Four teams sit in the European League of Legends Championship Series, and at least one of them will represent Europe at the 2015 World Championships. This prospect will affect diehard fans in one of two ways: overwhelming enthusiasm, or misery. Complacency has settled over these teams, and neither of them look like they're ready to smash through a World Championship Group Stage.
Yet with Patch 5.14 hitting competitive play and prospective roster changes incoming, that could change. Best-of-five series force teams to adapt between games. They force would-be Worlds attendees to rewrite what they've been doing all season or lose. If a team keeps the same tactic through an entire series, the chances of victory drop dramatically as the opposition picks them apart and builds to counter.
It's time to drop the funk. The end game is just around the corner.
Hitting rock bottom — again
Since escaping a tiebreaker against Meet Your Makers that kept them from auto-relegation, Giants Gaming have squeezed into the European LCS Summer Playoffs after losing a tiebreaker to ROCCAT. Perhaps crawling up from the bottom is an achievement in and of itself, but in the Playoffs they’re back where they started.
Giants can no longer take games off teams like SK Gaming or the Copenhagen Wolves to pad their scoreline, and their reward for improving their standings is a best of five against the highest seeded quarterfinalists, H2K.
I admit, I was high on Giants Gaming at the start of the summer. They displayed a willingness to try new things, a crisp understanding of how to get the matchups they want in their lanes, and an ability to find surprising advantages in shifting pressure around the map.
Then the Giants got complacent. After Week 3, they maintained a healthy regimen of 1-1s that kept them in fourth place until they dropped 0-2 to ROCCAT and H2K in Week 8 and lost their way.
They repeatedly threw games before they started by picking illogically in champion select or relied upon the same multi-tear scaling gimmicks to win their games. They sit in the top four teams for average game time at 38.7 minutes, happy to bring a healthy helping of Ezreals or Ryzes that will scale well against low impact early game teams and carry in the end.
If Giants Gaming bring scaling champions against H2K, they won’t win. H2K have had a lot of success in propping up their side lanes early. Hjarnan and Odoamne are top two in the EU LCS for gold leads at 10 minutes, not because they’re masters at last hitting — they only average a CS lead of around 1 at 10 minutes — but because of the pressure the Odoamne and Kasing dive duo can provide.
Kasing has the highest kill participation and highest gold at 10 minutes of any support. H2K likes to make early dive plays with Teleport to snowball leads in their side lanes or relies on repeated ganks top. As a result, their average game time is 36.4 minutes, only just behind Fnatic and Unicorns of Love at 36.2 and 36.1, and the easily demolished Copenhagen Wolves a 35.4. H2K won’t give Giants the opportunity to scale.
The matchup isn’t all bad for Giants. Ryu’s lane pressure is actually rather low since he spends a lot of his time roaming and looking for picks. A scaling champion mid like PePiiNeRo’s Runeglaive Ezreal can still raze H2K later on, but building early and mid game pillars is key.
One of Giants’ most successful picks all split has been Evelynn. Fr3deric’s three wins in four losses make it powerful. Evelynn hasn’t been a target of bans lately with G0DFRED and Werlyb’s champion pool limitations and PePiiNeRo’s devastating Ezreal.
Even if Fr3deric doesn’t play Evelynn — he may want to avoid her with changes to her Hate Spikes — it’s important to understand why it’s been effective for him. Evelynn makes invasion easier, often with strong early burst for dueling and ease in looking for deep wards as getting caught in stealth is less of a risk. Fr3deric is bolder on Evelynn. With stronger lane champions early on, he could be bolder on other picks, and H2K’s jungle is where they’re weakest.
Despite having the highest gold lead at 10 minutes in the LCS and the highest number of wins in lane swaps, H2K are deceptively weak in the lane swap scenario. Teams strong at laning have collapsed on Odoamne and set him behind, making their Teleport plays and dives more difficult. Even a team like Copenhagen Wolves has had success with this strategy.
H2K lane swap often because it helps hide some of their jungle weaknesses. It’s harder for a jungler to exert hidden pressure in a lane swap scenario, and sometimes it provides a safer early game for loulex. Yet taking advantage of junglers in lane swaps has been when Fr3deric has looked his best, counter-ganking and going for dragons. That’s part of why Giants looked so strong early this split.
