Despite understanding that the season never goes exactly how it looks on paper, analysts far and wide can’t help but take a look at the craziness of the League of Legends offseason and attempt to make sense of it all. Today, Walter Fedczuk and Chase Wassenar will take all the lessons they learned while preparing their Rough Drafts team-by-team preview podcasts and take their best shot at predicting this year’s European LCS split. When looking at each of these teams, four clear tiers stood out.
Favorites: The teams that immediately jump off the page as powers to be reckoned with. They either accumulated an incredible amount of individual talent and seem destined to put it all together or have developed a synergy among their teammates that is impossible to deny. Teams in this category are most likely to face off against each other in the finals, but even in the worst case scenario, they’ll be a top four power in the region.
Contenders: They aren’t quite as strong as the favorites right now, but they very well could be by the time the summer split rolls around. Teams in this category have a ton of raw talent but need time to develop or adjust to the new talent who has come their way. If everything breaks right, they can make a run, but given the quality of teams in the tier above them, it’s going to be tough to pull off.
On the Rise: These are some young, up-and-coming teams that are looking to make a name for themselves. They might not have a ton of big name players on their roster, but they make up for it with time spent together as a unit combined with the natural desire for younger players to go out and prove themselves on a big stage. They’ll be happy with a playoff appearance; anything more is just icing on the cake.
Falling Stars: These teams aren’t what they used to be. Either changes in the infrastructure around them have left them in the dust, or a last-second blitz to put together anything resembling a roster left them with a product that is hard to see achieving much sustained success. If any of these teams make the playoffs, something likely went wrong in the tiers above them. Avoiding relegation is most likely the name of the game.
With that introduction out of the way, let’s get started.
Walter: While the rest of the European landscape has been rearranged with massive roster changes, Origen was able to minimize the impact by adding another piece to its world semifinalist puzzle. The organization insists Enrique “xPeke” Cedeno and Tristan “PowerofEvil” Schrage will share mid lane duties, it’s hard to ignore how seamless the transition to POE appears after a successful IEM San Jose. The addition of POE gives Origen an expanded champion pool in the mid lane and an exceptional team fighter to add another wrinkle to its ever-expanding playbook.
Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, formerly known as “Niels,” was the best rookie the West has seen since Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, while Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez and Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider proved to be perfect compliments to the style that Paul “Soaz” Boyer and xPeke have spent years perfecting. It’s hard to imagine this team at any other position come the end of the year.
Chase: A Western team finishing in the top four at the League of Legends World Championships is one of those treats you have to savor while it lasts. Origen being able to pull off the feat in its first split as an LCS roster is impressive enough, but it somehow managed to improve that roster over the course of the offseason, which is unprecedented in Europe.
Signing PowerOfEvil will ease xPeke’s natural transition into the coaching role for this team, while also giving Origen young talent it can mold in xPeke’s image. The new mid laner managed to make a name for himself on a far less talented team last summer, so this should be a breeze by comparison. The transition will be a bit more complicated than some fans might realize though. PowerOfEvil tended to favor mid lane champions with a weaker early game but the ability to scale into the late game as a huge damage threat, while xPeke focused more on control mages with safe laning phases. This means that Amazing will no longer be able to exclusively gank top or three man tower dive with Zven and Mithy in the bot lane, as the mid lane will need just as much help.
Still, if IEM San Jose means anything, this is the kind of problem that will likely fix itself, especially under xPeke’s guidance. This team was already terrifying before the move; now, its ceiling is even higher. Fans are going to have a lot to look forward to this split.
Walter: What do you get when you take pieces from the third and fourth best teams in the 2015 summer split and add one of the most aggressive and controversial AD carries in Europe? Origen’s biggest challenger. This is a no brainer for a team with “Godgiven” and the “King of First Blood” Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski, as the two join Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu and Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook following a worlds campaign that ran H2k into SK Telecom T1 and Edward Gaming. This is the most talented roster Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou has ever played with, and it’s time to put up or shut up for the outspoken Greek.
