While many of Thursday’s games were interesting, I'll go over the best in a more thorough roundup tomorrow. Thursday’s game signaled the end of Round 1 of the European League of Legends Championship Series. At this point, everyone has played everyone else once, which gives us perfect timing for a Midseason Review.
Last summer’s attempt was met by incredulity, but I’m back again. It’s hard to get rid of me.
The top story: Talent consolidation experiments
2016 began with several organizations making grabs for super teams. Team Vitality and H2K Gaming seemingly cashed in with star-studded rosters and have made top five of the standings as a result. The EU LCS looks more top heavy this year than it was last year, which makes the games more competitive and exciting when the best teams meet, but more dissatisfying at the bottom.
Teams with the best talent consolidation at the start of the split were perceived to be Origen, Fnatic, Vitality and H2K Gaming, but neither Origen nor Fnatic have yet appeared to deliver on expectations. With more discounted players, G2 and Unicorns have made surprising waves in Top 3 bids. They’ve both developed more dependable systems around central figures.
Fnatic seem to lack direction in their games. Lee “Spirit” Dayoon, talented as he may be, has what appears to be a vestigial lack of trust in his teammates. His synergy with the current Fnatic team may be slowly improving, but falling back to ridiculous carry picks like Quinn reminds me a lot of his time spamming Fizz jungle last summer. Fabien “Febiven” Diepstraten seems to have become more indecisive without proper map control around him. Martin “Rekkles” Larsson has hardly been the one to carry in absence of other carries. I worry for Noh "Gamsu" Yeongjin’s stability without jungle pressure. These compounded issues have resulted in Fnatic having close games against unlikely opponents, and they may not finish in the top two for the first time in EU LCS history.
Origen make early misplays the same way they used to last summer, but their ability to regroup has lacked. When Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider gets caught, Origen buckles even more. With other teams around them focused on strategic development rather than the stagnation of last year, Origen have to do more than make up for their mistakes. The same miscommunication from their over-commitments last summer appears to have returned when they split themselves around Baron fights. Origen haven’t re-stabilized, and something tells me it isn’t due to the mid lane trade, but the meta and the increased level of hunger in the EU LCS.
Are Vitality a “super team”? There’s a reason I avoid the phrase and prefer “talent consolidation experiment,” as “super teams” have mostly failed to approach the “super” designation. Vitality are caught in an identity crisis between playing a more skirmish-based style like G2 and a more controlled, fight-avoidance style like H2K. I feel as if their dynamic is more suited to the former, especially if Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet continues to insist upon playing early game carries rather than the high scaling tank picks populating the meta game. Vitality’s key to success may be in perfecting a lane swap technique to free up Raymond “kaSing” Tsang to roam more often and set up proper vision for Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema, who has a tendency of getting himself into trouble without lit pathways to guide him.
H2K have had a setback in losing Yoo “Ryu” Sangook, and Friday against G2 spectators will have a chance to see just how much it cost them. Without Ryu, the team loses a self-sufficient mechanism for gaining access to free objectives. Marcin “SELFIE” Wolski and Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski need to focus on finding a page to be on. For now, H2K’s style of avoiding confrontation has minimized the problem, but when teams like G2 understand how to force things, it could all come undone.
Main rivalry: G2 Esports and H2K Gaming
G2 have burst onto the scene with a superior understanding of how to maintain mid game momentum. H2K have championed the rotation-based approach.
The two teams’ first encounter was mired in G2’s questionable draft. Their high farming Udyr reduced the impact of jungler Kim “Trick” Gangyun, and Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek botched his Lulu play. G2 may have looked for a team that could come together in mid game, but conflicting power spikes gave H2K an opening.
I’ve discussed this one at deeper length in a feature this week, and despite G2’s loss to Vitality Thursday, I look forward to the rematch between G2 and H2K Friday.
Biggest disappointment: Origen
It’s almost too disappointing to even put the name of Europe's favorites to lead the split early on up in this category, as most of us still hold onto the prospect of Origen making a resurgence in Round 2. Origen have toppled lower tier opponents convincingly, but struggle against the Top 4.
Paul “sOAZ” Boyer in particular has a history of understanding how to manage his time and save his focus for important parts of the split. Origen ramped up around Playoffs last year. Fnatic have placed lower than first in several regular splits where sOAZ played for the team, but they managed to win in most cases.
Their drafting since the start of the split has been scattered. It’s hard to say how much staff changes have influenced the opening phase, and how much the team is just not getting into their groove in current patches, but so far Origen’s drafting hasn’t shown cohesive spark. Perhaps the introduction of Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez into the coaching role can open up their champion select.
