Fnatic dominated last summer, and only Origen, who were sometimes affectionately referred to as "Fnatic Black," managed to pop them before the 2015 World Championship. In the offseason, Origen retained most of their team, only Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage joined the roster as a rotating mid laner. Fnatic lost significant parts of their roster after telling fans at Worlds they had planned to stay together and re-consolidated around their carries.
H2K Gaming and Vitality took their own risks and gambled to join the top of the pile. After Raymond "kaSing" Tsang left to trial for Team SoloMid and H2K lost their play for the jungle upgrade they wanted, they set their sights on the much-lauded ex-ROCCAT duo of Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski and Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan as well as the high commodity aggressive AD carry, Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou-Napoleon.
Vitality stretched themselves even further in purchasing Gambit Gaming's LCS spot. Along with the LCS spot, the team acquired an almost entirely new roster of players as everyone from Lucas "Cabochard " Simon-Meslet to H2K's 2015 bottom lane flocked to the new banner. With the large outlay, Vitality looked for results to which they might cling.
Today, both of last year's European finalists fell to the new talent consolidation experiments. In watching their play, it seemed as if Origen and Fnatic came into this new season without some of their old devotion to improvement. Fnatic's smart early game form that they put on display yesterday didn't return. They drafted a composition identical to the one they used in their game against Origen, and when Vitality forced a lane swap, they chose to give up two waves of experience and farm instead of playing out the matchups while putting more emphasis on putting down the Fiora.
While Fnatic made small hiccups and showed only one composition against a team that had time to study them, Origen committed a more perilous offense in not varying their playstyle for the new patch. In drafting double Tear of the Goddess compositions, they put emphasis on scaling later without providing the proper turret control. Some of their old lane swapping flaws reared their heads, and they could have positioned Lucian better in their pushes. As a result, H2K picked up experience and farm advantages. To exacerbate problems, PowerOfEvil got run-around in a slightly Kassadin favored matchup.
It's way too early to say that Fnatic and Origen entered the new split with a sense of complacency. With new players to work into their team, it makes sense to rely on the same composition to find synergy initially, even if they did start the week against two teams most would not consider easy opponents. Last split, Origen took a slow approach to development rather than trying drastically different things each game. They developed a sense of identity and teamwork, dropping games to similar mistakes repeatedly before bolstering their communication for the playoffs and the world championship.
A much more likely explanation stems from the fact that Vitality and H2K Gaming don't have the luxury of starting the new split with freebies or of necessarily being able to blame their lack of time together. Many European League of Legends Championship Series spectators have already labeled Vitality and H2K as Top 4 teams to watch, ready to avidly examine and nitpick them on their first appearance. Fnatic and Origen can rest on the faith they engendered in their fans last season, but Vitality and H2K need to build trust. They needed wins this week.
Vitality flagrantly combusted against Team ROCCAT yesterday, showing an incomplete grasp of sieging and jungle control. Their only way to redeem themselves would come in the form of a win against Fnatic, who looked crisp against their summer rivals. That's exactly what Vitality achieved.
Despite kaSing telling the analyst desk that Vitality wanted the 2v2 matchup, Fiora has early vulnerabilities against Olaf, and Olaf doesn't fair well into Morgana and Miss Fortune initially, so a lane swap made sense for them. Fnatic grasped this and scrambled to reverse the 1v2, but they made a crucial error of sacrificing a wave of creeps for both their duo lane and their top laner. Cabochard, already famed for his ability to amass 1v1 leads in minion counts, had less to worry about in a lane against an Olaf with a deficit.
I still might consider the advantages Vitality gained in this match a happy result of Fnatic's fumbles, but they managed to operate around Fiora efficiently after he received the lead. Lee "Spirit" Dayoon shows an inability to play effectively from behind or convey his intentions to his teammates, as he kept attempting engages from deficits. Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten suffered from what I like to call "xiye Leblanc syndrome," or drafting Leblanc without looking for ways to acquire advantages in the first 15 minutes (Just do it!).
Yet to Vitality's credit, they didn't try to force any awkward siege attempts today. Ilyas "Shook" Hartsema kept better control of his own jungle. They've shown an eagerness and a devotion to improvement that Vitality will need if they want to cash in on the high expectations they carried into the League of Legends Championship Series. They got the win they needed to sigh and avoid smothering hopes from their new fanbase.
H2K more impressively finished this week of the European League of Legends Championship Series with a 2-0, a feat achieved by no other top four hopeful. Though H2K had an apparently easier schedule than Vitality, Fnatic, or Origen — Giants Tier may prove to be the new Elements Tier with time — they have gained the much coveted "clean rotations" accolade.
The H2K-ROCCAT hybrid squad displayed the same advanced understanding of the current lane swap meta that propelled H2K ahead last year with the added seasoning of FORG1VEN's cumulative 12/0/11 Corki. They haven't demonstrated the same commitment to avoiding stagnation as Vitality, but they've made fewer obvious blunders. Next week, H2K confront Fnatic and the potential G2 Esports Cinderella, but for now they can say they cleared first week with enough success to pad their pillows and rest easier.
As for Origen and Fnatic, early losses are exactly what they need to commit themselves to the LCS. I expect hungrier reigning kings in Week 2.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.