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Kelsey Moser’s EU LCS in Review: Gut reacting to Week 10 and quarterfinal predictions

So maybe EU LCS Week 10 didn't matter after all.
EU LCS Week 10 set the stage for the playoffs and promotional tournament. Photo courtesy of Riot Games.

It’s dangerous to put too much stock into the final week of the European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS) summer regular season. In a clash of engage and disengage, a few of the top teams invested heavily in the bonus the Ancient Coin and Ardent Censer supports can bring to the laning phase and went for heavy laning picks, sometimes even without Coin and Ardent available. Bottom-tier teams abused that in the final week, and conception has been muddied. With teams like Fnatic adapting on their last day, there’s signs that Week 10 actually didn’t matter.

So let’s unpack it. Gut reactions can have major implications on who we favor going into both the promotion tournament and the first round of the playoffs.

The most significant seeds to consider going into the promotion tournament, obviously, are Mysterious Monkeys vs. H2K Gaming and Ninjas in Pyjamas vs. Fnatic. In both series, H2K and Fnatic drafted compositions that followed similar trends.

The most noticeable thing is Fnatic’s lack of engage. Rumble has become something of a trap pick (if your name isn’t Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu) because his heavy push makes him abusable in lane by aggressive jungle picks, but beyond that, teams often have difficulty bringing teamfight engage if they draft Rumble and an early game jungler. Rumble can work well with Jarvan IV, for example, but with Fnatic taking the pick off the table, it ends up with a Cassiopeia that might have difficulty getting into late-game fights against a Gragas and Lulu, and low options for engage.

H2K’s composition has a Cho’Gath, which lacks primary engage, and pick elements in Elise and Thresh designed primarily to snowball. As a result, they must win lanes, try to maintain really strong leads through mid game by looking for picks, and then hope Cho prevents enough of a front line that a four item Tristana can bulldoze through the game.

Lane assignments became tricky for H2K as they had to avoid Trundle and couldn’t fight in the mid game. Cho sitting mid worked well because he at least couldn’t be pushed out of lane, and Trundle didn’t have the proper wave clear to hold mid. Ultimately, Monkeys’ comp lacked the engage of NiP’s comp in the Kalista and the Gnar, so they couldn’t pin down H2K’s draft effectively.

Although teams have been able to answer heavy engage compositions with things Janna or Gragas disengage, in the final week there was still some element of “the best engage comp wins.” This shone through even more when G2 Esports and Fnatic played each other on Saturday. Fnatic had adapted, taking more well-rounded compositions with team-fighting options, and G2 hadn’t (G2 also suffered similar woes against Team ROCCAT as Fnatic did against NiP and H2K did against Mysterious Monkeys on Thursday).

G2 chose to pick Rumble as an AP top to compensate for the Lucian mid pick. G2 then relied a lot on snowballing mid with Lucian and Maokai, but Orianna can hold the lane fairly well at level five. Unless Maokai can abuse the tempo advantage off his first clear, it becomes more difficult to execute. Meanwhile, Fnatic comes with the likes of Gnar and Ashe, giving the team more options for engage than G2’s Maokai. As both Fnatic and G2 come with team fight resets in Tristana, Janna, Gragas, and Karma’s Ardent Censered shielding.

Fnatic, arguably, showed more adaptation from its series loss to NiP than G2 did (at least for this week). I don’t like to simplify everything to drafting analysis, but in a week where, as Team Vitality coach Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi put it, “I think there was a lot of — ‘we’re going to win.’ I think this was the kind of mentality for G2 and Fnatic,” going hard on lane-smashing picks and not preparing as heavily against lower tier opponents can backfire.

But why these laning picks, and why would all top three teams draft like this? Even though Fnatic, G2, and H2K didn’t pick Ardent Censer supports in every game, there is a lot that comes from those picks. Ardent Censer picks are more likely to win lane through pushing, and AD carry mid laners like Lucian have also risen in priority because they can benefit a lot from the likes of Janna and her Eye of the Storm. It’s possible that these comps, combined with Janna’s added disengage, have been performing well in scrims. Add in the fact that scrims tend to be much more lane-focused in nature, and you have a recipe for a lot of teams who may be floating around the same scrim circles to start falling into a general laning comp trap.

Predicting Promotion

In my opinion, this can have massive implications for how analysts and commentators have perceived bottom tier LCS teams going into the promotion tournament. As Andrew “Vedius” Day said when I interviewed him after the match between Fnatic and Ninjas in Pyjamas, “I did, but after today’s performance, I’m not entirely sure.” James “Stress” O’Leary echoed that sentiment.