Pairing with Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan gives him a support that will enable his aggressive laning style and give Jankos three solid lanes that don’t require babysitting, allowing him to harken back to his erratic jungle paths and ganking patterns of splits long past. The return of coach Neil “Pr0lly” Hammad and addition of analyst Michael “Veteran” Archer should pull this team together quickly, but if things start out rough, will FORG1VEN’s cranky attitude sink a promising lineup?
Chase: This should be everyone’s reference point when discussing super teams. Keeping Odoamne and Ryu ensures H2k maintains its top lane dominance within the region while also giving it one of the most dependable mid laners in the world. That stability will free up a ton of opportunities for Jankos, the once and likely future “First Blood” king, and FORG1VEN, an ADC who has proven himself time and again to be a killing machine when surrounded with talent he trusts to take advantage of his aggression. VandeR is certainly that type of support: mechanically gifted and probably thanking any and all deities that he has an ADC who will actually take advantage of his playmaking abilities.
It’s going to take some time for them to come together, but the bigger question is whether the team will be able to keep FORG1VEN on board with the program. This is his fourth team in five splits (one of which he spent entirely on the bench), and each split has ended with controversy. From toxicity on the solo queue ladder to visibly yelling at or checking out on his own teammates, he has yet to find a team that’s wanted to keep him around for longer than a single split despite the undoubtedly incredible level of talent he brings. This is the best opportunity he has ever had to succeed at the LCS level. For his sake as well as his teammates, I hope he takes advantage of it.
Walter: With last year’s “Korean Experiment” proving to be a success, Fnatic once again looked to Korea to replace its top laner and jungler, this time bringing former Dignitas Top Laner Noh “Gamsu” Yeong-jin and World Elite Jungler Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon. The new pair is polar opposite of the team’s former top and jungle, as Spirit is much better suited to carries. The other more slightly overlooked change has been the departure of long tenured Support Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim for Lewis “NoXiAK” Simon Felix.
He’s no YellOwStaR, but NoXiAK was able to show some promise at IEM Cologne enabling his carries while establishing vision control, though he did have a few positional missteps.
Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten and Rekkles return and have publicly stated they need be better leaders, but without the safety blanket that was YellOwStaR, are they up to the task?
Chase: It’s impossible to simply replace a player of YellOwStaR’s ability both on and off the rift, yet this is the task at Fnatic’s feet. No one person is going to be able to make up the intangibles and mechanical skill that he brought to the team, but “Coach of the Year” Luis “Deilor” Sevilla has done his best to split up those responsibilities as much as he can.
Febiven and Rekkles are attempting to take over shot-calling duties, though their Baron throw against Qiao Gu at IEM Cologne shows they have a long way to go on that end. The team will also be leaning on NoXiAK to set up Rekkles for laning battles and vision control, a skill set that’s yielded mixed results over the years. It’ll be an uphill battle as the players adjust to the new status quo, but they luckily have many things going their way outside of the obvious benefits of playing within the Fnatic system. Febiven and Rekkles still have the talent needed to be among the top players at their position, and Spirit brings a new level of playmaking and ganking abilities from the jungle position that can help bring a new edge to this team.
It’ll take longer than the average fan might expect for this team to get going, but the sheer amount of talent on this roster — combined with the Fnatic infrastructure — assumes it’s only a matter of time before Fnatic once again battles its way to the top of the standings.
4. Team Vitality
Walter: Much like H2k, Vitality is a consolidation of talent from various levels of success last year. The biggest star lies in the top lane with Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet, a split push monster that can single-handedly draw multiple people to attempt to stop him. His only problem is that he’s lackadaisical on other play styles, leaving him vulnerable to meta shifts. Mid laner Erlend “Nukeduck” Våtevik Holm and Jungler Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema have also shown massive highs with their ability to seemingly single-handedly carry games, but those days have been few and far between as of late. The former H2k bottom lane of Petter “Hjarnan” Freyschuss and Raymond “KaSing” Tsang have reunited for Vitality, and they may be the most consistent part of this team.
