With the EU LCS soon starting up once again, and the much altered rosters now definitively locked in, I decided to put my thoughts into writing about each team that made the cut.
Written by: Spuddington
Ever hanging towards the bottom of the pack, picking up Freeze will grant a minor buff but is unlikely to alter CW's performance overall. Freeze/Unlimited should form a solidly above average botlane that can handle well against any competitor. Nonetheless, this will be insufficient to make up for the fact that CW will always suffer for a serious lack of raw talent in other lanes whose players have really peaked at a decidedly average LCS standard.
Whilst otherwise they would barely bare mentioning, CW do at least have one edge; when given ample time to plan for a given matchup they have always shown a marked upswing in their performances. This coupled with the new LCS format allowing for no days with more than one game should allow them to upset a few strong teams and avoid the relegation zone.
Tipped by many as a top 2 team in LCS with their new changes, the new SK squad certainly should fit the bill. Jesiz was practically the Cop of Midlaners – Average, never disappointing but equally failing to ever impress. Having seen Fox playing for SK prime in the past, it is hard to see him as anything other than a straight upgrade. Combine that with swapping the solidly above average Candypanda swapping out for the savagely strong Forgiven and if there were a pick-ban phase for players, pundits all around would be praising SK as having won it.
Before the hype train gets going too quickly, however, it should be noted that SK will suffer for the fact that they cannot employ Incarnation as a coach anymore. They also currently lack a sister team to practice against, although they were not known for relying on this in the past. All told, while SK last year was able to punch well above their weight, we can't assume everything will slot into place nearly as smoothly this time around.
Few would take Gambit's victory at IEM Cologne as a mark of return to form: the competition was far from stellar and the games were sloppy all around. However, they did look markedly improved across the board with Cabochard standing out as someone that should draw bans towards his Irelia. Meanwhile, Pinoy showed he will demand respect from his opponents and NIQ continued to demonstrate strong situational awareness and mechanics.
Nevertheless, even though some glimmer of the original Gambit's magic shone through as they took advantage of the chaos they created, Gambit must control their see-hero kill-hero impulses. Wanton aggression was clearly enough to throw CLG off their game, but more comfortable teams will quickly learn to abuse it.
The defeat of TSM at IEM San Jose is a case study in showing the power of cheese. However, there can only be so many undiscovered picks in their arsenal. If you do remove the dairy though, UOL is still a team with a sturdy backbone (Must be the calcium).
UOL's grasp over the macro game is solid (Although they lack the snap decision making of the truly great teams – They make the right call usually, but a little slower). That is then partnered with their strong and aggressive play from mid top and jungle. They also have a limited but potentially fantastic support. Unfortunately here Vardags is the odd man out. Unable to square off against his opponents favourably at any stage of a game, he leans heavily on Hylissang's thresh to prop him up in lane.
What that means is that with a single ban, UOL’s botlane will struggle immensely since Hylissang's Morgana and Braum are merely competent rather than game-changing. Thusly, whilst teams that lack a strong botlane combo will find it very difficult to deal with Vizicsacsi, POE and Kikis in a protracted game, those that do will force a race against time on Kikis to snowball POE. If UOL can focus on improving their core gameplay and avoid relying too heavily on cheese outside of playoffs, they should survive the coming split. Should they succeed there and build up experience, they could really start to come into their own in time for the summer.
With only one change among their players, the team a formerly named Alliance team looks to be doubling down on their strengths. As always, the team operates as an extension of Froggen's own playstyle; Play defensive, make no unforced errors and wait for the enemy to make a mistake. Rekkles personifies this – Rarely is he found out of position whether in lane or teamfight. In addition, his laning, while defensive, nearly always results in a farm advantage. That makes it hard to imagine a team that can make any headway against them should the game drag on.
However, the strengths of Elements' style has the strongly associated weaknesses that Rekkles’ inclusion is unlikely to correct. His intrinsic passivity and determination to farm up is only going to open more windows that can be exploited to take objectives away from Elements, who were already slow to shift up the gears. In spite of this recurrent problem, the raw talent on display is impressive; there are few teams in Europe that look disciplined enough to truly run those small edges early into a victory.
