The second week of the European League of Legends Championship Series has concluded with a five-way tie for first place. Five teams in the league have scraped through with a 3-1 record, so it can be difficult to judge which teams are truly topping the hypothetical power rankings by simply looking at the standings. Observers must persevere and discern the true pack leaders from the rabble.
A consistent reader may recall that, to start the season, I gave Elements their own tier at the bottom of projections. Seeing them sit at the very top of the list — alphabetically, they sit above the rest of the Top 5 ranked teams — may make it seem as if I've made a crucial error.
I can admit when I'm wrong, and as I promised, I'll write a more detailed article regarding Elements' strengths in the coming weeks, but Elements still haven't done enough to be deemed a true Top 5 team. Comparing them to Origen, who unexpectedly ended Week 2 with a 1-3 record after brushes with Fnatic, H2K Gaming, and Team Vitality, Elements have had a very easy schedule. After losing to a confident G2 Esports in their first game, Elements faced Splyce, the now winless Giants Gaming, and Team ROCCAT, who all sit at the bottom of the standings.
Their games this week were far from inspiring, with dragged out back-and-forths against Team ROCCAT and Giants Gaming, where they relied on teamfight control, Baron throws, and death timers to pull ahead. Elements' more difficult tasks come next week against the Unicorns of Love and a shaky Origen squad. These matches are not unwinnable given Origen's recent mid game throw against Vitality, but this week's triumphs don't reveal enough to confidently predict they'll win.
That's not to dismiss Elements' accomplishments. They have fashioned a system that works with their pieces, revolving unsurprisingly around getting Etienne "Steve" Michels ahead in the laning phase with either swaps or jungle support. Rasmus "MrRalleZ" Skinneholm shows some of the spark that garnered him fans in his LCS debut on Supa Hot Crew.
We've known MrRalleZ is a good Kalista player since Team ROCCAT's playoff match against the Unicorns of Love, where they forced UoL to ban the pick after two straight Kalista victories. Kalista has a 90 percent win rate in the EU LCS, with 10 games played and only one loss at the hands of Team ROCCAT. MrRalleZ has won both his Kalista games, but only one game on Corki. I'm curious to see what strategies beyond Kalista-centric team fighting Elements have with the pick denied.
It remains to be seen whether I truly underestimated Elements or simply over-estimated the teams they defeated this week.
Speaking of team fighting, the new fan-grabbers of the European LCS have performed quite well with mid lane-centric assassin skirmish and brawl compositions in the jungle. G2 haven't adapted the best to the lane swap meta, but they seem to have a clear understanding of their strengths and how to propel Luka "PerkZ" Perković into a position where he can carry. PerkZ has had oppressive games on Leblanc and Ahri in particular, and his confident play has surprised many in his debut LCS season.
G2's general formula got shut down against H2K during the draft phase. They first picked Lulu, a champion that Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek showed a lack of comfort on as he over-extended in fights and used his ultimate poorly. The team also opted into a composition that scaled too heavily: Udyr looked to farm for the first 30 minutes to get ahead, Ezreal needed time to stack a Tear of the Goddess, and Zed was not necessarily able to hold waves properly or support an Ezreal pick. All in all, G2 appeared out of sorts.
At the moment, G2's own assessments of their strengths and ability to team fight, as they did against Team ROCCAT, in a controlled fashion from a deficit, will propel them further than some teams who have a tighter grasp of how the game should be played on a macro level. This is simply because they aren't attempting to execute outside their strengths. G2 will probably find a playoffs birth at the end of the season, but until they bone up on the finer aspects of drafting and turret control, they won't make Top 3.
A more expected candidate for first place has only dropped a single game to Fnatic, the monarchs of the European LCS. H2K have received extensive praise for their smart map movement, executing lane swaps, avoiding fights, and only going for easy picks and free turrets. While I agree they have the best understanding of how to "out-rotate," that seems to be their near-exclusive mode of operation at the moment.
Against G2 today, H2K failed to capitalize on their opponent buying into a brutal scaling composition. With the picks they had drafted, instead of playing the slow stall and turret secure game, I would have liked to see a more bloodthirsty H2K willing to punish G2 for their risky late game draft. As the game progressed, Lulu and Ezreal would have become much more menacing, and Udyr closer to unkillable.
Yet H2K had a different problem against Fnatic. They kept playing their rotational game and established a slim lead, but then practically impaled themselves upon Fnatic in the river fight around mid lane. Fnatic had a better team fighting composition, and H2K had an open shot at at least an inhibitor and a way to remove Fnatic from their Baron fixation.
