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Reflecting on mid-season EU LCS expectations for Summer Split

Febiven joins Clutch Gaming for 2018

On June 1, 2017, the first day of the EU LCS Summer Split, I articulated my expectations heading into the second half of the year. There were a lot of roster changes in between splits, which led to speculation about what shake-ups might occur before Worlds. I called out four of the ten teams that I thought had the best chance to define the landscape of the EU LCS. These would be the variables that shape their groups, depending on how they adapt to their new rosters and build off of Spring Split.

Like every split past, some teams performed to expectations, others did not. Some played up to a higher level, while other teams further fell. The big picture of the EU LCS remained fairly similar to spring, with the same top six teams qualifying for playoffs. However, the intra-group dynamics and individual team results are fairly different compared to expectations coming into this split.

G2

G2 played to expectations in summer split
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: G2 dominated Spring Split: they only lost one best-of-three series out of thirteen. The Samurai went on to finish second place at Riot’s Mid-Season Invitational. No other team in Europe looked to be on par with G2 before the tournament, but MSI certainly quieted any dissent. With no roster or staff changes to speak of, G2 looks to remain at the top of the ranks. Their eyes will be on the world stage.

Recency bias will paint G2 as the undoubted best team in Europe. They added another LCS victory to their trophy case. The Samurai will be EU’s first seed representative at Worlds. By the end of playoffs it was clear that no one in the EU LCS could challenge G2 in a best-of-five.

But Summer Split was rocky at the start. G2 was 3-3 after five weeks, beating Roccat, Ninjas in Pyjamas and Mysterious Monkeys, but losing to Fnatic, Misfits and Unicorns of Love. Their game score was 9-7, far from dominant. G2 sat in third place in Group A. It was a trying time for fans who were hoping that the G2 from MSI would be back in Europe.

They did eventually ramp up to finish second in Group A, push through quarter and semifinals and take the finals. Perkz returned closer to his MSI form earlier in the year. Mithy stepped up to become a primary initiator for the team. Trick began to rise towards his past level, as well. While all of these players had low points during summer, the G2 line-up did eventually reinvigorate to pre-split expectations. No one could have predicted their early fumbles after a dominant Spring Split, MSI and no major changes to the roster and staff.

Fnatic and Misfits

FNC played above expectations in summer split
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Fnatic ultimately beat Misfits for third place in playoffs, beating them 3-0 in the best-of-five. Fnatic picked up a new coach, Dylan Falco. Misfits released their jungler, Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon, and acquired Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian. The effects of these changes do not appear to be drastic on the surface. Fnatic should be able to retain second place within Group A, putting Misfits third.

Both of these teams surprised analysts, but in different ways. Fnatic and Misfits followed slightly different trajectories throughout the Summer Split. Fnatic tore through the European competition, finishing the regular season 11-2, but faltered in the playoff semifinals. They pressed on by winning third place against H2K, and went on to win the EU LCS Regional Qualifier to make it to Worlds.

Misfits had strong showings during the LCS regular season, but never fully convinced the fans that they were a top contender. They finished with a 1-6 record against the top six teams and a 5-1 record against the bottom four teams. However, Misfits shifted gears in playoffs, knocking out Unicorns of Love and Fnatic to make it into the finals. They are the surprise second seed to represent Europe at this year’s World Championship.

Fnatic’s surge is not entirely surprising, but it could not necessarily be predicted. This is the same roster that tied Roccat for third place in Group A just a few months ago. Bringing on Dylan Falco, previously of Team Envy in North America, was the only major change to the roster, which was seen as questionable, at best. The veterans of the team, Soaz, Rekkles and Jesiz, approached their top performance levels. The sophomores, Broxah and Caps, showed their own prowess at various points in the split. Most of all, the synergy among these members was much more apparent than any other team in the league.

Misfits’ growth could be a bit more conceivable coming into the Summer Split. They did make a name for themselves in their inaugural Spring Split by placing fourth. Time in the mid-season should allow this new squad to build synergies and come back to the LCS even stronger. However, by switching out KaKAO for Maxlore, it was unclear how this might affect things. The team did cite communication issues as the primary purpose for the replacement, but Maxlore’s actual skill as a jungler did not appear to be much better or worse than KaKAO. Would Misfits’ communication improve enough to offset the synergy and possible skill loss of trading at all?

