With the latest edition of the European League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split right around the corner, vacation time has ended for players, coaches, broadcasters and fans alike. A new era is beginning in League of Legends following the franchising of the NA LCS -- and thus the departure of marquee European players to North America -- and what onlookers qualified as the quickest offseason ever.
Some teams excelled in their roster shuffling, and others were forced into damage control (some relatively successful, some not). One thing is certain: the time has come to assess how juggernauts have improved, and how giants may have fallen out of their pedestal.
In September, fans of G2 Esports were celebrating yet another success as their favorite team conquered Europe for the fourth split in a row in emphatic fashion with a 3-0 sweep over Misfits. Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez, the team's support at the time, had gone forward and stated that people were able to judge G2, as the team had reached top form. However, following a group stage exit in the 2017 World Championship, Luka "PerkZ" Perkovic is the sole remaining member of that squad.
Without its bottom lane duo, Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen and mithy, and without jungler and top laner Kim "Trick" Gang-yun and Ki "Expect" Dae-han, G2 was hard-pressed to rebuild. The resulting effort is admirable but will struggle to reach the heights of the previous lineup on the short-term, and possibly on the long term.
G2 Esports has clear assets in versatile top laner Martin "Wunder" Hansen, proven floor general Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski, PerkZ and a bot lane duo with solid lane gameplay and teamfight transition in Petter "Hjärnan" Freyschuss and Kim "Wadid" Bae-in -- all strong lanes. In addition, those players have shown in the past that they were able to communicate and follow a gameplan, which coach Fabian "Grabzz" Lohmann will likely appreciate. But with Misfits, Fnatic, Splyce and Schalke 04 making strong offseason moves, staying atop Europe will not be easy for G2.
Compared to the previous season's squad, this is clearly a downgrade, but at face value, G2 has the talent to contend.
News of Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun's return to South Korea and Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage's departure to the North American LCS may have raised questions, were it not for the arrivals of Mihael "mikyx" Mehle and Chres "Sencux" Laursen in their stead. Mikyx is a downgrade on the short-term, but he provides the team more flexibility on the long run, especially when it comes to champion pools. As for Sencux, he is a side-grade at his worst. The former Splyce player's development into a consistent pressure-provider will be of use to coach Hussain "xDaku" Moosvi.
The organization's best move has been overlooked, but by retaining Barney "Alphari" Morris in the top lane and enrolling Steven "Hans sama" Liv for another year, Misfits has the tools to take over from laning stage onward, leaving xDaku in charge of defining how, rather than if.
The pressure of setting the tempo of the game and controlling communication falls on jungler Nubar "Maxlore" Sarafian, but with this kind of talent around him, he should have no problem getting the team on one page in-game.
Fnatic's 2017 was as fruitful as it was tumultuous. With the introduction of then-rookies Rasmus "Caps" Winther and Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen, the squad alternated between dazzling showings off their backs and shoddy games because of their jitters as the players adapted to professional League of Legends. The team itself also wavered between reckless aggression and calculated play. It all ended well when the team reached the World Championship after missing it the year before, but it was not without moments of internal dissension.
If the squad's recent acquisition is anything to go by, Fnatic may have solidified itself as one of the most aggressive rosters in Europe. Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov has been known as a teamfight aficionado and an efficient communicator, but he is not as well regarded in an Ardent Censer meta, even with potential Ardent Censer bearers Rakan and Alistar adding playmaking tools to the mix.
If Caps grows in his second year and continues to provide a positive impact consistently and Broxah adapts his champion pool to the current meta, Fnatic, barring any more internal drama, is a contender.
H2K Gaming's offseason was as eventful as it was shocking. Initially taking the lead on highlighting the uncertain financial climate in the European LCS circuit (with Riot Games initially opting for regional leagues, then backtracking, before announcing franchising-related changes in 2019), the organization chose to operate within safer financial confines, opting out of operating at a loss and rebuilding from scratch.
Impressively enough, the "budget" squad the organization assembled under Michael "Veteran" Archer's wing may become a contender in due time, with three LCS-proven players in aggressive top laner Warkus "Smittyj" Lennart, in-game leader Lucas "Santorin" Tao-Kilmer in the jungle, and Hampus "sprattel" Abrahamsson, who benefited from Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim's guidance in Paris Saint Germain eSports in 2017.
H2K's rookies also have experience, as Marc "Caedrel" Lamont has been in the Challenger Series for three years and demonstrated his ability to play lane control-centric champions with teamfight potential, as well as occasionally mixing it up with assassins such as Kassadin and LeBlanc. And this is the perfect time for Patrik "Sheriff" Jiru, who dwelled at the top of the solo queue rankings for an extended time in 2017 and experienced a stage environment in the Turkish Champions League, to hone his skills on an unproven squad.
With a stacked EU LCS on the horizon, H2K may be able to win enough games to reach a playoff berth. It is a well-built lineup project, but a project nonetheless.
Two years following its accession to the LCS, the story of Splyce's Danish quartet came to an end. Wunder, Sencux and Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup face their first season playing on separate teams since their high-school days. However, the price was more than worth it on paper, with the acquisitions of Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu, Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir and Raymond "kaSing" Tsang, and the retention of Kobbe's services in the AD carry position.
