Past, Present and Future: A look into competitive rivalries in the European LCS
Rivalries in sport are some of the most hyped up things for the fans as well as for the players and clubs themselves. In terms of Esports, we have long outstanding organisations that have stretched a number of different games and a number of different LANS. All of which helped to grow their organisations fan bases. But how does this play a part in terms of rivalry within European League of Legends and just how secure are rivalries within the scene and how much can the wider community do to help out in establishing and maintaining these rivalries?
The pinnacle of LCS rivalries.
The most staple example of rivalry within league of legends is NA’s own, Counter Logic Gaming and Team Solo Mid. The rivalry between these two teams all began when the owners Andy "Reginald" Dinh and George "HotshotGG" Georgallidis were on the same team together back in beta. However, after disputes about the game, they both went onto form the teams we are aware of today. With fierce games between the two teams like IEM Cologne final in 2011 which resulted in CLG’s victory and the following victories from TSM, such as PAX Prime in 2012. This created the impression of the two top teams from 2011 and 2012 being able to regularly compete in riots new league, (NA LCS) ready for the start of Season 3. And now in season 2015, the matches between CLG and TSM are receiving treatment like tri casting, Riot videos in the pregame setup involving some element of trash talk. But the most interesting of the lot is the pink hair bet between HotShotGG and Reginald. The loser dyeing their hair pink just for the spirit of banter in the spring split of 2015. The effect of this is continued hype of these teams competing against each other that helps to attract nearly 500k viewers consistently throughout season 2015. This is the most successful example we have for rivalry within the western scene. This rivalry is something the European scene seems to aspire to and wants its own equivalent. This is something Europe thinks it gets but eventually dies out moving from one organisation to the next with it all centering on Fnatic.
EU past and present.
The original hype rivalry for EU was between Fnatic and Moscow 5/Gambit Gaming. With the conclusion to season 1 being Fnatic winning the world final who faced Against All Authority to secure the achievement. The early fan support for Fnatic was already being gained in Europe. The transition into season 2 proved not so successful for Fnatic. With the games growth around the world, it now started to introduce eastern regions into the competitive side of things as well as more European teams that were quite unexpected. One in particularly was Moscow 5. Moscow 5 is a team that held famous players we still know today; they featured Evgeny "Darien" Mazaev, Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov, Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin, Evgeny "Genja" Andryushin and Edward "GoSu Pepper" Abgaryan. This team went onto challenge top teams in a number of tournaments like IEM and Dreamhack (to name a few) and then entering season 2 worlds as the favourite to win. However the team finished in the 3rd/4th position after being defeated by Taipei Assassins who went on to win the tournament. With the Season 1 world champions and the favourites to win the season 2 world championship now in the same league as each other in the LCS; it was destined these two teams would follow the same path as CLG and TSM and become the rival match-up for Europe. And people were not disappointed, springs standings were 3-1 in Gambits favour whereas it was 4-0 to Fnatic in summer season 3. The next stage in the rivalry between the teams was at season 3 world finals group stage B were Fnatic and Gambit would play each other again. The results were in favour of Fnatic with 2-0 against Gambit and leading the race out of group stages. Gambit followed by, taking the second spot out of the group stage with a victory in a tie-breaker against Samsung Galaxy Ozone. Fast forwarding through the worlds playoffs, Gambit were eliminated in the Quarters and Fnatic were eliminated in the Semis. Once again the success from both teams would translate into Season 2014 with more expectations of strong competition between the two teams.
However season 2014 would turn out to be the decline of Gambit Gaming. In the spring split, Gambit gaming secured 5th place regular season at 14-14 and in the play offs after getting eliminated by Roccat. Gambit then won the 5th-6th match with Copenhagen Wolves. After a very unexpected and disappointing split for Gambit the star player Alex Ich decided that it was time to end his career with Gambit Gaming and ultimately made Gambit look like a very different team. This trend would continue into the summer split. Gambit would face more benches of icons like Darien and Diamond (although for Diamond this was only temporary) and ending the split 8-20.Once again Gambit competed with Wolves for a tiebreaker for the 7th/8th positions in which they took 7th.
