One player is far and above most players in the LEC when it comes to damage per minute. It isn’t Steven “Hans Sama” Liv (18th), with his Draven performances dramatically snowballing games far out of his opponent’s reach. It isn’t Lee “Ruby” Sol-min (2nd)– the mid lane standout for Team Heretics who has found immediate success in the region. Instead, the title goes to the marksman of the 1-5 Excel lineup, a man who arguably has had one of the most frustrating careers of any LEC player: Patrik “Patrik” Jírů.
Currently with a 1.8 KDA, recording the third most overall deaths (26) and contributing to the sixth most kills among LEC marksman (48), the start to the winter season has headscratcher for Patrik on a team that entered with such high expectations. Bringing in top talent to surround their franchise player, Excel looked to be in a position to not only do well but contend for a championship. But with only one win against BDS this season and critical losses to struggling lineups like KOI and Astralis, they’re staring down a fierce gauntlet for their third week. And if they aren’t up for the challenge, they will be out of the winter group stage.
Fortunately, Patrik has been a marksman that can put the team on his back. The question is: can he do it right now?
It has been obvious that Excel are learning how to play with each other. A good example is their matchup against Astralis on the final day of week two.
With a Draven and Nautilus bottom lane, a K’Sante up top and a Taliyah in mid, all signs pointed to a potential focus on the bottom side of the map. Yet they would be shutout in lane. Raphaël “Targamas” Crabbé’s all-in attempt at 3:30 into the game would not only be mistimed with Patrik, it would also be quickly silenced by a Nami bubble and a missed hook. They would force again at 4 minutes into the game and nearly handed over two kills to a Lucian-Nami bottom lane. And at 7:30 into the game, the Excel bottom lane would be the dove on, rather than the opposite way around. Excel couldn’t even record a kill into 19 minutes – taking advantage of a misstep and funneling onto the right player in Patrik’s Draven during a mid lane skirmish.
Excel have not been great at being proactive and have instead been incredibly reliant on the missteps of their opponents. Their ability to stall out against BDS in week 1 set the stage for them to steal a victory after poor BDS play around Elder Dragon 38 minutes into the match. And Excel still nearly managed to throw that massive win away, greedily attempting to end the game and nearly being wiped out. If you look at the face cams following that game, the expression on Excel’s faces tell the story with players simply looking disgusted with the victory.
The team has lacked real definition with their style of play. Disappointing performances from key offseason signing Vincent “Vetheo” Berrié – whose roaming playstyle hasn’t translated to the new year – has been a key talking point. His -464 gold difference and -9.5 creep deficit at ten minutes places him at the bottom lane of mid laners. And he’s struggling to influence the game – contributing to the third fewest kills in the LEC among mid laners at 40. But the sophomore slump of Targamas has been even more prevalent. Arguably the second-best support in the LEC in 2022 has been wiped from the memories of fans with ugly mechanical displays. However, it has been quite fascinating since Targamas being much more active early in the game – pairing with Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomi to record a 50% first blood rate, topping all supports in this category.
It leads to the conversation around the stylistic woes that can plague a team with incredibly talented players. Coach Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool has had a mixed history when it comes to leadership of teams. One of the longest-tenured coaches in the LEC, he has also struggled to find success since joining Excel in 2020. This has been the most talent he has had on a roster since coaching Fnatic and he has arguably looked to play into the strengths of each player. Yet the lack of confidence on display leads to the question of what can be done differently from a drafting or strategic perspective.
The immediate idea is to bring out a scaling or reactionary composition – taking advantage of Patrik’s passive laning and the individual talent of the line-up for a focus on team-fighting – yet can also be unrealistic and overpowered by opponents. Patrik also hasn’t been the perfect player this season – as noted by his high death count and misplays. It should also be noted that it hasn’t necessarily been all on him — with moments such as Vetheo’s Taliyah walling him out of a team-fighting limiting his ability to contribute.
It should be noted that this current tournament style is taking no prisoners. Issues or struggles a team may be experiencing are compounded with three game weeks and the immediate need to perform or else lose valuable stage experience. Only one team is locked for groups – Vitality – and one bad week from a 4-2 team could mean they’re out.
The battle between Team Heretics and Excel on Saturday will tell the story. Despite a 3-3 record, Heretics are still looking to find their footing, especially with their young marksman Jakob “Jackspektra” Gullvag Kepple showcasing very high highs and questionable lows It is a good checkpoint for both teams, especially with similar the two lineups appear to be on paper. And whichever wins likely will be able to enter day two with a little more confidence under their belt.
For Excel, a loss could be the breaking point so early in the season with how the LEC is currently formatted. A line-up that is in desperate need of something good or something positive realistically cannot survive a potential early exit. It could also be the tipping point when it comes to the conversation around the player who has the keys to the franchise.
Despite individually great performances — weight-carrying performances, and bringing some legitimacy to Excel, Patrik hasn’t turned Excel into a top line-up. Whether it is on the player or other factors, is a different conversation for a different day. What turns great players into legends is the ability to turn around the rough starts, saving the day. Patrik hasn’t necessarily been able to do that. And with some of the numbers he’s been able to put out, the argument could be made that he should be.
It is a season that will be based on “extremes.” Whether it will be extremely good or extremely bad Excel, we’ll soon learn.