The new El Classico? Courtesy of Fnatic.com
Fnatic vs. Origen: the New El Classico
Europe, as a region, has always tended towards monolithic super teams, having some of the greatest talent in the West, born and raised in their own region. During the Summer Split, Fnatic could not be considered any less than the strongest team in Europe, taking the first ever perfect split in the LCS. Right at their heels though were their younger, or older, brother in Origen, the team formed around the leaving of xPeke and Soaz that blazed from the EU CS to the Quarter Finals at Worlds. With the absolute crashing and burning that was SK Gaming’s LCS team, a new El Classico is brewing, that is, between the two European giants in Fnatic and Origen.
What’s to watch between these two teams? Well, right now, Origen looks set to take Europe by complete storm, even more so than last time, and maybe even challenge Fnatics record of a perfect season. Origen looked strong going into the Summer Split in 2015, they looked strong at Worlds where NA teams faltered around them, and they look (possibly?) even stronger with Power of Evil in the midlane (not to slight xPeke in any way.) Fnatic, on the other hand, has done a lot of rebuilding. They lost their Top, Jungler, and Support to NA, and that is a huge hit, particularly in their Support. Yellowstar can take almost full credit for rebuilding the team and leading them on the Fields of Justice to victory, a strong shotcaller and a great support player. Huni and Reignover, Top and Jungler respectively, are huge talent hits, but talent can be replaced. The wealth of experience that Yellowstar brought to the team cannot. Still, everyone casted complete doubt on the lineup that ended up going undefeated in the Summer Split, so if any EU team can almost completely rebuild a roster into a world class team it’s Fnatic. Gamsu and Spirit, Gamsu coming from a rather lackluster Dignitas squad but having his shining moments there and Spirit from Team WE and Samsung Galaxy Blue, are strong pickups to replace the Korean duo for the top half of the map. Noxiak, their Support player, has yet to really be seen, and has some of the biggest shoes to fill coming into this split. The storyline here is a question mark too: will Fnatic and Origen remain the two top dogs in an increasingly competitive league, given some of the star studded talent that’s consolidated in other teams?
The middle of the pack shake up
Europe’s also probably the most volatile of the regions. Upstart teams like Lemondogs, Alliance, Supa Hot Crew and others, rise and fall almost as quickly. They also lay claim to the most competitive middle of the pack teams ever. Just look to the Summer Split 2015: the four teams ranked 4-8 had 1 game difference between them. That is insanely close. So what does this mean here? Well, these teams have always struggled to really cause the two to three headed giant of the top of the league to sweat. Sure, they’ll take games off of them at times, but overall it’s hard to say that a Roccat or Elements really could take down Origen in a best of three. There’s always something that’ll slip up, maybe nerves or small mistakes, that the upper teams will take advantage of and run with it.
So what’s the story going into this split? Well, the usual talent conglomeration. The Unicorns of Love hope to rebuild themselves, having lost Power of Evil, Kikis, and Vardags, around some pretty talented players: the (in)famous Diamondprox will hold down the jungle, Fox the midlane, a shining player for SK Gaming’s turbulent Summer Split, and lastly the French talent in Steelback, whose tenure in Fnatic is resume enough. For Team Elements, having lost their star in Froggen, they have chosen to try and rebuild largely around Steve, Roccat’s old top laner, and MrRalleZ, the literal Danish ADC Giant. The rest of their roster, other than Gillius who played for Unicorns of Love and G2, are unheard of solo-queue players. Lastly, we’ll look at Roccat’s new lineup, one of the few middle of the pack teams to actually pick up some pretty experienced players in every lane. Fredy112 in the toplane, ex-SK Gaming, Airwaks in the Jungle, ex-Copenhagen Wolves, Betsy in the Midlane and Edward as Support from ex-Gambit, and lastly, the most untested of the team, Safir as ADC, taken from Renegades. Given that each of these players is at least as talented as any middle of the pack team could hope for, it’s the eternal question of whether this can translate onto the stage in any meaningful way.
So, what’s the storyline to follow? Well, the real question hanging over everyone’s head is whether these teams can make any real impact in the league. The dream of every middle of the pack team is to lose that title and make it comfortably in the top 3 or 4 of the League. But, given some of the new talent, this might be just a dream for many of these teams. It’s not impossible, of course, that one of these teams can just ‘click’ and absolutely dominant the league. This is Europe, if it’s going to happen anywhere it’s here. But I think, at least on paper, these teams are going to be a solid middle of the pack group, not able to really make a dent on the pedigree that will claim the top four.
New Kids on the Block in G2, Splyce and Vitality
In contrast to NA, Europe was relatively quiet when it came to purchases for LCS spots. Sure, Splyce made headlines with their million(!!) dollar acquisition of Dignitas.EU, the first fully national Danish team to make it into the league in a while (since Copenhagen Wolves did many moons ago with Bjergsen.) Vitality, too, bought into the league, picking up Gambit’s old spot and built arguably one of the scariest rosters for these new comers. Lastly, G2 did it the old fashioned way, constructing a good roster, attempting to get into the LCS, failing, rebuilding, and then managing to get in through the Promotion tournament.
