Origen. H2K. Unicorns of Love.
All top six teams in Europe. All Challenger at one time.
The Challenger Series Summer Season is over, and four teams emerged victorious to move on and fight for a spot in the LCS.
In a few short months we will know which team will be auto-promoted to join the LCS ranks and take the place of the Copenhagen Wolves, we will know who will take on SK Gaming and Gambit Gaming for a spot of their own.
They have fought hard for this chance. Will one of them be the next big team? Let’s find out.
Top: Lennart “SmittyJ” Warkus
Jungle: Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek
Mid: Luka “PerkZ” Perkovic
ADC: Jesse “Jesse” Le
Support: Glen “Hybrid” Doornenbal
Seed: First (8-2)
First Round: vs mousesports
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.
That slogan is probably written on the wall of the Gamers2 team house. But you know what? This time, they might actually do it.
An organization that has been trying to get into the LCS for more than a calendar year, Gamers2 might have finally found the right roster to turn their hopes into reality. Every time they update, change or otherwise tinker with the team, they get better. With this iteration of Gamers2, they have finally struck the perfect balance of experience and new blood talent. The addition of former Unicorns of Love jungler Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek was the final piece of the puzzle, and with each successive week Gamers2 looks stronger and stronger.
Kikis is the type of player who is able to take what was a promising team and immediately turn them into a top contender for auto-promotion. He added a sense of direction and cohesiveness to their gameplay, that can only come from an experienced shotcaller and a true LCS talent.
Another pleasant surprise for fans has been the smooth transition of former Team Coast mid laner Jesse “Jesse” Le (aka Jesiz) back to the ADC position. Leaving behind his old name and his old ways, Jesse seems much more comfortable in the role than he ever did as a mid laner. His LCS experience has paid off with solid positioning, a good laning phase and a deep champion pool. He plays the role in a way that is perfect for this meta, rarely making mistakes but also not making any flashy plays.
Luka “PerkZ” Perkovic has also been a standout performer for the squad, and should now officially be on the radar of LCS teams as a potential star in the making. In the event that G2’s LCS bid fails or the team falls apart, fully expect this young man to receive LCS offers.
The benefit of the added shotcalling from Kikis and two great main carries takes a lot of the weight off of newcomers Lennart “SmittyJ” Warkus and Glen “Hybrid” Doornenbal, who both look very at home on the squad. Hybrid is one of the best roaming/vision control supports in the Challenger series, and often puts Jesse in a really safe position to get solo farm and experience while he makes plays on the map. Overall, it’s nice to see that even though the players have trickled onto the team one or two at a time, they all mesh together nicely.
Setting aside the individual skill of the players and their solid decision making as a team, Gamers2’s biggest ally heading into the playoffs is momentum. Although they faltered in the middle of the season, they closed it out strong with a 4-0 record and back-to-back series wins over direct rivals Denial EU and Dignitas EU. With convincing victories over their competition to raise their spirits, the added benefit of more time to practice with Kikis and the fact that their first round opponent is the fourth seeded mousesports, Gamers2 should be very happy with where they’re at.
Essentially, Gamers2 finally look like they have everything they need to be an LCS team. Over time, Gamers2’s inability to make the LCS has become a meme in itself, but this time the curse might be over. They've entered the race as a legitimate contender, if not a favorite to win it all. If Gamers2 don’t auto promote, they’ll at the very least give SK Gaming or Gambit Gaming one hell of a run.
Top: Mike “Wickd” Petersen
Jungle: Thomas “Kirei” Yuen
Mid: Sofyan “CozQ” Rechchad
ADC: Pawel “Woolite” Pruski
Support: Daniel “Wendelbo” Wendelbo
Seed: Third (6-4)
First Round: vs Dignitas EU
Led by LCS veteran Mike “Wickd” Petersen, Denial EU is a team that is poised on the brink of success. All they need to do is step up to the occasion, and given the level of LCS and CS experience on the team, that’s a definite possibility - Denial EU are a must-watch dark horse heading into the Challenger playoffs.