“I think NiP,” he said when I interviewed him just before the H2K vs Mysterious Monkeys match, “after (Thursday), I can’t say they will fall definitely out of the LCS. If you can beat Fnatic regardless of when and where it is, I think NiP actually made a strong case for themselves staying in.”

Although I generally agree that, at this point, NiP has shown more than MM, I think a lot of this comes from a strong grasp on the meta. Their drafting improved considerably in the second week of Patch 7.14 when they began picking compositions that counter the early pick Kalista. Teams have slowly caught up in deprioritizing first-pick Kalista, but NiP wasn’t the only front-runner; Schalke S04 also answered first rotation Kalista with the likes of Maokai and Alistar last week.

This advantage that I think made a large difference for NiP against ROCCAT and then against Fnatic, may level out, especially since the promotion tournament will take place on a still-newer patch: 7.16. Patch 7.16 brings changes to mid lane that could impact the Taliyah-loving Kim “Nagne” Sangmoon with nerfs to Q costs.

When predicting this week’s matches, then, one should temper expectations based on Week 10. Fnatic adopted poor draft priority within a weekend’s time, and H2K didn’t play the same laning focused comps again after their match against Mysterious Monkeys. With results of this week on display, Europe might radically shift to more well-rounded Gnar and Jarvan IV priority drafts (still laning focused, but packing a lot of engage).

With that in mind, both playoffs and the promotion tournament get more interesting. Mysterious Monkeys have chosen Schalke 04 as their first opponent, and both teams have trended toward jungle and top 2-v-2 in the early game during the regular season. Schalke, however, pathed toward bottom side despite a strong top and mid in Game 1 and focused on bottom lane as well in Game 2, giving up holes in how top lane plays if jungle paths toward and plays around bottom lane. Given the general disconnect of Mysterious Monkeys’ bottom and mid lanes from their top and jungle, Schalke should be able to dispatch them if they correctly play toward their strong side in draft.

Giants Gaming and Ninjas in Pyjamas is still the more interesting matchup. Ninjas have more variance in how they play out their early game with Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema drifting more from top lane and the team picking more teamfighting compositions. Giants has answered much more convincingly in team fights, but some of the success appears reliant on specific champions like Kalista or Gragas. NiP has a variety of avenues for getting ahead, but Erberk “Gilius” Demir’s more one-dimensional pathing might be easier to track.

Overall, I see NiP and Schalke as having the most diversity, but NiP have better neutral objective control and poorer midgame lane assignments for setting up plays. Schalke have struggled more in identifying a strong side of the map early on, but they have demonstrated a better overall ability to close with a lead. Both teams have demonstrated a similar read on the meta since the 7.14 patch change, and they should be the ones to advance. Mid lane will have the most focus as Nagne’s and Marc “Caedrel” Robert Lamont’s (Orianna) strongest regular season picks received nerfs, and the game could amount to which team can do the most with level one to three mid priority.

Anticipating Quarterfinals

As for playoffs, more buzz will center on Unicorns of Love and Misfits. Both teams have struggled to close the season strong, but UoL’s win over H2K could blind spectators to the team’s flaws. Fabian “Exileh” Schubert’s mid lane weakness has forced the team onto a narrow pool of picks like Leblanc, Talon, and Vladimir. Yet Misfits willingly will gives up mid lane advantages for risky top lane dives, giving Exileh breathing room.

The last time these two teams faced, Nubar “Maxlore” Sarafian spent a lot of energy tracking Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir but didn’t deny Xerxe camps or resources. Xerxe could then identify when he had an experience advantage and force skirmishes to give Exileh a leg up. Misfits’ one-dimensional play also only allows the team to force mid fights, and Unicorns tend to have more creative drafts and more well-rounded team-fighting compositions. Despite Misfits having a mid lane advantage it can force, there’s no guarantee it’ll be utilized.

As for G2 Esports and Splyce, though G2 has spoken highly of Splyce on the desk, it might come down to the pressure exerted from top side. Martin “Wunder” Hansen matches up well to Ki “Expect” Dae-han, and Splyce can get leads or set up 1-4 pushes, but the rest of the map easily unravels. Even when Splyce has good leads, the players force fights they shouldn’t take. Although the team have improved its ability to work with jungle and support in tandem, Splyce has begun to fall short in grouped fights. That will be G2’s window to advance.

Photos courtesy of Riot Games

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