EU LCS Power Rankings – 2017 Spring Split

It’s power rankings season! Here are mine for Europe. (Look for my NA LCS rankings soon on theScore esports.)

These rankings are meant to project the final standings of the 2017 spring split, based on my expectations of how these rosters will perform over the next few months. My criteria include:

  • The skill levels of the five players;
  • How well the players’ strengths, weaknesses, and play styles fit together into a cohesive unit; and
  • The players’ expected ability to communicate and coordinate their play, based on language, past team play performances, and quality of coaching staff.

This is how I see Europe playing out, with full explanations following the table.

Rank Team Top Jungle Mid ADC Support
1 G2 Esports Expect Trick Perkz Zven Mithy
2 H2K Odoamne Jankos Febiven Nuclear Chei
3 Splyce Wunder Trashy Sencux Kobbe Mikyx
4 Vitality Cabochard Djoko/GBM Nukeduck Steeelback Hachani
5 Fnatic Soaz Amazing Caps Rekkles Jesiz
6 Unicorns of Love Vizicsacsi Xerxe Exileh Samux Hylissang
7 Misfits Alphari KaKAO PowerOfEvil Hans sama IgNar
8 Roccat Phaxi Maxlore Betsy Hjarnan Wadid
9 Giants Flaxxish Memento NighT HeaQ Hustlin
10 Origen Satorius Wisdom NaeHyun Tabzz Hiiva

1. G2 Esports

Key Player: Trick, jungle
There’s little reason to think G2 will relinquish their spot at the top of Europe. From their overall skill levels to their flexibility to their continuing roster stability, G2 have everything going for them—except international results, of course.

Kim “Trick” Gang-yun is still the best jungler in Europe, and lost his closest rival with Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon’s return to Korea. Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez are still head and shoulders above any other bot lane pairing in the region, though they will have to keep working to stay ahead of the exciting new duos H2K, Vitality, and Misfits will throw at them.

The summer iteration of G2 was already good enough to win a championship, but this one-split-wiser version can be even better. Luka “Perkz” Perković has a chance to recapture his superior spring 2016 form through some improved self-discipline, and more time and experience should help Ki “Expect” Dae-han improve and be a more stable, integrated contributor. The team also expanded its support staff, most notably adding ex-TSM head coach Weldon Green as an assistant.

To lose their place as EU LCS favorites, G2 will have to shoot themselves in both feet.

2. H2K

Key Player: Jankos, jungle
The core pairing of Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu and Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski remains the soul of H2K. Even when Konstantinos-Napoleon “Forg1ven” Tzortziou was drawing so much attention, both on the Rift and in the media, it was Jankos who drove much of H2K’s success, while Odoamne quietly excelled in the top lane. With coach Neil “pr0lly” Hammad continuing to create the sound, innovative game plans that have staked H2K to so many early leads, all the tools are still in place to keep H2K trucking along.

There’s no denying that Sin “Nuclear” Jeong-hyeon and Choi “Chei” Sun-ho will have a hard time replicating Forg1ven’s relentless pressure in lane. That may make it more difficult for H2K to pull off the early-game macro that saw earn the highest first-to-three-towers rate in Europe last split (68%), especially if Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten doesn’t round back in form (which I think he probably will, to some extent). But even if H2K’s early game weakens, they will see gains in strategic flexibility now that they no longer have to dedicate themselves to Forg1ven’s PvE tendencies. On balance, that trade-off may hurt them in the short term, but I think it should help H2K balance themselves out as a team as time goes on.

H2K will probably spar with Splyce for first place in Group B all split, and it’s difficult to predict who will come out ahead, but I’m giving H2K a slight edge because the meta favours strong early games more than it punishes poor team fighting, which is likely to be a continued challenge for H2K this split.

3. Splyce

Key Player: Trashy, jungle
Splyce have been on a growth trajectory since they joined the EU LCS a year ago. An offseason of stability gives them the chance to keep the momentum going as their still-young roster grows both as a group and individually.

