Potential mid-season targets for EU LCS teams

The 2018 EU LCS Spring Split has concluded, and Europe enters the mid-season. This year is special, because, for the first time in a while, relegation is abolished. While franchising has not happened in the European league, like North America, teams remain secure for Summer Split, regardless of their place in the spring standings.

This time last year, the EU LCS saw several major mid-season roster changes, including Ninjas in Pyjamas and Mysterious Monkeys entering the league, Misfits picking up Maxlore and YamatoCannon leaving Splyce. With the risk of relegation off the table, it is unclear if this mid-season will show the same volume and depth of changes. That being said, here are the most likely targets for EU LCS teams hoping to shake things up this mid-season.

Unicorns of Love: Top-Support

Unicorns of Love may need to consider replacing WhiteKnight this mid-season

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The Unicorns finished Spring Split in tenth place with a 6-12 record. They spent almost the entire nine weeks in last place. Kold stood out as their key catalyst in the early game, playing Kayn, Evelynn, Kha’Zix, and Rengar outside of the meta junglers. His momentum and activity during laning phase pushed the pace for Unicorns’ opponents, but rarely allowed the team to snowball. Samux also performed fairly well across the split, with a string of carry performances on Tristana. These two feel like the best place to start for UOL’s roster moving forward.

Exileh continued his trend of tumultuous performances, sometimes carrying, sometimes feeding. Since Spring 2017, Exileh has been one of the most inconsistent mid laners in the EU LCS. His high points look dominant, while his low points look like feeding. Unicorns of Love will probably keep him, but it would not be too surprising if they replaced him. Bringing in new players to play around him may be better in the short term.

WhiteKnight and Totoro feel like the weak links on this roster. Unicorns’ top laner simply lost lane almost every match, and rarely made up for it in the mid-game. His Gnar was relatively good, but WhiteKnight finished significantly low in almost every top lane statistic. Totoro had a decent LCS debut, but did not bring a “wow” factor to the Unicorns. He was able to make some big plays on Alistar and Tahm Kench, but his Braum and Rakan did not translate as well. Best.GG ranks Totoro seventh among EU LCS supports, around the same level as Promisq, Targamas and Vander. However, these players are a tier below Kasing, Hylissang and Norskeren.

Giants: bot-support

Giants may need to consider replacing Steeelback this mid-season

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Giants came out swinging this spring, hovering among top four for the first six weeks. Unfortunately, a 1-5 record over the last three weeks dropped them to finish ninth overall. Once the meta shifted towards faster games with bottom-centric compositions, Giants fell apart. Ruin could not carry as much as his first few weeks. Betsy did not have adequate time to safely scale to late fights. Djoko’s supportive, control jungle style became much less effective.

However, Steeelback and Targamas were the biggest offenders. Steeelback and Targamas finished the season at the bottom of the league in almost every statistic, from laning phase to damage and KDA. Targamas’ rookie status allows him some grace, but Steeelback is a veteran of Europe, and this split was awful for him. Going into Summer Split, it would not be surprising to see at least one of these two replaced.

Of course, Giants entered the Spring Split with four-fifths of a new roster. It takes time for these players to synergize and build communication, especially when it comes to adapting to changes together. However, it is alarming when a team starts the split strong and progressively gets worse and worse. Betsy and Steelback have played in the EU LCS for a long time, but have not seen success in quite a while. Giants have a lot to think about in this mid-season. They do not need to worry about relegation, but if their goal is to compete with top teams in Europe, then they will have to make changes for summer.

Everyone else

Misfits and ROCCAT may not need to replace anyone on their rosters this mid-season

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Without the fear of relegation, the other eight teams will most likely maintain their rosters. H2K and ROCCAT probably field the weakest rosters, on paper, in the league; yet, they made it into playoffs. Misfits and Schalke 04 are composed of star players, but they consistently lost key matches, and could not execute in clutch moments. Fnatic, G2, Splyce and Vitality showed moments of brilliance over the course of the Spring Split. The players on these teams are not the issue.

Schalke could maybe benefit from organizational change. Something prevented their superstar roster from success, whether that be coaching, management, or something else. From the outside, it is impossible to know what underlying issues plagued them. Misfits falls into a similar category, with three-fifths of their Worlds roster unable to place top six in Europe. Granted, PowerOfEvil and IgNar were powerful components of the squad last year. It is difficult to believe that two new players under the same coach and organization would result in such lowered performance.

