Riot's esports content team put out a hype video this weekend entitled “EU is everywhere,” but it failed to capture the pulse of the fanbase. While North America and China surged at the Mid-Season Invitational, European LCS fans had their faith tested by G2’s dismal performance. It didn't help that EU runner up Origen said they wouldn't have practiced much more than G2 for MSI.
The excitement has fizzled. Banners have been stowed. EU is nowhere.
Yet when you've hit rock bottom, and you're staring at the daunting cliff face that leads back to where you stood before — the most refined mettle emerges. Something very similar happened in 2014, following a disappointing World Championship showing from Fnatic. Upon their return home, they split into what would become two of the most impressive European teams fans have seen on the international stage since 2012.
Ultimately, G2’s collapse at MSI may have been exactly what Europe needed to launch one of the most competitive splits we’ve ever seen. Teams spent the offseason working to refine and consolidate their talent experiments, they brought in more Korean elements, and German football team FC Schalke 04 entered the arena.
The rest of the world humiliated G2 Esports at MSI, and now they now know what it feels like to have the community braying at their backs with their faces in their hands. It won't happen again.
Elements both proved they were not the worst team in the EU LCS and have since sold their holdings to FC Schalke 04, but they will forever remain a benchmark for teams expected to anchor the League of Legends Championship Series. FC Schalke 04, with players from last split’s Elements, don’t deserve this tier, but there are three teams that do.
Low-key, economical Korean pickups were a prominent theme in the offseason. Less experienced Korean players are often cheaper to field, and the past year and a half of EU LCS has shown they can have just as much of an impact on a team's performance.
And then there's Giants Gaming’s roster. Na "NighT" Gunwoo has demonstrated a respectable talent ceiling, but Son "S0NSTAR" Seungik's run on Incredible Miracle was lukewarm at best. Though I applaud Giants for removing the allegedly demotivated Isaac "xPePii" Flores for NighT and being willing to take a risk on Nubar "Maxlore" Sarafian, but while he's promising, it seems like they're signing the first available name that anyone will give them.
The rest of the roster isn't much better. Lennart "Smittyj" Warkus seems inflexible, and he’ll either soar or tumble. Overall, the team feels like a mess of desperate grabs that’s unlikely to build an identity. That isn’t a formula for a team standing above the region's bottom rung.
My conservative hopes for Splyce last split were dashed. Despite marked improvements from Martin “Wunder” Hansen and a growing sense of teamplay, Splyce still couldn't find consistency. It’s possible the offseason and a new support have improved the team's outlook, but that seems unlikely.
One of Splyce’s most common pitfalls was that they couldn't execute when Chres “Sencux” Laursen didn’t have a clear way forward. The team bound up as if choked out. I don’t have a lot of faith in Splyce freeing themselves from this restraint, barring a complete roster overhaul or a spiritual retreat, so I can’t in good conscious place them above bottom three.
Unicorns of Love
After Unicorns of Love surprised in the 2016 Spring Split, it may come as a shock to see them in the Elements Tier. I still rate Tamás “Vizicsacsi” Kiss and Zdravets “Hylissang” Galabov highly on an individual level, but with Europe's rosters ramping up around them, individual skill at two positions won’t bring Unicorns up from the bottom.
UoL spent the spring hemorrhaging jungle talent, and frequent adjustments took an obvious toll on their development as a team. In the offseason, they've done their best to compensate for the loss of their jungler and star AD carry with Korean additions, but Kim “Veritas” Kyoungmin’s performances in NA Challenger have been underwhelming, and Kang “Move” Minsu failed to develop on Gravity at a rate that made him anything more than predictable.
If there’s a will-he-or-won’t-he for the ages, it’s Fabian "Exileh" Schubert, but he’s far from the carry UoL will want to build around. The current meta won’t give Vizicsacsi a springboard as a main threat, and their other options don’t leave me with a lot of confidence that UoL will be able to rebuild their identity.
Aside from bottom three and top five, I feel confident two teams will duke it out between seventh place and the final spot in the 2016 LCS Summer playoffs. Both teams sat in bottom four in 2016 LCS Spring, but have made conservative enough roster upgrades for fate to smile upon them, and reward one of them with the coveted sixth-place spot.
