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Can MAD Follow the Example of Rookie Teams Past?

MAD Lions Logo

February is a very intriguing time on the league calendar. Even though this year due to the Coronavirus outbreak not all leagues can resume play, this is the time in the year when day-to-day league life returns. In January every game is special as those are the first glimpses into a new year. But by now everyone is slowly settling in.
The LEC and LCS will crest the halfway mark for the regular season this weekend already. So, it might be time to take a step back and reflect on what has happened so far. In this article, the author tried to lay out a few early goals for the MAD Lions of the LEC. The following paragraphs will look back at some of EU´s brightest Rookie endeavors and try to locate the MAD Lions trajectory.

A rich history

Lemondogs Roster 2013

Lemondogs´ Roster for Worlds 2013

In the course of the now more than seven years of League play in Europe countless new rosters have emerged. Among them were several very promising line-ups. Surprises as well as disappointments. It all started, when the LCS was created. In 2013, the European LCS consisted of very well established – and globally renowned – teams like Gambit, CLG.EU and Fnatic. Additionally, many new faces appeared on the horizon. Copenhagen Wolves, Lemondogs, Dragonborns and Alternate showed the world a first glimpse of the infamous European talent pool.

Just to quickly remind newer readers of some of the legendary names that came up with these teams: Bjergsen started his career at Copenhagen Wolves. Deficio played on the very same team as well. Mithy, now the coach of Fnatic and three-time EULCS champion got to the final of the LCS in 2013 with Lemondogs. Alongside him, Nukeduck made a name for himself in the inimitable “assassin meta” of 2013. Another name that older EU LOL followers will appreciate is Zorozero, the Toplaner for Lemondogs. After finding a lot of success in that split, he became the prodigal son of the EU LCS as he never truly returned to the greatest stage.

Every year a new rookie team?

It made a lot of sense that in the first year of the establishment of the LCS a lot of new faces would turn up. But even after the dust settled, EU continued to produce a lot of surprisingly strong rookie teams. In 2014, one of Europe´s most famous players entered the stage. After a shocking upset against NIP, a team that consisted of most of Lemondogs´ parts, a polish line-up entered the league. They quickly became Roccat and took the league by storm. Most famous players on that team were Overpow and Jankos. This unknown team reached playoffs in both ensuing splits.

FNC Roster 2015
Courtesy of LoL Esports

Next on the menu were two exciting teams that met in the final of the first split they played in the League. One of the two went on to conquer the world and reach the semi-final of the world championship. The other one eternally remained a myth that never quite reached the peak of its very first split again.

UoL Roster Spring 2015
Courtesy of LoL Esports

The teams referred to are 2015 FNC and Unicorns of Love. For old school fans it is almost unfathomable that 2015 FNC was five years ago. At the time the team took multiple gambles to bring in a unknown Korean rookie toplaner (Huni), a famous soloqueue Midlaner (Febiven), a rookie ADC (Steelback) and a new coach. Unicorns of Love, on the other hand, fought their way through the promotion tournament. No one really thought they would be successful in a league with the new Froggen-Rekkles super team. Many analysts at the time also despised their way of playing the game which was sometimes called “chaos-style”. Players from that original lien-up were PoE, Vizicsacsi and Hylissang.

H2K Spring 2015
Courtesy of LoL Esports

Under the radar, but even more successful in the long run than their explosive counterparts Unicorns, another new team had entered the league. H2K fielded a roster that many people can appreciate a lot in hindsight. Starring toplaner Odoamne, old KT Rolster Veteran Ryu, Hjarnan and from Week 4 onward Kasing. There was something remarkable about the way this team played. Most rookie teams before and after them tended to rely on explosiveness and aggression. H2K, on the other hand, was a calculated and macro-focused team that impressed through precision. The example of H2K offers a great juxtaposition to teams like Unicorns of Love or 2018 Vitality.

After 2015

In the next four years, there was always at least one successful rookie team. 2016 G2 took the league by storm. Many of G2´s players were rejects or veterans though, which makes them less relevant for this discussion. Only Trick and Perkz achieved longevity. In Summer of 2016 another new team made waves. Splyce wasn´t too remarkable in Spring and were seen as a relatively bad team. With the addition of Mikyx, Splyce ascended to second place. The team also featured Wunder and Trashy (Kold). Interestingly enough, Splyce also tended to play more towards the later stages of the game. This team had their breakout performance in the sophomore split though and are thus not quite as relevant to the MAD discussion.

In 2017 Misfits took the stage. But once again, the team featured multiple experienced players.
The reincarnation of the exciting explosive rookie team was Vitality one year later. Funnily enough, Vitality promoted with Gilius, but found more success with Kikis, who had replaced him in UoL many years ago as well. This Vitality team ran off to a head start and smashed everyone with very aggressive plays. Even though they ultimately faltered when it came to best-of-five series, to this day European fans think fondly of their worlds run.

For 2019, it is harder to make an argument that a truly dominant rookie team emerged. Rogue comes closest to that title, but their surge came a little too late to leave a lasting impact.

Where do MAD slot in?

With all the changes to the game, it is always difficult to compare teams. MAD Lions have been a surprisingly controlled and macro-oriented team so far. Proactivity might be more important now than it was all those years ago. Teams that attempt to just sit back do not find a whole lot of success in modern League of Legends. (That is not to say that scaling drafts are inferior. On the contrary, they are the way to go in many cases right now.)

MAD Lions after their win against FNC
Courtesy of LOL Esports Flickr

In quite a lot of the games so far MAD has also shown an ability to accelerate the early game and secure advantages. Think back to the very first game of the split against G2 or the most recent game against FNC. The most impressive part about this new team still comes down to their controlled way to play out the midgame. MAD Lions are by no means a defensive or indecisive team. But they also don´t rely on relentless or overboard aggression to win games like some of the historical new teams did. Strong players in every position aside, the macro sense this team displayed in some of the games is what makes them an exciting team to follow. Going toe-to-toe with Fnatic in the midgame and staying ahead requires great resolve. In essence MAD seldom play like a rookie team.

The Volatility (outside of drafting issues) is surprisingly low. In that regard, they are quite similar to the 2015 H2K team. And even though Carzzy proclaimed in the most recent PGL that he expects “at least top three” at the end of the split, following H2K´s trajectory from 2015 wouldn´t be too bad. After all, H2K made it to worlds in their first year…

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