Recently, consistency in the European League of Legends Championship Series has seemed like a myth. Usually reliable teams like H2k-Gaming and Fnatic, and even league leaders G2 Esports, have continuously split or surprisingly lost series to teams that they overpower on paper. While the usual heroes have languished, the European faithful fervently believed in something that had yet to show itself — something that might not even exist this split.
This week, aside from G2 at the top of the table, three teams in particular proved that they have a modicum of consistency, building off of last week's slow rise. If consistency doesn’t exist, then it’s most likely to come from teams whose mascots don’t actually exist — do you believe in the Unicorns, the Giants, and Splyce’s Harry Potter-esque serpent?
Unicorns of Love: The wildcard's stability
Even calling Unicorns of Love stable now seems suspect, but since they’ve qualified for the EU LCS, they’ve found a middle of the pack rhythm. The Unicorns rode to inconsistent and mythical glory in the 2015 EU LCS Spring Split, dragging their playoff series to five games and often going even with their opponents over the course of the split. Had best-of-two series existed in the EU LCS last year, UoL may well have had the most ties.
This split, the Unicorns have only had four ties, placing them in the bottom three for tie series frequency, but more importantly, over the course of the 2015 Summer, 2016 Spring and 2016 Summer Splits, the pink ponies have become reliable. Expectation heading into the season were that they will place near the middle of the standings, and so far the horned beasts have delivered.
Last week, the Unicorns of Love tied with Splyce and FC Schalke 04 after defeating H2k-Gaming in Week 4, signalling that one should keep a close eye on them. This week, they finished with a 3-1 record against two more European favorites in Origen and Fnatic. If they aren’t improving, they’re at least maintaining pace.
What has given the Unicorns their sticking power? Top laner Tamas “Vizicsacsi” Kiss and Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov border the map. As the Unicorns have a revolving door at other positions, especially the jungle, Vizicsacsi and Hylissang have remained constant shepherds. They’ve developed into two of the most consistent players in the EU LCS, and as their temporary charges gain recognition and leave for other organizations, they remain stagnant.
This split, the Unicorns’ carries represent their weakest members, but as jungler Kang "Move" Minsu constantly prunes the vision line, they remain well-guarded. Highlighted for his vision control on Gravity in 2015, Move isn’t the most daring jungler, but I like to imagine he has a streak of the obsessive as he meticulously adjusts Unicorns’ ward placements. As the Unicorns gain ground, their wards always seem to move with them in the enemy jungle. This makes it incredibly easy for the Unicorns to find picks, as seen by their comeback against Fnatic when they constantly struck at Martin “Rekkles” Larsson.
With Vizicsacsi’s prowess, Unicorns can always have a global advantage in a Teleport play in mid or bottom, and Hylissang has gone so far as to literally tether Kim “Veritas” Kyoungmin to himself with Taric. Last split, Hylissang gained recognition from his peers for constantly training and guiding new junglers. One imagines he’s doing the same with AD carry Veritas, who appears to make steady improvements every week.
As a Viktor mainstay, Fabian "Exileh" Schubert holds on for dear life and frantically clears waves. This seems to be his best role on the team as Unicorns look for picks and push out Vizicsacsi’s lane. It’s not necessarily a split-winning formula, but it serves to highlight the reliability of the Unicorns with Vizicsacsi and Hylissang. As long as they remain, UoL will cling tenaciously to Top 6 in EU LCS.
Giants Gaming’s (k)NighT in shining armor
Last week highlighted Giants’ early game quadrant control formula, but no one quite knew if they could win games under alternative circumstances. With Jhin denied, Son “S0NSTAR” Seungik prioritized Sivir and Ezreal and was still able to kite competently.
Where the Unicorns just feel stable and seem to lack a playmaker, however, Giants this week relied upon Na “NighT” Gunwoo to help carry them. With a 24 total KDA and no deaths against H2K-Gaming, NighT’s fantastic Zilean plays gave Lennart "Smittyj" Warkus and Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian’s Olafs the power to crush through late games while also stacking bombs well to deal a devastating amount of damage.
Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski called out Giants’ inexperienced players, but even with only limited Korean Challenger Series experience, NighT has demonstrated resourcefulness. Last week, I asked to see more dimensions from Giants. This week, they towered above their competitors.
Splyce’s snakes in side lanes
Last spring Splyce, should have been good. With smart young prospects, Splyce could have easily made the playoffs, but they couldn’t find a formula they executed well. Martin “Wunder” Hansen got caught for over-extensions, and his high percentage of team gold felt like a mis-allocation of resources or confusion regarding which member of the team should push out lanes.
With only a change at support — G2 Esports’ Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez told the European analyst desk Mihael “Mikyx” Mehle could become the best support in Europe with a more sophisticated thought process — Splyce have managed a turn-around that slates them for Top 4. At the moment, they sit third in the EU LCS standings with a 4-0 week against ROCCAT and H2k-Gaming.
Unlike the other two mythical creatures, Splyce’s talent level feels much more well-rounded. Until this week, I had Chres “Sencux” Laursen and Wunder pegged as players who could let mental hang-ups get the best of them on the rift. Splyce had difficulty converting Sencux's skill into a carry performance last split, but it’s slowly becoming more reliable this split.
Part of this comes down to Splyce’s shirk of conventional teamfighting formulas. Their top lane Taliyah and mid lane Kassadin composition show off their ability to finally find what they’re good at.
Wunder has never been a tank player, but his willingness to pick up Maokai last split showed that he can grow. That doesn’t mean he has to stick with them though. Mages and carry picks will remain Wunder’s calling, and Splyce love their 1-3-1 rotation. They’re able to maintain control on the map by whittling down side lanes without exposing some of their team fighting weaknesses. Even when they do get into fights, Mikyx and Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup turn into unexpected cores of the team. Kobbe’s self-sufficient positioning has been a pleasant surprise after his too-far-forward blunders in the past.
I still feel like Splyce have moments where Sencux trips on his own feet or fails to make the obvious play when he could get away with it, but this Splyce finally has balanced the character they had in the Challenger Series with a sense of stability. Staying committed to a roster of skilled rookies has yielded Splyce a modicum of success. As Jonas "Trashy" Andersen’s decisions as a jungler become more resolute, they’ll fortify their weaknesses.
While the slow climb of Unicorns of Love and Giants Gaming still feels like a fairytale, perhaps Splyce are less the mythical serpent their logo invokes and more the snake you can believe in — looking to strike at your ankles in the side lanes.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.