After yet another off-season filled with surprise roster changes, retirements, and drama, the European League Championship Series kicked off last week. The race to the World Championships has begun.
Europe will host the World Championships this year, giving even more of an incentive for the players and teams to push for one of the elusive three spots. Old faces made a return to the scene in hopes to prove themselves still worthy of the top league, while new faces kickstarted their careers.
Here’s what you need to know from the first week of the European LCS.
The kids are all right
Four rookies stepped onto the rift for the first time in an LCS match in the first weekend of the 2015 Summer Split.
On Elements, Hampus “Promisq” Mikael Abrahamsson entered the split as a surprise replacement for player-turned-caster Mitch “Krepo” Voorspoels. With little competitive experience, the Swedish player put up a strong performance as Alistar in his first match, posting a 20 KDA. A loss in game two against Unicorns of Love did little to tarnish what looks to be a bright future for the player.
Other debutants included fellow support player Oskar “G0DFRED” Lundström, who may be a catalyst for the Giants G improvement. Though widely consider relegation candidates, the team recorded a 1-1 record in the opening week of the LCS, including a win over the high flying Copenhagen Wolves.
Meanwhile, Etienne “Steve” Michels had an inauspicious start to his LCS career with Team Roccat. Clocking a victory in day two over Gambit Gaming helped to conceal a beating Michels received against H2K Gaming.
The most promising youngster of the week, however, was easily Jesper “Niels” Svenningsen. In a team packed with superstars it was the new kid on the block that showed up. A satisfactory Kalista performance in Origen’s opening match against Giants kicked off his LCS career, but the real show came when the team faced up against the surprise performers of the last split, H2K Gaming. A bold Vayne pick paid dividends as Svenningsen finished the match without a single death and clocked in more kills than the entire of H2K combined.
Fnatic wins the ADC shuffle
The great ADC shuffle of 2015 saw several LCS teams turn back time to bring back some of their former players.
Fnatic looked to the player for whom it once waited a whole year when he was too young for the LCS: Martin “Rekkles” Larsson. SK Gaming, meanwhile, suffered a semi-public breakdown that eventually resolved when Adrian “Candypanda” Wübbelmann rejoined as replacement for departing Konstantinos “Forg1ven” Tzortziou, who found a new home at Gambit gaming. Finally, to round out the transfers, Erik “Tabzz” van Helvert returned to his former side, Elements.
Though the split is still young, it’s already clear that a Spring apart did nothing to undercut the years of experience Larsson and lane partner Bora “Yellowstar” Kim have together. Two fairly routine victories with strong showings from the bottom lane demonstrated that nicely. Only Helvert and Elements were capable of picking up a single victory of the week while Wübbelmann and Tzortziou and their teams slumped to a 0-2 start to the season.
Origen might just be the real deal
When Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño and his band of merry men laid waste to the Challenger Series last season, no one was really sure if that proved anything. Sure, they walked all over challenger teams. But the LCS is a completely different level of competition, and the pressure was on for Cedeño and crew to prove that they belong there.
It was Cedeño who starred in the LCS debut of the team against Giants. An undying performance as Morgana ensured his team a victory in a game that perhaps took a little longer than the team surely hoped. Support player Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre also came up big, appearing in 16 out of 18 kills for Origen and ensuring a comfortable lane phase for newcomer Svenningsen.
Their first expected tough challenge of the season came in the form of H2K Gaming, the team that surpassed all expectations in the Spring split to claim a top three spot in the 2015 Spring Split. The game proved beyond much doubt that Origen are indeed ready for the LCS. While too early to tell just how high they can go, individually and as a team they can compete with some of the best in Europe. Aguirre and Svenningsen in the bottom lane look particularly strong, while Cedeño seems to be re-finding his form. Jungler Maurice “Amazing” Stuckenschneider and top laner Paul “sOAZ” Boyer were both reliable in their first two matches, looking just as strong as they were last year.
This may be the closest season yet
Every year these words get thrown around at the start of the season, and every year the teams define themselves quickly along the same lines: title fighters, playoff hopefuls, and relegation fodder. If week one of the 2015 Summer Split is anything to go by, we might finally see a truly close season.
Origen’s addition means another top tier team enters the battle for one of three spots at the World Championship. And right now, there are at least five teams that would hardly cause a shock if they snatched one of them, with a few others still lurking on the perimeter. Giants and Roccat both faced relegation last split but now look to have improved over the off-season and could pose a threat to the top teams.
The 1-1 scorelines in week one mask the true strength of the European LCS teams. Yes, if we follow the trend Fnatic and Origen will run away and battle it out mano-a-mano for the European title. But we all know that’s not how Europe works. Underperformers from last split like Roccat and Elements will be looking to come back stronger, while H2K Gaming and Unicorns of Love will hope to maintain the form they were on at the tail end of the Spring Split. No one really knows how this season is going to turn out, but the battle for playoff spots might just be closer than ever.
Friendship really is magic
The fairytale story of Unicorns of Love has become well-known in the esports world: A group of friends banded together, worked their way up through the Challenger Series, and qualified for the LCS. Almost every professional player, coach, and analyst pinned the Unicorns as a bottom-mid tier LCS team whose highest aspirations were to stay in the league and maybe grab a spot in the playoffs. Instead, they shocked the esports world to claim second place, taking champions Fnatic to five games.
Copenhagen Wolves seems to be next in line to follow the friendship-is-magic model. The team made a surprise playoff bid last season which ended in disaster after an 0-3 defeat at the hands of H2K Gaming. Despite that poor playoff performance, the team has stuck with their lineup and looks stronger than ever, including clear improvements from top laner Joey “Youngbuck” Steltenpool and Karim “Airwaks” Benghalia.
Cloud9 really set the bar for keeping a roster together to garner success in the LCS age. Fnatic and Moscow5 also proved that model can work. Few other teams have been able to translate stability into success, however. If Unicorns of Love can maintain their standing in Europe and Copenhagen Wolves can take another step up, other teams may look to stability rather than a roster carousel as the key to success.