Heading into the summer split in the European League of Legends Championship Series, Vitality was tabbed as a potential worlds candidate. An impressive third place in the regular season established them as one of Europe’s best, and a defeat at the hands of Fnatic in the spring playoffs wasn’t that much of a surprise as Fnatic appeared on the rise at the time.
During the mid-season break, Vitality added two Koreans with a ton of potential in Kim “MightyBear” Min-soo and Hyeong-gi “Police” Park. Many thought this could be another Huni and Reignover situation, with two Koreans coming in to take a team to the next level.
But that isn’t quite how it worked out.
“We went for the approach that Koreans are usually really good at the game and they have a really good work ethic, and that is something that we lacked before,” Vitality support Raymond “kaSing” Tsang said. “We wanted to emphasize the fact that we wanted this team to really be trying hard, and being hungry to win. Going into the summer split that was the plan, we get two Koreans and then me, Cabochard and Nukeduck and try to improve over the split to try and make it to Worlds. But as you saw, the end result was that we barely made it to seventh.”
Seventh was enough to secure Vitality’s LCS future, but it missed out on the playoffs and a potential shot at worlds, which made for an incredibly disappointing end result for a team that had so much potential. When talking to kaSing, just a few weeks after the end of the regular season, it is clear he is still disappointed by the season. His initial answers are terse, that is until playing with the two new Korean players was brought up, which spurred KaSing to open up.
“Playing with Koreans is good if the Korean is actively looking to improve his English, because one of the key factors as to why we performed badly was because we had really bad communication problems,” he said. “One day it would be like we wanted to say something, say I was in bot lane and I wanted to make a trade with Police, but he misunderstands what I say a does something else. Usually you can just tell him to do this instead of that and it’s like the problem solves itself eventually, but this happened for a lot of weeks. I think for about six weeks the problem was still there, and for me it was really hard.
“With our jungler, MightyBear, he had a very different style or understanding of the game that didn’t really fit in EU. Maybe in Korea it would work, because in Korea back then everyone just played the farm style, where everyone just farmed for 20 minutes and then would play in team fights for things like Dragon or Baron. In EU it’s more gank heavy and early game focused. Because of that, MightyBear’s style really clashed with the way we played. Shook ganks and actually applies the pressure and vision, but MightyBear was more farm centric and wanted to farm more camps and do more so he can do the enemy jungle and be useful in that sense.”
It is clear from talking with kaSing that bringing in new players, especially Koreans who had never played in Europe before, mid season was a mistake and he knows it. It created uncertainty within the team and they didn’t have enough time to work out the clear issues. But it is impossible to blame it all on the new players; after all, there are five people on each team and kaSing admitted he certainly wasn’t perfect this split either.
“I’m a player who is used to trying my best to win the lane and be lane dominant, but this split I couldn’t do this at all, and it was really annoying for me because I had to play another style,” said kaSing. “In a way I learned another style, just by playing scaling lanes such as Trundle or Alistar, these tanks. I know my strength is not winning the lane any more, it’s just to try and provide pressure on the map. So my best bet is to look for a tanky support like Tahm Kench and just hope for the best and get to the mid game and then try something.”
Clearly kaSing being forced to change his play style and the introduction of the two new Korean players, along with a couple of other factors, threw Vitality well off track, and ultimately nowhere near the worlds slot that some had predicted. It was a lackluster end to the season, but as a debut year for the org in the EU LCS it certainly shouldn’t be considered a failure, despite how bitterly disappointing it was for the players on the team.
“It all just didn’t really work with the way we wanted play, we tried different ways to play, we tried adapting but nothing worked out,” kaSing said. “In the end, we fell short and didn’t get enough wins to hit the playoffs. Personally I feel quite sad that we only made seventh. I wanted to make playoffs at least. I also really really wanted to go to worlds, that’s for sure. I really enjoyed it last year with H2K. When I went to worlds we lost in groups because we got put in the group of death with SKT and EDG, I think we still had a chance, but that was the cap of that team. It sucked that I wanted to make it to worlds and actually perform well this year, but instead I made it to vacation.”
Reflecting on a bad split is generally quite useful, but with the season well and truly over for Vitality there really is little left to do until this year’s competitive action is done and dusted. With a good few months of vacation time, kaSing was predictably noncommittal on his plans for next season.
“Personally I don’t know yet what will happen,” he said. “I remember having an interview just after the seventh place match with another interviewer and it’s still the same as I told them. I still have to wait until after worlds, because usually in the off season after worlds a lot of things can change, roster moves that you wouldn’t really expect to happen. It’s kind of like YellOwStaR going to TSM last year, no one expected this at all, so for me I don’t know yet whether I will be in Vitality or another team, I will have to see.”
While some will look at the summer split as a big failure for Vitality, a team that had so much potential, it ultimately isn’t that bad. Sure, they didn’t get the big worlds payday, but they still have a slot in the LCS and a chance learn from their mistakes. Maybe next year they won’t try to bring in two unproven foreign players between splits, or change something that isn’t broken. It’s been a rough end to the year, but Vitality is in a strong position, and providing the management plays the offseason well then we could be looking at the organization once again being one of the better teams in the European LCS.
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.