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From top contenders to the Elements tier: Kelsey Moser's EU LCS primer

by theScore Staff Jan 12 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of n/a / ESL LoL Twitch

Ah, The European League of Legends Championship Series. We’re back again. Tales of your player exodus have been greatly exaggerated, though the departure of legends like Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim and Henrik “Froggen” Hansen may rake harder than others. So far, I anticipate this year will give us more high level teams, meta shifts, and delicious European salt.

Time to catch up on the new rosters, what they mean, and ways in which you can mock me for my predictions later.

This offseason’s fads trend between power rankings and AMAs, so I’ve band-wagoned with a facsimile ranking (feel free to Ask Me Anything about it, I just may not respond). Instead of predicting straight 1-10, however, I’ve created a selection of tiers to give a rough idea of where I believe teams may fall on the ladder ranging from hopeless to leading.

Elements Tier

There’s a special place on this list for teams that reportedly decline offers to sell and should have thrown in the towel rather than incur additional consistent disappointment.

Counter-Lo

Just kidding.

Elements

Elements’ “new” lineup features the return of many fan favorite castoffs, including Hampus "sprattel" Abrahamsson, who probably changed his name because he had tired of the “pro miss Q” jokes. Yes, now you remember PromisQ, whose eight game stint in the League of Legends Championship Series left him with only two wins on Alistar and handfuls of public ridicule.

Unfortunately, the chances for sprattel to redeem himself seem much more dire in 2016 with other flops like Etienne “Steve” Michels, who seemed reliant but still inconsistent on Maokai during his games with ROCCAT, and Berk “Gilius” Demir, who served as a cheap bandaid for Unicorns of Love, but couldn’t escape his predictable top gank pathing. Steve and Gilius are both probably better players than I’m making them out to be. During the end of his time on ROCCAT, Steve had made great strides toward self-sufficiency, and Gilius is still capable of the rare Lee Sin jaw-dropper. The idea of a habitual top lane ganker paired with Steve, however, doesn’t sound workable.

Rasmus “MrRalleZ” Skinneholm may be another underrated castoff, but last year’s meta is not this year’s. Elements would want an AD carry who moves fast and takes opportunities to drag up this roster, but MrRalleZ isn’t that. New mid laner, Jérémy "Eika" Valdenaire, is the only rookie on Elements' roster. He has a history as an Azir player, but that’s unlikely to help him at the start of the 2016 LCS Spring Split, and the current state of his solo queue account suggests he’s been practicing a lot of Yasuo (albeit not very well), Twisted Fate, and Ahri. I don’t have high expectations of Eika, and he’s no Luka "PerkZ" Perković, the player who replaced him on G2 eSports.

Outside resisting the possible urge to “pull a Paragon,” Coach Patrick “Nyph” Funke may look to work with the team in building Gilius and Steve. Steve has shown to be potentially the most maleable player, and Gilius’ natural tendency to gank top could be their only outlet for possible success. There is low possibility for Elemental redemption, but it isn’t out of the question.

Salvageable Tier

The teams within the salvageable tier can likely stay in the European LCS, but this will probably also prove to be their main goal. Playoffs may exist on the horizon, but these teams will have more than a few problems to work through before that’s even on the table.

In no particular order:

Giants Gaming

High hopes once existed for Giants Gaming. In the early goings of the 2015 LCS Summer Split, the European squad used smart lane swap scouting to manipulate the starting phase of the game into their favor. Over time, Giants stagnated and became complacent, relying on teams with worse rosters to skate through on weak strategy.

Now, Giants are one of those teams. Like Giants, recent addition Tri “k0u” Tin Lam once looked like a hopeful on Cloud9 Eclipse, but has since spent years building a resume of transient Challenger teams without finding purchase. Federico "Fr3deric" Lizondo was an underrated piece of Giants Gaming that at times looked like their second or third best player, whose map movements allowed Giants to stall and stack ridiculous triple Tear of the Goddess compositions. k0u hasn’t had the same creativity, but his improved aggressiveness might give Giants a different spin — if they can get out of their rut.

Peter "Atom" Thomsen is a jack-of-all trades solo queue player who reportedly specialized more in jungle than anything. That doesn’t mean he can’t be an upgrade to Jorge "Werlyb" Casanovas, given the latter player's two-champion pool, but it’s hard to properly assess him or to grade him highly without experience.