As any team entering the LCS has over their head, the big question mark over all these teams is just how well will they do now that they’re at the big kids table of the LCS? Splyce did amazing during the CS, being probably the most dominant force there and making it in through the automatic promotion that Riot introduced (where the 10th place LCS team is automatically relegated, while the top CS series team is automatically promoted to the LCS.) But how will they fare against this new competitive EU LCS? It’s hard to say. They’re actually quite lucky in one regard over the other newcomers, in that they’ve largely all played together for quite some time. They know each other, and that’ll go a long way to (hopefully) having clear communications and good synergy. Talent-wise, the only notable players are Trashy in the Jungle, who was Jungler for now relegated Enemy eSports, and Nisbeth, the support player for also now relegated Meet Your Makers, which isn’t really telling of any greatness. What about G2 eSports, the eSports ‘club’ built by ex-SK Gaming Ocelote? Well, largely they became a farm team for many other organizations. They’ve had many players come and go, but their current roster, revolves around the hope of Emperor, their ADC from Korea and North America’s Team DragonKnights, and Kikis, their Top laner who played Jungler for Unicorns of Love, being able to make an impact. It’ll be interesting to see how this team does for communication, given the diverse languages within the team. But G2 has a steep uphill battle before them, and it’s questionable as to whether they’ll really leave a mark in the EU LCS.
Last, but certainly not least, is Team Vitality, who get their own paragraph because I think they are the newcomer team to look out for. While Roccat were able to snag notable players for each of their positions, Vitality were able to do so and then some. They grabbed Cabochard for their top lane, a consistent threat on the old Gambit lineup. Next is Shook, the very storied Dutchman whose bounced between Copenhagen Wolves, Alliance-Elements, then Copenhagen Wolves, and now Vitality, making great impacts on each team (as much as can be said for some of them.) Nukeduck holds down the mid lane, who’s also been a European standard and has been slated as the potential-ridden midlane, always expected to do big but never quite making it there. Lastly, and I think this is really the strongest point, is the duo lane taken directly from H2K gaming, in Hjarnan and Kasing. H2K was Europe’s third seed going into Worlds, and while they didn’t overly impress many, that’s still something. It’s all going to come down to how this team actually performs though. Talent is one thing, but League is a team oriented game still, and communication and synergy are not just buzzwords. While on paper they look like the strongest ‘new’ team, this has to translate onto the stage.
H2K: Can they keep their top three status?
H2K was another example of Europe’s upstart nature, coming out of CS and into quite a strong position within the LCS and eventually making it to Worlds. They were strong before, but I can’t help but feel they’re both in a better and worse position this split. The good? They got FORG1VEN. Anyone who followed SK Gaming in the Spring Split last year knows this is BY FAR the biggest pickup in the offseason for Europe. He is good, really good, and if he can learn to cooperate with his teammates in H2K they can easily retain their third spot position (dropping maybe to fourth at times.) The bad? Well, Europe’s gotten a lot more competitive too, even with the loss of some major talent, and as good as FORG1VEN is he is also… a difficult player to have on a team. FORG1VEN is a definite improvement on pretty much any ADC in Europe, but he is also just as difficult to have on a team as it is to not have him on your team. The storyline of H2K is really going to revolve around their botlane, and whether the veteran in VandeR can keep him both satisfied as a Support and reign him in when needed. The dynamic of H2K will either make or break them as a top team in EU LCS, and the Spring Split is going to be when all eyes are watching them on which it’s going to be.
European Talent Exodus
European exports to NA aren’t much of news, it’s happened before and made huge impacts, like the move for Bjergsen, and also made very small difference, think Evil Geniuses. This time, however, it’s been quite an exodus. Europe lost Huni and Reignover to newly minted Team Immortals in NA. As if that wasn’t hard enough for EU fans, they lost Yellowstar, the jewel of Europe, to TSM and Svenskeren also to TSM. Surely things couldn’t be worse? Well, then they lost Froggen to Echo Fox a new start up team, and then SmittyJ (arguably less of a hit, but one nonetheless,) to Dignitas. It’s all a bitter pill to swallow, having also seen Alex Ich leave to help form Renegades in NA, alongside Jensen, ex-INCARNATI0N, who joined the then struggling Cloud 9 team.
This storyline is kind of twofold to follow. First, the question most pertinent here is whether Europe can recover. Those who caught the EU LCS trailer know that this is going to be a big storyline there. Europe’s been here before, goes the trailer, they’ve been doubted before, but they’ve always come out of it stronger than before. One of EU’s greatest hopes, in Origen, is still fully intact from this exodus. Fnatic’s rebuilt itself before with less. Heck, EU can even claim to have fully imported something from NA in Safir for G2. But the question could also be rephrased less harshly: not whether Europe will ‘recover,’ but how Europe will show it is still one of the most dominant regions in the world. The second side of this coin? Well, it’s whether these Europe imports will affect NA’s LCS. Bjergsen’s rightfully so considered to have kept TSM afloat and relevant since he joined. He’s the strongest mid laner in the region, at least for now. But then Dexter, CLG’s old Jungler, didn’t seem to have such a lasting legacy for CLG. Then there’s also the story of Evil Geniuses, failed import and eventual dissolution. Jensen ultimately was good for Cloud 9, but when he joined many doubted him a worthy heir to Hai’s throne. TSM’s also known no end of ‘failed’ European junglers too. So the question for NA fans is this: will these injected Europeans make an impact to a region that showed such promise going into Worlds but ultimately fell flat on their faces? As with all our storylines here, only time will tell.