Week 8 of the European League of Legends Championship Series has ended. With only one week of the regular season remaining, the top six teams for playoffs were set on Thursday. Those six teams will play for seeding in Week 9. The three-way lock for first place was broken by G2 Esports’ victory over Team Vitality, but there's a definite gap between Top 3 and fourth through sixth place.
To prepare for next week, I took a brief look at current standings and where I might expect these teams to find themselves at the end of the regular season.
Unicorns of Love (9-7)
Week 9 opponents: H2K Gaming, G2 Esports
With each subsequent jungler change, the Unicorns of Love have looked like a worse team. The loss of Danil “Diamondprox” Reshetnikov hit a quickly improving team hard. At this point, Unicorns of Love play similarly to Origen in that they invest a lot into their AD carry Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi in late game teamfights. The Unicorns have slightly improved their early game shotcalling, but still seem to react slowly to lane swaps, putting emphasis on their ability to control the mid game. Jean-Victor “loulex” Burgevin makes their attempts to invade and get picks work less cleanly, as he still occasionally engages too eagerly and puts the team behind.
The Unicorns of Love have the most difficult Week 9 of the playoffs teams. They don’t face a single bottom-four team and instead must try to cleave wins from two of the top three teams in the European LCS. With an 0-2 record against Origen, Unicorns of Love fans can’t reasonably expect anything but a sixth place finish.
Expected placing: 6th
Week 9 opponents: Giants Gaming, Fnatic
Speaking of playing around one’s AD carry, this has been Origen’s most effective strategy for the past year. Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen takes a lot of pressure from his team, and Lulu is banned against Origen consistently. Unfortunately, that’s probably the only thing consistent about Origen. With Friday’s lane swap confusion and generally scattered play against ROCCAT, the idea that the return of Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez would rejuvenate the team has yet to bear fruit. Zven has positioned desperately, dying more frequently, and Origen seem to have deteriorated rather than improved over the course of the split.
Origen benefit from facing Giants Gaming in Week 9. Since Giants have only won two games so far this split, it’s reasonable to assume that Origen can come away with a win. Fnatic is a more difficult opponent. Though Fnatic also struggle with trying to pin down a reliable strategy that they can execute from game-to-game, Fnatic’s aggressive approach has more threats and seems to work reliably against bottom-tier teams. If Origen had a better draft phase and could be depended upon to deny Fnatic their comfort picks, this may be a closer fight, but fifth place appears to be the expected position for Origen going into the playoffs.
Expected placing: 5th
Week 9 opponents: Elements, Origen
Fnatic’s improvements following Intel Extreme Masters Katowice have been over-stated. Fnatic still seem heavily reliant upon one strategy and a set of picks. They will continue to run this strategy, as they did in the first week with Zac and Olaf, until it is effectively countered. Vitality managed to knock them down today, so Fnatic may bring something new next week. Since we haven’t seen Fnatic look as cohesive on anything else, that isn’t necessarily positive.
Even on Lee Sin, Lee “Spirit” Dayoon makes his own plays. He still seems to find himself inside the mind that he has to put the game on his own shoulders and takes too many solo risks. Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten has made the difference in this team as he is looking increasingly like the Febiven that overwhelmed the World Championship group stage. This Febiven still doesn’t come out every game, though his ability to use Corki has made some of these qualities emerge more often. Martin “Rekkles” Larsson hasn’t had an impact on a pick that has to play at closer range. I’m still not convinced that the bottom lane in general connects reliably with the rest of the team. Fnatic need more work.
Criticisms aside, Fnatic play against Elements and Origen next week. Both games should result in a win and give Fnatic a firm fourth place seed into playoffs.
Expected placing: 4th
Team Vitality (12-4)
Week 9 opponents: Team ROCCAT, Splyce
A sense of identity differentiates the top three teams of the EU LCS from the rest of the teams in the league. Vitality emphasize a creativity that allows them to get the most out of roams from Raymond “kaSing” Tsang. The team embraces the challenge of countering an enemy team’s style of play rather than banning it out. As a result, we’ve seen a lot of versatility out of Vitality. They may have taken it too far against G2, which set them below where I place them in my personal ranking.
The top three teams stand shoulder-to-shoulder, but Vitality’s ability to incorporate team fighting and cross-map macro strategy put them just an inch ahead. Though they lost to G2, Vitality took a risk, and this risk-taking should earn them a reward in the bracket stage with longer series.
Vitality have the easiest week of Top 6 teams, as they only play against bottom-four teams. With ROCCAT improving in the last leg, they’re the largest threat. But ROCCAT showed enough holes in map movement in all stages of the game that they should still lose to Team Vitality.
Expected placing: 3rd
Week 9 opponents: Splyce, Unicorns of Love
G2 Esports have been dubbed Europe’s rookie team fighting team, but the way in which they set up the jungle to create flanks is completely sophisticated. G2’s high jungle control rate allows them to place proactive vision. There’s almost no angle from which G2 cannot collapse. The current Rammus-Sivir state of the game makes G2’s playstyle nearly unstoppable as long as Luka "PerkZ" Perković can have his way with the mid lane.
That’s where G2 can be exploited. Early ganks to the mid lane will prevent PerkZ from pushing out the lane and making invasion easy for G2. Kim "Trick" Gangyun's synergy with PerkZ and Glenn “Hybrid” Doornenbal’s roams to the mid lane make this much more difficult than it sounds. Strike down the pillar, and G2 may crumble, but the pillar is well-reinforced.
The Unicorns of Love are flailing more than ever, and Splyce never found a convincing groove. Week 9 will set G2 on a collision course with H2K for a first place tie-breaker. We may finally get a nice single game between G2 and H2K.
Expected placing: 1st place tie-breaker
Week 9 opponents: Unicorns of Love, Elements
H2K have been called the macro-oriented team that avoids fights. They still don’t do this consistently, but Rammus has benefited H2K nearly as much as he has benefitted G2. Initiating and controlling fights becomes much easier with a Rammus. Even if H2K look slightly disoriented, Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu can lock down multiple targets and allow H2K to cleanup when the need to fight arises. It’s a pick to deny if one seeks to expose some of H2K’s weaknesses.
It's nearly impossible to avoid allowing H2K to take a lead in the beginning of the game. Their adaptability in lane swap scenarios could actually yield a counter to some of the exaggerated turret trades in the long run. In Friday’s game, H2K slowed the push from Splyce. They can’t expect to do this against smarter teams, but it’s a start. Sivir will improve their pushing potential, and we still have yet to see the neutral objective control that could come from Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou-Napoleon’s Kalista. H2K have occasionally struggled when challenging Baron, and a pick like Kalista could completely change the status quo.
H2K have a similar schedule to G2 with UOL and a bottom-four team. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Week 9 is the impending tie-breaker between G2 and H2K. At the moment, it’s nearly impossible for me to call it. Both teams benefit from 6.4 in different ways. With Rammus expected to be removed from the picture, I’d see G2 catching out H2K in more ways than the patient team would like to take first seed, but should a tie-breaker occur, it may be the best game of the regular season.
Expected placing: 1st place tie-breaker
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.