"We're just kind of shocked — still. Like that happened, really, that whole se—that entire game."
—Martin "Deficio" Lynge at the conclusion of the 2016 Spring EU CS final
Both European Challenger Series finalists came as a surprise. Millenium only lost a single best-of-two series to Inspire eSports all split, and though Inspire finished the season behind Huma by virtue of their head-to-head record, Huma were expected to go through a shaky adjustment period following the departure of jungler Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen .
Not only did the Copenhagen Wolves and Huma upset their semifinal opponents, but Huma came back from a 2-0 deficit to reverse sweep the Copenhagen Wolves in the EU CS final. Despite continuous difficulties regarding their organization, Huma’s triumph in the EU Challenger Series wasn’t the ending many had predicted.
The Copenhagen Wolves and Huma played a scattered final. Much attention drifted to the top lane where Mike “Wickd” Petersen had his Poppy banned and Trin “k0u” Tin Lam gravitated top for ganks. In response, Huma were able to take control of the opposite side of the map with comfort picks, but messy fights took over both games.
All that to say that going into the promotion tournament, both Huma and the Copenhagen Wolves are not expected to make the European League of Legends Championship Series. Giants Gaming represents the easiest entry into the LCS, but with recent roster changes, even they show a strong chance of beating Copenhagen Wolves in the first round and besting Huma later.
Both teams consist of players that are familiar within the community. Wickd is a well-known figure in the history of European esports and, although he has a limited champion pool, his experience still makes him a valuable asset. k0u has always been a favorite “what if” player — “what if” he had been of age for the EU LCS in 2014 — and represents a core part of the Wolves' lineup.
Kristoffer “P1noy” Albao Lund Pedersen’s disappointing run on Gambit is only matched by the attention he built for himself at Intel Extreme Masters Cologne in December 2014. Since then, P1noy has played for Winterfox, occasionally struggling with positioning but also putting up strong performances. The problem is that it’s hard to know which P1noy will show up in any given match: the one who leaps into the enemy team, or the one who catches the multi-kill.
Rookies Risto “SirNukesAlot” Luuri and loaner mid laner Marc “Caedral” Robert Lamont show glimpses of brilliance on signature picks like Lissandra and Janna, but have felt occasionally invisible in terms of game impact on other cahmpions. As a unit, the Wolves are disjointed. This surprise factor may have allowed them to upset Millenium, but proved to be a weakness against Huma.
Huma feel much like the Wolves with a bit more “what-is-that-draft” and LCS flavor. Every player has appeared in the EU LCS or the World Championship. As a Turkish AD carry notable enough to join an EU CS team, Anıl “HolyPhoenix” Işık may have received more attention as a novelty thus far, but his play has made him one of Huma’s more reliable carries. Many will remember him for his surprising success in the 2014 World Championship on wildcard team Dark Passage.
Jorge “Werlyb” Casanovas, Rudy “Rudy” Beltran, and Cristophe “je suis kaas” van Oudheusden round out the roster with limited EU LCS appearances: Werlyb’s Jax fixation is famous from his time on Giants Gaming, Je suis kaas has grown from his days of reductive Morgana play and Rudy recently lost his position on Unicorns of Love. With that said, H2k-Gaming's Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski made it clear that he felt like Rudy still needed to stew longer before his decision making was LCS-calibre.
The thing these teams lack most is direction and focus. Neither has impressed strategically and several misplays were the difference between a win or a loss in the final series. Huma’s perplexing Game 2 draft still makes me double-check the overall series result to ensure that, yes, the team that drafted Hecarim top won.
Perhaps the thing that has helped Huma the most is the persistence with which they’ve pursued a seed in to the European League of Legends Championship Series. With detailed accounts of poor management, the thread that has remained strong in Huma’s narrative is that this is a group of players who really just want to play together. Even after losing Santorin to the now-defunct Ember, Huma persevered through two extended five game series to secure first place in the EU CS playoffs.
None of Huma’s players have received extensive encouragement from the community for their LCS play. Players like Rudy and je suis kaas still feel like Challenger Series regulars who debuted in the LCS a little too early and under less than ideal circumstances. These mounting factors should have beaten down Huma, but they have continued to climb.
Commitment to improvement and striving for continued chances actually seemed like the very things Giants Gaming in particular have lacked. Fresh blood became a necessity for the Spanish organization when they continuously demonstrated that they appeared comfortable stagnating strategically. With only one player retained from the 2016 Spring debut match, Giants are in position to make radical changes, not just to their roster, but to preparation.
Giants Gaming's match against Huma may decide who gets the final LCS spot, but Huma must first do battle with ROCCAT. ROCCAT’s bottom lane functions as a new communication core while Felix “Betsy” Edling, like players on Huma, has persevered through benchings and heavy criticisms — but this split he's silenced quite a few naysayers, something Huma's players have yet to completely accomplish. Beside Fabien “Febiven” Diepstraten and mid laners on EU’s top three teams, Betsy has earned his right to join the discussion of strong EU mid laners.
Ultimately, it’s ROCCAT’s LCS experience as a unit that’s still the over-whelming challenge facing Huma. With questionable early game map movements, Huma shouldn’t be able to combat ROCCAT effectively. Their LCS hopes will then hinge on the ability of a beleaguered Giants Gaming to stay beleaguered.
For both the Copenhagen Wolves and Huma, success has been a puzzle for spectators. But perhaps a combination of experience and a need to prove critics wrong has driven them through the standings over squads with more promising team play.
If either the Wolves or Huma make it into the LCS this summer, the result will be unexpected. This spring, unexpected is well within the EU CS comfort zone.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore Esports. You can follow her on Twitter.