Exploring Europe - Week 1
In this weekly series I shall be examining what I believe to be the most interesting results and trends to emerge from the European region.
It’s always exciting heading into a new season in League of Legends. Europe’s had a fairly busy preseason with many large names choosing the greener pastures and faster food offered by North America. Whilst the impact of these losses has been greatly exaggerated, many of the rosters we came to know have been shuffled. Long standing team staples like Diamond and Edward had to find new homes after the dissolution of Gambit. Meanwhile Jankos and Vander left long term home Roccat to become part of H2K’s impressive new roster. Simultaneously the powerhouse that is Fnatic was once again forced to find the majority of a new roster and this time without Yellowstar at its core. Infact of all previous rosters only Origen remained fairly untouched, with xPeke taking a step back and allowing PowerOfEvil to share the spotlight. As such many anticipated the world’s semi finalist roster to stand above the rest with its pre-established synergy and core of strong players. Europe however is rarely so predictable.
Origen go 0:2
xPeke has long since established himself as a legend of the game. He’s consistently clutch when the stakes are raised, but last season his regular split performance was fairly unremarkable. As such the inclusion of the young talent and prior Unicorns of Love star player, PowerOfEvil, was seen as a positive change and certainly not one that seriously impact the performance of the team as a whole. Banking on a strong start from Origen was a logical prediction. It was also an incorrect one. Of course it’s far too early to start drawing strong conclusions just one week and two games in, but in my opinion Origen didn’t do themselves any favours with their pick and ban phase.
In their first game versus the new Fnatic squad, Origen opted in to some fairly weak lanes. With Ezreal into Lucian and Lissandra into Olaf, it was important for Origen to mitigate the much stronger and snowball heavy composition of Fnatic. Opting into standard lanes wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, although a lane swap would have likely slowed the games pace. However it was essential that Amazing’s Lee Sin alleviate some of the early pressure coming out of the Lucian, LeBlanc and Olaf of Fnatic. Instead Spirit on Zac managed to perform much better from the go, utilising the pressure of his laners to secure kills in a teleport assisted dive bot lane before immediately garnering advantages for Febiven in the mid.
As such as the game went on, with only Lissandra for any kind of reliable engage and a composition that is most comfortable kiting back and utilising their heavy crowd control – it proved impossible for Origen to find their way back in. This in part due to the clever drafting of Fnatic, with a strong Olaf and Zac it’s very hard to prevent being hard engaged upon. Whilst Origen certainly didn’t lose in the pick ban, they committed to a very binary play style. Which given the current meta means picking a composition that has little in the way of comeback potential is incredibly dangerous.
In their second game, their drafting was even more questionable. Having already witnessed H2K’s dominating victory over the Giants, in which they utilised a strong siege composition to fast push towers and secure firm control over the game. It was shocking to see Origen opt into a composition that had virtually zero wave clear. Moreover, in the face of an overwhelmingly early game focused composition from H2K, Origen answered with the scaling solo lanes of Ryze and Kassadin. After a lane swap the side lane outer turrets quick fell. After some unsuccessful skirmishing in the face of a massive early power differential, mid inevitably fell soon after. From here on in the game was basically already over. Garnering vision control of Origen’s jungle, H2K proceeded to force down tower after tower, winning nearly every skirmish that occurred on their way to a dominating victory.
One cannot be too damning of Origen’s performance in the first week and there were certainly glimmers of brilliance and examples of solid team play. Especially when we consider that their opponents were Fnatic and H2K, touted by most to be competitors for Europe’s top spot. If they can clean up their pick and ban phase to better fit the meta, which should be a fairly easy fix, then I expect to see Origen looking much more as expected from here on in.
The Significance of Lower Average Game Times
Another narrative that emerged given Europe’s first week of play, emphasised by Quickshot, was its seemingly much more efficient games. The reasoning of course is obvious to anyone who played so much as a few games in the preseason. Towers were weakened, death timers lengthened and the game is now much more prone to snowball. As such in many cases crediting the faster game times to efficient team play is incorrect. Europe was a region that had some issues closing out games; this is unlikely to have been totally resolved by every team, most of which have new rosters, before the first week of competitive play.
