Another year of professional League of Legends is upon us. It is time to reflect on Europe’s end of 2016, adjustments in the off-season, and discuss the possibilities for 2017. With the introduction of a two-group format and 10-ban system, it is difficult to predict how the Spring Split will go. Established organizations changed rosters, veterans retired, and an up-and-coming Challenger team joined the LCS.
Unsurprisingly, G2 and Splyce decided to retain their entire starting rosters. None of the other teams seem prepared to challenge these two for group dominance. Unless the new pick-ban phase exposes unforeseen weaknesses, we expect these two teams to stay at the top. Ideally, they have taken time to address flaws affecting their abilities to compete internationally since the World Championship.
On the other hand, Origen seems to be the only team that did not catch a break in the off-season. After a 9th place finish in the Summer Split last year, the entire squad dissipated. Origen’s pick-ups each appear to be a downgrade from their respective predecessors. Bringing on Erik “Tabzz” van Helvert as AD Carry is an improvement from Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez, but he is not playing at the level that Origen will need. Max “Satorius” Günther, Yoo “NaeHyun” Nae-hyun, and Aleksi “Hiiva” Kaikkonen will all be rookies from Challenger scenes. Kim “Wisdom” Tae-Wan has more professional experience, but not enough to carry this roster. The floor is low on this team, and we expect that they will round out the bottom of Group B.
All remaining teams have room to rise and fall in the ranks. Some storylines will be more exciting than others, but following this season should be interesting, to say the least. Based on 2016 results and pre-season decisions, there are four teams I will be watching closely. These are the teams I see having the greatest influence on shaping their group standings.
Can ROCCAT get higher than 9th place?
ROCCAT had a horrific 2016. After finishing 9th in the Spring Split playing in the Summer Promotion tournament, ROCCAT fell to 10th last Summer. They did maintain their slot in the LCS in the Spring Promotion tournament, as well. They replaced every member of the team in the off-season except mid laner, Felix “Betsy” Edling. Betsy actually saw decent performances last year, despite being on a bottom-tier roster. While many analysts are having conversations about top-level teams, ROCCAT has been able to fly under the radar this off-season.
ROCCAT have added Ambrož “Phaxi” Hren (Top), Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian (Jungle), Petter “Hjärnan” Freyschuss (ADC), and Kim “Wadid” Bae-in (Support). Phaxi and Wadid are relatively unknown entities. Phaxi was a substitute for Dark Passage in TCL, while Wadid was a substitute for SBENU Korea in LCK. We can only speculate at this point what they will be able to do against other players in EU LCS. The language barrier in the bot lane is the only concern that can be raised.
Meanwhile, Maxlore saw passable performances on Giants last Summer. He averaged a 3.2 KDA, 73% Kill Participation, and +2.7 CS above his opponents at ten minutes. These figures put him slightly above Jonas “Memento” Elmarghichi from last Split. Vitality benched Hjärnan, ROCCAT’s new AD Carry, last Summer after a solid Spring Split performance. He ranked 3rd in KDA, 4th in Kill Participation, and 3rd in CS Difference at ten minutes among all ADC’s. He will be replacing Pierre “Steelback” Medjaldi who was consistent in both Splits, despite ROCCAT’s low rank overall.
I find myself wondering if ROCCAT can actually pull it together and get themselves out of this 9th-10th place rut. Origen and Giants both appear to be just as shaky as what ROCCAT has put together. Misfits are new to the pro scene and lost two key players in the off-season. I am keeping my eyes on this new ROCCAT. They could get a few wins under their belt and avoid the Summer Promotion series this year. They could end up in last yet again, but everyone loves an underdog, right?
Are Misfits ready for LCS?
The only newcomer to the EU LCS this Split, Misfits qualified in the Spring Promotion tournament. Touting a 90% win-rate in the Summer Season, this team has many analysts speculating how they will stack up. Challenger teams in the past made serious waves when entering the scene, such as Origen and G2.
However, the situation with Misfits is a bit different. Firstly, there are major formatting changes that were not in place when they were playing last year: the two-group league and the ten-ban system. Challenger teams historically have less coaching and support staff available. Major strategic changes can disproportionately affect them. Secondly, Misfits is not maintaining their same roster coming into 2017. Neither Origen nor G2 kept their qualifying roster when entering the LCS, but their replacements were obvious upgrades at the time. Origen brought in Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage and Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen. G2 brought in Kim “Emperor” Jin-hyun and Kim “Trick” Gang-Yun.