While Giants tend to play around the scaling power of PePiiNeRo’s damage, the side lane discrepancy will hit them hard in this matchup if Fr3deric doesn’t take center stage. Kasing and Ryu create opportunities for H2K’s carries, but Fr3deric has to do that for Giants; in this case Fr3deric may well have to be the carry.
Even if Giants have the tools to succeed, using them after letting those muscles rest all split will prove difficult. H2K’s top, support, and the threat of Ryu looking to neutralize a single threat on a team built around PePiiNeRo are naturally suited to 3-0 Giants with the way they’ve been playing. As long as H2K have to snowball and protect loulex to compensate for some of his questionable plays, however, Giants have a way to eradicate the memory of their Spring finish, and prove they're better than the bottom in their new arena.
Rounding out the edges
Unicorns of Love are a topic of discussion as loaded with controversy as their name. Their advocates call them the best team in a best of five as a result of unpredictable drafting, and their critics refer to them as a 50/50 team because a lot of their picks are a gamble, and their five game series in Playoffs and 9-9 regular season finishes really do speak for themselves.
ROCCAT have their own unpredictability. Their supposed success rate in scrims makes it difficult to use practice to adjust their flaws, and if nothing goes wrong in scrims, competitive results seem surprising.
Both teams focus on their mid laners, but one is more suited to the meta. Nukeduck ruled Europe in 2013 Summer when assassins enjoyed near unprecedented levels of play. He doesn’t appear to feel the same way about wave clear mages.
One boon for Nukeduck is the recent surge of Viktor. Viktor can beat his lane and snowball like an assassin even if he doesn’t look like one. With pressure from Jankos, especially with aggressive jungle picks like Elise and Ekko receiving buffs, he’s had success with the pick.
Unicorns have benefitted from Runeglaive. PowerofEvil has transitioned from building a hyper scaling Kog’Maw to Ezreal and a somewhat puzzling Orianna. With Syndra bug fixes, he’s bold enough to play his old must-ban.
ROCCAT have the longest average game time in the league as the only team to break 40 minutes. Their solid but reserved side laners don’t give the team agency. Sometimes Jankos’ attentions divert top to assist Steve. They aren’t the team to take action, when in the past UoL enjoyed executing the level two gank.
EDIT: It was confirmed via Vander's Summoning Insight appearance that Steve will play for the team in the Playoffs. Please consider what follows a discussion of the pros and cons of the decision.
The true unpredictability of the match stems not from Unicorns’ drafting or whether Nukeduck will decide he wants to play League of Legends that day, but rather from the possibility of fresh blood. Unicorns of Love have already confirmed they’ll be starting ex-MeetYourMakers H0R0 in the Playoffs, and the question of Korean top laner Dart looms for ROCCAT.
H0R0’s carry style in MYM could give Unicorns the third threat they’ve been craving and round them out as a top heavy team with a playmaking support. The addition of H0R0 could make them a team less reliant on gimmicks and just generally terrifying. Kikis didn’t make Unicorns, he just made them better than Gilius did.
Of course, the Unicorns' alleged lack of a clear communication system will still hold them back, but likely not too much in this matchup against an inactive ROCCAT.
If Korean top laner Dart can provide more early game pressure, he could make ROCCAT a completely different team. Yet ROCCAT have been fickle in the past, and roster changes that seem good on paper don’t always pan out. When I say they don’t always pan out, I mean almost never, or at the very least they don’t give ROCCAT the oomph to get anywhere in the standings beyond resoundingly okay.
I might give ROCCAT better odds if they don’t start Dart unless Dart proves he can solo carry a game. ROCCAT take a while to find strides or improvements or make subtle changes to their rigid style after roster changes. Even so, the odds aren’t in their favor with UoL’s solo lanes and what H0R0 might bring to the table, so there isn’t much of a reason not to try to start Dart if he can make it to Europe on time.
Alternatively, UoL could be the team to fall apart with a roster change. Team chemistry is a fickle thing, and Kikis never required much of his team’s gold. If H0R0 tries to play the carry again, the balance of Unicorns of Love could be irreparably tarnished, and the balance of their team dynamic is often the one consistent thing they have going for them.
Overall, these sets should go to the higher seeds. Unless Giants come with new strategies, H2K should have no trouble securing a 3-0. The Unicorns of Love set may well go to five games, as Unicorns of Love sets have in the past, but they're likely to climb out on top in the end.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. She hopes to see new things from these European squads as they shake off a slow Summer.