H2K may trip in identifying where and when to fight. A fight-avoidence style of play that prioritizes objectives over kills is excellent to watch, but more difficult to execute consistently. When the opposing team will inevitably catch H2K out, they need to understand how to skirmish and team fight or when an appropriate time to do so appears. It's harder to force earlier fights with dragon and Rift Herald failing to appeal as objectives before 20 minutes, but practicing a dive comp or looking for more invasion-based picks might shore up H2K's weaknesses for when they absolutely have to dirty their hands with the blood of the enemy.
Though Origen and Fnatic failed to join the 3-1 leaders, both new power pickup experiments found a place. Team Vitality enjoys the unique designation of having clawed through both 2015 EU LCS summer split finalists.
So far, Vitality have played slightly more like G2 than H2K, relying on team fights with a shakier early game. Despite this, their victory over Fnatic came heavily down to an error in lane swap judgment made by Fnatic, proving Vitality can at least capitalize upon misplays.
Even with an unfortunate Kindred bug today that ate through Ilyas "Shook" Hartsema and Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen's untennable 7/2/2 finish, Vitality's approach to drafting strong early-to-mid game compositions has pulled them through. I didn't favor the low mobility of Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage's Syndra, despite his reputation with the champion, and Vitality identified it with a more pick-oriented approach, utilizing Ahri, Thresh, Graves, and Lee Sin to isolate and eliminate the target first.
Origen, like Fnatic, made several mistakes. Origen's flaws came from awkward communication that sent players to different parts of the map and opened up objectives or picks. Vitality has exemplified strength in reactionary style. They don't always follow through on their own plays, but they've been more than capable of flipping a switch and punishing an error on the enemy team. While forcing mistakes from the opposition is more in vogue, no team is free of creating their own blunders, and today's meta makes it more devastating to make a mistake of any kind — especially against an all-in team like Vitality.
In the future, it might be interesting to see Vitality draft compositions that center more around different styles like split-pushing so their approach doesn't become stagnant.
Unicorns of Love
Last year's favorite head-scratcher, the Unicorns, have once again found the top of the table. Thankfully, all the things that made their wins maddening have begun to dissipate. Unicorns have shown a fair understanding of the lane swap meta and even managed to surprise Fnatic today by hiding at their Tier 1 top lane turret while Fnatic placed lane swap wards. Unicorns then secured early krugs and came to a lane Fnatic had prepped to push into them. They then froze the lane, securing a farm advantage for Pierre "Steeelback" Medjaldi.
In the bottom lane, since Kiss "Vizicsacsi" Tamás already arrived in the lane, and Noh "Gamsu" Yeongjin had started the jungle follow in order to head top lane on the second or third wave to push with the duo lane, both side lanes immediately began funneling gold leads into UoL's pockets. Fnatic made a few intelligent plays with Rift Herald, but opting into fights when Steeelback had significant leads over Martin "Rekkles" Larsson (see: Corki vs Kalista problems) spelled disaster.
UoL have lost part of their questionable approach to just picking what feels right and trying to execute for a means of attempting to secure game flow through the jungle. Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov said in his first post game interview last week that he respected the players on UoL, and the team has begun to work together nicely. His own performances have escalated, giving UoL a powerful moving core.
The Unicorns still crumpled against Origen, despite Origen's persistent mistakes, and if Fnatic had not made a crucial lane swap error, they had enough creative responses to UoL taking charge that they would probably beat UoL in a best-of series. It's still refreshing to see UoL advancing out of their stagnant rut from last year and developing more calculated approaches. They and G2 will make strong Tier 2 EU LCS teams as the split progresses.
Missing in Action: Fnatic and Origen
Flaws of both the reigning top two European teams have been glossed over briefly. Both teams struggle with finding direction with partial roster moves and meta changes. Fnatic seem distracted in the early game and have heavily lost a lane swap in two of their four matches. Origen make the same mistakes of coordination early and drafting they made last year, but with faster games it's more punishing.
The way Riot scheduled the first two weeks, the top teams played each other to create excitement among fans. Bottom teams played each other to fill time slots. Of the projected top four in Origen, Fnatic, H2K, and Vitality, it seemed likely one squad would finish the first two weeks at the bottom. This time around, Origen must assess problems their brush with Fnatic, H2K, and Vitality exposed. Their schedule becomes more manageable in the coming weeks, and with steady improvement, they and Fnatic should join H2K and Vitality at the top.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.