If you have perused the European League of Legends Championship (EU LCS) standings, you might conclude the final week doesn’t matter. There are, however, still points of mobility for teams in the top three of each group that could impact the way playoffs proceed. A few events could set up some of the last, most exciting matches of the week between G2 Esports and Fnatic and Unicorns of Love and H2K Gaming to have major playoffs bracket implications.
Group A’s Clash of Kings
With Ninjas in Pyjamas locked into last place, Team ROCCAT sitting out in the safe zone below playoffs, and Misfits stuck in third, the standings could easily cement for Group A on the first day of the week. Fnatic sit two wins above G2 Esports and plays Ninjas in Pyjamas — with only one win to its name — on Thursday.
In order for G2 Esports to take first place in Group A, Fnatic must lose to both G2 and Ninjas in Pyjamas, and G2 must also defeat Team ROCCAT. If G2 then 2-0s Fnatic, it wins by head-to-head record (now the first tie-breaker in the EU LCS ruleset). If G2 wins 2-1, it will be even head-to-head with Fnatic at 23 wins. If Fnatic also loses to NiP 2-1, Fnatic and G2 would play a tiebreaker game to determine the first place match. If Fnatic loses to NiP 2-0, then G2 get the spot uncontested.
As such, either a G2 loss to ROCCAT or Fnatic defeating NiP could turn FNC/G2 into a mere “Final Preview.” So what’s the blueprint for an NiP win?
It’s worth noting that NiP’s drafts have improved considerably in the last two weeks of the EU LCS. In a July 29 win against Team ROCCAT, NiP traded the coveted Kalista first pick for the Kalista-thrashing combination of Maokai and Alistar. Against Misfits, NiP had a coherent Game 1 composition with decent bottom and mid lane matchups and a Maokai jungle. The team ended up losing out to Misfits’ better laning, but the draft was conceptually good.
If NiP understands draft priorities, it can set up a composition that forces Fnatic to struggle. Against ROCCAT, Fnatic struggled to respond to Taliyah’s fast reactions on the other side of the map when it made a proactive play. Fnatic’s strengths lie in reactive side-trading, but it can leave bottom lane unprotected if making the first play on top side, for example.
Kim “Nagne” Sangmoon has favored picks like Taliyah, but that’s where some of NiP’s early advantages might end. NiP’s general tendency to favor top side aggression will result in a 2-v-2 against Paul “sOAZ” Boyer and Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen, or just against sOAZ with his general tendency to predict jungle ganks. Unless NiP comes with an over-bearing bottom lane matchup, it could be difficult to claim any early advantages, even with a superior draft.
After that, Fnatic showed some gaps in its 1-3-1 execution against Team ROCCAT. Fnatic didn’t set up side lanes with a strong mid push and defaulted at times to trying to catch out an opponent bottom or top, leaving flanks unprotected in the mid lane. That lead to messy team fights and drawn out games. A NiP win is unlikely, but ROCCAT outlined the blueprint for how to pull it off.
As for a G2 and Fnatic clash? The desk favors G2 at this point, but it will likely come down to mid lane pressure. If Luka “Perkz” Perkovic unsettles Rasmus “Caps” Winther, G2’s biggest mistakes will come from not matching Fnatic’s mid game lane setups, but they can get a massive lead from mid control.
Splyce’s drop and Unicorns’ rise
In Group B, eyes will be on H2K and Unicorns of Love now that Splyce can no longer make a surge for second as a result of a poor head-to-head with both H2K and UOL. Splyce’s crash seems especially disappointing, considering rumblings of Splyce’s strength from teams and broadcasters alike.
Splyce’s struggles, however, gave rise to more Unicorns optimism. Unicorns’ drafts had a great deal of cleverness to them, including the Kayn pick to give Cho’Gath stability, the balance of the Leblanc and Twitch pick, and the selection of Trundle to disrupt Gnar’s all-in after the latter was picked as a lane counter to Cho.
In Game 2, Unicorns used the first pick Cho’Gath against Splyce with a strong jungle matchup and easy lockdown from the top laner. Splyce reacted poorly to the immediate Trundle pick by continuing to load up on Tanks and choosing Azir into a direct lane counter in Leblanc. Perhaps some of Splyce’s drafting struggles come from the coaching kerfuffle that has plagued the team, but Unicorns found their way to a definitive drafting triumph.
Unicorns have experimented more with early game compositions, which flies slightly in the face of the perceived meta. In China and Korea, however, picks like Elise remain favored. Unicorns might be anachronistic in the context of Europe, but they have demonstrated effort to improve their flaws — something they have always hesitated to do, defaulting instead to comfort.
Some Unicorns optimism faded when Fabian “Exileh” Schubert and Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant told me that Unicorns pick for comfort first, then consider flaws. They still want to default to comfort after a struggle, but they merely have certain early game compositions in their wheelhouse.
At least they can play them. While I won’t praise Unicorns’ 1-3-1 closeout as readily as others, it’s a sign that the fight against H2K will be less about H2K’s early macro and Unicorns winning Baron fights. It could turn out to be a more well-rounded face-off altogether.
Of course, either Unicorns or H2K could ruin the romance of the final day clash by losing to either Vitality or Mysterious Monkeys. Team Vitality and Monkeys have similar formulas, but Vitality has a better concept of transferring top leads to the rest of the map and a more solid mid lane hold. Especially with Exileh himself admitting that sometimes he “just died too much to jungle ganks, and died in general too much in the mid lane,” they’re the most likely to spoil the fun with a Team Vitality loss.
Chances are, however, at least one major group leader clash will set up well for the playoffs. At the moment, I would predict the bracket to shake out with Fnatic and H2K secured for semifinal byes. I think in bracket stage, H2K will fall because its drafting and execution historically falters in high pressure best-of-fives, but the team has made enough improvements to mid control that hasty fights are less of a problem in regular season.
That will set Misfits against Unicorns of Love and G2 Esports against Splyce. Both second place teams should advance to semifinals for one last cross-conference set between G2 and H2K and UoL and Fnatic. If you aren’t excited — at least for that — you haven’t been paying attention.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games