With Odoamne and kaSing providing a constant influx of information, Xerxe can thrive in the same way he thrived in the Unicorns of Love lineup during his rookie year. In addition, Xerxe's playstyle might aid his teammates in solidifying lane advantages or staving off aggression, which the still-untested Yasin "Nisqy" Dincer will need to thrive in the EU LCS.
At worst, Splyce may be looking for alternatives in the mid lane after a playoff run. At best, Nisqy lets Splyce take over the map with Xerxe's help, Odoamne's teleport forays secure advantages galore and kaSing helps determine outcomes in teamfights, if not in lane alongside Kobbe. All Splyce needs is time to develop.
The roster looks good, but this squad's chances at a deep run hinge on Nisqy's ability to fend off the likes of PerkZ and Sencux, among others.
Unicorns of Love
Although head coach Fabian "Sheepy" Mallant remains at the helm of the lineup, he will not be able to rely on Hylissang or Kiss "Vizicsacsi" Tamas, two players he has had since the foundation of the lineup in 2014. Gone, also, is Xerxe, the rookie who helped pave the way.
Matti "Whiteknight" Sormunen is a downgrade compared to Vizicsacsi, but he was a consistent laner during his tenure at PSG eSports in 2017. His support, Eun "Totoro" Jong-seop, has survived the rigors of the Korean circuit since his promotion to the LCK in 2016. The squad's retention of Fabian "Exileh" Schubert greatly helps in the communication department and in establishing a baseline in the mid lane. However, his pairing with Jonas "Kold" Andersen may be UoL's key to playoff contention in the EU LCS, as the communicative jungler brings an element the organization crucially lacked in its previous iterations.
Bringing in Kold helps take away the sting of the team's losses, but this group is still a step behind the previous iteration of Unicorns of Love.
The good news: Jonas "Memento" Elmarghichi has returned to the organization, setting the tone with proactive jungling, creative pathing and solid shot-calling. Additionally, Team ROCCAT has hired an AD Carry that has proven reliable despite adversity, Martin "HeaQ" Kordmaa, and Jin "Blanc" Seong-min, a mid laner that has shown heavy carry potential in PSG eSports and in his short substitute stint in G2 Esports -- in its 2017 Summer Split Week One matchup against Team ROCCAT.
The bad news: There's plenty of risk involved in the hires of the still-developing Tore "Norskeren" Hoel Eilertsen (alongside Memento) and the promising Kim "Profit" Jun-hyung, who failed to thrive on Ninjas in Pyjamas. What will Norskeren bring on the table communication-wise? Can Profit rely on Blanc to relay relevant information - and can Blanc do the same?
The B is best-case, but with such a hit-or-miss lineup, it wouldn't be surprising to see this roster underperform -- or outperform expectations, for that matter.
The time for a roster makeover was long overdue - and what a makeover it has been for this team.
Although the departures of Erlend "Nukeduck" Vatevik Holm and Pierre "Steeelback" Medjaldi are regrettable, the acquisition of the bulk of Giants Gaming's LCS Promotion Qualifier roster indicates that macro issues may be a thing of the past. Gone are the disappearing acts following strong early games, and in comes a unit that was too good to stay in the Challenger Series but still needs development at the highest level to succeed.
Rather than focusing on individual components that are dying to prove themselves on the highest level (chief among them veteran jungler Berk "Gilius" Demir), focus on the potential the lineup offers with Lucas "Cabochard" Simon-Meslet, a top laner with well-documented carry potential who has developed into a decent tank player throughout his tenure on Vitality.
It falls squarely on coach Jakob "YamatoCannon" Mebdi to bring the lineup to playoff contention, and he may have competition from the enigmatic Team ROCCAT and the intriguing H2K Gaming.
FC Schalke 04 Esports
Schalke 04 has made waves in the Challenger Series since its relegation in the 2016 LCS summer split. After a perfect regular season in the 2017 Challenger Series spring split, the lineup floundered against Misfits Academy (later Mysterious Monkeys). Following wholesale changes in the summer season, the organization reached the LCS. In the process, it has reunited Elias "Upset" Lipp and Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan's lane kingdom.
That was before performing two of the biggest heists in the offseason - heists that will resonate throughout the playoffs. By recruiting Kiss "Vizicsacsi" Tamas and Erlend "Nukeduck" Vatevik Holm, the organization took itself to a different level. The hires also provide Milo "Pridestalker" Wehnes ample support.
Schalke 04 is merely a well-developed Pridestalker and sharper Vizicsacsi Teleports away from title contention.
As the other qualifying team from the Challenger Series, Giants Gaming had showcased a level of macro that was, at times, on par with that of LCS squads. However, it was gone as quickly as it had appeared, with the bulk of the lineup joining Team Vitality instead. The exodus left the organization scrambling to build a lineup from a free agency pool that rapidly shrank.
The end result is not the worst it could have been, but cohesion issues are likely, and the only upside this squad has is the upset potential emanating from the team's individual members.
Felix "Betsy" Edling is no slouch, but he is no shot caller either. Neither are Pierre "Steeelback" Medjaldi and Charly "Djoko" Guillard, or teamfighter Kim "Ruin" Hyeong-min. Should the burden of leadership fall on Raphaël "Targamas" Crabbé, whose experience so far is limited to the French Challenger circuit? Possibly. Ultimately, the lineup presents too many questions on paper to find a silver lining outside of individual play, and it falls squarely on the coaching staff to give this unit a sense of direction.
Giants just doesn't have the talent to match up with the rest of the league.