In the end, the answer must be “yes.” Ignar and Maxlore did develop a strong jungle-support relationship in the playoffs. Alphari and PowerofEvil were better at using laning advantages to rotate, split-push and teleport around the map. Hans sama proved his worth as an AD carry against Samux and Rekkles, both All-Pro this split. Viewers will have to wait and see how this team holds up against international competition at Worlds. Hopefully, Misfits’ peak is yet to come.

Unicorns of Love

UOL played below expectations in summer split
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Following a similar trajectory to G2, UOL finished the regular season 11-2. They did not drop a series to other members of Group B. UOL went on to finish second in the playoffs. Seeing as the top teams in Group B did not have any major roster updates in the off-season, the Unicorns should easily maintain their top position.

“Should” was the key word above. Just like G2, Unicorns finished at the top of their group and made it to the finals in Spring Split. They did not make any roster changes in the mid-season. Intuitively, UOL would continue to build off of their strengths coming into Summer Split and continue to be a dominant team in Europe.

But that did not necessarily happen. UOL began the season 6-1, including victories over G2, H2K and Misfits. They finished the last four weeks 3-3, including defeats to Roccat, Fnatic and Vitality. This fall-out culminated in UOL’s 3-0 loss to Misfits in the quarterfinals, and their 3-2 loss to H2K in the gauntlet.

Most critics would point to faulty draft strategies, mid lane instability, and failure to adapt to meta changes as UOL’s biggest problems. Exileh fell from third team All-Pro to seventh on Caps’ mid lane tier list. His performance issues, combined with Xerxe’s curve ball jungle picks, caused UOL to have difficulties drafting to be competitive. Exileh’s reliance on Talon and Vladmir shoehorned Vizicsacsi into a lot of AP top laners, instead of Jarvan IV, Gnar or Renekton.

Summer Split is a huge disappointment for the Unicorns. They continue their legacy of missing Worlds by losing in the gauntlet. All of these players have shown excellence on the Rift, but the limited in-game strategies and individual inconsistencies make it hard for this team to reach the next level. It will be interesting to see what changes happen in the off-season for UOL, if any.

H2K

H2K played below expectations in summer split
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Although playoffs were not pleasant for H2K, their regular season went well. They finished 10-3, losing twice to UOL and once to G2. H2K had not lost to any other team until Fnatic beat them 3-0 in the quarterfinals of playoffs. Only earning 10 Championship Points, H2K will need to perform at a much higher level to re-qualify for the World Championships.

H2K played about where most people expected them this season. They did finish at the top of Group B, but that was more due to Unicorns faltering than H2K scaling higher skill-wise. Febiven looked more refined than Spring Split, but the bottom lane, Nuclear in particular, proved less dominant in the new meta. Odoamne and Jankos showed glimpses of their top-tier play, but could not exhibit such talent consistently against other top teams.

Playoffs was almost more heart-breaking this split for H2K. G2 skunked the squad 3-0 in the semifinals, sending H2K into the gauntlet. Once there, they made it all the way to the finals, but lost 2-3 to Fnatic to miss the World Championship. The expectation was for H2K to grow in the mid-season to stand a chance of making it to Worlds. Unfortunately for them, that did not happen.

Mysterious Monkeys

MM played to expectations in summer split
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: While EU Challenger teams have historically performed well in their first split of LCS, this roster’s talent is questionable compared to the others. They even lost their starting jungler. The Monkeys come into the split with low expectations, most likely ending the regular season in fifth for Group B.

As expected, Mysterious Monkeys did not have a successful Summer Split. They lost 23 of 28 regular season games, finishing with a 2-11 record. Ninjas in Pyjamas and Roccat were the only two teams they were able to take series from. Even after signing Kikis and Amazing as a top-jungle duo in week four, the Monkeys struggled to make much of an impact on the EU LCS. They did finish last in Group B, which forced them into the promotion tournament.