Both, however, are still learning the intricacies of their positions. Despite the faults, this team contains a ton of talent across the board. and if things fall in place, they could contend for a European championship.
Chase: There are certainly some risks in assuming this Vitality roster is going to be an immediate power. Cabochard’s incredible laning and split-pushing abilities are a huge asset in the current meta, but a move towards a more tank- or utility-focused top lane might minimize his effectiveness. Shook has been feast or famine throughout his career, with his summer split with the Copenhagen Wolves far resembling the latter.
That said, I’m willing to take the risk with these guys. Nukeduck and his hair both managed to grow exponentially as the season went on, and recreating last year’s H2k bottom lane with Hjarnan and KaSing ensures the team will have a shot-caller it can trust and a strong team-fighting asset. Their strength will wax and wane a bit depending on the direction League of Legends takes throughout the 2016 season, but there are enough solid and dependable pieces on this roster to believe it’ll be a serious threat once the playoffs roll around, especially if coach Kevin “Shaunz” Ghanbarzadeh can take his experience coaching Diamond to get Shook to a more consistent level of play.
On the Rise
Walter: As Europe’s auto-promoted challenger team, expectations would normally be lower, but with the drop-off that some LCS have had, it’s hard to see a world where the Danes truly struggle. Led by stellar mid laner Chres “Sencux” Laursen, Splyce has talented rookies across four positions, with jungler Jonas “Trashy” Anderson bringing a full split of experience from his time at Enemy.
Martin “Wunderwear” Hansen has a chance to stand out in the dearth of top laners that falls past the top three, while the bottom lane combo of Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup and Nicolai “Nisbeth” Nisbeth have more than six months of experience playing together. The big advantage Splyce will have in its inaugural season is veteran coach, and new analyst desk favorite, Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi. A trip to the playoffs seems an easy goal, but with the sheer level of talent at the top of the table, will we see a European version of Cloud 9 or the next Copenhagen Wolves?
Chase: Anyone who watched the Dignitas EU roster play in the European Challenger Series already knows this team is going to be a serious threat. Sencux appears poised to take the mantle of “next great European mid laner” thanks to his ability to consistently turn teamfights around in the mid to late game, despite giving up a significant share of his resources to his teammates. Trashy’s return to Europe is also quite exciting, as he finally has a mid and bottom lane that will actually take advantage of his ganking ability and constant damage threat that has been severely underrated.
Certainly, there’s still some growth needed. Wunderwear isn’t as consistent as he needs to be to go toe-to-toe with the top lane talent that surrounds him. Nisbeth still needs to prove he can handle the week-to-week pressure of playing on an LCS stage. But signing YamatoCannon as head coach gives me enough faith in this team to use its strengths to take Europe by storm.
6. G2 Esports
Walter: Get your scarves ready, because Ocelote is back and this time, he means business. Former SK Gaming legend Carlos “Ocelote” Rodriguez Santiago finally put together the right pieces to make the LCS, and he’s already shuffled the cards again in G2 Esports’ first professional season. The additions of Kim “Trick” Gang-yun and Kim “Emperor” Jin-hyun might look minimal on paper, but each carries huge risk and reward. Trick struggled in a short stint on CJ Entus and pushes one of Europe’s more interesting junglers, Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek, into the top lane, and while visa issues derailed most of Emperor’s campaign in North America, he showed a mixture of mechanical skill and poor positioning in the few games he did play.
Much like Splyce’s Sencux, mid laner Luke “PerkZ” Perkovic has a chance to once again prove that Europe is a mid lane talent farm. The real question lies in whether another “Korean Experiment” can succeed in Europe, or if more heartbreak is in Ocelote’s future.