H2K and ROCCAT clawed their way into playoffs through steady improvement over the split and winning when it counted. H2K, specifically, made roster adjustments part-way through the split, which made a huge difference in their performance. They could realistically keep what is working and build off of it. ROCCAT understandably struggled in different positions throughout the spring, considering both its solo laners are Korean imports. However, Memento and Norskeren provided stalwart, consistent support. HeaQ exhibited highs and lows, but seems promising overall. Roster-wise, it may be worth retaining these players and working on consistency, communication, and synergy.

The 2018 mid-season may be the least tumultuous in Europe’s history. The region has historically seen rapid turnover between splits, due to new organizations entering the league regularly. Without the Promotion Tournament, the current LCS organizations can rest on their laurels and turn towards improvement and development, rather than risky, immediate change. Unless top talent turns to North America’s bottom-tier teams, expect those players to remain on their same teams.

credits

Images: LoL Esports Flickr

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Dare the Unicorns of Love dream of playoffs?

Ever since their entry into the European League Championship Series in 2015, the Unicorns of Love (UoL) have been an eternal underdog team. From their explosive performance at the 2014 Intel Extreme Masters tournament versus North American darlings Team SoloMid, to their crazy playoff run in their inaugural split, and their second finals appearance two years later versus G2 Esports, UoL have always had the odds stacked against them. Without the resources or infrastructure of the bigger teams, UoL nonetheless managed to win the hearts of countless European fans by proving that they had what it took to survive alongside the teams at the top. More importantly, they knew how to do it in style. This is why many fans are in a strange position: for the first time ever, UoL doesn’t have a single member of their original core roster.

Yet, in true scrappy Unicorns of Love fashion, after an abysmal record of a single win and eight losses which left them firmly at the bottom of the league, and with fans bemoaning the loss of Europe’s underdog darling, the comeback has begun. Over the last three weeks, UoL has managed to pull together for a crazy five game winstreak, leaving them tied with two other teams in sixth place: the lowest position at which a team can advance to the playoffs. Unfortunately for Unicorns fans, their struggles are far from over, as the final two weeks of the split will see UoL running a brutal gauntlet of four of the top five teams: Fnatic, G2, Vitality, and Misfits. To see if they can make it, lets have a look at how they earned their two victories this weekend, versus H2K and FC Schalke 04.

 

UoL V H2K – A new side to the Unicorns

Their previous game against a far weaker version of H2K was UoL’s only victory in the first half of the split, and they did not start the rematch strong, displaying lane deficits, desperate engages, and giving up an embarrassing first blood to a roam from H2K’s support while Unicorns of Love jungler Jonas “Kold” Anderson attempted to clear a ward. What salvaged them, however, was surprisingly astute shot-calling and macro play. A solid botlane gank from UoL towards the end of the early-game managed to deprive H2K of their toplaner’s teleport, and they utilised this advantage just a few minutes later. Using a well-placed deep ward and a fast collapse they turned a pick of their jungler into a counter-attack that let them snatch back two kills and seriously pressure for the first tower of the game.

Their real break came a few minutes later. Following the baron spawn, UoL made a concerted push for vision in H2K’s nearby jungle, using it to get a surprise pick onto H2K’s jungler. This allowed UoL to utilise their high-dps champions in Azir and Tristana to pivot and take an ineffectually contested baron at 22 minutes into the game. A baron which, in conjunction with the recently buffed item Banner of Command, UoL was able to use to take out H2K’s midlane inhibitor less than 2 minutes later, before H2K had lost a single sidelane tower.

From this point, UoL took firm control of the game. H2K was consistently unable to stop UoL’s pushes, often being too busy scrambling to answer sidelane pressure. When they did try to mount a straightforward defense, UoL’s usage of buffed minions allowed them to grind down towers while avoiding a fight. Though H2K would later in the game fight back with some well-coordinated engages, they were never able to entirely flip the game as at almost every point, UoL had cleverly set up side lanes to exert pressure that H2K had to answer. After having applied constant pressure for the majority of the game, UoL eventually managed to force an advantageous fight and snatch the win.

Image courtesy of LoL Esports

What was interesting about UoL’s play is that after the initial baron, it felt like UoL should’ve been capable of winning teamfights at most points in the game, due to their scaling champions, strong peel and engage tools. Yet for most of the game, every straight up fight for H2K that did not start with an overstep seemed to go in their favour. UoL therefore did everything they could to avoid fights, or to make H2K’s teamfight wins too costly to do anything with, using macro to cover for their perceived inability to teamfight. At almost every juncture, UoL chose to disengage and rely on the map pressure that they were so effectively building up advantages with. What we saw was a UoL that seemed to understand their weaknesses and play very effectively around them; a quality that’s encouraging in a team coming out of such a poor early season.

