November 20, 2017 marks the start of the free agency period for the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split, and it is soon approaching. Organizations will begin signing, trading and letting go of various players with hopes of putting together a competitive roster. They will cite all kinds of reasons for making their decisions, but, at the end of the day, they all go into the off-season with one goal in mind: winning.
Various different team-building strategies have been successful in past years. The 2017 World Championship qualifiers from Europe showcased three totally different strategies, which ultimately got them to the top of the standings. G2 kept their entire roster from 2016, which allowed them to continue building synergy while bringing on Weldon Green as an assistant coach. Fnatic completely rebuilt their roster around their star AD carry, Rekkles. The endemic organization brought on a mix of veterans and rookies, which allowed them to shape their playstyle over the course of the year. Misfits came into the league from the Challenger Series, and only replaced their jungler and mid laner. Their focus on combining younger Europeans with talented Korean imports provided fertile ground for experimentation.
Between the reported changes for the EU LCS in 2019, and the expectations surrounding North America’s franchised league starting next year, it feels like there is a lot of pressure on European organizations in 2018. The group system, best-of-three series, mid-season relegations, none of these will be suitable excuses next year. The World Championship is one year away. The path to get there begins in a few days, and decisions made in the off-season will ripple from now until then. Each organization should have had ample time to reflect on 2017 and develop strategies that will get them ahead of their competitors.
Giants enter the 2018 Spring Split after taking down Ninjas in Pyjamas and Schalke 04 in the 2018 Spring Promotion tournament. Gilius should be a familiar personality to welcome back into the LCS, but everyone else is new. Giants enjoyed a relatively strong run through the Challenger Series, but they would benefit from some upgrades. If a veteran support like Kasing signed on, it would bring more stability on and off the Rift to prop up the rookie carries.
This strategy would mirror Misfits’ updates when they entered the LCS. By bringing in another teammate with multiple splits of LCS experience, Giants could gain leadership and maturity with just a small investment. It would give the new guys an opportunity to prove themselves against other teams without feeling like they are being thrown to the wolves. Spring Split is slightly less important in the grand scheme of the year, so experimentation is a smaller risk. If the team is still not competitive after that change, then mid-season would be the time to shake it up a bit more.
Schalke 04 is the other team promoted from last year’s Challenger scene. SmittyJ is their most veteran player, with several splits of LCS experience under his belt. Memento has been in and out of the LCS for a couple of years now, but the rest of the team is relatively new. Upset is a lauded up-and-coming AD carry, which should be Schalke’s strongest weapon.
It would not be surprising if Schalke took the 2016 Splyce approach to entering the LCS: keeping the entire roster. Each of these players actually produced carry performances last year. With the announcement that Krepo will be head coach this spring, Schalke may decide to invest in infrastructure, rather than talent. They may also be turned off to veteran talents due to last time they entered the LCS with Steve, Gilius, Fox, MrRallez and Sprattel. Just like Giants, Spring Split should act as the testing ground for these new players.
Despite optimism towards Vitality’s acquisition of VandeR in the mid-season, the team still had a lackluster Summer Split performance. It turned out that Vitality’s issues ran much deeper than Hachani’s death share. The jungle position turned out to be much leakier than previously understood, and since the role was essential to team-wide success. This position should be Vitality’s primary focus in the off-season. Cabochard and Nukeduck were consistently strong in the laning phase, but could not get much going in the mid-game.
Shook and Amazing are veteran options that will become available since Mysterious Monkeys and NiP were relegated. Kirei, Loulex or even Santorin will be available from other Challenger teams. It may not be the best time for Team Vitality to pick up someone without experience, because they placed highest when they had a complete veteran squad in Spring 2016. AD carry is the only position possibly worth filling with a younger player, kind of like North America’s Immortals this summer. HeaQ is the best recommendation.
The other fourth place team, Roccat’s problems were inverted from Vitality’s. They almost always won games late with scaling compositions and smart play around objectives. Roccat’s solo laners, Betsy and Phaxi, were two of the weakest early game players in their respective positions. Meanwhile, Pridestalker showcased several statement performances, and Roccat’s bottom lane was in the top half of the league during Summer Split.
It is time for Roccat to let Betsy go. They have cemented him in the mid lane for two straight years, and it has not really panned out, especially when compared to Perkz with G2 or Bjergsen with TSM. Roccat could take a Misfits approach to this off-season, importing for one role and filling the second with a sophomore talent. Top lane seems like the role with the best chance for a successful import. Mid lane imports have almost never worked in Europe, which means someone like Selfie could fit into this roster well.
Arguably, the Snakes have the most difficult off-season of any team. Splyce’s role in the EU LCS is reminiscent of CLG in North America, because this team seems to be stronger than the sum of its parts when it clicks. They could not take more than one series from the top five teams in the league, but then they almost stole semifinals from G2 in the playoffs. Now they have a tough decision in front of them. Does Splyce change its roster and risk losing the synergy of friendship? Or do they stay together and give it another try?
Like CLG this past mid-season, the jungle position would be the most likely target. Trashy felt like the least consistent player on the team throughout the year. When he was on, Splyce was on. When he was off, Splyce was off. And, like Xmithie, he might even feel better switching to another team too. Maybe Splyce tries to nab a Korean aggressor from North America’s discarded teams, such as Chaser, LiRa or Shrimp. They could also try promoting their young substitute, Gripex, to the starting roster to see how it goes. Regardless, Splyce’s coaches and analysts will likely be the most important investments. The team looked best after head coach Gevous stepped down at the end of Summer Split.
