The short break between Spring and Summer has never proven fruitful for teams willing to undergo major League of Legends roster overhauls. Researching prospects and looking for contract gaps strains the month-long window of travel, rest, and breath-catching as teams brace themselves to start it all again.
After a disappointingly predictable season, exempting the final heroic efforts from Team ROCCAT and Fnatic, one might look to Europe to break that trend. But the new teams entering the LCS, plagued in part by controversy, might give us more stand-ins for bottom-feeding Origen and Giants.
Nothing ever ends that cleanly, though. I predict a few surges brought on by coaching staff changes, and a spike in competition for teams just below G2 Esports. Power rankings start the conversation. I’ve arranged mine into six tiers for close competition, but also ranked teams within each tier to take a firmer stance on the shakeout.
AKA The return of the Elements Tier
10. Ninja in Pyjamas
Last split, I foolishly retired the “Elements Tier,” the spot reserved for the worst team in the league, thrown together with minimal hope of coming up for air. But then, Origen had the worst split in EU LCS history without winning a single best of three.
Ninjas in Pyjamas may promise to repeat the performance with a new purvey of questionable characters.
Martin “HeaQ” Kordmaa’s LCS debut as Giants’ AD carry ended in disaster, with the team incapable of securing consistent pressure in any of their lanes. Despite his trials on Giants, he might be the most promising player on NiP’s roster, given his personal gains throughout the split in positioning and lane control.
Even so, with the added importance of jungle and mid since the introduction of standard lanes, questions arise around the signing of mid laner Kim “Nagne” Sangmoon.
Nagne has always favored melee champions, and both his work ethic and champion pool fell under fire on KT Bullets in 2014. After his fall from grace, he spent an uninspiring 2016 on bottom-tier LSPL team, WanYoo. After initially getting relegated, WanYoo bought a fourth place team to get back into the LPL. With only two roster changes between 2016 Spring for him and Lee “KaKAO” Byungkwon, the new WanYoo fell down to relegation level again in a 14-team league.
Top laner Kim “Profit” Junhyung shares being relegated from LSPL in common with Nagne. He joined SK Telecom T1 after playing a tank role on Young Glory. He played passably well for SKT, but exhibited no characteristics that suggested he could carry the roster — something his team may be relying on him to do, given the other members on the squad.
NiP will likely look to jungler Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema’s guidance for an unexpected rise. But Shook often seemed reliant on extra vision from his support to avoid coin-flip invades. Leadership may not come easily.
I’s unclear if any of these players will find the ability to pull NiP up from the base of their laughably steep abyss.
9. Mysterious Monkeys
Not quite on the verge of repeating Origen’s run, Mysterious Monkeys have kept much of the same Misfits Academy roster that qualified for the EU LCS during Promotion. MFA’s upset over FC Schalke 04 came largely on the backs of their mid and jungle duo, Sofyan “CozQ” Rechchad and Milo “Pridestalker” Wehnes. The latter has moved on to ROCCAT, leaving the Monkeys feeling a little low on potassium.
MFA really centralized around Pridestalker in their impressive run to qualify. Without him, MFA will struggle. The promotion of Leon “Lamabear” Krüger from the bench is disappointing, but not a deplorable option. Monkeys as an organization, for their part, have had consistently high placement in the German Meisterschaft tournament, but it’s hard to predict that staff experience will transfer to the big stage.
Life with a slightly less over-tuned Blade of the Ruined King Tier
8. Team ROCCAT
Ah yes, we’re here again. Though ROCCAT’s miracle run through the 2017 Spring Split garnered them high praise, they lost a key jungler in Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian during the offseason. Maxlore’s buff play and known impact on the comms on his teams proved instrumental to Giants Gaming when they had their own success in 2016 Summer – something made all the more obvious during Giants’ 2017 Spring Split without him. His disappearance from ROCCAT may have the same results as it did for the Spanish squad.
During Spring, Team ROCCAT had also pulled together players in a specific meta. The Blade of the Ruined King meta gave breakout rookie top laner Ambrož “Phaxi” Hren a powerful building block with his impressive Fizz outplays. Since Patch 7.9 and 7.10, the meta has tipped into yet a new frontier, focused on using top priority to roam mid that might prove difficult for not just Phaxi, but the less-than-reliable mid laner Felix “Betsy” Edling.
They have certainly fallen hard. Toward the end of the Spring Split, bottom lane couldn’t pull consistent leads. Chres “Sencux” Laursen had some of the worst laning performances in the league. Martin “Wunder” Hansen, like Phaxi, found the reserve to carry his team in key games with Fizz and Kennen. While those champions still see play in this meta, soft sustain items like Doran’s Shield may make it harder to force definitive leads through top.
Even without these problems, Splyce will still flounder. Unless new Head Coach Fayan “Gevous” Pertijs can suddenly teach his charges how to lane in addition to responding to cross-map pressure, Splyce may fall yet further down.
