We’re Halfway There
The upcoming Days 1 and 2 will split the two halves of the summer season, so it seems prudent to recap the season so far. Fnatic and H2K throw down this week as each seeks to extend an already sizable lead on the rest of the league. Origen gathers itself in the wake of two losses in three games, aiming once again for the top spot. The Unicorns of Love and GIANTS! battle with even records to escape the gravity-like pull of the teams below them, one of whom (Gambit) snaps at both teams’ heels. Four teams stand at 2-6, and at least two of them will narrow the gap with a win on the first day of games. When the dust of this week settles, the top teams may already be jockeying for semifinalist positions.
Eyes will be on Fnatic, who have confidently racked up an undefeated record and may yet maintain it in what could prove to be a record split.
A New Challenger Approaches: Fnatic vs. H2K
In my last article I noted that H2K would pose a serious threat to Fnatic this week if backed by a 7-1 record, and so they do. kaSing continues to show himself as the key that unlocked H2K’s spring success, racking up the 3rd-highest KDA in the split at 11.5. Only YellOwStaR and Rekkles stand higher; Hjarnan, whose individual game has improved by leaps and bounds since this point last split, is next with 10.1. Ryu is a force, his 9.1 KDA highest among EU mids; Odoamne has carried multiple games and maintains a diverse champion pool. H2K’s sole loss, against Origen nearly a month ago, is less of an indicator of their current level than the several instances of efficient, relentless steamrolls since.
Of course, every other team to take on Fnatic this split has tasted defeat. They’ve battled hard and given ground to lesser teams (Roccat, I’m looking at you), but (apart from, possibly, the Roccat game) their eventual victory has never really been in doubt. Fnatic’s takedown of Origen, fun to watch and exciting to the end, was merciless and decisive. This team has never been better positioned to eclipse their old win streak, and to take down what is arguably the second-best European team would make the run that much sweeter.
Needless to say, this Thursday matchup will be the much-anticipated Game of the Week. Going by the numbers, H2K’s weakness is in the jungle matchup, and to be sure loulex has by far been quietest on his team throughout the split. Whether that’s a result of actual weakness or of not yet being called upon to carry is a question that this game might answer. At this point, we’re not even asking these two teams about playoff contention; if both teams continue to play at this level of play, both are making it to Worlds.* The remaining question to answer is by what placement.
*In conjunction with Fnatic’s 100 points and H2K’s 70, those top two seedings are all but guaranteed.
The .250 Club
What’s most impressive here is that none of these teams are simply outclassed and dominated, as several teams (MYM, GIANTS!, early Gambit) were in the spring. It’s true that the Copenhagen Wolves are barely clinging on game after game, and Roccat can’t find its stride despite several strong showings. But each of the four teams has talent, and none of them can put it all together for more than a game at a time (though SK, like Gambit, may be pulling ahead of the pack).
The four-way tie for 7th was never going to last long, but Day 1 will ensure its end in stunning fashion with the showdowns of SK vs. Elements and Roccat vs. Wolves. SK, coming off a 2-0 week with an upset over the Unicorns, is under the most pressure to win given that they face the H2K juggernaut the next day. The Wolves (0-2 last week and facing an Origen who smashed them their first matchup) need an upset to stay in striking distance of what, for them, is becoming a coveted 7th-place.
As Day 2 will launch the second half of the split by pitting the top of the table against the bottom, giving little opportunities for catch-up to these 2-6 teams. Chances for an upset are highest in either the Roccat-Unicorns game based on the Unicorns’ tendency to split with teams or in the Elements-GIANTS! game. After watching how Roccat played against Elements and SK, I’m going to have to go with Elements as the most likely to pull out from the floor.
There are two major takeaways from Origen’s hard-fought loss to Fnatic. The first is a positive: they looked good. Fnatic is a world-class team and Origen, despite a few positional errors, made them scrape for every inch of ground. The second, unfortunately, is that as soon as the first engage turned into an unfavorable exchange (or less mildly, “slaughter”), it never once seemed like Origen had a tangible advantage. Their impressive ability to take and snowball early-game leads into a sure victory speaks to the team’s overall skill, but back-to-back losses have shown that this is not yet a team that can play from behind — or even from anything but a strong 20-minute lead. If they can’t strategize their way through an even game and instead rely on continued brute force of talent, they’re going to have an unnecessarily rough showing if (when) they make playoffs and won’t last long if they make it to Worlds.
Still, a 6-2 record is nothing to sneer at, and barring a major collapse or multiple surges from the bottom of the standings Origen can secure a playoff berth within the next two weeks. This week’s games against the Wolves (whom Origen cleanly stomped) and Gambit (a more lenient test than Fnatic of Origen’s play against strong, aggressive lanes) offer a chance to pull closer to 2nd place as the EU’s two leaders face off.
Free-Floating in the Middle
Having won three of their last four (including a win over GIANTS!), Gambit can finally be said to have hit their stride. If their current play keeps up — and if Cabochard continues to shine — the early season woes will fade just as they did in the spring. Unfortunately, Week 5 looks to be a brutal week, setting the hopeful against Origen and Fnatic. As Huni should handle Cabochard, Betsy will likely struggle against xPeke, and the bot lanes are a talented free-for-all, extreme pressure will be on Diamondprox to hold firm against the potent carry threats of Amazing and Reignover. If they’re going to take a win at all, it’s likely to be off aggressive jungling against Origen; Gambit surprised Fnatic once last split, but the spring champions are a different, even stronger team now. Expect two losses.
Just above Gambit in standings sit the Unicorns and the GIANTS!, both at an even four wins, four losses. Having now dropped a game to Gambit in their first 0-2, the GIANTS! can no longer sit comfortably beneath the top three. Their improvement from the spring has been inspiring and their results commendable, but having gained no ground on the bottom of the table their playoff contention is far from certain. Meanwhile, the Unicorns continue to push on for a quarterfinals spot. These teams’ face-off on the first day, which (judging by their playstyles thus far) promises to be an excitingly close game, guarantees one of them an even record coming out of the week. Respectable for GIANTS!, but not enough to suggest any playoff success, and certainly a letdown for a Unicorns squad that still has a shot at completing their underdog story with a trip to Worlds.
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