New Contender for Fnatic's Crown? An Assessment of Team Vitality
With the departure of Raymond “KaSing” Tsang from Team SoloMid, and his decision not to return to H2K, people began to wonder about KaSing’s fate. As Fnatic looked for a new support to replace the TSM-bound Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim, many looked to KaSing as the perfect replacement. However Fnatic decided to use Lewis “NoXiAK” Simons. Without an elite team for KaSing to join, would he have to sit out a split? Rumors began to spread about a super team with Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet, Ilyas “Shook” Hartsema, Erlend “Nukeduck” Holm, Petter "Hjärnan" Freyschuss, and KaSing. Questions about KaSing’s future were put to rest on December 9th, 2015 when it was announced Team Vitality bought Gambit Gaming’s spot. Their support would be KaSing.
It was leaked several days after that their roster would be the super team aforementioned of Cabochard, Shook, Nukeduck, and Hjärnan. The overall roster appears to be incredibly strong, but is it as strong as it looks on paper? Does the team have some glaring flaws being overlooked, or does the team really have what it takes to be the best team in Europe?
Cabochard was a rather unknown name a year ago. However, with Gambit Gaming, he proved himself to be one of the best Top laners in the region. It is possible that without Heo “Huni” Seung-Hoon, he might prove himself to be the best Top laner in Europe. Cabochard has a very flexible champion pool, playing bruisers like Hecarim, AP mages like Ryze and Kennen, and tanks like Gnar and Shen. He never seems to tilt, and almost always wins lane, having the highest CSD@10 stat out of all European Top laners. His ability to fit any kind of playstyle, and win his lane is invaluable to any team, but what downsides does he come with? There really isn’t a major downside to Cabochard. Maybe he can’t carry like Huni, but he also doesn’t tilt as hard. He is an upgrade, or at the very least, a sidegrade to every roster in the West.
Shook didn’t have a very good Season 5, which is saddening given his success in the year prior. Elements would get seventh place, and barely avoid getting into a relegation match in the Spring Split. Due to the team's performance, Shook would be kicked from the roster. He appeared towards the end of the Summer Split on the Copenhagen Wolves, replacing Karim “Airwaks” Benghalia, when Airwaks refused to play with the team. While he couldn’t save the team from 10th place, forcing them to get Auto-Relegated, Shook’s few games were incredibly impressive. He showed his old Season 4 form, and must have brought interest to Team Vitality. Unlike a majority of Europe’s Junglers, Shook is a hard carrying Jungler. When he gets ahead on a Champion he is good at, not even Korea’s elite teams can stop him. On Lee Sin, he led Alliance to a perfect game against NaJin White Shield at Season 4’s World Championship. No other European Jungler can snowball the game like Shook can, but what happens when he isn’t ahead? Shook has a tendency to tilt, and generally underperform when not ahead. While I don’t think he was the main problem on Elements, and one of the better performing members, it is impossible to forget the games he fell behind in. In these games, he would end up just feeding the enemy team. If he returns to his Season 4 form, he might be a contender for Top 3 Jungler in Europe, but if he can’t, he might prove to be a bigger detriment to the team than a boon.
Nukeduck was a top Mid laner when he hit the scene in Season 3 with Lemondogs, but was banned in Season 4 due to toxicity. His ban was lifted at the end of Season 4, and decided to compete with ROCCAT in Season 5. ROCCAT was looking to be one of the best teams in the region, but due to underperforming play by their top laner Remigiusz "Overpow" Pusch, ADC Pawe? "Woolite" Pruski, and by Nukeduck himself, the team would get 8th place. They would play against the Copenhagen Wolves Academy to secure their spot in the Summer. In the Summer split, they replaced Overpow with Etienne "Steve" Michels, and Woolite with Rasmus "MrRalleZ" Skinneholm. Nukeduck would return to his Season 3 form as well, and the team would finish in 5th place. When Nukeduck is playing at his best, there aren’t really any other Mid Laners in the region who can compare to him, even Fnatic’s prized Mid Laner, Fabian “Febiven’ Diepstraten.
Similar to Cabochard, Hjärnan wasn’t very known until the beginning of Season 5 with H2K. Before joining H2K, Hjärnan was the ADC of C9 Eclipse. Hjärnan played a very secondary role within H2K. It was rare for him to carry a game, though he had the potential to do so, and almost always put up decent numbers. I assume his job will be similar in Vitality. His performance won’t make or break the team, but he could very well be the piece that puts Vitality in the Top 3 teams in Europe. In my personal opinion, he is a Top 3 ADC in the region with FORG1VEN, and Niels, though I’m not very sure how he’d perform without his partner KaSing. It doesn’t seem to matter as they’ll be together on this roster.