Chase: G2 Esports leaves me asking a ton of questions. Moving Kikis, a jungler who proved himself to be integral to the Unicorns of Love’s success last year, to the top lane isn’t inherently a terrible idea, as his deep champion pool and history of playing the position previously leads me to believe he’ll be just fine. Making that move to sign Trick, the former CJ Entus substitute who played seven games last year and never managed to work up a stronger emotion from fans and analysts alike than “He’s OK” is what’s weird. Obviously, Ocelote and coach/”nightmare for gamblers everywhere” Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool sees a lot in his potential, and there’s certainly a ton of talent on the rest of the roster to be worth taking the risk. PerkZ is a dominant mid laner who loves to duel his opponents and keep them on the back foot early and often, and new ADC Emperor can equally match that level of aggression.
If support Glenn “Hybrid” Doornenbal is able to keep both of those players alive and Kikis is able to return to the top lane successfully, this team will be an interesting dark horse heading into the playoffs.
7. Unicorns of Love
Walter: How quickly the funky have fallen. After a surprise upset of Team Solo Mid at IEM San Jose in 2014, the team quickly established itself with off-beat strategies, running through the spring playoffs until being beaten down by Fnatic. The summer was equally interesting until Kikis departed.
A defeat by Origen in the regional finals led many to believe that sweeping roster changes were coming, and boy did they. Gone are star mid laner PowerofEvil and disappointing ADC Pontus “Vardags” Dahlblom. In their place are once-burgeoning talents Hampus “Fox” Myhre and Pierre “Steelback” Medjaldi. Both had disappointing ends to a marginally-successful 2015, but questions remain about whether their early successes with SK and Fnatic, respectively, were an aberration.
It seems that UOL may have found its solution to the jungler question with a veteran presence in former Gambit jungler Danil “Diamondprox” Reshetnikov, but like his new teammates, last year led to questions about his consistency. With peaks of talent since its arrival on the scene, UOL needs to figure out a way to make its players shine, or else it will fade into obscurity like a mistimed “Blue Card.”
Chase: I’d fallen out of love with the Unicorns of Love long before PowerOfEvil officially left the roster. The closing weeks of the summer split as well as its play in the playoffs and IEM San Jose have exposed a significant issue in the team’s understanding and ability to adjust to new metas. Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant simply looked outclassed compared to some of his coach counterparts at the top of the standings, and it’s hard to see them improving now that Kikis and PowerOfEvil are gone. There are certainly some bright spots on this team: Diamondprox has always been an inventive jungler in terms of pathing and champion pool, and his veteran presence could be huge on a team with several younger players. Fox is a solid role piece when he’s not asked to carry, and Tamás “Vizicsacsi” Kiss is a self-sufficient top laner with a consistently strong early game.
Break it down on a player-by-player perspective, however, and there’s a ton of good-but-not-great players, none of whom have particularly impressive team-fighting capabilities. They’ll be better than the rest of the teams in this tier, but it’d take a significant leap forward from at least two players to make the playoffs.
Walter: The offseason quickly turned from a near super team to a scramble simply to field a roster as ROCCAT lost all members of its 2015 roster. Although Simon “Fredy122” Payne and Edward “Edward” Abgaryan might not inspire confidence, they add a veteran presence that can help guide their younger players. Mid laner Felix “Betsy” Edling burst onto the scene for a struggling Gambit Gaming but failed to adapt to meta changes in the summer, leading to questions about his work ethic and champion pool.
Karim “Airwaks” Benghalia has always been a jungler that seems to just exist for teams that desperately need one, but he hasn’t really had the opportunity to showcase his stuff. The team’s gem might be ADC Mohammad “Safir” Tokhi, a rookie who has shown real ability in both the NA and EU challenger scenes.
Much like UOL, this team has a ton of questions regarding consistency, but ROCCAT might hold a trump card if Safir can assert himself among a weaker pack of European ADCs.
Chase: As a long time ROCCAT fan, I admit it’s difficult to look at this team objectively. On October 30, the team had announced Nukeduck, Jankos, and VandeR were all under contract. Now, it’s Betsy, Airwaks, and Edward. Betsy had serious consistency issues throughout the summer split, Edward died more than any European support player while failing to make many plays for his team, and Airwaks wasn’t strong enough to come off the bench for the Unicorns of Love after Kikis left the team. Those are not good signs.
