The IEM Katowice homecoming
The big question heading into this week is going to be the returning European teams of Origen and Fnatic from IEM Katowice. IEM Katowice was a test of strength for many of the regions, with everyone, as always, jostling around with their eyes on World’s. Europe, again, can hold its head high in one regard, and scratch its head in another. While Fnatic took second place after an extremely strong showing, Origen did not bring as much glory home for the European Union, and the strange story of Europe is continuing to show: somehow always able to show up, and yet also be in question.
We’ll cover the negative first. Origen only managed to take one game off of NA side TSM before being sent packing from the tournament, and that win wasn’t an easy one either. While Royal Never Give Up (RNG) are nothing to scoff at, TSM seem a shaky mess of talent, and such a showing against them calls Origen further into question for fans. It’s a reoccurring statement, but it’s still a very big puzzle as to Origen’s fall from grace. Origen can at least take their time at IEM Katowice as a possible learning experience, hopefully, but, particularly when contrasted with their EU brothers in Fnatic, Origen has a lot to answer for. Still, they’ve all but secured their place in the playoffs, and that’s a vital win for the organization. If they can focus themselves and bring what they learned from IEM Katowice into place, maybe Origen can make a surprise run in the playoffs. Of note too is that xPeke is listed as the starting Mid laner for this week for Origen, while no reason is given it might be speculated that they are seeing if his shot calling or presence is the missing piece. [edit: Power of Evil is feeling sick so xPeke has taken the midlane for this week.]
Fnatic, on the other end of things, can hold their heads quite high coming out of IEM Katowice, even with ‘just’ a second place showing. Fnatic, in a lot of ways, lucked out in that their road out of groups meant never crossing SKT T1, who went undefeated throughout their run. Still, they beat out CLG, whose macro style play has been the bane of many a team and can now include Immortals’ scalp as one of them, and Qiao Gu, the second favorite for coming out of Group B. Not only did they beat one of China’s representatives, but they also beat RNG, the other Chinese team, and eventually coming to blows with SKT T1 but ultimately falling in that fight. Still, Fnatic look again like a revitalized, upset-causing team again and that should carry into their EU LCS week. While breaking into the top 2, and thus a berth into the semi-finals, is unlikely for them, they can rest on their laurels that they will be in the playoffs, and can hopefully bring the Fnatic that was at IEM Katowice to the gauntlet if they want to defend their title.
GIANTS make giant Roster changes
In what is quickly becoming an almost cliché of itself, GIANTS have made a roster change that, on the surface, seems like the formula for mixed results: bring in two Koreans and pray it works. Dropping Atom, betongjocke and original member adryh, in place of SmittyJ, Wisdom and S0NSTAR. SmittyJ is a familiar face to many European fans, he played for G2 eSports in the Challenger Series, and most recently wore the yellow and gold of Diginitas over in NA. Wisdom comes from Korea, hailing from the ROX Tigers (at that time,) which brings a certain pedigree within itself. Still, Wisdom doesn’t carry the same weight behind him as a Spirit or Rush. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of impact he can bring to the lagging Giants, who surely are looking ahead to relegations and maintaining their spot in the LCS. S0NSTAR comes from a much lesser team in the LCK, Incredible Miracle. While still a team in the LCK, and thus still a strong contender, Incredible Miracle has been a largely inert force until its disbandment and reformation into Longzhu. Whether S0NSTAR can bring the much needed carry potential in the botlane to Giants will be the real test going into this week.
The major storyline here is whether this is a literal formula or not, that is, whether dropping two players for two Koreans is the way the West will keep up with the international arms race. While it’s unlikely that Giants will really shock many of us with a swift turnaround, because they’ll still most likely crash out of the Spring split at the bottom of the rung. But if the team starts to show life again, they might be able to stave off the incoming EU CS teams that are looking scarier with each game. Giants will need to make some real changes within themselves to prove they deserve a spot in the EU LCS, but this recent shakeup might be just what the doctor ordered. Sticking with what they had just wasn’t doing the trick, and week after week of losses weren’t showing any real improvements.
The god remains: FORG1VEN stays
Probably the biggest story coming out of the EU LCS, even bigger than IEM Katowice, was the news that FORG1VEN was being drafted into the Greek army, and was going to be forced to leave before finishing the split and not be back until next year. A heartbreaking interview, as FORG1VEN was visibly close to tears, shook much of the EU LCS (and reddit) and what seemed to be the worst luck story of FORG1VEN was going to come full circle in losing out at his best chance for an EU LCS title. H2K and FORG1VEN managed, however, to have this service deferred to a later date, so FORG1VEN will finally catch a break and be able to ride the H2K wave into the playoffs. While EU LCS fans sighed a huge sigh of relief, as the best ADC by far in EU LCS would remain for the split, it’s still a very big question mark as to how long this deferment will last.