Meanwhile, Misfits will be replacing Marcin “SELFIE” Wolski and Kim “Wisdom” Tae-Wan with PowerOfEvil and Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon. SELFIE and Wisdom had the highest average KDA during the Summer Season in Mid and Jungle. They both maintained high average CS Differences at 10 minutes, 10.5 and 6.7, respectively. On the other hand, PowerOfEvil finished with the second lowest average KDA last Summer and averaged 1.7 CS behind his opponent at ten minutes. KaKAO spent 2016 in the Chinese Challenger scene with Wan Yoo, who finished 13th out of 16 teams. Over 24 games KaKAO averaged a 3.69 KDA, which placed him 18th of 36 Junglers with three games or more.
PowerOfEvil and KaKAO have both shown moments of promise, but their recent performances are not reflective of high skill. If Misfits want to make an impact, they will need their remaining players to continue to play at the top level, while incorporating PowerOfEvil and KaKAO seamlessly. Barney “Alphari” Morris, Steven “Hans sama” Liv, and Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun will need to maintain lane dominance against tougher lanes. This team does have a high ceiling, but these roster changes will need to prove themselves fruitful.
Can H2k play as well without FORG1VEN, Vander, or Ryu?
Many did not expect H2k to be the highest finishing Western team at the 2016 World Championships. H2k managed to make it to the Quarterfinals and finished 3rd-4th overall. It seemed like all of their players were on a whole new level, particularly AD Carry FORG1VEN and Mid laner Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook.
Looking at FORG1VEN’s KDA throughout 2016, it bottomed out in the Spring Playoffs at 3.8. This was preceding his announcement to step down as H2k’s starting ADC. After his unsuccessful stint with Origen, FORG1VEN returned to H2k for the tail-end of the Summer Split. He averaged a 14.5 KDA over five games in Week Nine, and carried the team to a 3rd place Playoff finish. His KDA during Summer Playoffs leveled out to 5.9, then boosted to 7.9 at Worlds (1st among all players with more than two games).
Ryu’s KDA followed a similar trajectory throughout 2016. He averaged 2.9 in Spring Playoffs, up to 3.8 in Summer Split, up again to 5.8 in Summer Playoffs, leveling off at 4.0 for Worlds (5th among 17 Mid laners with more than two games). His pressure became noticeably greater among international Mid lane competition. His synergy with Jungler, Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski, also seemed to be smoother. Only one other Mid-Jungle duo had a higher First Blood rate (among players that played more than two games).
But these two carries, along with Support Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan, are not part of the roster for 2017. Will the momentum of last year continue, or did it fizzle in the off-season? H2k picked up Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten, Shin “Nuclear” Jung-hyun, and Choi “Chei” Sun-ho to fill Mid, ADC, and Support. Febiven has proven himself to be a top-tier European Mid laner. He should be able to step in without issue. However, Nuclear and Chei are Korean imports, which could prove to be dangerous. Other experiments in this roster style have been middling at best, such as NA’s Team EnVyUs. On top of that, Chei’s last team, Jin Air, declined throughout last year, and Nuclear’s last team, SBENU Sonicboom, disbanded altogether after they failed to re-qualify for the LCK last August.
Jankos and top laner, Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu, are experienced, high-pressure players that will hold their own against the rest of EU. However, this H2k roster is radically different from the successful team of last year. The coaching and support staff will need to pull these pieces together if they want to maintain the same level of competitiveness.
Will Fnatic bounce back with a rebuilt roster?
Fnatic’s 2016 was tumultuous, especially when compared to expectations coming out of 2015. They had achieved 3rd-4th at the 2015 World Championships and won five out of their last six EU LCS splits. But everything began to decline after Fnatic announced that Top-Jungle duo, Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin, would be leaving the team. Then they reported that team captain, Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim, would be departing. Fnatic rebuilt, finished the Spring Split in 6th place, and fought their way to a 3rd place finish in the Playoffs. After replacing a couple of players between Spring and Summer (including bringing back YellOwStaR), they still finished the Summer Split in 5th place. H2k immediately eliminated them from Playoffs. With the Championship Points tallied, Fnatic did not qualify for the 2016 World Championships.
2017 has started with even more changes. Only the AD Carry, Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, remains from last year. Fnatic brought on Paul “sOAZ” Boyer and Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider who played as the Top-Jungle duo for Origen last year. Rasmus “Caps” Winther joins from Dark Passage after helping them win the TCL. Jesse “Jesiz” Le returns as Support after operating as an Assistant Coach for Immortals throughout 2016.
This roster has a lot of combined experience. But will it be enough? SOAZ and Amazing might have helped Origen finish 3rd-4th in the 2015 World Championships, but they fell throughout 2016. SOAZ appeared particularly weak in the Spring. Amazing was lost in the Jungle in the Summer. Jesiz has not played a professional match in more than a year. Most EU LCS fans are probably pulling for Fnatic to do well in 2017. While this line-up’s ceiling is quite high, they could also finish middle-of-the-pack.