The word that best describes their play this game would be ‘decisive’. The Unicorns of Love were not, in many senses, playing to the calibre of a top team, but they were playing with the confident shotcalling of one. After a passive early game, they always seemed to know what they wanted, and weren’t afraid to be opportunistic in getting it, using chance picks enabled by their strong vision game to pivot onto objectives like baron or vulnerable towers. Once they began, they were able to smartly use objectives and pressure to dictate the pace of the game and take the win. Most importantly of all, they proved that they had the ability to play a macro game, a skill which will undoubtedly be useful against teams good enough to not take poor early fights.

 

UoL v S04 – Return of the Unicorns of Old

After their previous game, one could reasonably expect to see UoL attempting to expand on their macro strategy, potentially while attempting to shore up their passive early game and teamfighting weaknesses. What one certainly couldn’t have expected, unless they’re a true unicorns fan through and through, was UoL entirely abandoning all attempts at map pressure and carefully established vision and getting down and dirty with FC Schalke 04, good old Unicorns-style.

Though UoL once again lost or tied their lanes in the early game, they did show a more proactive side. Kold abandoned his previous strategy of getting caught in the river in favour of some strong gank attempts, and helped UoL secure both first and second blood. However, unlike their previous game, where they were able to constantly prevent H2K from taking any valuable objectives, these ganks came at a cost. With Unicorns of Love midlaner Fabian “Exileh” Schubert roaming up to assist in a gank that was over by the time he arrived, this allowed Schalke to snatch an early uncontested infernal drake.

Despite many early attempts to make plays and earn kills, only some of which were successful, none of this proved enough to establish an early lead. While UoL picked up some clean kills, Schalke was able to ultimately establish an early game advantage. They did this with picks of their own, effective responses to failed ganks, eyes on objectives and winning or even lanes all contributing to Schalke sitting on a small gold lead and two infernal drakes at 18 minutes into the game.

This wasn’t enough to deter UoL though, who took advantage of Schalke’s long early-game ultimate cooldowns after losing a fight to force another one almost immediately. By combining a forceful teleport-aided engage, smart positioning, and a well-timed flank on a split team from Exileh’s Veigar to rout Schalke. Of course, just as for the original Unicorns, just because a fight is over doesn’t mean the fight is over. UoL determinedly dived deep into enemy territory with the power of Eun “Totoro” Jong-seop’s Tahm Kench, securing more kills, staggering Schalke’s respawn timers and pushing towers hard.

Image courtesy of LoL Esports

In the old Unicorns of Love days, the word that defined their playstyle was ‘momentum’, and it was hard not to feel like the spirits of the old Unicorns were guiding the newer squad. This one teamfight win quickly turned into a first tower, which then turned into two more towers, which then turned into a masterfully executed teamfight outside the baron pit, which itself turned into an uncontested baron. By the end of this all, UoL had in the space of 3 minutes turned a small gold deficit and the terrifying prospect of facing a scaling team with two infernal dragons into a 5000 gold lead and utter control of the pace of the game. Just as in their win versus H2K, the baron proved to be the point at which UoL took control and refused to let it go.

Image courtesy of LoL Esports

However, in every other way, UoL’s performance here was wildly different from their previous game. Where vision and map play were used to outmanoeuvre H2K, brute force and scrappy skirmishes were used versus Schalke. While UoL had previously played scared and favoured disengages, here used the full force of their gold lead to be constantly in Schalke’s face. The game ended shortly after UoL used their map dominance to take a second baron, following with a determined push bot simply never ending, breaking through the base and smashing Schalke’s feeble attempts to defend. The UoL of this game was a familiar one, a squad unafraid to fight and reluctant to ever stop. It was a UoL who embraced the style that has taken them so far in the past.

What’s the take-away?

What makes these games so interesting is how UoL won both in such different ways. With some teams, this could be taken as a promising sign of versatility, yet UoL used each game to show strength in exactly the area they showed weakness in. With one game being all about the macro at the cost of an ability to effectively teamfight, and with the other showing a UoL who could confidently fight, but had to use brute force to crack the base.

What promising similarities there were between the two games could be seen in their decisive and opportunistic shotcalls. In both games, UoL saw a chance and went for it without hesitation, using these critical windows to blow the games wide open. It’s also likely no coincidence that these windows both occurred near baron around the 20-minute mark. This, alongside the Unicorns of Love’s confident usage of Banner of Command in their first game, suggests that they had a good read of the meta coming into 8.4. UoL may have already played their hand for the 8.4 patch, however. As good as they may have looked, it’s hard to imagine next week’s opponents in teams Vitality and Fnatic willingly engaging in risky teamfights near baron, and they’re less likely than lower-tier teams like H2K or Schalke to slip up and provide those crucial openings.

