Azure Keys's Midseason Predictions for EU LCS Spring 2016
Now that half of the Spring 2016 EU LCS season is behind us, each team has played each other team once a piece, and we've seen enough of what these teams can do to make some more educated predictions on their final placement. The following is a predicted placement on where I feel the teams should fall by the end of the playoff, based on their performance through the first half of the regular season.
1 - H2K
H2K, as expected, have performed admirably. Their team plays very well off of each other's strengths, even more so during the weeks where Ryu was active, as his self-sufficient style lent itself better to the team's aggressive supporting duo and the "empower Forgiven" paradigm. Even with Selfie as a more needy midlaner, the team still performed well, though admittedly not as streamlined as they could with Ryu. Now that Ryu has returned, I foresee this team taking the title. There is enough experience and proven skill in each of their players, and enough proven examples that their teamplay does indeed work well, that I feel it's impossible not to consider H2K as Europe's favorite, barring some future improvement of one of the other teams.
2 - Vitality
What? Vitality? What about G2? This was a very tough decision between Vitality and G2 for who would take second place, but for me, I feel G2 still have too many unknowns to consider compared to Vitality, particularly in series play, some of which I will cover in G2's section. Granted, some of the 2-4 placements can be somewhat affected by the layout of the bracket, but I feel Vitality will have a slight edge over the Spring's new favorites come the playoff. Vitality as a team have somewhat of an interesting paradigm, as they seem to focus almost solely on teamfight play rather than having an emphasis on early laning and skirmishing. Most all of Vitality's success comes from putting together strong teamfight comps, farming up through the early game while trying to keep from losing presence, then being able to out fight their opponents in the mid/late game with their strong team coordination. The thing is that, barring the very beginning of the season, they've been able to play to this style successfully. In addition, all of their players are experienced, each of them have experience playing in high pressure situations, not only in LCS playoffs, but in international tournaments as well (Cabo won IEM Cologne in early 2015, the rest have all been to worlds). Ultimately though, it was the recent dismantling of G2 at the hands of Vitality and Fnatic that caused me to give the slight edge to Vitality in the overall standings.
3 - G2
G2 have been one of the biggest stories of the season so far, and at least for me, have performed far above expectation. Perkz looked good coming into LCS, but he's turned out to be an incredible player, looking to be next in line to the throne of great EU midlaners if he can keep up this form. Kikis's transition to toplane has gone far better than it could have, and Trick has proven to be a skillful pickup as well. In addition, their language issues seem to be under control for the most part, due largely to their heavy vision style of play. Essentially, every question and uncertainty I held toward this team in the preseason has been answered well, and now they hold a position near the top of the standings. My reasoning for putting them in third instead of in the top two has to do with their playstyle and its possible fragility. They've developed a strong method of playing around Perkz, which has worked out very well for them. Even in the off case Perkz doesn't get rolling, Emperor serves as a bit of a wildcard that can pick up the slack. However, most of their coordination as a team seems to stem from the aforementioned vision control. This makes sense from the perspective of a mixed language roster. If everyone can see enough of what's going on, they're skilled enough players that they can decide what to do without having to communicate in depth with each other. The problem comes when they face a team, such as H2K, who work heavily in vision denial. Limited knowledge leads to communication becoming more of a necessity, as as we saw recently from Vitality and Fnatic, shutting them out of their vision and keeping the Perkz steamroll from starting can keep G2 from having the kind of impact they usually are able to produce. There's also the smaller, but still notable, issue of Braum being a fairly strong target ban against Hybrid, as his skills with the burly support have been a large part of enabling their carries, and he's seemed much less impactful on other champions. One other thing to consider about G2 is the fact that they've only played as a team in best of ones thus far. With their backbone of players being rookies, we have yet to see if they'll be able to keep up their success in a best-of series, where adaptability becomes key. They've already impressed as a team thus far, now we just need to see if they can keep impressing throughout the end of the season.
4 - Origen
Origen, who were for many the favorites to take the season, have performed far beneath expectations. They've continued their trend from last year of making early game missteps, but have been unable to correct them in this year's much faster meta, with unforgiving death timers causing mid game mistakes to wildly swing games. Origen have recently begun to steady, maintaining a positive win/loss for the first half of the season, but are still lagging far behind their predicted placement. However, the case must be made that some of Origen, particularly Soaz, have a history of mediocre play in low-impact regular season scenarios, before turning up massively in the more high-stakes games, such as playoffs or end-of-season games. In addition to Soaz, Mithy also seems to be lagging far behind his ceiling, and has been known in the past to be a swingy player. I feel, with what we know from these players' histories, Origin will come together and make a strong run late in the season and in playoffs, though I wouldn't be surprised to see them finish the regular season as low as sixth.
5 - Unicorns of Love
In an inexplicable turn of fate, the Unicorns, whose lineup looked mediocre even before losing their star jungler, have come together into one of the more impressive stories of the season, overshadowed primarily by the rise of G2. Fox and Steeelback haven't necessarily been stars, but they've been consistent, which seems to be all that's required of them for Unicorns' team to work. In my preseason ranking, I mentioned that Vizicsacsi would need to suddenly become the next Huni for this team to succeed, and while I wouldn't put him quite on the level of the Holo-King just yet, Csacsi has performed far beyond my expectations, truly becoming the team's main carry threat. The other of the original unicorns, Hylissang, has been the other of the team's brightest points, his play seeming much more rejuvenated than the end of 2015, bringing him back up to the level of playmaking he showed back in the team's debut season when he would garner the most target bans of his teammates. The most interesting thing about the Unicorns' team dynamic is that it seems to be set up where the jungler is not necessarily a large part of the equation, simply requiring a plug-and-play jungler who just needs to be able to fill their role. This can be seen in the team performing more-or-less the same despite going through three different junglers in the first half of the season. As bizarre as it seems, considering how they looked coming into the season, the Unicorns with Diamondprox still in their ranks may very well have been a contender for top three considering how he'd seemed to return to form prior to his unfortunate exit. If he is able to return, the Unicorns may very well be able to go further up the standings, but as they stand now, I think quarterfinals is a solid placement for a lineup that looked like relegation material just five weeks ago.
