In a recent episode
of Elitists United, Duncan “Thorin”
Shields, also known as the esports historian, asked Paul “Soaz”
Boyer about Misfits’ presumptive ten-man roster. He began the question by clarifying that his immediate feeling to the team’s alleged intentions of giving playtime to all of its members had been that it was “an obvious lie because no one has ever done that in the history of f****** League of Legends.”
From there, he went on to ask the French top-lane legend about the actual legitimacy of the words “ten-man roster”
in his team’s case. Thorin did not think Misfits were truthfully setting up such a project and, as it turned out, he was completely right. Soaz admitted, showing a surprising lack of reluctance, that the main squad usually went up against their academy fellows as little as only once a week.
The Misfits organization, however, is not entirely to blame on this little incongruity. As Thorin subtly hinted at, ten-man rosters are, apart from a surprisingly new concept for westerners, considerably difficult to pull off. The idea and, as such, the intentions behind most of them are usually progressive and goodhearted but, once it comes to doing the dirty work in order for them to function properly, most teams end up giving up on their dream of raising a double-than-usual squad all the way to a successful future.
Photo via: DreamHack.
As with every rule, though, there are definitely some exceptions. Saying that no one has ever done something in the history of League of Legends tends to be, probably as intended, a very risky generalization that helps to exaggerate a certain idea. When it comes to 10-man rosters, as is the case, South Korea is by far the first region that comes to mind.
Without going any further, in the 2019 LCK summer split both Afreeca Freecs and Jin Air Green Wings fielded all of their ten players along the course of the regular season. Koreans, however, discovered the ten-man roster option plenty of years before the concept even started to sound in the Western world. In Europe and North America, the notion of good advertising for a team is definitely alluring and, as such, organizations seem to be using ten-man rosters as nothing but propaganda for the fans.
The true meaning of the concept has also been distorted and adapted to the Western way of doing things in League of Legends. Originally, all the players actively participated in both scrims and official matches, which actually doubled the size of a traditional roster. Nowadays, however, the premise almost all ten-man rosters are based upon is that, should a player from the starting five not perform up to standards for a certain amount of time, he could be replaced, to his disdain, by a member of the back-up squad.
Photo via: LEC.
CLG, Excel, Splyce… Many have claimed to be in the process of fielding a trustworthy ten-man roster, yet none of them has ever truly done so. There is, though, to everyone’s surprise, a supposedly meaningless regional league in which ten-man rosters have found a place to exist as they originally were intended to. As René Goscinny would put it in his legendary comics series Asterix: The year is 2019 AD. The West is entirely occupied by teams that are not able to fully implement ten-man rosters. Well, not entirely… One small region of indomitable players still holds out against the invaders.
That region is none other than Spain. Contrary to what has happened almost everywhere else, the Superliga Orange has already seen two different double-than-usual squads participate in the league in a two years time span. Regardless of their success, the interesting common factor is that, unlike what seems to be the norm, both organizations have stuck to the original definition of a ten-man roster and, as such, have finally given life to one in the West. Something that, before them, appeared almost impossible.
Movistar Riders: The Pioneers
Photo via: Movistar Riders.
Not even a month had passed since the beginning of 2018 when the Movistar Riders announced their plans for the 2018 SLO Spring Split. Instead of the usual five, they had decided that ten players would make up their roster. They knew that it was the future, and they had to embrace it before anyone else did. Right after the announcement followed an outstanding hype-up campaign, just as the telephone-company-backed organization has always liked to do. The coaching staff, however, had no problem recognizing that it would take them a few weeks to adapt to such an innovative project.
In the eyes of the community, the whole decision was outright confusing. On one hand, the fans did not necessarily think that Movistar Riders were prepared to correctly develop a ten-man roster but that, instead, they would end up defaulting to the five players who seemed to work better in-game. On the other, though, the squad looked intimidating, defiant, prepared for every challenge. The organization had perfectly given the players such look, and the smell of a dominant Movistar era was, like it or not, all around in the air.
Nonetheless, not many believed that the squad would end up being a legit ten-man roster. Actually, what analysts seemed to struggle with was predicting which players would stay in the bench and which ones would have a spot in the main team. Ten players had been announced, two for each role, but the level gap was certainly small between them. Damian “defles”
Filipo could maybe be a few steps behind Jesper “Jeskla”
Klarin when it came to AD Carries. After all, the former was just an unknown Polish rookie, while the latter had built himself a solid brand by playing for MAD Lions throughout the previous year, and was an undeniably promising prospect.
Photo via: LVP.