The Unicorns of Love have earned themselves a real chance to make a claim to that last playoff spot. Their chief competitors in Giants and Roccat also have difficult schedules ahead of them, each playing three of their four final games against heavily favoured teams. In this chaos, they most certainly have hope: five-game winstreaks from previously bottom-tier teams tend not to happen by freak chance. They’ve begun to come together as a cohesive team, with players like Totoro and especially Exileh rising to the challenge. Nobody can say which version of the pink power ponies will show up in the next two weeks, but the finish line is in sight. It’s up to them to gallop over it. All we can do is hold our breath.

 

Featured image courtesy of LoL Esports.

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Upset will be a rookie for the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Meet the rookie class of EU LCS Spring 2018

Riot Games recently announced that the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split will begin on January 19. The league will no longer be split into two groups, and matches return to best-of-ones. FC Schalke 04, Misfits Gaming, Team Vitality, Fnatic, Splyce, Team ROCCAT, Unicorns of Love, Giants Gaming, G2 Esports and H2K are the competing teams.

Like past years, the 2017-2018 off-season was filled with roster changes. Only 14 players will be on the same team in Spring 2018 that they were on in Summer 2017. Febiven, PowerOfEvil, Zven and Mithy transferred to teams in North America. With so many players changing teams and leaving the region altogether, new faces will fill the void left behind.

12 rookies have joined teams in the EU LCS for Spring Split. This is about half as many rookies as the 2017 Spring Split (roughly 21), but more than North America’s 2018 crop (roughly eight). The newcomers are distributed across top lane (two), mid lane (three), AD carry (three) and support (four). There are no starting rookie junglers this split.

 

Ruin will be a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

GIANTS – RUIN

Most recent experience – 2017 European Challenger Series, Giants Gaming

Summer statistics – 4.0 KDA, 61.8% participation, 22.5% damage

One of the only rookies to remain on his Challenger qualifier team, Ruin is the top laner for Giants. He helped Giants qualify into the LCS through the EU CS Summer Split last year. His best performances were with Gnar, but he also played Jarvan IV, Cho’Gath and Poppy. Jungle-top synergy will be Ruin’s biggest adjustment for 2018. Giants replaced Gilius with Djoko, a much less aggressive jungler with poor 2017 performances.

 

WhiteKnight is a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from Leaguepedia

UNICORNS OF LOVE – WHITEKNIGHT 

Most recent experience – European Challenger Series, Paris Saint-Germain

Summer statistics – 1.2 KDA, 41.4% participation, 16.3% damage

WhiteKnight is the other top lane rookie for Spring 2018. His Challenger team, Paris Saint-Germain, performed much better in the 2017 Spring Split than Summer Split. Nautilus is the only champion that WhiteKnight played more than twice, maintaining a 60 percent win rate. With Unicorns of Love spiraling downward at the end of 2017, and rebuilding in the off-season, WhiteKnight should look to simply learn and grow as much as he can in 2018.

 

Caedrel is a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

H2K – CAEDREL

Most recent experience – 2017 European Challenger Series, FC Schalke 04

Summer statistics – 6.2 KDA, 71.9% participation, 28.4% damage

With all of their 2017 members released, H2K is rebuilding for 2018. Caedrel joins to replace Febiven as mid laner from S04. He finished the EU CS Summer Split with the most kills and assists of any mid laner. While it will take time for all five new H2K players to gel, Caedrel has potential as a rookie. His best performances were with Corki, Orianna and Leblanc.

 

Blanc will be a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from Leaguepedia

TEAM ROCCAT – BLANC

Most recent experience – 2017 European Challenger Series, Paris Saint-Germain

Summer statistics – 2.7 KDA, 73.5% participation, 36.3% damage

The other rookie from Paris Saint-Germain, Blanc joins Team ROCCAT to replace Betsy in the mid lane. He was a standout while in the EU CS, with solid laning statistics and damage. Blanc also has experience as a starter for Jin Air Green Wings in the LCK, and substituted for G2 during their first series of Summer Split 2017. He will be a pivotal figure for a completely rebuilt ROCCAT line-up.

 

Jiizuke will be a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

TEAM VITALITY – JIIZUKE

Most recent experience – 2017 European Challenger Series, Giants Gaming

Summer statistics – 6.5 KDA, 72.2% participation, 31% damage

Jiizuke is the only Italian player in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split. He joins as Vitality’s mid laner, along with three other members of Giants’ CS roster. Jiizuke drafted mostly Orianna and Leblanc during Summer Split, but also mixed in five Ekko games. Previous synergy with his teammates is a huge advantage that Jiizuke will have over the other rookie mid laners.