Everybody is aware that PePiiNeRo carries a huge burden when it comes to Giants' chances at victory. The games they win always place him in a starring role, whether it be preventing engages and waveclearing while Werlyb splitpushes, pressuring the map himself, or destroying teamfights, it is far more than just a correlation between Pepi’s KDA and the chances of victory for the team.
While it isn’t uncommon for a team to rely on a single star player, normally this only really shows through when the chips are down in the highest pressure situations. In Giants’ case, it is an unhealthy necessity in every game. Frederic is an all around underperformer - in spite of his penchant for Pantheon he displays little ability to create effective engages for his team on that champion, and his Jarvan fairs only a little better. His supportive play during the early game is also weak, with ganks that are all too often predicted followed by counterganks that arrive too late.
To make matters worse for Giants, Adryh’s average laning is his high point. Adryh’s positioning in teamfights is so poor that Giants seem to have developed their strategy around avoiding the necessity. In short, Adryh almost exclusively plays Jinx and Sivir as utility champions. With Jinx he plays mobile tower destroyer, avoiding fights, clearing waves and hitting towers wherever possible (usually coupled with another high map pressure player/champion). Meanwhile, on Sivir he exists almost entirely as a means to get the rest of his team into a fight. Partially as a result of this, Giants lack serious strategic diversity, playing either a 4-1 splitpush or teamfight rushdown nearly every game in the expansion tournament.
For all that the team relies on him; the weight of Giants does not ride on Pepi alone. Frequently being the man to splitpush but also capable of setting up engages for the team, Werlyb is the second carry; He is a solid LCS level toplaner, most notable on Irelia, but also effective on Jax, Renekton and Maokai. Werlyb is able to fluidly transition between splitpushing for map pressure and being a threatening teamfight bruiser with very good timing and a knack for flanking. Rydle, too, is effective in his role, keeping Adryh from falling behind in lane and generally having solid engages or peel, these players are the pillars propping up a dangerously lopsided house.
Giants will most likely be oddly reminiscent of the orginal lineup from LCS Spring 2013 – Capable of upsetting any team if Pepi gets rolling and they can start pushing down towers quickly, but with no one else capable of standing tall they are ultimately doomed to collapse under the rigors of the LCS split.
Fnatic is now a completely different team. It is almost unprecedented to see an explosion of such magnitude occuring so suddenly for a still successful organization. Of course, because the backbone of the team remained together while joining Origen, we must assume there was some kind of management-player conflict. Interestingly, this frames the success or failure of this new line-up as the responsibility of the management itself.
While that should have been significant incentive for Fnatic to pull together the best talent they can, the results are somewhat mystifying. To wit: While picking up premier new midlane talent in Febiven is an undeniably good choice, every other decision on the roster seems questionable. According to sources within the scene, the 2 Korean imports of Huni and Reignover do not speak much English. This will stunt Fnatic's growth as a team long term since they cannot plan ahead properly. Even if the pair picks up some English over time, second language communication is never smooth. On the other hand it is worth noting that, by repute, they are both remarkably strong players in their own right. The big question is whether that alone is enough.
Steelback is a more standard choice. He has tenure in the challenger scene, is already strong enough for an LCS team with no glaring weaknesses, and his skill trajectory has been upwards as of late. Yet the elephant in the room here is that Tabbz is still a free agent. Tabbz' track record is built not on a challenger team but on a Worlds' contender. I for one can’t help but suspect Fnatic may have fallen into the old “potential” trap rather than making the reliable choice. Not to take away from Steelback of course! Steelback is still a strong choice, and coupled with the seemingly unshakable Yellowstar, should give Fnatic ample firepower in botlane. The question lingers nonetheless.
