehtypes of the European mid lane are Froggen and Alex Ich, the power farmer who controls the flow of the late game and the aggressive mid laner who enabled his jungler. xPeke is neither of these things. He's both worse and better. His highs could knock either of them to the floor, and his lows could make Betsy seem like a king.

xPeke always seemed to have something neither Alex nor Froggen had at a high level: flexibility. xPeke has survived the disappointments, the teleport mid lane meta, the assassin meta, the double AP, and the era of mages by adapting. He's found a niche every time, and it's almost never been in line with what you'd assume is powerful at the time.

Despite xPeke's relatively low economic style, he's consistently out-damaged other members of Origen. With less gold than Niels, xPeke does 30% of Origen's damage to Niels' 29.6%. Despite constantly giving away resources to allow his jungler and AD carry to excel, xPeke still feels like a strong force for Origen.

He does it in his own way with six different champions in ten games — and a lot of Vladimir.

Welcome back the the European LCS, xPeke. They've kept your seat warm.

AD carry: Niels

Now that I've gone to great lengths talking up xPeke, it might come as a shock to see Niels sitting in this space. I've said before that Origen reaches the top in the standings not through strategy like Fnatic and H2K, but through the outplay. It stands to reason their carries have a lot of power behind them.

Statistically, Niels is the best cross-section of damage dealt to champions, kill participation, and percentage of team gold. Hjarnan does slightly more damage to champions and gets a little more of his team's gold, but he doesn't have the kill participation Niels has.

Niels has been involved in 78% of Origen's kills this split and dealt 29.6% of his team's damage, only just behind xPeke's 30%. In the past, xPeke and sOAZ were the dynamic solo lane duo of Fnatic, but now it feels as if Origen functions best around Niels. The team doesn't get off the ground until he does, and Amazing and Mithy focus their attentions on him while sOAZ and xPeke hold their own in lane.

This was the hardest role to call. At least three other AD carries stood out as prominent contenders, including Hjarnan, Freeze, and FORG1VEN. Hjarnan's statistics support him as a prominent threat, but H2K's gameplay is almost entirely dictated by their support and top laner. If a third team member stands out, it's usually Ryu.

Freeze and FORG1VEN are a difficult subject. In a meta where AD carries excel and aren't brushing up against powerful front lines at every turn, both Freeze and FORG1VEN would stand a rung above Niels.

Unfortunately, the most prominent AD carry champions are valued for their utility over their damage. Unfortunately, Freeze spends most of his time trying to farm to a point where he can carry instead of actually carrying. Unfortunately, despite a high amount of team gold, FORG1VEN is only involved in 60% of his team's kills, and Gambit has gone for a safer approach that sets up Cabochard.

Should FORG1VEN and Freeze be punished because they can't win games with their style of play, and their team doesn't set them up properly? Unlike Svenskeren's SK, when Copenhagen Wolves and Gambit Gaming win, it doesn't seem to be about Freeze and FORG1VEN. They aren't actually carrying.

Freeze and FORG1VEN should be stronger carries than Niels, but right now they aren't playing like it. They have time to change that in the second half.

Support: YellOwStaR

By far the easiest role to call, YellOwStaR almost single-handedly dominates his map. His experience gives him the technical know-how and the superior play-making relative to Kasing. Fnatic's laneswap play is not rivaled in Europe, and YellOwStaR is the reason.

I don't think there's any room to debate YellOwStaR's prowess, including his massive champion pool and his mechanical ability. He's the one player in Europe that I would go so far as to call top five in his role internationally.

The scary thing is that this feels like his best split and his best team to date. YellOwStaR is only getting started.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can heckle her for her choices on Twitter.