Every year, a team from the EU LCS comes out of nowhere to make Worlds. Two years ago, Splyce won the regional gauntlet to qualify in their first full season. Last year, Misfits repeated that feat.
This time, it’s Vitality’s turn to go straight from the promotion tournament to Worlds. We should stop being surprised by now when it seems to happen every year, but Vitality’s growth was still unprecedented. Splyce had veteran talent boost their team, and last year’s Misfits got acclimated midway by playing half of season six in the EU LCS.
But Vitality came into the league with a group of true rookies, a team that stuck to its guns upon making the leap from Challenger to LCS. Now, they’ll try to surprise us once more by reaching another level for Worlds.
Another dominant mid laner
Vitality’s made its mark on Europe this year by producing yet another dominant mid laner. But unlike past stars like Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, and Rasmus “Caps” Winther, Daniele “Jiizuke” di Mauro doesn’t hail from Denmark.
Instead, he’s become one of few Italian players to make it big on the LCS stage. And the surprises don’t stop there. Jiizuke almost singly-handedly carried his team through their first LCS split.
Whatever Vitality needed last spring, Jiizuke provided. Pressure in the early game? He’d just solo kill his lane opponent. Problems with early jungling? Jiizuke would be there to make sure his team had room to breathe. Issues with closing games? Don’t worry, just stick Jiizuke in a side lane and let him take apart opponents by himself.
Jiizuke has been more tame in the Summer Split, but only because his team figured out how to win without relying on him so much. He went from playing carries like Ryze and Zoe to supportive mids like Galio. But in the team’s key playoff series against Misfits, the series that got them into Worlds, he closed things out with games on Ryze and LeBlanc, going 14/2/11 on those two champions to seal the deal.
Jiizuke is, without a doubt, one of the players to look out for at Worlds. He’s already a star in Europe, but the best players always shine under the bright lights of Worlds.
A clutch substitution in the jungle
Vitality could have been forgiven for running back the same roster that got fourth place in the Spring Split into the Summer Split. They had such young players, logic held that all they needed was time to jell. And when the Summer Split began, the roster was nearly entirely unchanged, with a name change for bot laner Amadeu “Attila” Carvalho (previously known as Minitroupax) the only difference.
But then a few weeks into the split, Vitality made an interesting decision. Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek was brought in to compete for the starting jungle spot and made an immediate impact.
By the end of the split, Kikis had made himself into an MVP contender despite having played only slightly more than half his team’s games. He brought stability to both Vitality’s early game jungling and late game objective control. He propped up the side lanes too, allowing top laner Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-leslet and Attila to shine. The team simply plays much more aggressively with Kikis in the lineup, and their pace can tear other teams apart.
But pace and tempo aren’t going to be all the team needs at Worlds. They were the unlucky LCS team this year, getting placed into a group with defending champions Gen.G and an RNG squad that look nigh unbeatable.
Vitality aren’t taking their group too seriously so far, which is a good thing. They’ve made it this far by embracing how new they are and how little they care about the logos on the jerseys of their opponents. That style may not lead them out of the quarterfinals, not against teams of this caliber. In order to survive, they need Jiizuke to carry just like he did in the Spring Split. Gen.G are good, but they can be exploited in the mid lane. Give Jiizuke a carry, and at least Vitality can go out in a blaze of glory.
But we’ve all been surprised by Vitality before. We’ll find out once Worlds starts if they have one more trick up their sleeves.