If ROCCAT had two players they definitely wanted to retain on their roster, they were in jungle and mid lane. Karim “Airwaks” Benghalia’s never-quite-spectacular, never-quite-atrocious reliability usually bolstered ROCCAT’s early game, and Felix “Betsy” Edling gave ROCCAT a platform on which they could amass leads, with remarkable improvements in consistency through the season. ROCCAT managed to hold on to both and looked for options in other positions.
Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi had his breakout split this spring for Unicorns of Love, though it didn't quite put him in the running for best AD carries in the EU LCS. If he can put forward the same dedication again, ROCCAT could sit at about where UoL did at the end of last split. This is far from ideal, and Steeelback’s motivation could take a hit.
From Korean Challenger, Lee “Parang” Sangwon and Oh “Raise” Jihwan have joined ROCCAT after losing to Ever8 Winners in the first round of Korean Challenger playoffs. Despite occasional standout performances, these two players are definite gambles. Parang and Raise could easily make or break ROCCAT, depending on how well they fit into the environment and how well they supplement ROCCAT’s existing carries Steeelback and Betsy.
FC Schalke 04 Esports
Don’t beat around the bush — Schalke are Elements with a new mid laner and (allegedly) more money to back them. The German sports club has impressed the EU LCS scene from a public relations standpoint, and they've created a great deal of excitement for the league’s expansion, but that doesn’t change the lineup they’re fielding.
Though I’ve been critical of Jérémy “Eika” Valdenaire in the past, Elements’ greatest flaw was their inability to execute a clear plan. The team would often meander around the early game, lose out in lanes, and try to recoup losses by grouping earlier than other teams, brute-forcing a numbers advantage, and accruing a handful of wins.
Not everything about Schalke is bad news. Hampus “Fox” Myhre is not a star-quality upgrade, but he’s a mid laner that knows how to hold his own while Berk “Gilius” Demir seeks out other lanes to pressure. Gilius often looks for ganks top lane, and Etienne “Steve” Michels, memes aside, has developed well.
Hampus “sprattel” Abrahamsson still has a woefully limited pool of effective champions, but he’s had decent synergy with Rasmus “MrRalleZ” Skinneholm. Ex-Elements are far from Element Tier, but they aren’t shoe-ins for the playoffs either.
Vitality and Top 4 Purgatory
There’s a definite top four, and they’ve spent the offseason fighting over Europe's existing bottom lane talent. When securing Korean imports, Vitality trend more toward lower-ranked players to remain competitive at an efficient price. However, this split, instead of snagging players from the lower rungs of Champions Korea teams, Vitality have selected players from secondary leagues in other regions — and they feel like downgrades.
Though Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema had obvious problems with consistency, and Petter “Hjarnan” Freyschuss would never serve as a primary carry, Kim “Mightybear” Minsu had only conservative impact on Newbee Gaming in the League of Legends Secondary Pro League, and Park “Police” Hyeonggi was an afterthought in NA Challenger, Challengers Korea and the LSPL.
Koreans are often praised for their work ethic and the way they're able to rapidly identify and address flaws, but one of Vitality’s greatest strengths was teamwork. Vitality’s creative compositions and counter-strategy development will be hard to execute with new teammates and a new identity — especially between games in a new best-of-two format. Not to mention that when nearly every team is fielding Koreans, work ethic stops being an automatic advantage.
Although a well-prepared Vitality could have finished in top three of the EU LCS playoffs, this new Vitality feels decidedly mid-tier.
While Vitality serve as the way-station between the top and bottom of the LCS, the two teams in this tier could easily start at the bottom and climb to the top — perhaps even make a play for winning the split. Either through a history of starting the split with poor results or recently exposed flaws, neither of these teams are expected to shine immediately and may even open the split with a loss streak, but they’re likely to be top four material when playoffs roll around. A World Championship seed is a realistic ambition.
Origen haven't done a lot lately to inspire confidence. Paul “sOAZ” Boyer's insistence that Origen weren't any more likely to practice for the Mid-Season Invitational that G2 doesn't speak well of their work ethic, and the loss of Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez — the core around which Origen operated — means they'll need hard work to assemble a new strategy. Even more alarming is the addition of Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou to the starting lineup; his constant team jumps aren't exactly a promising sign that he'll integrate comfortably into his latest team.