Although it is unclear how the reported LCS restructuring will affect European teams in 2018, Mysterious Monkeys did get “relegated” in the promotion tournament. They lost 2-3 to Schalke 04 in round one, and 0-3 to Ninjas in Pyjamas in round two. That is the ultimate proof that a team is not ready for the professional league. The Monkeys’ organization will most likely rebuild the roster in the off-season and come back next year with more experience.

Splyce

SPY played below expectations in summer split
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: It is unclear what Gevous will add to Splyce. It is possible that a new coaching style may help bring Splyce’s members up to a new level. The players know they can play up to the same level as Unicorns or H2K. The anticipated meta shifts will probably help Splyce, as well. Tankier junglers with fast clears and impactful kits suit ‎Jonas “Trashy” Andersen, and  Martin “Wunder” Hansen generally looks more influential with damage-dealing split-pushers.

Firstly, Splyce let Gevous go around two months ago, with two weeks of the regular season, playoffs and the gauntlet remaining. He has yet to be replaced. That being said, it is difficult as a viewer to understand how much of an effect a coach has on a team. How much of Splyce’s shortcomings can be blamed on a lack of chemistry between the coach and the players? It is hard to parse apart.

It should be safe to say that Splyce will be disappointed when reflecting on this split. The organization’s power level in the LCS has effectively plateaued this year. Of course, Splyce has not had the same falling off as Origen. Splyce is still a playoff team, and they are clearly a step above Roccat and Vitality. They took G2 to an edgy five games in quarterfinals of playoffs. However, it has felt like a long time since fans and analysts held Splyce to the same esteem as their LCS debut.

Nothing about Splyce’s gameplay is horrible. Each lane is able to hold its own in the laning phase. They are able to contest objectives and commit to rotations. They are able to team-fight in the mid and late game. Splyce just is not the best at any of these gameplay elements. H2K and Fnatic will almost always get larger early game leads and close the game before Splyce can team-fight them. Unicorns of Love and G2 will almost always beat Splyce in a beefy brawl. The Serpents are the undoing of bottom four teams, just like Misfits, but they have been unable to break through the upper echelon of Europe.

Like Unicorns of Love, it will be interesting to see what happens to this roster in the off-season. Trashy seemed to be the most up-and-down player on the roster, thriving on Gragas and Ivern, but struggling on Elise and Rek’Sai. Mikyx was overshadowed by more proactive support players, but Wunder, Sencux and Kobbe have proven they can carry when needed. Each of Splyce’s players are capable of playing up to the best of Europe, and this roster has played together for two years. The coaching position will obviously need to be filled with someone who can unlock the potential of this squad, or who can make needed adjustments for the future.

Team Vitality

VIT played below expectations in summer split
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: This is another team that looks to benefit from the upcoming metagame. Top laner, Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet, looked best as a split-pusher when Vitality finished the regular season in third place in Spring 2016. A more anchored bottom lane and pressured top lane could open Charly “Djoko” Guillard up to have more options in the jungle. Vitality could look to move up in Group B if they mesh properly and other teams show weakness.

Bringing on Vander was supposed to shore up Vitality’s glaring weaknesses in the support position in Spring Split. It did not. Vitality looked roughly the same as last split. Nukeduck put the team on his back almost every game. Cabochard did look a bit more like his former self while laning, but Vitality’s bottom lane and jungler could not hold up against the rest of the LCS. To make matters worse, H2K, Unicorns of Love and Splyce all showed serious weaknesses this split, which Vitality was unable to punish. It is no coincidence that three members of Group A are attending Worlds as Europe’s representatives.

Vitality finished with a 12-17 game score. They only took one point off of a top six team (UOL), but won all series against MM, NiP and Roccat. Vitality will need to make serious changes coming into the LCS in 2018. They are simply not an exciting team. Replacing one player in one role does not seem to be sufficient. Looking at jungle and bottom lane is a start, but even top lane is not out of the question. A roster overhaul will be necessary before Vitality lives up to the expectations of European fans.