As for standing members, one can only really call Swedish support Oskar “G0DFRED” Lundström a true G0D of Morgana with low win rates on every other offering. Though G0DFRED might be the player on the roster with the greatest chance for growth. Adrián “Adryh” Pérez’s performances have been a little over-valued, since he worked as a wait-and-finish player for mid laner Isaac “xPepii” Flores, who may lose motivation if he has another season where he’s responsible for 37.3% of his team’s damage output.

The thing that has me most despondent over Giants, however, has more to do with their seeming unwillingness to evolve. This could prevent them from properly working in new players, and if they try to employ a similar strategy to last split, the more fast-paced games of the new season could make them easily trod upon by almost every other team in the league. One can only hope Atom and k0u are the keys to breathing life back into the Giants.

Team ROCCAT

One of the first announcements of the new offseason featured the re-signing of Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm. Many hoped larger acquisitions would follow. That, very obviously, didn’t happen.

With soaring contract prices in the new climate, ROCCAT scraped together a less impressive roster than last season’s offering, including some old faces from SK Gaming and remnants of Gambit. Recent performances of most of these players might bring a cringe to the faces of readers, but Simon “fredy122” Payne, Karim "Airwaks" Benghalia, and Edward “Edward” — yes, we’re back to Edward — Abgaryan have all had moments where they were, if not elite, at least above average.

Especially in the case of fredy122, tanky zoning tops are drifting back into favor. Airwaks never really got his due, and his dependability might momentarily bolster ROCCAT in the rankings. Edward showed somewhat renewed motivation last summer, and heavy engage is still in style.

As for the carries, I wish I could say positive things about Felix “Betsy” Edling and Karim “Safir” Tokhi (Formerly Jebus), but I can’t. If anything, fredy122, Airwaks, and Edward can form an underrated support network to turn them into point-and-click eradicators. I’d like to see this team make a run at executing top lane skirmishes in the early game. I foresee a period of positive results for ROCCAT, but not one sustainable enough to get them out of the bottom four.

Playoff Shuffle

While not the most exciting goal available, the teams on this list should definitely aim to make the playoff quarterfinals this spring. They have the pieces together to make the climb, some of them have rookies with talent eager to prove their worth, and hints of an executable strategy that could actually give them success.

These teams will have a really hard time cracking the Top 4, but they can still give viewers some exciting matches.

Unicorns of Love

Despite assessments of Unicorns of Love as a “POE Only” team, talent hasn’t really been UoL’s problem. Even with some deplorable in-game decision-making last year, Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás and Zdravets “Hylissang” Galabov buoyed Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage well. With proper guidance, Vizicsacsi could even have the makings of one of the elite European players, but he seemed lost at times or didn’t really have a sense of direction.

While Hampus “Fox” Myhre will not have the same carry force as PowerOfEvil, Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi will do Pontus “Vardags” Dahlblom’s job more efficiently and might serve as respite for Hylissang who defeatedly told theScoreeSports at the end of last year’s playoffs, “I think we can improve on laning phase with Vardags. It's not the greatest right now. It's not lacking synergy, but it's something else. We just are not on the same page sometimes.” Hylissang had lost the spark of initiation he had in the spring by the end of Summer, and given his feelings on Vardags, a new AD carry could reinvigorate him.

Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov isn’t the Diamondprox we remember from Season 2, but what UoL really need is just a jungler who will stay with the team long enough to form a system. He spent last year setting up vision and doing his best to hover around a carry top laner. If Vizicsacsi can become this year’s Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet, he’s in a good position to do so.

I just really don’t know if Unicorns of Love know what they’re doing, and this year, that will probably matter more.

Splyce

Many have joked that there’s something in the water in Denmark to produce players like Henrik “Froggen” Hansen and Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. Splyce represents the first team to enter the European LCS with only starting Danish members (Bjergsen only joined Copenhagen Wolves partway through the season).

Most have fixated on Chres “Sencux” Laursen as one of two major rookie mid laners joining the LCS this year, but many of Splyce’s rookies have room to grow and a glimmer of a future. Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup has had both genuine moments of star-like brilliance and Paweł "Woolite" Pruski facechecks. Jonas “Trashy” Andersen was often the saving grace of last year’s Enemy squad, though I concede that’s not saying much.