It’s also worth noting that, if teams are simply punishing Origen’s same old mistakes more harshly, there’s no precedent for them repairing them. I’ve become disappointed by Origen’s performances and hope to see them return to form, but for now have resolved to count them out.
Best surprise: G2 Esports
It goes without saying that both G2 and Unicorns of Love were projected as mid-tier and have surpassed expectations. With only two losses so far, G2 have continued to impress and prove they’re strong contenders for the win this split.
G2 aren’t perfect. They still need to better anticipate Teleports, and they were slow to adapt to the lane swap meta. Verdict is still out on whether they will commit more inexcusable drafting blunders like Thursday’s surrender of Gangplank to Vitality or the travesty they committed against H2K. Yet they're still a rejuvenating splash in EU this spring.
Game of Round 1: Fnatic vs H2K Gaming
There isn’t a game that immediately comes to mind when I think definitively of the best game played so far this spring, but this may be the most interesting watch. H2K demonstrated their intelligent, slow-paced strategy, but also exposed weaknesses in late-game team fighting and use of poke compositions.
Fnatic demonstrated points where H2K are fallible. Their lane assignments weren’t as perfect here as they could have been, and a lack of flanking wards allowed Fnatic to engage on their poke composition. Two quick fights, one of which H2K engaged when they could have opted out, and the game ended in a Fnatic victory.
Moment of Round 1: PerkZ’s LCS debut
Six unique champion picks in nine EU LCS games played, and Luka "PerkZ" Perković hasn’t slowed down. His first 5/1/6 Ahri game against Elements demonstrated that PerkZ has no stage fright as he boldly pressured his lead in lane as we rarely see players do. G2 demonstrated their ability to play around him, and PerkZ immediately charmed the hearts of the crowd.
Impact players of Round 1
It's hard to isolate a player's individual performance from his team this year, especially with teamwork prioritized so highly. A credit to a player in this section is also a credit to his team in understanding where his strengths and weaknesses lie.
For this exercise, I've tried to look at the players that have the largest impacts on their teams, the most flexibility — the players who might not carry, but have the best cross-section of power performances and results. When their team wins, you can tell they're a major reason why.
Top lane: H2K’s Odoamne
Yes, I still believe Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu is the best top laner in the EU LCS, but this time around I have a feeling I’ll have fewer dissenters. In a meta where carry players, bruiser players, and tank players are all valued, Odoamne has shown his strength in versatility.
He still navigates a team fight the best, and his Poppy performances have propped him up on the radar with excellent engages. Odoamne seems to have a better grasp of Teleport than most top laners in the league, and his sense for re-engage in extended fights has always impressed me, his strange dive on Fiora today notwithstanding.
Odoamne’s impressive top ten ranking in kill participation for a top laner demonstrates that he handles a lot of the map pressure for his team while Jankos busies himself with sweeping the jungle. If H2K defeat G2 tomorrow, it will be through Odoamne’s Teleports and ability to take advantage of Kikis.
Jungle: G2’s Trick
This may be my most controversial pick this split. In this week’s article, I outlined Trick’s strengths in relation to Jankos, and I found him incredibly impressive in almost every facet.
Even in games where G2 have fallen behind early, as with their game against Team ROCCAT, Trick was able to identify the right lane to focus (which isn’t always mid) and keep the team in the game. He responds to pressure on one side of the map with action on the other, and I have a stated bias for impressive counter-junglers.
Trick’s vision placement has also likely made up for possible communication problems with G2. Trick diligently places more wards than any jungler in the league and more than most of the support players. The high CS leads he gains and his impact in lanes is something he translates into vision control for the whole team, while still keeping himself relevant in skirmishes.
I’m not sure how Trick does literally everything a jungler is supposed to do in the limited time available to him. He hasn’t even played Ekko. Even with PerkZ’s contribution in opening up the map for G2 and making Trick’s transitions easier, it’s hard for me to give this to any other jungler at the moment.
Mid lane: G2’s PerkZ
With six unique champions played and 31.2 percent of team damage dealt, PerkZ has delivered on expectations and more. He brought Corki mid to the table for the European LCS in astounding fashion and has excelled on mages like Viktor as well as assassins like Ahri.
The lone performance I haven’t been convinced by is Lulu, but even then he demonstrated serviceable impact. It just seems G2 may lack a standout Lulu player, but there are worst crimes they could commit.
It’s rare that the best jungle-mid duo in a league speaks two different languages, but I believe this is the case for G2. PerkZ and Trick have established a system that enables both of their strengths. PerkZ keeps the mid lane pushed out well, giving Trick the opportunity to counterjungle, invade, and ward — which in turn makes PerkZ’s task even easier. It’s a chicken-or-egg scenario.
In team fights, PerkZ understands his own boundaries. He doesn’t have a set health threshold at which he backs. PerkZ finds a positional threat advantage and deals damage from an exact range, which is usually a quality valued by AD carries — luckily, it's the right meta for that.