Roccat

ROC played below expectations in summer split
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: Roccat will come into summer an underdog, yet again. But if they can build off of their gameplay, synergy, and growth from spring, then they can definitely take games off of other Group A teams. Ambrož “Phaxi” Hren, in particular, should be able to continue drafting lane bullies such as Gnar, Fizz, and Renekton, which he played well in the final weeks of last split.

Roccat’s spring momentum did not carry over much into Summer Split. This team continues its arc as the most inconsistent performer in the EU LCS. Roccat finished the Summer Split with 1-1 records against every team in Group A, the only one to do so. The Cats also lost every cross-group match-up, except Unicorns of Love. It is strange that the same team that is taking series off of Fnatic, G2 and UOL is also dropping series to NiP, MM and Vitality.

Pridestalker actually pressed himself into the EU LCS in his debut split. Generally starting ahead in CS and gold at 15 minutes, Roccat’s jungler was one of the only players happy to draft Warwick and Kha’Zix over tank junglers throughout the split. Pridestalker also participated in First Blood in 27.3 percent of games.

Phaxi and Betsy were highly inconsistent this summer. The solo laners could never seem to hold pressure in their lanes against other European teams. Meanwhile, Roccat’s bottom lane was solidly top five in the LCS (in my opinion, Wadid deserved recognition as an All-Pro support). Like Vitality, a roster overhaul will be necessary if Roccat wants to reach the next level of competition. While no one would necessarily expect Roccat to suddenly become a title contender, many analysts were probably hoping for more from them after their end-of-split streak in spring.

Ninjas in Pyjamas

NIP played above expectations in summer split
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Presplit thoughts: While this team will most likely be the Spring 2017 Origen of Summer Split, it could also come together as an unexpected surprise. If Shook can manage to find synergy with Profit and Nagne, and HeaQ and Sprattel can grow together, then they could find upsets in Group A. This could also be Coach Nicholas “NicoThePico” Korsgård’s shot at redemption, as well. If they can all put aside their past failures, then they just may find success.

It’s safe to say Ninjas in Pyjamas was better this summer than Origen was in spring. They had a stiff early game, often gaining large gold leads by 15 minutes. NiP showed some signs of strength, such as their win over Fnatic in week 10. As expected, the Ninjas finished last in Group A with a 2-11 record. The team never seemed to synergize in the mid-late game, often missing opportunities to pressure turrets or neutral objectives. Sprattel and Shook were unable to engage or peel effectively for Nagne and HeaQ to carry, which made Profit’s split-push strategies fall flat.

At the end of the day, NiP was not ready for the LCS. This team did get relegated in the promotion tournament by losing to Giants and Schalke 04, but reported 2018 changes may make that insignificant. Like Mysterious Monkeys, NiP may return to the domestic leagues of the EU LCS. If so, they will need to take a hard look in the mirror and make adjustments. NicoThePico did not add much to his resume on this one, but, again, it is hard to tell how many of NiP’s issues were from the roster or the staff. 

Overall

MSF played above expectations in summer split
Image from LoL Esports Flickr

While hardly any of the teams in the EU LCS played to pre-split expectations, the on-paper breakdown of the split was fairly usual. Splyce, Misfits, H2K, UOL, Fnatic and G2 qualified for playoffs. Mysterious Monkeys and NiP fought, and lost, in the promotion tournament. Vitality and Roccat were somewhere in the middle. G2 took home another domestic victory. Fnatic is attending Worlds. Rekkles was voted Europe’s MVP.

This Summer Split will be remembered as the last one with two groups and one professional-level league. If the reported changes for the EU LCS come through in 2018, then we will be looking at an entirely different ecosystem. It will be home to 24 total teams with 24 rosters and 24 different dynamics to keep up with. The lines between S tier, A tier, and so on will become more blurred, and placements between organizations should become more nuanced.

Expectations going into Spring Split next year will be so up in the air it may not even be worth writing about. So as we move into the 2017 World Championships, take some time to reflect on your experience with the EU LCS. As you cheer for G2, Misfits and Fnatic through the event, preserve these Summer Split memories so we can talk more in 2018 about the future of League of Legends in Europe.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr

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