The foreseeable problem with Splyce is that they seemed to get worse in the European Challenger Series over time. Former coach Ram “Brokenshard” Djemal suggested that a roster change became a good idea to change the environment and refocus the team. The announcement of Trashy joining Splyce seemed to suggest that this is exactly the change they needed.

In the CS, Splyce relied a lot on mid game control to take dragons for later success. A more aggressive jungler like Trashy might tighten up their overall dynamic if communication falls into place. Splyce is a team with good bones, especially with the addition of new coach Jakob “YamatoCanon” Mebdi, but they may lack the experience and strategy to burst up the ladder.

G2 Esports

He finally did it. Carlos “ocelote” Rodríguez Santiago finally made it back into the League of Legends Championship Series — just not as a player.

G2 Esports, previously Gamers2, has been a passion project of ocelote since early 2014, and stepping back to let in fresh mid lane blood has helped the team along. PerkZ and support Glenn “Hybrid” Doornenball have a great deal of excitement surrounding their entry into the LCS this year.

G2’s play in the Promotion against SK Gaming was a deep series that echoed a bit of early Unicorns of Love with Hybrid’s engaging and PerkZ’s follow-up. That didn’t provide much confidence, but their offseason roster changes make them look more like playoffs hopefuls.

Kim “Trick” Gangyun’s few games of jungling on CJ Entus wasn’t the stuff of legend, but it made him look like a positive alternative to Kang “Ambition” Chanyong after more experience. He wouldn’t come to mind as my first choice as an import, but his preferred aggressive champion picks are staples in the rising meta that make him look more attractive.

AD carry Kim “Emperor” Jinhyun had very low performances for Team Dragon Knights in the North American League of Legends Championship Series. Yet his experience is something many teams of young rookies often need, and he still has the ability to tap into occasional carry reserves — if he’ll stop jumping into things as Tristana.

Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek forces the most squints, as Kikis recently played jungle for G2 and Unicorns of Love. Top lane transitions are rough, but some tanks are on the easier end of the spectrum to learn, so luckily the meta will help him. Kikis’ wildcard champion picks haven’t shown through as much on G2, and his alleged dedication (supposedly the reason for leaving UoL) is important to make a role swap stick.

G2 should continue to play around PerkZ, but having a Korean jungler and AD carry duo might actually work well in the meta if G2 decide to work around bottom lane instead. I don’t expect advanced map movement from G2, but that shouldn’t keep them from the playoffs.

Second rung

From here on out, any team can try to win the whole thing. There’s some semblance of balance, experience, and skill on each of the remaining rosters, but teams in the second rung have more questions. They’ll need a few tweaks to contend with favorites, but winning the whole of LCS should be a goal of any team on the second rung.

Fnatic

Of the Top 4 teams, I’m least sure of Fnatic. Though Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten and Martin “Rekkles” Larsson are enviable carries for nearly any roster, and Lee “Spirit” Dayoon’s reputation as a jungling monster precedes him, the team’s performance at Intel Extreme Masters Cologne reinforced my earlier trepidation.

Spirit continued his selfish playstyle, nabbing nearly every buff, kill, and piece of free farm for himself. While Fnatic’s movements in Game 1 against the QG Reapers looked smarter, QG’s major lane swap fumble practically laid out the path to victory for them. From there, their control deteriorated in each subsequent map.

Of course, one should expect a brand new team to play more like a solo queue squad, but I fear Spirit will have to do more work to forget his selfish playstyle, and Febiven showed a marked lack of finesse at Cologne, potentially from focusing on more of the shotcalling elements. Rekkles’ more laid back farming style seems out-of-place in the new meta, and I doubt he will step up to carry in the interim.

Everything I’ve seen of Noh “Gamsu” Yeongjin has left me relatively underwhelmed. He has some of the same characteristics as Heo "Huni" Seunghoon, including his more foolhardy negative traits, but less positive game impact. He’ll probably rely heavily on Spirit when Spirit’s pressure could be better put to use in either of the other two lanes.

Fnatic still have three of the strongest players in the league, and Lewis “NoxiaK” Simon Felix’s confident engage play could be a key component to developing the lineup. They’ll break top four easily, but it may take time for them to do more than that.