 

Upset will be a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

FC SCHALKE 04 – UPSET

Most recent experience – 2017 European Challenger Series, FC Schalke 04

Summer statistics – 8.2 KDA, 14.4% death, 29.4% damage

Upset is the other player remaining with his promoted Challenger organization. S04 rebuilt their entire roster around the rookie AD Carry. Unlike some of the other 2018 newcomers, Upset will be surrounded by veterans at every position, which should allow for an easier transition. He has shown proficiency on a wide range of marksmen, and he is well-rounded at every stage of the game.

 

Sheriff will be a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from 5mid.com

H2K – SHERIFF

Most recent experience – 2017 Turkish Promotion League, Besiktas Esports Club

Summer statistics – 3.3 KDA, 53.8% participation, 20.9% gold

Sheriff enters the EU LCS after a stint in the TPL this summer where he helped Besiktas finish second place. He joins H2K as their rookie AD Carry, along with Caedrel, Santorin, SmittyJ and Sprattel. The veterans of H2K’s team have been relegated to Challenger leagues for a while now, so they will need Sheriff to execute in order to succeed. Kalista and Ashe were his best champions during Summer Split.

 

Minitroupax will be a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

TEAM VITALITY – MINITROUPAX

Most recent experience – 2017 European Challenger Series, Giants Gaming

Summer statistics – 10.7 KDA, 10.1% death, 27% damage

One of the most anticipated rookie additions to the EU LCS for 2018, Minitroupax is the ADC for Vitality. He finished the EU CS Summer Split with stellar statistics and helped Giants qualify for the LCS. Minitroupax mostly played Caitlyn and Kalista, but he also showcased high marks on Xayah, Tristana and Jhin. Ex-Giants support, Jactroll, is also joining Vitality, making them one of two bottom lanes staying together from 2017 into 2018.

 

Targamas will be a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from Twitter

GIANTS – TARGAMAS

Most recent experience – 2017 Challenge France, GamersOrigin

Summer statistics – Unavailable

Targamas will be the player with the least experience in the EU LCS this spring. He enters the LCS from Challenge France, the French national league, joining Giants as a rookie support. With supports like Jesiz, Chei, Klaj and Noxiak without LCS starter positions, Giants must see something worthwhile in Targamas. He joins Steeelback in the bottom lane.

 

Norskeren will be a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

TEAM ROCCAT – NORSKEREN

Most recent experience – 2017 European Challenger Series, FC Schalke 04

Summer statistics – 5.9 KDA, 17.8% death, 64.4 participation

Norskeren will duo with HeaQ in ROCCAT’s bottom lane this spring. The Norwegian rookie support played for S04 last split to help qualify into the LCS. A fiendish Tahm Kench player, Norskeren put up solid performances in EU CS last year. Luckily, Schalke’s jungler, Memento, will join ROCCAT, as well. The synergy and utility of these two players will be the main hope of weaving together Profit, Blanc and HeaQ into a winning team.

 

Jactroll will be a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

TEAM VITALITY – JACTROLL

Most recent experience – European Challenger Series, Giants Gaming

Summer statistics – 5.3 KDA, 21.2% death, 69% participation

Giants’ Summer Split support, Jactroll, joins Vitality for 2018. Playing mostly Braum and Thresh, he prefers play-makers over enchanters. Jactroll enters the LCS with three of his four Challenger teammates, which should make the transition that much easier. With only five of 10 LCS supports carrying over from 2017, this position is ripe for a rookie to take over.

 

Totoro will be a rookie in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from Unicorns of Love App

UNICORNS OF LOVE – TOTORO

Most recent experience – 2017 League Champions Korea, bbq Olivers

Summer statistics – 2.7 KDA, 19.3% death, 65.1 participation

Totoro is a “rookie” out of the LCK, joining Unicorns of Love as a support. His previous team, bbq Olivers, maintained a 28.9 percent win rate, and Totoro played for ESC Ever prior to that. He mostly played Braum and Rakan during Summer Split, but also drafted 11 different champions over 45 games. As a rookie Korean import, Totoro is the polar opposite of Samux’s previous support, Hylissang, which will take time to adjust.

These are the rookies for the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split. All 12 of these individuals will shape the professional League of Legends landscape this year. One of these players may become the next European superstar. One of these players may not handle the pressure. Nonetheless, it will be exciting to watch these rising talents mesh with their respective teams and coaches and grow throughout the Spring Split.

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Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr, Leaguepedia, 5mid.com, Twitter, Unicorns of Love App

Player and Champion Statistics: Games of Legends, Oracle’s Elixir

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