The team was originally formed under the mantle of Team Gravy, following Wickd’s departure from the roster of Elements in April 2015. Gathering some of the best available talent, Wickd formed the team with the intention of playing through the Challenger Series and re-qualifying for the LCS. The only true newcomer is Daniel “Wendelbo” Wendelbo, with former Copenhagen Wolves Academy mid laner Sofyan “CozQ” Rechch and jungler Thomas “Kirei” Yuen having their fair share of Challenger experience and Pawel “Woolite” Pruski coming off a few splits of LCS play. Now under the mantle of Denial EU, the team put up a solid season, ending in third with a 6-4 record and losing only to top of the table Dignitas EU and Gamers2.
Denial EU are the textbook example of a win lane, win game team. All five members are mechanically solid, often pulling ahead in standard lanes through skill alone, and from there the veteran experience takes over as they push their advantages well as a squad. Woolite’s aggressive tendencies in particular often pay off in this strategy, as most Challenger level teams are unable to effectively punish his greed.
Otherwise, CozQ has been a stand-out for the team throughout, consistently performing well and making a case for himself as a top talent. Wickd’s revival has also been an effective one, and he has been gaining recognition for his unusual Black Cleaver-Runaan’s Hurricane build on Gnar. Recent addition Kirei has stepped nicely into his role, and his synergy with former teammate CozQ is evident from their time on Wolves Academy together. Even when the rest of the roster falters, CozQ is the most consistent member of the team, and when called upon he can carry games.
Overall, there’s not too much wrong with Denial’s play. They’re more balanced across the board in terms of skill versus strategy, and they have few major flaws to speak of. As always, Woolite’s suicidal tendencies can be a concern, but like I said it fits much better in Challenger and he often has great protection from Kirei, Wickd and Wendelbo. When they fall behind in lane, Denial aren't nearly as strong, but when they do get ahead they snowball with confidence. It’s getting there that’s the first step.
They’re not overly dynamic and they won't surprise you in the pick ban phase or in game. Denial EU play solid, clean League of Legends. For a Challenger team that just came together a few months ago, that’s impressive in it’s own right.
Top: Mauno “beansu” Talli
Jungle: Daniel “Dan” Hockley
Mid: Julian “Xioh” Dumler
ADC: Tarik “Sedrion” Holz
Support:Patrick “MounTain” Dasberg
Seed: Fourth (5-5)
First Round: vs Gamers2
mousesports is very much a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Entering into the playoffs as the fourth seed overall with a record of 5-5, mousesports have a long road ahead of them if they want to have a chance at one of the promotion spots.
Thankfully, they've already come a long way from the team that came in a disappointing dead last in the spring season. Doing some off-season tinkering for this summer, mousesports brought on a trio of players to complement their long-standing duo of Tarik “Sedrion” Holz and Patrick “MounTain” Dasberg. Mid laner Julian “Xioh” Dumler has been floating around the German LoL scene for a bit, and jungler Daniel “Dan” Hockley was a member of the Unicorns of Love before they hit the LCS. The last member is rising talent Mauno “beansu” Talli, who has played alongside many of Challenger’s best but has never settled onto a team for more than a few months.
Other than beansu, it’s hard to say that any of mousesports' players have a “star” status, or are particularly well known for their skill. But, that’s where the “better than the parts” bit comes in. MounTain is a competitive veteran dating back to 2011, and his partnership with Sedrion is one of the longest standing in all of Challenger. Dan and Xioh are both consistent without being too flashy. They’re very much a unit, better together than they ever could be apart.
Since they are less individually skilled than their opponents, it’s rare for mousesports to get ahead in lane or make aggressive moves in the early or mid game. In fact, their whole style is characterized by a noticeable lack of aggression, often conceding objectives early.
To balance that out, mousesports have developed into a very strong team fighting team that can come out ahead in late game 5v5 play. Their main strategy revolves around waiting for the late game, stalling out the match until they can recover some of the lead they lost in lane and then win fights with their superior coordination.