But hope was not lost for a European rivalry. As the old school Gambit/Fnatic rivalry had seemed to have withered away, the rise of success from SK Gaming in the spring split and the summer playoffs were there to take their place. Accompanying SK was the likes of Henrik "Froggen" Hansen’s super team known as Alliance. The team that took 1st place in summer, the first team and only current team to defeat Fnatic in the finals of a split. The rise of these two teams helped show potential rivalry starting to set in involving all 3 teams. With all 3 teams making to worlds and all facing weird but wonderful ways of them getting knocked out in the group stages, meant that all 3 teams would want to prove something returning into spring split of 2015.
Taking a look into spring 2015 EU LCS the hype matches of El Clásico came into play. The phrase El Clásico originates from the hype around F.C Barcelona and Real Madrid when these two teams face off against each other in football matches. This phrase meaning ‘the classic’ then transitioned into the EU LCS in the form of two teams, Fnatic and SK Gaming. But why was this given to these two teams? SK and Fnatic had been playing each other for years in other Esports such as counter strike, Dota and Battlefield just to name a few. To top it off, both teams had been looking pretty strong at the start of the season/season before with a convincing score line of 8-0 for SK and 6-2 for FNC in the standings. At this time, SK held the best ADC in Europe Konstantinos "Forg1ven" Tzortziou that was destroying games with consistent amazing performances. As for Fnatic, they showed to be a surprisingly strong team with its recent four new pickups to its starting roster, along with the growing cute personality of Seong "Huni" Hoon Heo. It’s almost a juxtaposition of personalities and stories to success in comparison and seemed to fit the much needed rivalry for the European scene. The rivalry finally came face to face on week 5 Day 1 of spring 2015. The game ended with a victory for Fnatic and the hype was laid to rest till Week 7 day 1 where the 2 teams faced off again. However, this time both teams looked to battle it out for first place as they both stood at 8-4 in the standings. With much on the line for this match, surely this game was the one to watch if you could only choose one? The conclusion to this game was SK taking the victory and becoming ‘the undisputed kings of Europe’ as Trevor "Quickshot" Henry announced during the final moments of the game leading to a 1-1 situation between the two teams. With El Clásico being tied that split the next conclusion to when these teams would next face would be in the playoffs. The belief was they would encounter in the finals, seeing as both Fnatic and SK took the first and second seeds and both teams heading off into playoffs on fire with 15-3 for SK and 13-5 for FNC. But we were wrong in that conclusion. A disappointing playoff fight for SK left them finishing in 4th place, being defeated by H2K for 3rd place after going 2-0 in the first matches in a Bo5. As for Fnatic, they finished first place by going 3-2 against Unicorns of Love in a Bo5 series in the finals of the split.
So what happened to the hype of El Clásico? SK’s hype had fallen off in the off season as they lost their star player Forg1ven and returned to their season 2014 AD carry Adrian "CandyPanda" Wübbelmann. He was in question since he had not been playing competitively since his benching at the end of 2014 worlds. As for Fnatic, they had an impressive turnout to the new tournament MSI (Mid Seasonal Invitational) where they brought SKT to game 5 of a Bo5 and boasting 1v1 kills vs Faker. To top it off, they returned to their 2014 AD carry Martin "Rekkles" Larsson which tied the record of total kills in the LCS regions the season before. As a result, Fnatic entered the new split looking stronger than ever, whereas the SK’s line up didn’t seem to impress as much. First week into the summer split, Fnatic and SK played each other on Day 2. The results showed Fnatic taking the win in a game where there were 24 to 14 kills with Rekkles having 7/1/12 vs Candy’s 8/3/4. Not bad for the return of both teams’ older carries. Perhaps there was still some life left in El Clásico after all. However the following week SK Gaming played Origen. Origen arrived into the summer split after taking the auto promotion replacing MYM the split before. Origen holds two former players of Fnatic, Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez and Paul "sOAZ" Boyer and is arguably two of the most loved European players of all time. The game vs SK resulted in an absolute blood bath with Origen taking the game with a kill score of 33 to 8 and only losing 2 towers and 2 dragons to SK. SK were looking weaker, after already losing to Wolves, Fnatic and Origen they now stood at 0-3 in the standings compared to the split before going 8 wins before finally losing. As a result of this madness, the hype switches from SK to the Origen hype train, the team that people were calling Fnatics sister team from the start. This trend continued to the end of summer 2015 with SK finishing 9th at 6-12 and now looking towards surviving relegations.