In spite of these issues, Fnatic should perform to a respectable level and may even do very well in the early weeks. Historically, every team starts a season sloppy, and Febiven's ability to snowball from catching people out is second to none. With enough laning and teamfighting talent to back their midlaner up, Fnatic should at least buy themselves time to last the split even if their strategy lets them down. Make no mistake however, this is not a team that goes to Allstars unless they find a level of intuitive teamplay not seen since M5.
Having lost their midlane star Febiven to Fnatic, many will already be writing H2k off. Considering the muted performance of Hjarnan and Voidle in their qualification series, and given that Ryu will suffer for both speaking Korean as well as being on his third team in as many months, H2k will need to look towards Odoamne for playmaking potential. Fortunately that is a task which Odoamne is capable of – He may have been previously playing second fiddle to Febiven, but given a toplane champion with carry potential, he is capable of truly controlling a game.
Even if Odoamne can step up to become the true focal point of the team, he won't bring victory alone. The botlane of H2k must also deliver. Having seen their performances before the expansion tournament many times, I know they are capable of better. Hjarnan himself has gone on record saying he will show improved performance in the LCS, but if he allows the pressure to get to him, his time in this higher level of competition will be short.
H2k is in the unusual place of having enough talent to become a solid, upper-middle of the pack team, but to do so they will be dependent on readjusting their team dynamic completely in a very short space of time. Should they fail to get even one factor right, they will most likely be joining Giants at the bottom of the barrel.
MYM (ex-SHC) are a tricky team to place before we've seen them play. The team has evidently decided to base themselves around the players that have previously brought the most success: Selfie and MrRallez.
The decision to remove Impaler and replace him with Horo is a smart move since Horo's experience, ever ready with a counter gank, will help keep the team steady in the early game. His game senses will enable them an excellent source of engages later on. Considering that there was also a reputed personality clash in the old roster, Impaler's move to NA may prove the best for both parties. Meanwhile, Horo's long and storied history in a variety of teams stands in stark contrast to Nisbeth, MYM's new support. The only information we actually have comes from solo queue and playing with mid-level challenger team Tricked esport quite some time ago, so drawing strong conclusions is foolhardy. However, given that his most played champions are Thresh, Janna, and Nami (by a significant margin), it's safe to assume he'll be playing mostly as a peeler and off-engager (A secondary purpose he will most likely swap with Mimer dependent on composition) for the team. The opinions I have garnered from talking to people in the scene indicate that he is a very strong mechanical player, but only time will tell how he will perform on the big stage.
Whilst there are unknown factors here in Nisbeth that make it even harder than usual to get an accurate impression, I am optimistic for this team. Building a team off a consistently strong core is a tried and tested method to build good teams. If the coaching staff can foster good communication, they should perform quite well.
Barring possibly SK, Roccat is the team that wins the accolade for smartest decision making outside the rift this split. With one small role shuffle and smart acquisitions, they've placed high quality, proven talent in every lane. The only question mark is how well Overpow will adapt his previous heavy roaming style to his lane swap. My concern is that he was never known for outfarming or outdueling his opponent particularly hard, mainly influencing the game by roaming early and setting up plays, followed by being a major threat in teamfights with solid positioning and versatile champion pool. On the bright side, he has had a long period of time to get set for his new role, and given his propensity towards picking unexpected champions in midlane, he's never had a problem learning new things.
What that leaves them is an almost perfect power curve team – Jankos provides nearly unparalled pressure in the early game, Nukeduck's assassin heavy style can control the midgame and Woolite has already demonstrated his ample ability to carry should the game go long. With Vander being a beast at all stages to boot, they should have huge control over the game. Still further, Roccat are a team that always had great support staff and never allowed their playstyle to be pigeonholed too heavily. Roccat would likely be a worlds contender even if Overpow disappointed. Were he to make the transition and play at a similar level to his time in midlane? The Roccat train will be nigh impossible to stop. - - -
In the end, assessing the performance of these teams is always going to be inaccurate to one degree or another. Nobody has all the information to judge all the teams, but I hope that at least by putting my opinion and reasoning out there it will incite discussion (I also kind of hope I’m right.)
As an addendum, my personal predictions are as follows:
Logo sources: esportspedia.com
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