Apart from that, how suitable each of the players was for occupying the starting spot was totally up in the air. Olof “Flaxxish”
Medin, a beloved, aggressive top laner, and Gustav “Xyraz”
Blomkvist, who had spent a few seasons in the Turkish league, would apparently have to compete for playtime. Subicz “Bluerzor”
Dániel and Jakub “Cinkrof”
Rokicki, the junglers, Felix “MagiFelix”
Boström and Jorgen “Hatrixx”
Elgaen in the mid lane, and Johan “Klaj”
Olsson and Erik “Treatz”
Wessén were, supposedly, in the exact same situation. Once the season began, however, the community’s predictions quickly proved wrong. The Riders were not promoting competition between their members but, rather, cooperation, complementation, and teamwork.
They sometimes used five players, then changed the whole roster for the next match in order to surprise their rivals.
In other occasions, they simply made changes in a couple of roles in order to strengthen certain areas of their game which they felt were lacking. If they wanted to play through splitpush, for instance, they fielded Flaxxish, renowned for his legendary Fiora. Should they want their top laner to be a bit more self-controlled (or to play Singed), then Xyraz was their man. If MagiFelix was, regardless of his huge mechanical potential, hesitating a bit too much when it came to communication, the steady presence of Hatrixx was surely the solution. Down in the bot lane, Jeskla forged a strong synergy with ex-Fnatic support Klaj but, nevertheless, Treatz still got a few games to show what he brought to the team.
Once the regular season came to a close, every single member but defles, who had still managed to start in an official match, had gotten considerable playtime. However, this philosophy, which resonated perfectly with the idea of a ten-man roster, meant that the team had to go through thick and thin along the course of the split. No matter how adaptable they were, changing players constantly brought with it a feeling of instability. There was not enough time to develop real synergy within the players, due to them having to play with different partners each and every game. Movistar Riders surprised and, thanks to individual talent, sometimes outplayed their opponents. What they did not do whatsoever, though, was to develop a stable, trustworthy play style on which they could consistently rely.
Photo via: LVP.
They were the team with the most ties in the whole league (back then, Spanish teams played Bo2 series during the regular season), ending with four victories and ten one-one splits, which gave them 22 points and an overall third place in the standings. Sure, they entered the playoffs pretty comfortably, but fans and LoL connoisseurs alike knew that their results were far below their actual potential. Coming into the semifinals, thus, their rivals, Vodafone Giants, seemed to have the upper hand.
There were, however, two factors that ended up qualifying Movistar Riders for the finals. First, Iván “Razork”
Martín, Giants’ jungler, suffering from gastroenteritis the day of the semifinals, forcing their substitute top laner, Antonio “Th3Antonio”
Espinosa to fill in his shoes. Second, but most importantly, Movistar Riders decided to turn into a complete, undeniable ten-man roster. Defles was not ready to assume the responsibility that came with playing on stage, so Movistar went on a quest to acquire a reliable back-up player for Jeskla who, as he would later demonstrate in the LEC, had a tendency to be too ineffective when it really mattered.
That player was none other than Jorge “Sanchez”
Cabildo. He was consistent, he was mechanically good and, overall, he provided the Riders with two different five-man rosters, which they would go on to utilize in the playoffs. One, made up of Xyraz, Cinkrof, MagiFelix, Jesklaa, and Klaj, would act as the starting squad while the other would jump into the rift late into the series in order to make their opponents lose focus. This worked against Giants, as they dominated the series with a comfortable 3-1. MAD Lions, however, was a totally different kind of beast.
Photo via: LVP.
Four-fifths of the Lions would end up playing in LEC the following year and, in that final, they definitely showed why. They quickly dispatched the Riders in a one-sided three to zero affair in order to crown themselves champions. The fans accused Movistar Riders of throwing, but in hindsight, what could they really have done against such a mighty opponent? Never mind, they most likely thought—we can still demonstrate our talent at EU Masters. Little did they know at the time, however, that Riot allowed no more than seven players per team at the inter-regional championship. This organizational decision awkwardly ended Movistar Riders’ ten-man roster era. A bitter end, for sure, with a hard-to-overcome loss as the last memory.
The organization declared that managing a ten-man roster was way too complicated and thus, they would be moving back to a normal squad for the next split. Movistar’s innovative project ended up unfairly regarded as nothing but a mediocre initiative. Nevertheless, fans surely grieved their loss for months once they were gone. No matter how much competitive success they got in the end, Movistar Riders were beloved, unique and overall, helped to pave the way for possible future ten-man rosters not only in their region but in all of Europe as well.
MAD Lions: The All-Star Heirs
Photo via: LVP.