Jonas “Trashy” Andersen’s measured, defensive jungling is still the core of Splyce’s success, ensuring that the solo laners can get through the early game and reach their mid-game comfort zones. Martin “Wunder” Hansen and Chres “Sencux” Laursen are skilled split pushers and constant mid-game threats, while Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup fills a vital anchoring role. With Mihael “Mikyx” Mehle adding an aggressive spark, Splyce have all the pieces for success. Last split, they put those pieces together well enough to reach the summer finals and attend the World Championships. Those achievements should propel them forward, though if they want to substantially improve it may depend less on their experience levels and more on their ability to address smaller mechanical and decision-making issues, like shoring up Sencux’s early laning and trimming down Mikyx’s death count.

The biggest factor standing in the way of Splyce’s success is the standard lanes meta. It’s a big enough concern for me to place them below H2K by split’s end.

4. Vitality

Key Player: Hachani, support
The biggest issue with Vitality last split wasn’t their skill level. Rather, like a mini Longzhu Gaming, Vitality struggled to coordinate their talent and operate as a team. Given that issue, maybe the most dramatic thing Vitality have done is replace their long-time head coach, Kevin “Shaunz” Ghanbarzadeh. Their new coach is Heo “irean” Yeong-cheol, a Korean ex-pro whose previous coaching experience has been with the Saigon Jokers and Saigon Fantastic Five of the Garena Premier League. Vitality’s past team-play issues shouldn’t be pinned solely on their coach, but a new voice can help players see things in a different way.

The roster has changed, as well, with Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi joining early in the offseason and Raymond “KaSing” Tsang making a surprising exit in favor of the more aggressive Ha “Hachani” Seung-chan. Hachani will play a vital (ha!) role as an initiator and roamer to unlock Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet and Erlend “Nukeduck” Holm as the main carries, while Steeelback provides safe laning and solid team fighting. Vitality also agreed with me by finding their much-needed jungle upgrade in Charly “Djoko” Guillard, whose 70% first blood rate in the EU CS suggests that he’ll be right at home in a gank-heavy jungle meta. Lee “GBM” Chang-seok will be a wildcard as he explores his role swap into the jungle. In the best case scenario, GBM succeeds and helps Vitality win some games; in the worst case, he is a probably-expensive analyst who plays very few games but provides valuable experience and translation services to help out irean and Hachani.

If everything clicks, Vitality are definitely finals contenders. If Djoko struggles and Hachani’s wandering gets punished the way it sometimes was in Korea, they should still be a playoff team.

5. Fnatic

Key Player: Caps, mid
How do you solve a puzzle like Fnatic? Martin “Rekkles” Larsson is the only returning player from last split; Paul “Soaz” Boyer and Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider are decent but neither is a game-breaker at this point; Jesse “Jesiz” Le is returning to competitive play after a fairly long hiatus; and Rasmus “Caps” Winther is a rookie. You could fill multiple feature-length articles with the storylines of this roster (I wrote one and barely scratched the surface!), let alone trying to project their performance.

To be successful, Fnatic will need Caps needs to carry hard, because Rekkles hasn’t looked comfortable in a primary carry role for a couple of years. Amazing will likely direct most of his attention towards the solo lanes, securing Caps’s laning phase and continuing his existing synergy with Soaz. With Rekkles playing the secondary role in the bottom lane and Jesiz hopefully adding a playmaking spark, it’s not a bad roster setup. The amount of experience throughout the roster bodes well, too.

Yet I still have nagging doubts. It’s incredibly important to take the first tower in this meta, and the bottom lane is the easiest place to do that. Solo lane-oriented teams may be weakening their early game relative to the meta. Caps could turn out to be a very good player, but he has to refine his positioning in the setup for team fights and prove that he can hold his own in lane against EU LCS-level mids. Who can predict what will happen with the Jesiz experiment?

I’m playing it safe and slotting Fnatic into the middle of the pack for now.

