Of all the LEC squads heading to this year’s League of Legends World Championship, there are perhaps none as intriguing as MAD Lions.
They are an incredibly young team—the youngest from Europe—with an average age of 20. Their spot in the LEC followed a rebrand of the Splyce roster that performed beyond expectation at Worlds 2019.
Mid laner Humanoid remained on the lineup after becoming one of the few players to attend Worlds in his rookie year. With the team deciding to rebuild around Humanoid at the end of the 2019 season, coaches James McCormack and Peter Dun looked to Europe’s emerging region leagues to fill out what would end up becoming one of the LEC’s best rosters.
That roster of hopeful rookies would go on to be the first European team to make Worlds in their debut year since Misfits in 2017. And although they will still have to play through the play-in stage after a less-than-successful playoffs run, these players will be making their international debut at the most important tournament on the League of Legends calendar.
With the shortest average game time in the LEC regular season at a brisk 31.4 minutes, MAD Lions are a team that’s all about early advantages. Jungler Shad0w, famous for his Lee Sin, was invariably down in gold to his opponents in regular season games, which is indicative of his focus on ganking rather than farming. Although being active on the map in the early game was successful for MAD in the regular season, the emergence of farming-style junglers around the start of playoffs and Shad0w’s unwillingness to play them meant that he was often being heavily out-scaled by other junglers in both levels and gold.
MAD have been incredibly slow to adapt to changes in meta. Their innovation at the start of the season quickly stagnated into a repetitive playstyle. Although playoffs saw Shad0w pick up Lillia who has been so popular globally, the team were not used to playing with a more late-game focused champion in the jungle, and much of their cohesion fell apart. It’s difficult to develop an ability to maneuver the late game when you’ve always won before it arrived. Humanoid found some success on Akali, who has been slowly gaining popularity worldwide after a succession of buffs in recent patches, but he failed to pick up champions like Orianna and Lucian in the moments that mattered.
MAD were quick to innovate at the start of the season, bringing out the “fasting-Senna” combination for Carzzy and Kaiser that was previously unseen in Europe. The combination suited MAD’s bottom lane perfectly with Kaiser’s hyper-aggressive playstyle unlocked on champions like Wukong while the more measured Carzzy took on a supportive role. The wins came rolling in, and MAD briefly looked unstoppable. But they got complacent, and their win record just kept getting worse as they remained stuck in their ways, unwilling to move away from their original meta read.
The play-in stage can often be considered a slight advantage for major region teams, because it allows them to get a feel for the international meta in a more risk-averse setting. But if MAD grab hold of certain picks and do not let go in the same way they did domestically, they will leave themselves open to a significant draft disadvantage the minute a more optimal pick is found.
A new hope
MAD are a team that have turned heads since the 2020 Spring Split. The roster handed the defending LEC champions G2 Esports their first European best-of-five loss in over a year, yet ultimately fell in the losers bracket final of the Spring Playoffs.
In Summer, they took a second-place finish to fellow rookie team Rogue, finishing the regular season with a 12-6 win record. Their performance took a nosedive in the playoffs, however, going from 12-6 to 4-7 in some incredibly sloppy and uncoordinated games. Their dominance against Schalke 04 secured them their Worlds spot, but a loss to Rogue landed them in the play-in stage, where they will have to battle against teams from minor regions to snatch a spot in the group stage.
With MAD drawn into a play-ins group alongside the LCS third seed, their chances of making it to the group stage are reasonably high. Unless they make some incredibly egregious mistakes and drop games to wild card regions, we will be seeing this team play among some of the world’s best.
Making it out of play-ins is the easy part, however. The difficulties will start to arise when this team has to face one of the hardest groups at the tournament. They would be guaranteed to enter Group D because it is the only group currently missing an LEC team. There they will have to face none other than DRX, Korea’s loose cannon second seed, and—perhaps most terrifyingly—they will match up against Top Esports, considered by many to be the tournament favorites. MAD Lions are a strong team of rookies, but it will take nothing short of a miracle for them to break out of such a stacked group.
There is a lot about this team that is reminiscent of Griffin, the famous now-disbanded LCK team of rookies who dominated Korea in 2019. While their domestic performances have been invariably strong, their inexperience means that they could fall short in best-of-five situations whether that be a result of fatigue, nerves, or any combination of extenuating factors.
With Griffin’s dismal showing at 2019 Worlds being one of the biggest disappointments of international League of Legends, European fans will be watching with bated breath to see whether the same fate befalls the LEC’s fourth seed.