While this style has led them to the playoffs, there’s a reason they've only found one win against a top three team: it’s easy for a better team to punish their weak early game in a way that isn't recoverable. Dignitias EU, Denial EU and Gamers2 have all dealt with mousesports after gaining large leads. Frankly speaking, you can’t give up the sort of advantages mousesports does regularly and expect to beat good Challenger teams (let alone LCS teams).
That being said, if given the time and space to play to their strengths, mousesports really are impressive in the coordination and late game decision making. Getting there is a bit of a problem, and that’s what makes them a decided long shot for a spot at the LCS.
Team Dignitas EU
Top: Martin “Wunderwear” Hansen
Jungle: Dennis “Obvious” Sorensen
Mid: Chres “Sencux” Laursen
ADC: Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup
Support: Nicolai “Nisbeth” Nisbeth
Seed: Second (8-2)
First Round: vs Denial EU
If you asked me three weeks ago, I would have told you that Dignitas EU was a shoo-in for LCS. Now, I’m not so sure. In fact, for the first few weeks of the EU Challenger season, Dignitas EU looked really, really good. They were the undisputed favorites for auto-promotion.
But time makes fools of us all, and time exposed the cracks in the armor for Dignitas EU.
In terms of the roster, the all Danish Dignitas EU team features some of of the brightest young talents not in the LCS. The most experienced are Dennis “Obvious” Sorensen, who was looked at by some LCS squads after his breakout performance on N!faculty in the 2015 EU Expansion tournament, and Nicolai “Nisbeth” Nisbeth, whom LCS fans should recognize from his brief time on the failed Meet Your Makers team. Rounding out the roster is up-and-comer Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup and the wonderkid duo of 16 year old, Martin “Wunderwear” Hansen and Chres “Sencux” Laursen.
On the positive side, the skill ceiling on Dignitas EU is very, very high. Sencux in particular lives up to the tradition of strong EU mid laners, and has been held back from a possible LCS appearance in the past by his age. The mechanics on all of their plays is somewhere between high and ridiculous, which means straight up out-plays are always on the table.
Early on in the EU CS season, Dignitas EU were one of the best mid-game teams, using their raw talent to come out ahead in skirmishes and take control of the map with kills. It seemed like they could out-skill everyone, and that their blemishes were effectively covered up by the inherent strengths of their carries.
But then, something changed. Just like any other challenger team, Dignitas EU are not perfect and have their fair share of problems, and slowly but surely teams figured them out. The more games they played, the more their rivals learned to exploit their flaws. Basically, if it wasn't clear at this point, they’re still quite young with plenty of room to develop strategically and individually, and that can cost them games.
Dignitas EU’s bottom lane stands out as a glaring weakness, often having difficulty maintaining vision or playing around the safe areas of the map, which greatly reduces Nisbeth’s ability to affect the game through roaming. Dignitas EU’s strategic game is also a step below a team like Gamers2, with their lane swaps often being less than ideal and leaving Wunderwear out in the cold. Wunderwear himself falls into the category of “risk players”, sometimes carrying the game singlehandedly or sometimes costing his team the game with awkward map movements and decision making. Dignitas EU are on an unfortunate downward trend, and must be hurting after closing out their season 0-2 to lose first place to Gamers2.
So yes, there are problems with Dignitas EU that have become more and more apparent down the stretch. The team that first was a clear favorite looks like less of a sure thing. When everything’s firing on all cylinders, Dignitas EU are a force to be reckoned with. But when their weaknesses are known and their opponents are skilled enough to make them pay, things can get rough. Possibly one of the issues is that they have no true “experience” in the same way other teams do - Nisbeths’ handful of LCS games hardly count. At the moment, Dignitas EU have slid to a solid second place contender.
It gets thrown around a lot these days, but the word “potential” really does seem to fit Dignitas EU to a tee. Whether or not they can live up to it is the question.
Nic Doucet is a News Editor for theScore eSports. You can follow him on Twitter.