6. Unicorns of Love

Key Player: Xerxe, jungle
I’ve expressed my appreciation for Tamás “Vizicsacsi” Kiss and Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov in the past, and Fabian “Exileh” Schubert has been blossoming more and more as a leader of Europe’s next generation of powerful mid laners. With that core, the Unicorns are set up pretty well to maintain their spot in the playoff hunt.

After a history of so much player turnover, it’s unfortunate to see the Unicorns having to deal with Kim “Veritas” Kyoung-min’s departure late in the offseason. Samuel “Samux” Fenández Fort will be thrust into a difficult position, and there isn’t much reason to put faith him in, given his thin resume. Still, the real power of this team lies elsewhere so Samux only needs to keep his head above water while he acclimates to the LCS level of play. Elsewhere, Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir should be a modest upgrade in the jungle, which was the Unicorns’ weakest position last summer.

On the whole, I see the Unicorns being a dark horse (no pun intended) by the time the playoffs roll around. If Samux doesn’t get exploited too badly, and if Xerxe can become a real threat (or unlock even better things from his solo laners), the Unicorns may even have enough firepower to threaten for another semifinals berth.

7. Misfits

Key Player: IgNar, support
Depending who you ask, the Misfits are either the next Origen or the next first-split Splyce. I fall into the latter category.

There is clear talent on this roster. Steven “Hans sama” Liv and Barney “Alphari” Morris are two of the strongest rookies enter the LCS, in either EU or NA, this split. Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun is probably the best player on the team, from his playmaking to his versatility to his leadership.

But Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon is a complete wildcard at this point in his career. And while Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage can be better than he was with Origen—especially now that his ADC offers meaningful threat—it’s unlikely that he’ll climb to the top of the positional power rankings.

As for the rookies, there’s room for both hope and doubt. Hans needs to round out his champion pool a bit more before I’m fully sold on him. In the Challenger Series, I really liked what I saw from his Lucian, with great team fighting and timing on his forward movements, but his play on less mobile champions like Ashe, Sivir, and Jhin didn’t hold up quite as well. Alphari had some big carry performances, but he and his teammates need to work hard to improve his inefficient use of Teleport and set up better map control so they can make real progress in split push scenarios.

The Misfits may face a macro gap against Europe’s better teams. In the Promotion Tournament, even Origen, a generally disorganized team, had crisper rotations and objective play than them. If the Misfits can learn to play from ahead more efficiently, they’ll eventually end up in good shape. I’m just not convinced they’ll get there in their first split.

8. Roccat

Key Player: Betsy, mid
I’m a fan of Felix “Betsy” Edling, and I’m glad Roccat were able to hold on to him to build their next roster. But I think team management had higher expectations for who they’d be able to sign to complement their star mid laner. They’ve ended up with some serviceable veterans and a very inexperienced top lane rookie, and they’ve taken another long shot on a low-tier Korean import with Kim “Wadid” Bae-in at support. It’s less than I’d hoped for, but might be good enough to at least avoid the relegation slots.

9. Giants

Key Player: NighT, mid
Na “NighT” Gun-woo burst onto the scene last split and was the core component of the Giants’ run to a third-place regular season finish. He’ll have to be even better if he wants his team to replicate that success, because the roster around him has gotten weaker, on paper at least.

10. Origen

Key Player: Wisdom, jungle
It’s unfortunate to see Origen continue to take steps backwards ever since their 2015 run to the Worlds semifinals. All of their core talent has slowly bled away, and now they’re counting on Kim “Wisdom” Tae-wan and Erik “Tabzz” van Helvert to lead three rookies into relevance. The best case scenario for this team is a possible climb into eighth, but even that won’t be easy.

Is Gamsu the Next Huni?