The biggest positive is Safir, one of the best laning ADCs to hit the challenger scene in a while who managed to consistently grab double digit CS leads over his opponents. If he gets a chance to shine and Fredy122 returns to his 2014 form, this team might be able to surprise people. I’m not holding my breath.
9. Giants Gaming
Walter: The third Spanish organization, Giants Gaming, has worked hard to try and build a multi-national roster. Last year, it found a nice gem in support Oskar “G0DFRED” Lundström. This year, it looks to challenger veteran jungler Tin Tin “K0u” Lam and unknown top lane talent Peter “Atom” Thomsen to find a secondary carry to take the load off star mid laner Isaac “xPePii” Flores. When scaling poke mid laners were all the rage, xPePii was great, single-handedly pulling the Giants to victory after victory.
The early-season victories were enough to help secure a playoff spot, but xPePii’s lack of comfort on any other style forced the Giants to try and rely on Adrian “Adryh” Perez to carry, which failed on champions not named Ezreal.
It’s hard to imagine this team can do anything other than take a step backward with two rookies, but if the returning players can elevate their game, nothing is impossible.
Chase: One of my recent traditions has been consistently underrating Giants Gaming only to be proven incorrect. Eventually, I’ll be right, so I hope Giants fans appreciate my consistency if nothing else.
I want to like this team. xPePii has the ability to put out incredible amounts of damage for his team when he can play from afar on poke champions or use high mobility champions that can get him out of a jam if he’s caught out of position. When those champions aren’t in the meta, however, he really struggles. That’s a huge concern given Adryh led European ADCs in deaths despite also being a DPM master in his own right. I’d feel much better if either one of them sacrificed a bit of their damage for some safety.
The good news is they signed K0u who…is another guy who sacrifices consistency, vision control, and utility for the chance to do more damage. All in all, it creates a situation in which Giants are going to look very strong when they win and like an absolute disaster when things don’t go right. Given Atom’s inexperience, it’s hard to imagine he’ll bring the dependability this team needs. Giants are going to be a ton of fun, but I’m unconvinced their explosive play style will lead to wins.
Walter: What do you get when you pair terrible management with bargain-basement players? A relegation-bound team that only exists due to a failure to sell the spot. With little to be excited about this team, it’s a shame newcomer Jeremy “Eika” Valdenaire’s bright star might quickly burn out. Top laner Etienne “Steve” Michels was serviceable for ROCCAT last year and will need to become fast friends with jungler Berk “Gilius” Demir, as he heavily relied on his jungler for the chance to go even in lane.
Last summer’s starting support Hampus “Sprattel” Abrahamsson have both been benched before and have limited laning prowess. At the end of the day, a dearth of talent and an arrogant, frustrating management staff nearly killed a once promising organization. Luckily enough for former star Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, his teleport egg trick translated to real life, and his escape to North America should be the final death knell for this disaster.
Chase: The final casualty of the GoodGame Agency split is about to come through. It took a year to realize just how poorly managed this Elements team had been thanks to the ability of Froggen to single-handedly will his team to a seventh place finish both splits. Jacob “Maelk” Toft-Andersen was never meant to run a team, and the fact that this team will have started 15 different players within 365 days when the opening week begins demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding on how to build a team and provide the stability players need to succeed.
At the last second, Elements managed to buy a challenger team to ensure it’d actually have a roster, and even if you believed in the organization to make the right decisions on it, it’s hard to feel excited. Sprattel (formerly PromisQ) was so bad in his last appearance that he was benched for coach Patrick “Nyph” Funke midway through the season. Eika hasn’t played seriously since his spring stint with Gamers2. Gilius has been deemed a personality issue on every team for which he’s ever played, and both Steve and MrRalleZ leave a lot to be desired.
Barring some massive leap from Gilius or MrRalleZ, this team simply doesn’t have what it takes to compete at an LCS level. Call me pessimistic, but I don’t see that happening.
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.