While it’s hard to look a gift horse in the mouth here, FORG1VEN’s being allowed to stay until (we assume) the end of the split and into the playoffs is a small victory for the team. While a successful run in the playoffs can secure a good amount of points towards Worlds, if they’re without FORG1VEN it’s hard to say whether they’ll have the same kind of impact. Furthermore, Summer might not even be a guarantee without him. And there’s a relative silence on the exact terms of this deferment, whether it’ll last post-Spring, into Summer, or even until the end of World’s. The hopes of many fans is that FORG1VEN can post-pone conscription at least until the end of World’s, it’s hard to say whether that’ll be a possibility given the murky territory that is Government-esports interactions (see VISA issues for a case in point.) Fans can only wait on baited breath for further information, as H2K and the Greek government are probably in some form of discussion over the matter.
The fight for 7th
The bottom half of the standings are gearing up for a strange little battle of their own, and that one isn’t setting their sights on Playoffs and beyond, but mere survival. The race to secure 7th place is heating up the bottom of the batch going into this week, as Elements and Splyce lock horns as they are tied for (currently) 7th place, while Roccat, revitalized with their new support in Noxiak, and Giants, having undergone their own roster shake up, look in hungrily. For those who are unaware, 7th place in the standings gives a kind of ‘grace’ spot, as the team manages to stay in the EU LCS without having to fight for relegations, but are not part of the playoffs. It’s basically making the best of a bad situation for the teams, as nobody wants to have the pressure of relegations hanging over their head and their organization’s life on the line.
The contenders currently for this safe haven are Splyce and Elements, Splyce showing a bit more signs of life having won two of their past 5 games, while Elements has only pulled off a single victory (their position largely secured by their 3-1 first two weeks.) In this way, Splyce looks to be the clear favorite going ahead, although the true test will come this week as the two face off against each other. Neither team can be said to have an ‘easier’ week(s) ahead of them either, so it’ll be a real test of their mettle, but also possibly down to a lot of luck. And, of course, it also depends on how the two teams below them act in the next two weeks.
Roccat and Giants are from the outside looking in for, truthfully, most of this split. Roccat look a lot livelier than Giants, having taken a surprise victory against Unicorns of Love to pull themselves one victory ahead of Giants and one victory behind the current duo at 7th. The permanent (potentially) solution of adding Noxiak may have fixed some problems within the Roccat camp, communication and cohesion being a glaring weakness prior. Giants too come in with a much more new roster than Roccat, having dropped three players for three new ones quite late into the split. Still, Giants just haven’t really shown up this split, so it’ll be a real show of who deserves the spot, if either, when the two go head to head next week. Until then, both will be posturing themselves to come from behind to snake away a spot at staying out of the Relegation pit in the coming months.
Team Vitality vs. G2 eSports
This is pretty much the clash of titans for the week, and should be the most exciting going into this week. The last time these two met, Vitality walked away victorious, and both teams haven’t really seemed to be weaker than the other at any point. Namely, what makes this matchup so exciting is that these teams are tied, so for all intents and purposes this is both a tiebreaker and a kind of testing of these two teams going into Playoffs. Arguably the clear favorite teams to take it all are: H2K, Vitality, G2, and, after IEM Katowice, Fnatic. Two of those four are squaring off, and this should prove to be, in my opinion, the match of the week.
It’s also a clash of styles that will see which comes out on top here. In a lot of ways, Vitality is becoming the CLG of EU (not CLG.eu, sadly,) in their emphasis on macro game over simply dominating lanes and team fights. G2, on the other side, thrive in those domains, constantly just being one up of their opponents in almost all regards. But G2 have kind of come back down to earth in a lot of ways, and it’s also worth mentioning that the last time they met, Vitality came out on top. Still, it’ll be a great showing of the two styles of play, and while it won’t conclusively say which is superior, it’ll definitely show which is stronger at the moment. And that kind of confidence is more important than the wins now.
Fnatic vs. Team Vitality
Our second game includes Vitality again as they square off against the returning Fnatic. While Fnatic showed up big at IEM Katowice, which I think took a lot of people by surprise, when it wouldn’t have last year. It’s impressive too, given the kind of turbulent split that Fnatic’s had, but they’re coming into this with fresh validation that they, again, have a world class team. Vitality, not having the same experience, still seem a strong contender, and if the standings were the only element going into this it might not be as exciting of a game as it will be. But the real storyline, and excitement, is just how well this newly energized, and in some ways titan killing, Fnatic is versus the tried and true side of Vitality.
The big hype going into this match is going to be how Fnatic do. I mean, if Fnatic show up, it’ll be great. But, many weeks back in Week 1, the last time these two met, Vitality came out on top. Still, it’s hard to really see that as relevant now. What’s interesting, too, is that both teams started out rougher than they currently are as far as form goes. Vitality dropped its first game to Roccat, and Fnatic’s only showing an 8-6 record, both not overly indicative of the strength of each squad. Well we don’t really say whose going to win in our matches of the week, one has to feel that the ball is in Fnatic’s court here, and that a loss on their part will mean more than a loss on Vitality’s part. Fnatic just went toe to toe with SKT T1, while not taking a map and not really making them sweat, this still has to give them a kind of edge for experience. Fnatic, too, looked great in some of their games, and maybe picking up Klaj was exactly the missing piece for Fnatic. This is Fnatic after all, their Support role has always been a major piece in their squad. Vitality, on the other end, want to show themselves to be the real contender for the top, if not first place overall, by taking down the reigning champs (albeit, with the majority of those champs being in other teams.)