And what about this super team we were promised? With a re-branding once again, Froggen and the gang changed organisation from Alliance to Elements and swapping Erik "Tabzz" van Helvert for Rekkles. With the new addition of another superstar player Elements were looking to once again secure first place. However, we were once again wrong about another hyped up team. After a disappointing spring split Elements finished 7th in the secure spot that goes straight into the next split without any series needing to be played. During this time Elements were swapping players every few weeks looking for immediate results which unfortunately were not found. This unfortunately meant the benching of Mike "Wickd" Petersen and the retirement of Mitch "Krepo" Voorspoels, a sad time for any fans of the former CLG.EU superstars. Following the split the team (re)introduced former Lemondogs players Tabzz and Marcel "Dexter" Feldkamp to the line-up as well as a solo queue support Hampus "PromisQ" Abrahamsson and the originally desired top for the super team Jesper "Jwaow" Strandgren. Once again Elements seemed to somewhat have changed into another new super team with rising talents and already proven players. However this new found roster was to complete what seemed to be the elements curse with roster swaps and finishing the summer split once again in 7th place at 7-11.
Looking towards the future.
With the establishment that EU seems to look at skill levels to help create rivalries, where does this leave Fnatic? After a convincing summer split, Fnatic took 100% of the regular split (18-0) and is looking to maintain that record going into the playoffs. With the hype of the European rivalries being based who can compete with the top teams, who does this leave Fnatic with if they 100% their games. The future would seem to suggest the team that gives them a good running for their money in the playoffs would soon attract the attention of the rival hype train. Or perhaps Fnatic are actually the world contending team that we are all believing in so much right now and perhaps Fnatic’s new rival may be a team from another region. This is because right now, no team really looks like they have the ability to defeat Fnatic in the playoff brackets from EU.
So how does the success story of H2K and Origen fit into this rise of European rivalry? H2K are a team that were promoted to LCS level after winning the promotion tournament before the start of the 2015 season. As for Origen, they created a new team that went into challenger series during spring that auto qualified for the summer split. The H2K roster within the first few weeks seemed to be a mediocre team at best before the roster move swapping veteran Erih "Voidle" Sommermann for Raymond "kaSing" Tsang. This allowed them to finish 12-6 placing 3rd in the regular season as well as in the playoffs. Progressing into the summer split they would continue to maintain that top 3 skill level by finishing 11-7 and claiming 3rd once again in the regular split. But who is going to be their rival? During the last week of the regular split games, H2K faced off against Origen for the prize of who will take second at the end of the regular split. The result ended in Origen taking the second place seed for playoffs while H2K finished securely in 3rd. This game brought the two teams at 2-0 in favour of Origen and is likely to seem the rival of H2K going into next season. Arguably this is due to their organisations now being established in the scene and also because of the skill level being very close to each other. As history seems to express, the top tier teams of the previous split seem go into the next one hyped and rivaling each other. Ideally this would seem to be H2K and Origen as expressed before. However the long standings with the members of Origen seem to indicate that Origen is likely to challenge Fnatic due the old player’s vs the new as it lives up to a nice story that fits the legacy of how far league of legends as come. If this is the case then this means that a skilled team in the form of H2K may have troubles finding its way into the European rivalry system. However, there is a mechanic that Riot has to help with creation of rivalries with its promotion of weekly featured games and video content along with it. If Riot set up the schedule for next year’s splits in a way that all 3 teams are not playing each other the same week, then we may see riot being able to promote all 3 teams as rivals. This seems a lot better as it would to help create a better image for the teams involved. Even if the season 2016 changes to a BO2/3 system it may be able to heighten the appeal towards rivalries in the LCS due to more intense competition that will be gained from this new system.
So for us, the viewer, we would like to see a fiercer competitive environment that allows us to watch with more energy being poured into it. From the looks of things Riot seems to be in control with helping to build these images of organisations that are solely dedicated to League of Legends, helping them with content. Any of this content can involve trash talk, internal bets, emotional interviews and whatever else helps to bring attention or support to a match or a team. This helps to create connections to those teams to help hype the viewers in wanting to watch those matches and teams. Although this is limited on how much Riot can do, the rest of the hype seems natural for some teams. Personally I am looking forward towards the EU playoffs next week and the relegation matches coming soon as it will help us all in identifying who the eye candy will be for worlds and for the next season.