Despite their excellent performances in-game throughout 2015, Fnatic has had a rough offseason so far, losing three of their five players as well as their Head Analyst. According to a recent report out of the Daily Dot, though, two of the empty roster spots have now been filled, with Spirit, formerly of World Elite, set to replace Reignover in the jungle and Gamsu, formerly of Dignitas, attempting to fill the shoes of the ever-exuberant Huni. By reputation, most analysts would rate Spirit as an upgrade over Reignover, but what about Gamsu? Is he an unpolished gem, a high-potential player who will blossom under Deilor’s coaching? Is Gamsu the next Huni?

If you’d asked me a few days ago, I might have said a simple yes. But after a deeper investigation of Gamsu’s play, I’ve come to a different opinion: it’s possible that Gamsu may, some day, become as good as Huni, but he is definitely not the type of player Huni is, and he probably never will be.

Continue reading at Unikrn →

The Loser’s Legacy

History is written by the victors.

It’s also written about them.

How quickly can you name the four teams that won each of the past four League of Legends World Championships? Now how quickly can you name the teams they defeated?

It’s perfectly natural that we enshrine and celebrate the winners. That’s the whole point of competition, really. It’s why each team, each player, strives to be the best: they want to establish their legacy, and the only guaranteed way to do that is to win. In any sport, a great player isn’t truly legendary until they have earned a championship, and League of Legends is no different.

In all the excitement around crowning champions, we are quick to dismiss the second-place finishers, let alone third, fourth, or eighth place. We don’t commemorate the “losers”: they receive no trophy, no confetti, and a runt’s share of the media attention. This despite the fact that they were one step away from glory, having beaten out every other challenger along the way just to feel their final goal slip out of their grasp at the last moment.

Every team but one ends their season with defeat. Everyone except the champion goes home a loser. We will remember Fnatic as the team too weak to defeat the KOO Tigers. We will remember EDward Gaming as the team too weak to overcome Fnatic. We will remember Counter Logic Gaming, H2k, and Cloud9 as teams too weak to get out of the group stage. It’s only natural, but what a shame.

How sad that we might look at these warriors and say, “You were not the best; you are inferior; you are unworthy.” Sadder still that the players and staff themselves might internalize this narrative.

In the aftermath of the 2015 World Championships, let’s give the victors their due. Without question, they will deserve their legacy. If SK Telecom T1 wins, they will be the first great international dynasty in League of Legends history. If the KOO Tigers win, they will be the biggest Cinderella story since the Taipei Assassins, and an incredible inspiration to other LoL veterans who aren’t sure they’ll ever be good enough.

But let’s also celebrate the achievements of the fallen. Even if the Tigers lose, they’ve already written a tremendously inspirational story, and a Finals loss hardly diminishes that. If SK Telecom T1 loses, they can still point to their incredible undefeated streak from earlier in the year, their LCK title(s?), and their complete dismantling of the rest of the Worlds tournament, and take pride in those accomplishments.

By the same token, we can applaud Fnatic and Origen for their runs to the Worlds Semifinals, and AHQ, Flash Wolves, EDward Gaming, and KT Rolster for their places in the Quarterfinals. Say whatever you want about regional parity, the unsettled meta, weaknesses in play style, or any other angle you can think up to diminish these teams’ accomplishments, but they made it to the Top 4 or Top 8 of the most significant international tournament of the year. Congratulations to all of them, and good luck improving on those results in 2016.

It’s only natural that we celebrate the conquerors more than the conquered, but no matter who takes home the crown tomorrow, they are all far from losers.

Hold your heads high, competitors: you have all done great things.

True Sight 004: “What can we learn from Europe’s success at Worlds?” with Shaunz

I ask Kévin “Shaunz” Ghanbarzadeh, head coach of Gambit Gaming: “What can we learn from Europe’s success at Worlds?”

Share your reactions and opinions using the hashtag #truesightpodcast on Twitter.

Music by Bradley Rains

Episode Archive

Versatility: The Ingredient That Makes Good Teams Great

Teamwork. Talent. Tenacity. I’m not just alliterating; I’m listing some of the attributes that make up a good, successful team, whether in League of Legends or any other team-based competition. But the World Quarterfinals have been teaching us that there’s another, less-discussed attribute that is essential to competing at the highest level of pro LoL: Versatility. Each of the three Quarterfinals we’ve watched so far has carried a valuable lesson about the importance of versatility, both as a team and as a player.

