Most regions have a clear top team: one team that's able to triumph, undefeated or nearly undefeated. That's not Europe. Europe has to be different. Europe has to have a four-way tie for first halfway through Week 6.
Unicorns of Love, H2K Gaming, G2 Esports and Vitality all rest with a score of 8-3 at the end of Week 6 Day 1. Much of this comes from best-of-ones creating unpredictable environments, but a lot more of it comes from parity. There isn't a team in the European League of Legends Championship Series that's just the best by the majority of parameters.
While Kog'Maw is the hot topic — and he'll come up again and again as we discuss today's games — many of the deeper issues of Europe's top teams remain even as they grow and change. They came out clearly as Week 6 opened.
Unicorns win late game against Kog'Maw
The Unicorns' struggles appear to come from a lack of direction before initial turrets fall and support Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov begins to roam. This problem is not unlike Vitality's, but the Unicorns' issues come compounded with an apparent need to force and lower vision control.
Mid game momentum gives the Unicorns their strength. Today, they were able to use Hylissang and Kiss "Vizicsacsi" Tamás to find Giants Gaming's Kog'Maw consistently. Adrián "Adryh" Pérez's forward positioning gave the Unicorns an easy in, and their catch composition carried them forward. Despite the terrifying late game power of Kog'Maw, Giants didn't play well around it, and disengage from Gragas often missed the mark.
Unicorns may find that their position in the EU LCS will drop. They seem to lack some of the finer elements of Vitality, G2, and H2K, but their surprising synergy and solid components based around top and support give them strength to create space for carries. Their communication also seems to be unified.
G2 give Kog'Maw an in
G2 Esports lead the European League of Legends Championship Series in Combined Kills Per Minute at .78. Many have begun to equate this approach to "chaos style," but the ability to find things to fight over in the current meta gets an undeservedly bad reputation. It's far from the way the Unicorns played last year.
Understanding momentum and how to create opportunities to secure fast leads has given G2 an edge. They usually convert picks and mid lane pressure into jungle control, giving them the highest jungle control rate in the league. High synergy between Luka "Perkz" Perković and jungler Kim "Trick" Gangyun has allowed G2 to have almost flawless control of the jungle and branch out into other objectives.
On Thursday, it seemed G2 became complacent. Trick's wards placed per minute have taken a hit recently, and he seems less possessed with guarding flanks at every opportunity. This meant G2 opted into a questionable Baron and failed to set up proper flanks in poor fights after Martin "Rekkles" Larsson's Kog'Maw arrived.
It's not that G2's style has been exposed, but that they have been less diligent about their vision control. The momentum-based, pick and fight-forcing jungle control style has a lot of power in the EU LCS. Especially with scaling Kog'Maws becoming vogue, G2 should be able to punish. They take a "pressure only" jungler like Rumble and turn him into a devastating kill-securer.
They just have been playing less resolutely around vision. If they go back to their style from earlier weeks, this may be enough for them to shake off the bonds of the tie altogether.
Vitality makes H2K's weaknesses obvious
If you've kept up with my roundups, you've probably grown tired of me hammering home the fact that H2K don't seem to know their way around a teamfight as well as one might think — and often they don't have the tools to avoid them as effectively as they'd like.
When Vitality drafted their Zilean/Bard composition against Kog'Maw today, casters and commentators immediately lamented Vitality's lack of hard engage. H2K have made similar drafts in the past, only they've also not brought the power of disengage (in this case, Bard and Zilean can serve as a disengage tool), but many have written it off because "H2K don't team fight."
That isn't always true. Even with Yoo "Ryu" Sangook in Round 1, H2K opted into teamfights with poke-based compositions not designed to team fight. They demonstrated a scattered sense for collapses. In other games, Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou-Napoleon was singled out, as H2K failed to bring peel or disengage. After chipping turrets, H2K often end up with a sense of disorientation (usually while pushing into the opponents' base) while they discover a lack of ability to avoid fights. The game then stalls when they get picked off.
Saying "H2K just avoid fights," has never been a completely accurate description. In an ideal world, H2K avoid fights. H2K avoid fights most of the time. H2K don't just avoid fights.
Thursday, Vitality played a squishy composition based upon pushing out side waves. They seem to do this, not as some "gimmick," but because pushing out side waves continuously allows them to lay deeper vision. Don't get me wrong, I believe H2K drafted better in that they not only secured Kog'Maw, but two of the best forms of hard engage that can be used against Kog'Maw with ease — I don't consider the Graves first pick optimal, but it opens up what they want to do.
With G2's Trick becoming less diligent in his warding, Ilyas "Shook" Hartsema has become the jungler with the most wards placed per minute. He and Raymond "kaSing" Tsang seem to lay out vision in a bid to facilitate Shook's playstyle. Shook's playstyle can be harmful without vision; it is known that he will invade, he will go for the style play. If one wards proactively, one can save Vitality from Shook's playstyle backfiring.
In the first altercation in the top lane 2v2, it was easy to see the benefits of Vitality's warding approach. As soon as Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski went for a gank, Shook knew where he was, wards were laid out, and both Shook and Lucas "Cabochard" Simon-Meslet counterganked to swing the game to Vitality's advantage. Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm used Zilean's high base damage to make Ryu miserable, and Vitality continued to press their lead from there, taking a page from G2.
Vitality's Zilean-Bard composition is excellent for targeting Kog'Maw and other pick targets without hard engage. Hard engage wasn't Vitality's problem so much as Thresh. Dark Passage constantly saved bombed targets from exploding, as the timing seemed to allow players to leave the target area before detonation. Thresh was the problem.
So was Kog'Maw. Vitality fixated on trying to secure the fifth dragon repeatedly, as sieging against Kog'Maw became increasingly difficult. Eventually, however, Vitality were able to clear out pit wards properly. Even though they didn't secure the final dragon, they prevented Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu's surprise flank and isolated FORG1VEN.
The late game became about avoiding the Malphite engage, and as long as Vitality kept their flanks cleared of H2K wards, that became much easier. Despite FORG1VEN's strong positioning on Kog'Maw, H2K's lack of coordination in team fights became obvious, even with so much hard engage to create areas of control around FORG1VEN, and Vitality could win.
Vitality have been caught between H2K and G2 trying to find their playstyle. I've criticized them in the past for not picking one, but their new composition seems to be a nice marriage. Vision allows Vitality to secure picks and keep momentum while Cabochard pushes side waves. They don't necessarily play 5v5s, but they've come to discover that they operate best in lane swap scenarios.
The problem with Vitality is that, at the moment, they seem fairly pigeon-holed in this style based on Cabochard's picks and Shook's stubborn approach. H2K had a smart idea in countering the 2v2 swap, but the forced gank didn't pay off, and if they draft a 5v5 comp, they should probably know how to execute it completely.
Friday's games will result in this four-way tie breaking when UoL play Vitality. But for now, the race is tight. No team gets a free pass on their flaws. It's easier to hammer that home in Europe when they're exposed more regularly. Where no one remains undefeated. Where the forging fires still blaze on resolutely.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.