KaSing has been playing with teams season late Season 2, but didn’t make it big until Supa Hot Crew in late Season 4. The team was very unsuccessful in the Spring split, and was inconsistent in the Summer split until KaSing was picked up. The team got third place for the split, but ultimately got fifth place in the playoffs. KaSing left Supa Hot Crew soon after, and joined Gamers2, which he would leave 2 months later to join H2K. KaSing joining H2K turned then from a mediocre 2-2 team, to a team that would go undefeated for 4 weeks, and would place third overall in the Spring split. They would once again place third in the following split, and would go to Worlds. The team was placed in Group C with SK Telecom, Edward Gaming, and Bangkok Titans, but would fail to exit groups. Hopefully, KaSing’s presence on this team will turn Vitality into a top 3 team, just like Supa Hot Crew and H2K before.
The biggest concern with this team will be which Shook and Nukeduck show up. If Shook and Nukeduck perform like they did this Spring, the team will be doomed to 6th or 7th place. While Cabochard and Hjärnan are strong and very self sufficient, with Junglers like Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon on Fnatic, H2K’s new Jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski, and Origen’s returning Jungler Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider, Shook will get demolished if he is playing how he was in Spring. Even Junglers who aren’t on teams expected to be Top 4, such as Splyce’s Jungler Jonas “Trashy” Anderson might be able to take advantage of Shook if he performs like he did in Spring.
Having one weak link isn’t exactly bad, such as H2K last split and their Jungler Jean-Victor “loulex” Burgevin, but two might tear the entire team apart. Nukeduck is very similar to Shook. If he performs like he did in the Spring, he’ll be ripped apart by other Mid laners in the region, such as Origen’s Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage, Fnatic’s Febiven, H2K’s Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook, Splyce’s Chres “Sencux” Laursen, G2 Esports’ Luka "PerkZ" Perkovi?, Unicorns of Love’s Hampus “Fox” Myhre, and Giants Gaming’s Isaac “PePiiNeRO” Flores. At the time of writing this, this is every other Mid Laner currently announced to be competing in the 2016 Spring split. Nukeduck performing at his peak can easily be the best Mid in the region, but if he plays bad, he can become the Worst.
Another budding issue will be creating the synergy between the Jungler and Support, as well as solo laners, in time for the upcoming Season. While Hjärnan and KaSing have strong pre established synergy, Shook has never worked with anyone on the roster prior. Other top teams such as Origen, Fnatic, and H2K has some pre established synergy with their Jungler somewhere. Amazing has been working with Origen’s support Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez and Top laner Paul “sOAZ” Boyer for roughly around a year now. Spirit has been friends with Fnatic’s new top laner Noh “Gamsu” Yeong-jin for over a year, as both lived in the Samsung Blue house. H2K has Jankos and their new support Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan, who have been playing together for about 2 years now. Vitality will need for Shook to create some kind of synergy within a month, or the team can fail from that alone.
If every member of the team plays at their peak, I honestly believe they’ll have the strongest roster in Europe. Without Huni to contest Cabochard, he can very quickly shoot up to the best in the region. If Shook plays like he did in the Summer of Season 4, he’ll be the second best Jungler in the region, only falling behind Spirit who is arguably a top 3 Jungler in the World. This combo will overpower any other Top/Jungler duo in the region, and probably the entire West. It is possible that Shook focuses more mid with Nukeduck, as Nukeduck in Season 3 form would make him and Shook the best Mid/Jungler duo in the region. They also have H2K’s former bot lane of Hjärnan and KaSing, which were a top 3 bot last year, and might be the second best this year, at least for a bit. I expect Origen’s Jesper “Niels” Svenningsen and mithy to be better than them at the start, and it is possible that H2K’s bot lane of VandeR and FORG1VEN could surpass them. I don’t believe Fnatic’s Martin “Rekkles” Larson and NoXiAK will beat Hjärnan and KaSing
Unlike my previous article on NRG, there is very little to talk about when regarding Vitality’s support staff. Their head coach is former Gambit Gaming’s coach Kévin "Shaunz" Ghanbarzadeh, and despite Gambit’s poor placement in the Summer split, I’ve only heard good things about him. It also needs to be mentioned that Gambit lost their star ADC FORG1VEN at the end of the split, and they were in a position for a playoff run before he was banned. I hope that all of the good things I’ve heard about him are true, and if they are, he will be able to compete with H2K’s coach Neil “pr0lly” Hammad, as well as Fnatic’s prized coach Luis “Deilor” Sevilla Petit. Despite that, I do hope that Vitality will continue to expand on their support staff, and have one as large and as skilled as NRG will have.
It is most likely that Shook and Nukeduck won’t go back to their prime, but as long as they reach a level close to that, I believe Team Vitality will be a top three team in the region with Origen and H2K. They have a very experienced roster, some of the best players in the region, and a good organization who can give them the money they need to be successful. I personally hope that this team does great, and adds more competition to the EU LCS, which was mostly dominated by only three teams last year, H2K, Origen, and Fnatic. Vitality is definitely the team I am most excited for next split, alongside H2K, and Splyce.