Indeed, whilst some teams, notably H2K, were extremely efficient about garnering a lead and using it to close out quickly. It was also the fault of opposing teams for neglecting the importance of wave clear and a dangerous emphasis on scaling champions, particularly Ryze. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that Ryze is a powerful pick right now – however he has clear weaknesses. Given the meta picking an immobile champion with an early power trough can create some serious headaches. For example, in the match between Elements and G2, Eira, Elements mid laner opted for Ryze. Teleporting in response to a particularly early skirmish in the top lane, Eira left his lane opponent, Perkz alone to farm on Ahri. Whilst the skirmish resulted in nothing but the loss of a few summoner spells, Perkz now had a lead that he would use to strangle out the entire game. After just one misstep Eira was left helpless for the remainder of the match.
For the weaker teams, or teams lacking strategic depth, I would suggest opting for strong lane match ups and champions that can snowball fairly easily. It fits the current patch much better stylistically and if any leads can be acquired early, it is easier than ever to transfer said lead into a victory. Whilst champions like Ryze are certainly valid, and have their strengths, the amount of focus on this particular pick has left me a little confused. Firstly, the champion was picked or banned in 100% of the EU LCS games. Banned only twice, he was played eight times, in which only three of those were victories. Whilst this is statistically insignificant, it shows that the champion of itself isn’t strong enough to assure a victory. If teams do opt for a scaling champion or two, they need to make sure they have either early game insurance in the form of strong other picks, or some form of wave clear to stall the game out. If you aren’t taking any real form of wave clear then you have to be confident in either, the proficiency of your jungler’s early game. Your rosters grasp on lane swaps, or your teams ability to maintain vision control and to make picks and smart counter map movements. Otherwise we will continue to see extremely fast, one sided games where towers quickly vanish from the map.
H2K’s Dominating Performance
This outcome was a little more predictable. A roster that consists of Odoamne, Jankos, Ryu, Forg1ven and VandeR is one that on paper would struggle not to succeed. With the pre-established synergy of the ex-Roccat jungle and support, combined with the individual talent remaining in the rest of the roster and Prolly to guide them strategically, H2K were primed for success. The only real question was how immediate would the payoff be. Of all the teams, H2K looked the most polished. They won both their games easily, utilising the same tower shoving strategy to close the games out in almost textbook fashion. Interestingly the team looks much like the early iteration of Forg1ven SK, just with more talent.
The staple pick of both compositions was Forg1ven’s Corki, which comes online extremely quickly. In their first game versus the Giants they opted for a triple ranged comp, with the additions of Ahri middle and Graves in the jungle. This gives the team a core identity, one with extremely high wave clear and siege potential. To round out the composition they pick up the tanky bookends Shen and Trundle who perform well at keeping their carries alive and disrupting the enemy if they attempt to force an engage whilst the carries are busy knocking down turrets. This was all the more effective as Giants only real engage was Kennen or Reksai, both of whom are very choreographed and are only really secondary engage or follow up without either a solid flank angle or flash.
In their second game versus Origen, I already highlighted the issues with the enemy composition, who picked an incredibly scale heavy zero wave clear composition. Meanwhile H2K opted into an all or nothing early game composition. This time they had less siege potential, with LeBlanc and Lissandra filling out the solo lanes. However with Poppy and Lissandra they had the counter engage and disengage they needed to essentially play the same game. Pressuring towers was easy with their early compositional advantage leaving Origen to either over commit to an engage or watch their towers slowly disappear.
H2K have shown their very proficient at turning tower leads into map control and utilising the gold to snowball in both of their games. However they are utilising a fairly binary strategy and are yet to face any real challenge to their early game. It will be interesting to see how other teams adapt to their play and to see if H2K can switch it up stylistically. That said, they deserve props for being the team with the best understanding of the patch and their clean, methodical play.
Unicorns of Love?
The Unicorns of Love quickly established themselves as a well known and quite popular phenomenon in the European LCS. With their goofy name, unorthodox champion picks and unrefined but exciting play style they certainly had a strong identity that would appeal to a certain type of fan. That team, as of the first week of Season 6, seems to no longer exist.