VandeR’s revenge Tier
Probably the most difficult ranking call came between the new Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan Team Vitality roster and his team from 2016, H2K-Gaming. Even last split, when Vitality had a worse roster with disconnected drafting, games between the two were surprisingly close. While I put H2K ahead, Team Vitality’s small upgrades could cause them to pull ahead.
6. Team Vitality
Unfortunately for Vitality, it’s just difficult to predict that they will. What could give Vitality an edge is that their new bottom lane duo should consistently win favorable lane matchups. VandeR’s return to LCS alongside Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi levels up EU bottom lanes. It was hard to crown Europe’s support king last split, which could leave the throne for the taking.
The flipside is the top of Vitality’s map. Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet may be a loose cannon, but his biggest problem has been his failure to improve as a player over the years. While he started out as a top lane terror, he hasn’t become as multidimensional as a team with one of the strongest bottom lanes in Europe will require. Charly “Djoko” Guillard, still green, lacks the finesse to balance the map on both sides. If Cabochard can maintain high lane pressure and gain a sense for what to do with it without over-extending, Vitality has a Worlds birth in their sights. If not, they drop to where I’ve set them.
If I made this list tomorrow, I might put H2K at sixth. That may shock fans of 2016 World Championship semifinalists, but H2K have seemingly cast their identity adrift in the past six months. Rather than juggle pressure across multiple lanes in 1-3-1 symmetry, H2K have been muddling their lane assignments and failing to fix teamfight flanking problems that ailed them.
Some may say this ranking is an over-reaction to H2K’s Spring Split Playoffs performance, but the team has been flagging for much of the last split. Other top six teams have made smart roster swaps and improved enough to put them down, leaving H2K as if they’re standing still. They’ll most likely be duking it out with Vitality for second in their group, but they’ll struggle against Group A.
Warring for next in line Tier
Like the rest of the world’s teams in the shadow of SK Telecom T1, Europe struggles to produce a team that can contest G2 Esports. Fnatic and Unicorns of Love have stuck with the same lineup, but Misfits’ roster improvements have left me much more optimistic about their rise. If EU wants to do well internationally, it may be beneficial to increase competition at the top level to challenge G2 domestically. These squads have the best chance.
With Fnatic’s impressive run in the Spring Split Playoffs, one may double-take at seeing them in fourth instead of third. The final verdict will come down to Martin “Rekkles” Larsson’s ability to keep up the aggressive form he exhibited in the last split. At the close of Fnatic’s series against G2, he seemed to falter most.
Beyond Rekkles as an individual, Fnatic have repeatedly fallen for the same traps. They would give up Baron control to collapse on a side lane. This flaw was only punished by top 1-3-1 teams, but it will keep them from reaching the upper eschelon of the standings.
My placement of Misfits requires some explanation. After retaining most of their roster, Misfits swapped in jungler Maxlore. Maxlore has been on two teams in a row that have bolted to the top unexpectedly, and his effect on communication has been well lauded. Though some of his jungle pathing seems predictable, it can give listless teams much needed direction.
If Misfits organize a strategy more around jungle pressure and extending vision line before Baron spawns, it may give them a better midgame pivot point than grouping for turrets. Maxlore seems like a nice fit to elevate the team, especially considering his previous history with Barney “Alphari” Morris. Alphari’s hit-or-miss Spring Split (especially on the likes of Rumble) demonstrated that the top side of the map could use a more stable jungle presence.
2. Unicorns of Love
From here on out, things get predictable. Unicorns of Love have finally retained a roster between splits for the first time since 2015. Sloppy macro game has plagued the team in previous splits, but with a more mature presence from Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás and Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov, UoL may finally have a chance to iron out kinks and grow new dimensions.
Perhaps the endless stream of rookies has made the Unicorns fall back on familiarity. Rather than play out harder-to-execute compositions correctly, they’ve grouped and baited Baron — even without teamfight compositions. Elevating an overall sense of compositional awareness in a team that already excels in communicating across the map stands between challenging G2 and Misfits and Fnatic nipping at their heels.
Kings of Europe
1. G2 Esports
Without giving us a beat to catch our breaths, the European monarchy shifted. Fnatic’s reign over the EU LCS concluded just in time for G2 to take the throne.
Now, G2 have won three EU LCS splits in a row, matching Fnatic’s own streak from 2013 Spring to 2014 Spring. They need only win this split to create the longest streak of EU LCS championship wins in history, and one more after that to match Fnatic’s record for five total LCS wins.
After their jungle and mid coordination fell into line and Luka “PerkZ” Perković flourished at the Mid-Season Invitational, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking them down. But G2 can’t rest. They may have gone from villains to heroes after their impressive MSI, but a too-comfortable position in the arms of public opinion could be an enemy for a squad yearning for more. The kings will remain hungry.
You can follow Kelsey Moser on Twitter @karonmoser.