Combining FORG1VEN’s reportedly obsessive attitude and sOAZ’s more laid-back approach may sound like a recipe for disaster, but I rate sOAZ’s intangibles highly. He's often willing to fill roles and facilitate conversation among teammates, a skill that could aid FORG1VEN if he’s ever going to make the jump from a bundle of pure talent to a team player.
That said, I’ve given FORG1VEN more than a few chances. Every time he's traded, I come up with a reason why it might just work. I’ve done my share of mental gymnastics to find a way a FORG1VEN team could win the EU LCS, and it has yet to actually happen.
I don’t think Origen will win the EU LCS, but this roster looks like at least top four. It could all come crashing down, or the last-minute improvements to mid lane with Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage could finally come to fruition and give Origen another LCS finals berth.
As with FORG1VEN, it's finally struck home that something is keeping H2K from reaching their full potential. This team frequently sprints over the starting line, only to slow down near the end of the split, failing to make the EU LCS final.
In the past, H2K have tunneled on lane control, sometimes at the expense of the jungle, opening opportunities for collapses from the enemy team. They value turrets and turret trades at the expense of teamfighting and neutral objectives. Players like Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu should have great teamfighting presence, but some disconnect keeps H2K from becoming fully multi-dimensional.
This could easily happen again — but the addition of Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek is a last attempt to add flexibility. FORG1VEN’s natural playstyle was often laning-phase-focused, but Freeze has found himself playing from behind in messy fights on a lot of different teams, which could be the extra dimension H2K need. At the moment, I favor H2K over Origen to make top three, but they’ll have to demonstrate an ability to grow this split — something Origen, so far, haven’t had a problem with.
And the winner is…
If a mystery investor gave me an unlimited bankroll and told me to go wild building an EU LCS team, I would first tell him to be more careful with his money, and then I'd build a roster nearly identical to G2 Esports’. Still, they don’t sit alone at the top — there are caveats, and one of them always seems to be named Fnatic.
The return of Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim comes with reservations. YellOwStaR didn’t have the impact he was expected to on Team SoloMid, often fumbling engages and appearing out-of-sorts. For the entire split Fnatic has played without him, they've looked disorganized and confused, but this isn’t something they can correct just by bringing in an old leader and hoping everything goes back to the way it was.
For YellOwStaR, playing for Fnatic could feel like riding a bike, but Noh “Gamsu” Yeongjin and Lee “Spirit” Dayoon complicate matters. Integrating Fnatic’s new top laner and jungler took the better part of the split, and the team still had holes in their communication and engagements, plus they tended to fixate on certain strategies. YellOwStaR may be the magical fix the team needs — or he could make it worse.
Still, Fnatic with YellOwStaR feels better, and as the support meta becomes more varied, less Alistar fat-fingers are to be expected. Fnatic are ready to return to top-two status in Europe, and only one opponent stands in their way.
The best mid and jungle duo meets the best bottom lane in Europe. This could either be the beginning of one of the best European teams of all-time, or a terrible failure of misallocated resources and confused synergy — or something somewhere in between.
The last option is always the most likely. Luka "PerkZ" Perković and Kang-yoon "Trick" Kim are used to an afterthought ADC and a support that plays with and around them, so they might have difficulty discovering how they fit together with Zven and mithy. But if it works, this will be a truly spectacular union of the best pieces of the EU LCS.
Where this team could unravel is communication. G2 had specific roles in comms for each player, and mithy relied on a give-and-take with Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider and support from other teammates when things got dire and communication shut down. By all accounts, G2 are a team that have always just clicked in the LCS. Zven and mithy are a new element, and if they don’t integrate seamlessly, G2 may find themselves in an unfamiliar situation with odd angles and disconnects.
A lot of the responsibility could fall to top laner Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek. Already accustomed to low-resource play, he may have to become one of the lowest economy top laners in LoL history with the new roster. Kikis' Teleports will need to fill in any gaps. There are only two other top laners in EU who could take over this role, but Kikis already fits well with PerkZ and Trick.
So far, G2’s narrative has been overshadowed by the social media disco that resulted from Origen losing their bottom lane. But this could well be the start of an exciting story for G2, from humiliation in Shanghai to another shot at the World Championship.
Let’s hope they’ve got it in them.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports and avid lover of Element Tier teams. You can follow her on Twitter.