6 - Fnatic
It seems almost sacrilege to put the kings of Europe so relatively far down on the list, but Fnatic are truly showing signs of struggling. Spirit, while individually good himself, seems disconnected from the rest of his team, almost as if he is still playing with World Elite. Gamsu I've never been impressed with, and as expected, he seems to be struggling to have any real impact outside of games where his team intentionally funnels kills into him on a champion like Olaf. Rekkles, as expected, is struggling now that he's no longer with Yellowstar, and he's starting to stick out as a player who, while talented, fails to be a carry force on a team without many of them. Even Febiven, a star from last year, seems to be playing under his ceiling, though he still looks to be the best performing of the team's members. With Klaj coming in to replace Noxiak, we could see Fnatic get stronger, though it's unlikely that a professional rookie, especially a support rookie, will be able to have too much impact on the team's overall performance. I feel that ultimately, Fnatic will perform much the same with Klaj as they have before. Of course, the temptation is there to say that Fnatic will "bounce back" as they are wont to do, but that doesn't necessarily hold true. The Fnatic known for "bouncing back" is now mostly with Origen. The Fnatic of last year never "bounced back" because they never had to. I feel that this is the season that the Fnatic magic has run its course. Their recent comeback win against G2 and ability to harness the new Kog'Maw well may be a good sign for them going forward, but their loss to Splyce signals more uncertainty. Knowing the org's decision making, we'll likely see some moves from them come the offseason prior to the summer.
7 - Splyce
Though I'd had hopes for this team of Danish underdogs, they've thus far mostly failed to impress. Turns out the "pleasant surprise" of the season was fellow newcomers G2 rather than Splyce. I was almost going to put them at eighth prior to their surprising win against Fnatic. Their issues stem from being woefully unable to actually play a style properly as a team, as well as being seemingly unable to do anything without the involvement of Sencux. Sencux himself was a player who, like Perkz, I felt would be a strong up-and-comer for this season, and while he hasn't turned out quite as strong as his G2 counterpart, Sencux does stand out as the best player, and the primary carry force, of Splyce. Kobbe seems to perform okay, he fills the ADC role all right, but the rest of the team seems to be completely underwhelming. Trashy consistently underperforms and it feels as if he's never really exerting any pressure on the map, especially in early game. Nisbeth seems to have no actual champions that he's able to perform on, playing several different champions, each of them a mediocre to bad showing. However, the player I'm most disappointed with is Wunderwear. Gone is the dynamic playmaker from challenger, replaced with a timid role-player who more often than not falls behind in farm and struggles to not feed kills to his opponents. This team honestly reminds me of Giants from last year, with a single star midlaner carrying a mediocre team of a single nationality. The one thing keeping me from putting Splyce lower is that, in the past few games, their teamplay is at least somewhat coming together, even if it is just some version of "hope Sencux carries us", though their recent upset over Fnatic gives some hope that Splyce may have figured out a different style, considering that they succeeded with Sencux on a utility champion and Wunderwear actually did something with the resources he was given.
8 - Elements
The team I'd pegged for last place had a surprising start to the season. Granted, this was mostly due to having a very easy early schedule. Still, Elements have managed to play decently considering their circumstances, and perhaps most importantly, actually have somewhat of a team dynamic as opposed to just kind of winging it like a game of solo queue. Steve is set up to be Elements's carry, and though he's definitely no Odoamne or Vizicsacsi, he fills his role better than I expected him to. MrRallez is still solid, and Gilius's attachment to top lane was a good part of why they got those early wins. Granted, they've lost every game of the first half since week 2, but I put them near the top of the bottom four because they at least have some good team cohesion, as opposed to the ones below them. Also, their victories all come against other bottom tier teams, at least signifying that their lineup is capable of taking out other low-performing opponents.
9 - Roccat
This was a very close call between these bottom two teams, but in the end, I chose to go with Roccat over Giants, despite the latter's single win coming over the former. This is primarily because I feel there is more talent on Roccat overall, though still quite low compared to most of the league, which opens more opportunities for them to score wins that they shouldn't be able to. In particular, I feel Tabzz is somewhat underrated of an AD, though I wouldn't put him near the level he was at during the latter part of 2014. I think it will be these stolen victories that will keep Roccat above Giants, though if they fail to beat their fellow bottom-dwellers again, they may very well end up in last place.
10 - Giants
Giants have performed more poorly than any other team in the league this season, other than possibly Roccat. I'd originally pegged them as a bad team, but had seriously underestimated some of the other teams in the league, particularly G2 and Unicorns, and even Elements to an extent. Giants, on the other hand, performed even worse than expected. Adryh's weaknesses at his role have started to stick out like a sore thumb, Godfred is back to playing mediocrely, and neither of the two new jungle pickups have really seemed to make any kind of difference. Once again, Pepiinero seems to be the only member of the team with any strength behind him, but even he seems to be performing worse than in last year's seasons. Giants are basically back where they were in their rookie season, but this time without a collapsing MYM to shield them from last place. Their main hope will be to score another victory over the similarly struggling Roccat to give themselves a slightly higher standing in the promotion tournament.