In 2015, a new organization entered the European LCS. Led by legendary mid laner xPeke, Origen secured several notable veterans surrounding an up-and-coming AD carry named Niels. After easily sweeping through the European Challenger Series, Origen came into Summer Split of the LCS, and quickly rose through the ranks. They finished their initial split in second place, just above H2K, but several wins behind an undefeated Fnatic.
Origen went on to face that same Fnatic in the 2015 Summer Split finals for a shot at the World Championship. Being a new roster, winning the split was their best bet at qualifying. Origen lost 2-3 in one of the greatest series Europe has ever known, sending xPeke and crew to the Regional Qualifier for third seed. They pushed their way through the gauntlet and punched their ticket to Paris.
Coming into the event, the analysts viewed Origen as decent, but weak for their group. LGD and KT Rolster were considered the most likely to qualify to quarters, with TSM in the same boat as Origen. Only after LGD fell apart, and Origen won their first games over KT and TSM, did fans begin to gain hope. Origen finished second in their group, set to face Group A’s Flash Wolves at quarterfinals. Fnatic also qualified to quarters with their win over Group B.
Soaz, Amazing, xPeke, Niels and Mithy took down Flash Wolves 3-1, while Fnatic won 3-0 over EDG, leaving two European teams to face SKT and KOO Tigers in the semifinals. Both Origen and Fnatic lost, but they could leave proud of their accomplishments. EU LCS fans were happy for Fnatic, but Origen was the true Cinderella story. This Expendables squad of old school players (plus Niels) rose from Challenger to Summer Split Finals to top four at Worlds in the span of a few months. Western fans rejoiced as Origen joined Fnatic among the top ranks of the tournament. Niels made a name for himself. xPeke and Soaz redeemed themselves, in a way. And a new, competitive organization could come back to spice up the LCS.
Europe sent two new teams to the World Championship in 2016–G2 and Splyce. G2 won both Spring and Summer Splits to claim the LCS’ first seed. Splyce rose from the Challenger Series, as well, and made it all the way through to the Summer Finals before losing to G2. They went on to win the gauntlet over Unicorns of Love to take third seed. H2K actually took second seed with the most championship points over the year, but they placed fourth in spring, third in summer. No one really paid them any mind, kind of like 100 Thieves’ current situation as North America’s second seed.
Out of all three teams, H2K earned the easiest group draw. They drafted into Group C with EDG, AHQ and INTZ. EDG was the heavy favorite, while no one really knew what to make of the other three teams. H2K was favored based on individual skill, but it really was a toss-up. With most Western fans’ eyes on G2, TSM and Cloud9, H2K fell to the middle of the pack based on perceived strength.
Odoamne, Jankos, Ryu, Forg1ven and Vander started the group stage shakily, but with four straight wins they climbed to first. Jankos earned MVP of Group C, and some analysts ranked H2K as third best team, following the group stage performances. With G2 and Splyce finishing fourth in their groups, and TSM and CLG finishing third, all eyes shifted to Cloud9 and H2K.
Luckily, H2K got matched against Albus Nox Luna, a wildcard team out of Russia. The easy 3-0 victory propelled them into the semifinals to face Samsung Galaxy, a steep mountain to climb. While H2K ultimately lost 0-3 to Samsung, fans cheered for the European representatives, as they made top four for the EU LCS, yet again. The second seed tag-along squad made it all the way to the semifinals, just like Origen and Fnatic did in 2015. Everyone praised Forg1ven for redeeming himself, following a rocky year with H2K, Origen and back with H2K. Even though they have an easier group, and an easier quarterfinals opponent, H2K clearly put in the work and earned respect from the global community.
Western fans went crazy for Misfits at Worlds 2017. Just entering their first year of professional play, Misfits qualified to Worlds as the EU LCS’ second seed, as they finished fourth in Spring Split and second in Summer Split. Other than their upset win over Fnatic in the summer playoffs, Misfits was not considered a particularly strong team out of Europe. Alphari and Hans sama were in their first year of pro play. Maxlore had his highs and lows. PowerOfEvil never played poorly, but he did utilize some wacky strategies. IgNar was a new Korean support just getting started in Europe.
Misfits got drafted into Group D, along with Flash Wolves, TSM and Team WE. Over the course of the group stage, this one got messy. Second seed to quarterfinals came down to a tiebreaker match between Misfits and TSM, who had traded games with each other. Misfits won, solidifying another EU LCS team to the bracket stage, and knocking out North America’s best team.
Unfortunately, Misfits had to face SKT, three-time world champion, and all-around powerhouse organization. Western fans wrote Misfits off from there, turning their eyes to Fnatic versus RNG and Cloud9 versus WE. But they were wrong. Misfits turned the Ardent Censer meta on its head by drafting Blitzcrank and Leona for IgNar. The EU LCS representatives took SKT to five games in one of the most tense series in League of Legends history. In another Cinderella story, a European Challenger team went all the way to Worlds within its first year, and left in a place they could be proud of. Although SKT knocked them out in fifth-eighth, Misfits played their own unique style that almost knocked out the team that would make finals and finish second overall.
Which brings us to now. Team Vitality continues this Cinderella story tradition from the EU LCS. Three-fifths of this squad qualified into the LCS with Giants from the Challenger Series at the beginning of this year. Vitality picked up Gilius, Jiizuke, Minitroupax and Jactroll for Spring Split, and they finished fourth place. Coming into Summer Split, Vitality added Kikis to the roster, and the organization climbed from a three-way tie for fifth up to second place by winning seven of their last eight games. Vitality finally finished third in summer playoffs, granting enough championship points to qualify as Europe’s second seed.
Fnatic and G2 joined them in Korea for Worlds–two organizations that have dominated the EU LCS for years now. With Soaz, Rekkles, Perkz and Jankos playing at Worlds previously, these two teams seemed much more likely to make a splash than Vitality. Three rookies, Kikis, and Cabochard seemed like a long-shot for accomplishing much, especially after drafting into “The Group of Death,” with RNG, Gen.G and Cloud9. The LPL and LCK representatives felt like a shoe-in for the top two slots, while all of Cloud9 and Vitality’s rookies would fall to the pressure.
But what a group stage! Vitality took an upset victory over Gen.G, but lost their first games against RNG and C9. They returned to comfort picks for Jiizuke, including Leblanc and Ekko, showing confidence in the young mid laner. On day five, Vitality did the unthinkable–beating RNG with Attila’s Draven, beating Gen.G with Jactroll’s Leona, and taking C9 to a tense match for quarterfinals. C9 ultimately won out, but Vitality brought some of the boldest aggression seen at Worlds.
Vitality’s upset victories will go down in history as another Cinderella story from Europe. They make the fourth straight bright spot from the EU LCS that vastly exceeded expectations, and shook up the end results. Jiizuke, Attila and Jactroll definitely won some new fans at this event. Coach YamatoCannon summed it up best by saying “This was the first Worlds where the western teams started to not copy the better regions.”
Images from LoL Esports Flickr