Vitality

Almost everything about this roster screams success, but I have major questions around unlocking jungler Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema. His play on previous teams like Alliance and Copenhagen Wolves has ranged from exceptional to inactive. Getting him settled and finding Shook’s consistency could come out of pairing him with Raymond “kaSing” Tsang for effective duo ganks and roams.

As Vitality have Cabochard, a top laner used to jungle pressure, the bottom lane may be less of the center of focus for Vitality than it was on H2K Gaming, leaving Petter “Hjarnan” Freyschuss on his own more often while kaSing roams. If he can handle the self-sufficient lifestyle, kaSing and Shook could open up the map on the top side more effectively.

Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm may also have a Shook-like problem. On both ROCCAT and Lemon Dogs, Nukeduck was the center of attention. It seemed that he needed a very precise environment to function on ROCCAT, so he may need to adjust to less of a role in the forefront. Ping-ponging between Cabochard and Nukeduck for most of the laning phase action seems like the best way to put the game in Vitality’s favor.

There are many directions in which this team may drift stylistically, but jungle pathing may become a headache until adjustments are made. I want to keep a careful eye on Shook this spring.

Vying for Number One

Anything but first would be a disappointment for the last two teams on the list. Not only do they have strong team systems on paper, but smart players and externally high expectations. One of these teams will have to place second (or third or fourth if Vitality or Fnatic make a convincing run), but they should still be hungry to win it all.

H2K Gaming

Unlike Shook, who might find himself too constrained by demanding calls for jungle pressure, Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski should feel free to pick the lanes he wants to gank. Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou-Napoleon may be the loudest ask for assistance, but H2K should take the opportunity to try out a variety of styles and make themselves unpredictable.

As with Fnatic, I’ve gone into more detail on how I see H2K Gaming playing out, but following their performance at the Intel Extreme Masters Cologne, I see additional echoes of the 2015 Spring SK Gaming — except for high wards per minute. At 3.71 wards per minute, H2K had the highest average in their six games played of any team at Cologne.

One of SK Gaming’s largest problems last spring was a low level of vision. Despite placing first in the regular season, they only bested MeetYourMakers with wards per minute at 2.54. Casters often took note of their low vision coverage, and Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen’s more daring invade style became easily punished when he didn’t know what he was getting into.

SK Gaming made increasingly bold moves, but other teams often prepared and countered them. Taking turrets quickly has once again become priority, but if H2K Gaming can maintain a better commitment to vision, better planning for the stages of the game after the first ring of turrets disappears becomes easier. Expect this team to rotate and fast push toward the top of the standings.

Origen

Even though I have high hopes for H2K Gaming, I expect Origen to top the league. They have a better sense for synergy overall, having retained most of their roster, and have shown that they already know how to play around different lanes depending on the strategy they lay out for themselves.

Origen seem most comfortable setting up for Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen and working around map movements inside the jungle. They set up for dragons well, and with dragon looking like it will be less contested as a result of shorter games, Origen will need a new way to pick 5v5s. Zven is also not as much a “fast-push” AD carry as Forg1ven, but OG might succeed in setting up skirmishes or turret dives in bottom lane.

PowerOfEvil adapted quickly to Origen’s environment after only a short time at Intel Extreme Masters San Jose and spoke well of the calls made by jungler Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider and support Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez. “the biggest adaptation for me was the shotcalling,” POE said, “I wasn't really used to that… We don't have the best synergy yet, but the shotcalling is pretty good right now.”

With Zven and Origen being much less lane focused, I also expect Amazing and mithy to have a stronger core as a jungle and support duo in creating opportunities through roams than H2K’s Jankos and Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan. Following YellOwStaR’s departure, mithy is also looking more and more like it’s his task now to take the throne as Europe’s premier support.

Not much stands in the way of Origen taking the top, but nine weeks is enough time to change things, especially without a strong support staff. Origen, as always, are the team that has the best chance of success without analysts and coaching, but since official word of their new coach hasn't reached us yet, there's a small cause for alarm.

Overview:

Elements Tier: Elements

Salvageable Tier: Giants Gaming, Team ROCCAT

Playoff Shuffle: Unicorns of Love, Splyce, G2 Esports

Second Rung: Fnatic, Vitality

Vying For Number One: H2K Gaming, Origen

Expected Victor: Origen

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

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