The next generation of League of Legends professional gamers are now ready to compete in the Challenger Series.
The European Challenger Series is set after Dignitas EU, Denial, and Mousesports all managed to earn spots in the qualifying tournament last night. In North America, Misfits and Cloud9 Tempest qualified, with Counter Logic Gaming Black and Magnetic set for a June 16 showdown for the final spot, available thanks to the failure of Team Fusion to field a legal roster. These squads will join pre-qualified teams Winterfox, Team Coast, and Final Five, while the European sides will suit up against Reason Gaming, Copenhagen Wolves Academy, and Gamers2.
The Challenger Series, often labelled the top amateur competition in League, decides which teams reach the next season of the League Championship Series (LCS). The top team in Challenger is automatically promoted, while the next two ranked teams receive shots at promotion in best-of-five series against the weakest LCS squads.
Of course, calling the players competing in Challenger or even in the qualifying tournament “amateurs” is selling many of them short—dozens of ex-LCS players, and other players signed to professional contracts, competed in the event.
Take Misfits, for example, headlined by team captain and LCS veteran Alberto “Crumbzz” Rengifo and one of the most legendary players in the game’s history, mid laner Alex Ichetovkin. The team came together this offseason with hopes of reaching the LCS, and now they’re well on their way.
Joining them in North America is Cloud9 Tempest, who had to navigate some storm clouds to make it in. Their mid laner David “Yusui” Bloomquist was recently suspended by Riot Games, leaving them scrambling to bring in substitute Justin “Jintae” Dinh at the last second. They barely managed to pull off the win over rival Counter Logic Gaming Black to secure their position. Cloud9 Tempest has a rocky history in Challenger—they have been favorites to win the Spring Split before an incident with a ringer saw them disqualified. But even with Bloomquist sidelined, they remain a favorite to make it through.
In Europe, Dignitas punched their ticket after ending their Spring bid in disappointing fashion. And as with Cloud9 Tempest, it wasn’t because of their play. Mid laner Chres “Sencux” Laursen could be the next European superstar mid laner, but he was kept out of the Challenger playoffs because he was too young to play in the LCS. The team ended up forfeiting their playoff match, meaning they needed to qualify again for the Challenger Series, which they accomplished yesterday by ousting Mousesports.
Denial will join them in the Challenger Series after sweeping their way through their qualifier bracket. Built by former LCS pros Mike “Wickd” Petersen and Rasmus “MrRalleZ” Skinneholm, the team is almost a walking statement by Petersen that his career hasn’t ended since his ousting from Elements at the start of the year. He’s seized control of it himself and is now one step closer to an LCS return.
Another pair of former LCS pros didn’t make it—top laner Marcin “Xaxus” Maczka and jungler Matt “Impaler” Taylor. The pair joined up with last Split’s Meet Your Makers substitute support Lewis “NoXiAK” Felix to form a lineup with more LCS experience than any in the field, but they fell to Denial and then German team Mousesports, losing out on a potential spot.
That goes to show how tough it is to reach the LCS—even skilled pros like Taylor, who earned a solid reputation as a jungler through his play in 2014 and even some of his work in a dismal Spring Split for Team Coast in North America, can’t even make it into the league below the LCS.
The Challenger Series features six teams in each of North America and Europe, and last night’s are just a sampling of the talent that will become the next generation of LCS professionals—or the next generation of former pros risen again.
Image via Riot Games