Watching SK Telecom T1 beat up on AHQ, we saw what happens when a player lacks individual versatility. AHQ’s Westdoor (may he enjoy his retirement) may possibly be the best Fizz player in the world. He’s also a very good Twisted Fate and a pretty good Diana. His skill with those champions was never in question. But all three of those champions do essentially the same thing: they are built around roaming assassinations in the early/mid game, and then split pushing and dueling in the mid/late game. They are binary champions: either they get ahead in the mid-game and become unstoppable terrors, or they fall behind and have a hard time positively affecting the game. No matter what champion Westdoor picked, SKT could easily predict the play style he was going to bring to the table. He was always going to roam to the side lanes, always going to try to split push. It was very unlikely that he would ever draft a champion built for team fighting or Tower control. As a result, SKT could come up with multiple ways to beat Westdoor’s play style, either through scaling champions or team fighting or appropriate vision control. AHQ had the talent and the teamwork to compete with SKT–maybe not to beat them, but to put up a fight–but because of Westdoor’s monotone champion pool, they didn’t have the versatility. AHQ was too predictable, and it severely reduced their ability to compete.

In the Flash Wolves vs. Origen series, we saw what happens when a team lacks versatility as a unit. The Flash Wolves earned their first-place finish in Group A on the back of some great protect-the-AD-Carry compositions and strong team fight execution. Maple’s assassin play was also a highlight, but the core of their approach was putting NL on a hypercarry and setting him up to mow the bad guys down. Over their four-game Quarterfinal, though, the Flash Wolves stuck much too closely to this formula, making very few changes in their champion picks, even despite losing games. And the changes they did make were fairly subtle, swapping out one or two champions for others that did largely the same thing. Origen beat the Flash Wolves’ preferred composition once, then beat it twice more, only dropping one game along the way. The Wolves never threw a single curveball, so Origen had the chance to learn from their loss and immediately put their lessons to use when they faced essentially the same composition the very next game. The Flash Wolves’ lack of versatility, their inability or unwillingness to run a pick comp or a skirmish style or any other significant adjustment, ultimately prevented them from overcoming Origen.

Fnatic offers the other side of the story. In their Quarterfinal against EDward Gaming, Fnatic eschewed their heavy skirmish-style play from the group stage by drafting an AoE team fighting composition in game 1, built around Viktor, Kennen, and Jarvan IV, and using it to make a mid-game comeback against EDG’s triple-Teleport snowballing comp. Then Fnatic upped their skirmish game with a Riven + LeBlanc combo paired with the popular Jinx + Tahm Kench duo for extra map movement and late-game insurance. Game 3 was a moderate variation on game 2, with Azir and Alistar for added team fighting strength. In the first iteration of game 2, which was remade after a Gragas bug, Fnatic even showed a willingness to leave Mordekaiser and Gangplank unbanned, a scary experiment that they chose not to repeat. Versatility wasn’t the only reason, or even the main reason, why Fnatic beat EDG, but if Fnatic couldn’t bring out multiple unique play styles, the series might have looked very different. And as Fnatic prepares for the Semifinals, their opponents will have a much more difficult time developing ways to beat them, since it will be tough to predict what Fnatic is planning to roll out.

There are lots of other signs pointing to the importance of versatility. Look at Cloud9’s week 2 collapse, after they failed to iterate on the composition they used to sweep week 1. Look at the poor showings by Invictus Gaming and LGD Gaming, who weren’t able to adapt well to the 5.18 meta, showing poor versatility in their practice and preparation. Look at the massive champion pools of players like MaRin and Faker and anyone else in the top tier of stars, and see what that does for the team’s success.

Versatility can’t make a team successful on its own. Talent, teamwork, and tenacity are what make a team good. But no matter how good a team or a player is, without versatility they will never be truly great.