Unicorns of Love
Barely missing Worlds for the third year in a row, Unicorns of Love have to make some changes for 2018. Exileh’s inconsistencies in the mid lane were obviously problematic. Hylissang played uncharacteristically reckless most of the year. Even Vizicsacsi did not look as polished as past splits. Interestingly enough, Xerxe and Samux, the rookies of 2017, felt like the consistent elements on the team.
This is also the first team on the list with a high probability of losing certain members to the hypothesized “EU-xodus,” due to a franchised NA LCS. Hylissang is reportedly signing with Fnatic, and there were rumors of Vizicsacsi moving to North America. If these veterans skip UOL for new opportunities, they may look to VandeR, Kasing or Kikis as replacements. They could also potentially experiment with rookie or imported top laners, such as WhiteKnight or Profit. If the Unicorns are able to keep all of their members, then it would be smart to bring on a substitute mid laner, like Blanc or CozQ, to have back-up for Exileh.
H2K is in the same boat as Unicorns of Love. They barely missed Worlds after a rocky year, with high peaks during the regular season and low valleys during playoffs. Jankos, Odoamne and Febiven are star players with targets on their talent for new North American organizations. The off-season presents an opportunity for H2K to bring in a new player or two, but also potential for keystone players to leave.
Hypothetically, if H2K can only retain one of their three European starters, then Febiven is probably the best bet. He is a relative newcomer to H2K, while already feeling like someone worth rebuilding around. H2K would most likely release the imported bottom lane duo so they could look towards top and jungle imports. Young AD carries and supports would be easy for a team like H2K to bring on. Noxiak, AoD, HeaQ and Minitroupax are a few players worth considering, especially if they are able to acquire experienced players for the top side of the map. The best case scenario is for H2K to keep top, jungle and mid, while signing a new bottom lane.
While Fnatic did not have a spotless performance in 2017, they certainly grew as the year went on. Broxah and Caps proved to be worthy investments as rookie players, and the veterans, sOAZ, Rekkles and Jesiz pulled their weight. It would be surprising to see this roster change too much in the off-season, considering this year was much better than 2016 for every single player. It seems mutually beneficial for the organization and players to stay together and build off of their accomplishments this year.
However, ESPN esports already reported that Hylissang will sign on as support, replacing Jesiz. This position seemed most likely to change, because Jesiz’s contributions to the team went unnoticed most of the time. With his assistant coaching experience, his value on and off the Rift was most likely more as a leader than an individual talent. Someone like Hylissang would seem to bring just as much veteran experience and flexibility to hopefully elevate Fnatic even higher. Top lane would be the next spot to consider changing, as sOAZ did express issues with his teammates throughout the year via social media. If he can get that part of his personality under control, then he is definitely worth holding.
What a whirlwind year for this team. Misfits continued Europe’s trend of sending a team to Worlds from the Challenger Series within the same year, like Splyce and Origen in 2016 and 2015. Replacing KaKAO with Maxlore panned out well, and it is difficult to think of what the organization might want to change roster-wise. This team probably has the greatest risk of falling apart due to the players changing teams.
Maxlore and PowerOfEvil jump out as prime candidates for swapping teams. Talented European junglers are a hot commodity, and sophomore star talent could go to another EU or NA LCS squad. PowerOfEvil has switched teams every year since entering the LCS, so another jump would not be a surprise. With IgNar hinting at leaving Europe, Misfits would be left with Alphari and Hans sama. They should definitely fill the mid lane with their strongest possible candidate, such as re-signing Selfie, or trying to score Nukeduck. Pulling Trashy or Jankos would be an excellent fit, and maybe Misfits could be Jesiz’s new home. If this organization continues to prioritize communication, then they will be prone to prioritizing new talent over imports.
The reigning kings of Europe enter the off-season after suffering another bitter knockout in the group stage of Worlds. Like Splyce, it seems as though the experiment of maintaining the same roster from last year did not pay high enough dividends. International performance was G2’s ultimate focus this year, which showed at Mid-season Invitational, but not at the World Championship. To be fair, they had a difficult group, but the players and staff must still be disappointed.
Trick felt lackluster this year. His farming control style did not punish opponents the same way this year as in the past, and it seemed to hurt G2. It would not be surprising to see him replaced just to freshen up the jungler role, because every other member had relatively consistent performances and carried at times. Expect is the secondary weak point, but even he fulfilled his roles in the tank and split-push metas. Perkz seems highly unlikely to leave, while G2 offered their bottom lane duo to field offers elsewhere. Zven and Mithy have a lot of star power and success under their belts, which makes them an attractive acquisition. It is just hard to imagine them on a different team. It may be worthwhile for Zven and Mithy to stick with G2 another year to try playing with new top-side players, such as Maxlore or Odoamne.
2018 feels like the year when the EU LCS organizations change their identities. Unicorns without Vizicsacsi, H2K without Jankos, Splyce without Trashy, Roccat without Betsy–these organizations could have new faces next year. It will be exciting to watch veterans try to find the best teams for achieving greatness, while young players try to raise their stocks. Recognized imported players may decide to return home, while newcomers arrive to Europe. And there is a decent chance that keystone European players export to North America’s possible greener pastures. Regardless, this off-season will be another whirlwind of trades, acquisitions and “parting ways,” and EU LCS fans should be excited for change.
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