Now before we go crazy, it is important to add the caveat that this was a pretty easy week for this roster. Splyce and Giants are, many expect, to be amongst the teams competing to not get relegated – as such the perfect 2:0 from the Unicorns should not be overstated. Nonetheless, they put up solid performances and looked quite crisp closing out the games. Much more methodical than this team has ever been expected to look. Pleasingly Diamondprox put up strong early game performances, both times on Elise, something that he has struggled to do with any reliability for a while. It’s certainly too early to make bold claims of a reinvigorated Diamond, but it was nice to see. His early pressure put the Unicorns in a strong position in both games.
Fnatic and Vitality go 1:1
In their first game versus Origen, Fnatic looked surprisingly good. They made solid moves early, utilising each of their new members. Noxiak pressured the lane alongside Rekkles well, enabling a solid teleport from Gamsu and gank from Spirit. Speaking of which Spirit on Zac had a phenomenal early game, out performing Amazing in basically every regard, despite the inferior early game champion. All the while Gamsu was able to get ahead on Olaf and solo kill sOAZ, which admittedly being a Lissandra, is a good match up – however chaining it into a clutch kill on Amazing was impressive. At first it looked as if Fnatic may have done it again; instant magic, solid pick and ban, strong individual performances and decent team play.
However, in their game versus Vitality things very much went the other way for the Fnatic roster. Playing exactly the same composition, Vitality answered convincingly, opting into an early lane swap. Fnatic swap to find reverse standard lanes, but eventually lose out on the top side, losing their tower first. Meanwhile Shook was able to garner advantages for his own laner Cabochard on Fiora, neutralising Gamsu’s Olaf entirely. With the early power of Miss Fortune and a snowballing Fiora, the Vitality line up was balanced out with a scaling Ryze, Morgana provides safety from the Zac engage whilst pairing well with jungle Elise for making pick and combining in addition with Ryze for what can only be described as a disgusting CC chain. Unable to find a way to force the issue, Fnatic lost tower after tower and found them locked up and quickly dispatched whenever they tried to force the issue.
For me I’d like to see Fnatic mix it up. Perhaps have Gamsu take more of a supportive role and give Spirit a true carry jungler. From what we know of his play style and what we saw from him in his first game, it can only benefit Fnatic enhance his chances of snowballing their early game. With Febiven as the main carry and Rekkles to back him up, having a second Huni is not a necessity. It’s certainly something I’d like to see this squad at least try.
Vitality on the other hand, drafted radically different in their first game versus Roccat. Whilst they had some solid options, a pseudo pick comp with an element of protect the Tristana combined with Lulu, they had options. However the Kennen just didn’t seem to fit and failed to find any real openings throughout the course of the game. This matchup was an odd one though, Vitality seemed to be the team making the solid proactive moves, particularly earlier into the game, however they kept falling short in skirmishes and it was almost as if Roccat fell into a victory. With some very mechanically talented players Vitality certainly has a lot of potential as a roster. However, historically Shook has been very hot and cold. Similarly Nukeduck in the past season also seemed quite hit or miss. Whether this team turns out to just be mediocre with strong upset potential or a real contender will depend on whether or not they can carve out a solid style and grasp on the macro game. If the shot-calling and in game decision making is their, there is no reason why this roster cannot do very well.
Going into Next Week
I expect Origen to pick up their performance, with easier match ups ahead and time to analyse their drafting issues I expect the team to show up looking much more polished. Whilst perhaps unfairly I did not make mention of G2 who went 2:0 this week, due to the weakness of their opposition, much like with the Unicorns, I found it hard to draw any strong conclusions with the information given so far. However, their mid laner, Perkz, certainly impressed and showcased that he can devastate a game with a lead. Perhaps, just perhaps he will be the next person to highlight that European mid laners are a special breed. Their match up versus H2K coming up will certainly highlight any weaknesses that the weaker teams failed to reveal this week.
Fnatic and Vitality have testing matches, with both facing the Unicorns and then Fnatic facing H2K and Vitality facing Origen. The information from this next week will certainly help paint a truer picture of how the EU rosters currently stack up against one another. Based on the first week, it would only make sense to back H2K as the most solid roster. However, they are yet to be tested and Fnatic are typically fairly good at preparing against a team. I expect both Gamers 2 and the Unicorns to lose their perfect scores and be revealed as middle of the pack rosters. H2K, Fnatic and Origen will be competing for the best roster, with an out side shot being given to Vitality.