AD carry: Zven
This is where it gets harder. The debate between Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou could spawn its own article — and probably will in the coming weeks. Both sit in the top thee for percentage of their team’s damage with 35.9 percent and 33.2 percent respectively, achieving the minimum requirement of a great AD carry, which is to actually attack things.
Both players also have other strong players surrounding them, though H2K have obviously been performing better as a unit than Origen. It’s weird to think, given how much damage to enemy champions FORG1VEN does do, that the thing that keeps him from leading this category is that H2K’s style doesn’t seem to properly unlock him while Origen’s scattered play unlocks Zven.
FORG1VEN’s primary function for H2K is chipping down turrets and finding the proper lane to farm. He’s just behind Cabochard in CS@10 rankings at 16 CS over his opponent at ten minutes. He wins laning phase or lane swapping phase as the case may be, quite handily, and that’s always been FORG1VEN’s primary objective.
Zven is much more a team-focused AD carry, but hasn’t performed poorly in laning phase either. Origen have lane swapped less, and Zven’s and Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez’s prowess have garnered Zven an average of an 9 CS lead at 10 minutes. Not as high, but it shows that Zven can’t be shut down too hard in the early game.
Then Zven handles team fights exceptionally, relying on self-sufficient positioning to navigate targets. Origen understand that their main carry force at the moment is Zven and have funneled resources and attention in his direction. He’s been gifted carry and better scaling champions whenever possible and has given Origen their best openings in full vision 5v5s. Zven has also stood out the most in losses.
FORG1VEN looks a bit lost in poke compositions. The team either doesn’t know how to peel for him, or his positioning has been off. It’s more the former, but the reality is that FORG1VEN just feels underutilized, and his percentage of team damage dealt has declined over time. I almost called him the best AD carry in the league because an underutilized FORG1VEN still manages to deal 33.2 percent of his team’s damage. When H2K develop more dimensions and can use a skirmishing style better, we’ll see more sides to FORG1VEN again. This debate will either become more interesting or be entirely one-sided in the opposite direction.
Support: Unicorns’ Hylissang
This was the hardest decision of the five. The departure of Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim to North America’s Team SoloMid has left a void where the EU LCS’ best supports vie eagerly for contention. There are a lot of them, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses.
My top four EU LCS supports, in no particular order, are mithy, Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov, kaSing and Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan. Despite being impressed by Glenn "Hybrid" Doornenbal, he sits outside my top four for an obvious lack of synergy with his AD carry. His engages will sometimes be met with Kim "Emperor" Jinhyun dazed commitment to farming, and their lack of synergy has lost them lanes on occasion. Hybrid still sets up plays well and will be a full force for contention over time.
As for kaSing, I think he suffers slightly from the problem I outlined for FORG1VEN. kaSing’s strengths this split have been in securing vision with high ward and pink ward placement. This has helped remedy some of Shook’s short-comings in decision-making, but Vitality’s deep-rooted desire for the 2v2 has kept him down when roaming plays and warding are the most impressive things about his play. He’s also had a few questionable engages this split that make him seem like less of a force.
VandeR falls into the same category as kaSing for high warding impact, but when Odoamne handles most of the play setups, and as VandeR hasn’t roamed as much to target areas as one would expect, he feels relatively low impact compared to the other Top 4. Still, he’s unlocked a lot of FORG1VEN’s power in the rare 2v2.
mithy, as always, has his highs and lows. He and Amazing have done less of their trademark “hold hands while warding through river” this split. This has made Origen look a lot more asleep. We know what a high performing mithy looks like, and he’s lately been getting by with the bare minimum. This is partly because he may acknowledge Zven is the team’s greatest strength right now, restricting his own play, but mithy is so much more than a support who rotates around his AD carry, as demonstrated by today’s counter-plays in team fights. We might see more of mithy soon.
That leaves Hylissang. When one asks “Why have Unicorns of Love looked so strong this split?” The overwhelming response seems to be “Hylissang.” Hylissang’s sense for when to create skirmishes and ability to facilitate the transition of any jungler into the fold props him up for the first half. During the spring playoffs last year, Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage wasn’t the target of multiple bans — Hylissang was. Allowing the Unicorns’ star support to grab an engage champion usually means someone will get caught out. This creates most of Unicorns’ transitions to objectives, and his partnering with both his multiple junglers and new AD carry Pierre "Steeelback” Medjaldi have been exceptional.
Hylissang lacks in the vision department, and that’s something that Unicorns could easily be punished for, but he ticks every other box. After a disappointing and demotivating summer, Hylissang is back, and he’s hovering near the EU support throne with obvious intent.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.