Coming into the 2019 SLO Summer Split, everything seemed to remain the same—a few signings here and there, but no major line-up nor brand changes to talk about. This, however, would take a complete turn only a few days before the competition started. Initially, MAD Lions and Splyce were two of the main favorites when it came to raising the trophy. The former used to revolve around the inconsistent but incredibly outstanding talent of Pavle “Yoppa”
Kostic in the top lane, but throughout their run at EU Masters, former EU LCS marksman Samuel “Samux”
Fernández had also got his deserved amount of attention from the jungler. The veteran presence of Jesús “Falco”
Pérez and Prodromos “Pretty”
Kevezitidis, paired up with Lucjan “Shlatan”
Ahmad’s allegedly astonishing jungle mechanics, rounded up a very well put-together prospect.
In the case of Splyce Vipers, Andrei “Orome”
Popa had already shown that he could compete against the very best in the LEC, and accompanied by Worlds participant Sebastián “Tierwulf”
Mateluna and the mechanical prodigy of Aleš “Freeze”
Kněžínek, was willing to prove that his team had what it took to conquer back-to-back Spanish championships. Anders “Sharp”
Lillengen, the substitute jungler, and Olivier “Prime”
Payet, the squad’s support, were ready to contribute with their youth, willingness to learn, and surprising mechanical prowess. Sure, the mid lane was now Paweł “Czekolad”
Szczepanik’s territory, which left many fans wondering if he would really be able to step up to the plate. Nevertheless, though, that the Vipers were most probably going to put up a good fight for the title was, at that point, common knowledge.
What nobody could have expected—not even in their wildest dreams—was both of these already intimidating rosters coming together. That is, of course, what actually happened. Rumors had appeared a few weeks before the start of the league that MAD Lions, a household brand in the Spanish scene, was going to close its doors forever. In the end, those rumors were dismissed, but they were replaced by truth - an even more astonishing, breathtaking truth. Overactive Media, Splyce’s parent company, was purchasing MAD Lions, bringing the Splyce Vipers brand to an end, and leaving an SLO spot up for grabs.
Photo via: LVP.
MAD Lions, thus, would now be Splyce’s academy team. This movement brought along a fair collection of questions. What was going to happen to the members of Splyce Vipers? Would they be released and turned into free agents? Would they be transferred to whatever team bought Splyce’s spot? Instead, what they decided to do was much bolder, much riskier, but should it pan out, also much more rewarding: they brought all eleven players together and formed the mightiest eleven-player roster that the Spanish scene had ever seen.
It all happened suddenly, way too fast for the fans to realize what it meant. Once the season began, however, all the confusion quickly turned into a much simpler feeling: fear.
MAD Lions have been combining teamfight-based compositions with more aggressive, early-game approaches. They have been mixing the utility provided by Orome with Yoppa’s confidence, which has nevertheless toned down since the Spring Split. They have been utilizing Sharp’s calculated jungle paths, but also Shlatan’s mechanics and lack of fear. Both bot lanes have, moreover, proved to be reliable enough to play whenever they are told to do so. Whatever MAD Lions has done so far, only Vodafone Giants have been able to stop it.
Photo via: MAD Lions.
On LAN, in the sixth matchday, they faltered. Apart from that, though, they currently hold a more-than-enough 5-1 record in the regular season, and it would be totally unexpected if they started to go down the standings. As soon as either Czekolad is given some play-time or Tierwulf finally solves his recurring visa issues, the team will most likely turn into a de facto ten-man roster (so far, only nine of the players have competed in official matches). When it does, we will probably witness the rise of one of the most successful ten-man rosters in the whole West. Alvar “Araneae”
Martín, a legendary coach and player in his own right, has apparently coupled perfectly with this new, hard-to-pull-off project and under his leadership, not only the SLO but the EU Masters as well could perfectly fall into the Lions’ hands.
Time will pass and ten-man rosters’ fate in the Western world will be decided as it does. Nowadays, however, Spain is in its way to prove that managing one of these apparent beasts is certainly possible for a responsible organization. Will the future of League of Legends esports be based upon this new kind of roster? Nobody knows yet, but in the meantime, let’s see what MAD Lions can do. If they keep playing as dominantly as they have until now, then maybe ten-man rosters may start to get, at last, a place in the higher echelons of Western LoL competition.
Featured image courtesy of Liga de Videojuegos Profesional.
Lucas "LuckyNeck" Chillerón is a vivid esports fan who loves following as many competitive scenes as he can in order to write articles about them. If there is anything you would like to discuss with him or let him know, you can do it at @lucprd.