Excel co-founder discusses the LEC team’s offseason roster moves, the org’s thoughts on promoting Academy players

Excel's chief gaming officer talked about the recent controversies surrounding the org.

Photo via Riot Games

Excel Esports has been heavily scrutinized by the League of Legends community for a few months due to controversial decisions made surrounding its LEC team.

At first, the British team had been silent about what happened at the end of the Spring Split. But now, the organization has decided to speak openly about the offseason changes, promoting Academy players, and its expectations for the 2021 LEC Summer Split. Kieran Holmes-Darby, the co-founder and chief gaming officer of the team, talked with Dot Esports to give some context on the latest moves made by the LEC team. Holmes-Darby’s role at Excel is essentially what is known as an esports director or general manager in other organizations.

The first big topic involving Excel this past offseason was the squad’s mid lane and support changes. The British team decided to part ways with both Czekolad and Tore after a controversial end to the split, as previously reported by Dot Esports. Excel attempted to make these two roster changes toward the end of the spring and one of the players even flew home and then returned to finish the split.

“This was toward the end of the split, we were in a kinda do-or-die situation,” Holmes-Darby told Dot Esports. “By that time, we already had in our minds that there were some team synergy issues in the team, so we were thinking about the fact that there will be changes in the offseason.”

Holmes-Darby confirmed that Excel’s plans were to give BT Excel mid laner Jørgen “Hatrixx” Elgåen and support Henk “Advienne” Reijenga the opportunity to play in the LEC at the end of the last split. “We are not afraid to give rookies a chance,” Holmes-Darby said. “We felt like giving Hatrixx and Advienne an opportunity toward the end of the season would put us in a really strong position for the upcoming offseason if we chose to promote them full time.”

Holmes-Darby also admitted that a management mistake led to the previously reported end-of-season incident involving Czekolad and Tore. “We had the information we were given by Riot regarding rules about roster swaps, etc.,” Holmes-Darby said. “Our management interpreted that information wrongly, and that’s on us. We have to hold our hands up. We made a mistake and we won’t ever make that same mistake again.”

Apart from that incident, the signing of Czekolad’s replacement, Nukeduck, was controversial among LEC fans, who felt like Nukeduck didn’t have the best recent performance. The veteran stepped back from competing last split due to personal reasons. Holmes-Darby explained that the goal with Excel’s roster changes is to have strong voices and leadership inside the team.

“Nukeduck is a seasoned veteran, you kinda know what you are getting with him,” Holmes-Darby said. “I have to say that based on preseason and scrims, he is playing unbelievably well. He came with an attitude that is just super driven. He is as worried about Excel not making playoffs as I am because his career is aligned with Excel’s, you know, kind of bad reputations on the lines.”

The team lacked a lot of synergy last split, according to Holmes-Darby. And to Excel, Denyk and Nukeduck were the right choices to try to fix this issue. “One thing you can definitely say about Nukeduck is that he has a very strong voice,” Holmes-Darby said. “He knows exactly how to play the game and he knows what he expects of people around him to allow him to play the game the way he wants it.”

In the support role, Denyk is replacing Tore—and the reasoning for that change is similar to the mid lane swap, plus the fact that Tore’s performance wasn’t the best over the last few months. “We felt like Tore wasn’t performing to the level that he had performed in the past for us, so we decided that a change was the best,” Holmes-Darby said. “Again, a similar story to Nukeduck, the coaches thought that we needed someone that is very decisive and that will pull the trigger when needed. And if you know Denyk, you know he is that guy.”

The latest controversy around Excel involves the topic of promoting Academy players, specifically the potential promotion of BT Excel jungler Mark “Markoon” van Woensel and support Advienne. These two players were offered the chance to play in the LEC but they declined, according to a recent report by LEC Wooloo. Holmes-Darby also shared some insight and context about this information and the situation with these players.

“We are in a position currently where we have a top ERL team in which all but one player is untested at the highest level,” Holmes-Darby said. “Our goal is to look at our 10 players and have the five best playing in the LEC. So this preseason, we decided to hold scrims between BT Excel and the LEC team, and we also made some mixed teams to try to see what players had the best synergies too.”

Holmes-Darby said that Markoon and Advienne are both “incredibly impressive” and “LEC-ready players.” He admitted that the organization talked about the idea of promoting them to the LEC team and asked the players how they would feel if that opportunity presented itself this summer. But Holmes-Darby said there was a lot of hesitation on their part and they wanted to talk to other people first before making a decision.

“The players didn’t refuse to play in the LEC, but there was some hesitation and some of that was around how quickly said promotion would happen as they feel they would want more scrim time and practice before being promoted,” Holmes-Darby said.

One reason why the Excel co-founder thinks there was this hesitation is that the ambience on the BT Excel team is “awesome and a better setup than some LEC teams have.” He thinks it’s normal that they have doubts about leaving that environment. “We can’t just say ‘you are promoted,’ we have to work with them to make sure they are ready when the opportunity presents itself,” Holmes-Darby said.

The opportunity to promote these players just didn’t come up this time and Excel decided to go down another route with its roster. But Holmes-Darby also revealed that the plan is to continue scrimming with BT Excel at least once a week during the split.

“I’m not gonna rule out potential changes during the split,” Holmes-Darby said. “Right now, that’s not happening and we are happy with the LEC team. But if throughout the season we see underperformance in a role and we think someone at BT Excel will do a better job, we will act on that.”

The 2021 LEC Summer Split begins on Friday, June 11. Excel’s first match will be against Rogue at 1pm CT.

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