Wednesday, January 16, 2019

LEC Spring 2019 Pre-Season Power Rankings

LEC Spring 2019 Pre-Season Power Rankings

Europe showed me a few things I was very wrong about last season but also proved to be a region I had a pretty solid read on overall outside of Vitality. It was my second most successful region behind Korea. There were a lot of misconceptions with Europe by the public and I'd like to touch on a few here but they'll be mentioned again throughout this writeup. The most important one is that even though Europe appeared to be the more competitive region than North America with is close standings and thrilling finish I still think there was a huge different between the top teams and the rest here while I think a lot of the middle of the table teams in NA would have absolutely wiped the floor with their European counterparts. I'm not saying EU is a weaker region. On the contrary, they have more players and have historically proven to have more talent. I'm just saying that I still think the NA LCS was a stronger region last year.

Why do I mention all of this? Because it's easy to have your perception painted by results. EU looking like a stronger region because their standings were closer and they had two teams make the Top 8 at Worlds is a classic case of results oriented thinking. Watch the middle and bottom tier EU LCS teams last split and tell me it's the same as their NA counterpart. Anyway, the reason I'm mentioning this is that I think there is a huge HUGE gap between the top EU teams and the rest of the league, more so than most other regions. It won't be illustrated just for clarity's sake but in reality I think there is really an S tier, A tier, B tier, and D tier.

That said I do think EU is looking like it could perhaps have a lot of similarities to last year's Korea where a lot of assumptions were made about the strength of the region, and rightfully so, but it ended up not being the case and there was a need for fresh new talent to breath life into a plateuing region (except Korea's plateu was still very high). I could be totally wrong about some of these prospects and teams but we'll adjust where we need to but never overreacting when doing so. Stay the course, trust your read, wait until you've seen enough to be proven wrong, and be willing to adapt. I didn't do that with Vitality last year or 100 Thieves. I'll look to adjust faster, but not too fast, this year.

On to the rankings....


D Tier

10) Excel eSports
Projected Starters: Expect, Caedrel, Exile, Jeskla, KaSing
Subs: Send0o (top), Taxer (jungle), Special (mid), Innaxe (ADC), Mystiques (support)
Coaches: Furndog (head coach), Jarge (strategic coach), Just Jon (performance coach), AngelArcher (analyst)

I don't want to automatically say this team is awful but it certainly looks like the organization didn't really have an idea what it wanted to do unless their idea was to just throw a bunch of darts and hope one hits. I think touted prospect Jeskla who absolutely dominated the amateur scene and KaSing could be a solid bottom lane but other than that this team looks not only confused but at points actively bad. Caedrel was hyped going into last year and just could never put it together. I actually think he could benefit from a change of scenery here and is likely to meet some or all of his previously hyped potential. Expect was actually underrated at one point during his time on G2 where I think a lot of people had this perception that he was "being carried" by the super team in much the same way UCal was on KT last year. He's been a good player and just because he's been picked up as a sub for a great team like Fnatic doesn't mean he's not good it just means that Fnatic didn't want him out there and he was a best option as a sub.  This is a bit of a hot take but anybody that's read my work before knows that I think Exile is significantly worse than public perception. He's had a few highlight reel games but they're few and far between and those good games are matched two-fold by awful performances.

All that's to say that I just don't think it's likely this team puts it together in time this season without multiple things going significantly better than I think they will. Of course I won't rule that out but I'll be betting accordingly. 

9) Rogue
Projected Starters: Profit, Kikis, Sencux, HeaQ, Wadid
Subs: none listed
Coaches: fredy122 (head coach), Edward (assistant coach, former GosuPepper, Moscow 5, Gambit), Xirreth (behavioral coach), otter (player development)

So I'm a lot higher on Profit and a little higher on HeaQ than most people are. I'm also lower on Sencux than most people are because I think his numbers look a lot better than the negative impact he had on a lot of games with poor priority play over the course of last year.  Profit and HeaQ were players in unenviable positions that actually managed to perform at more than respectable levels on a mediocre ROCCAT team last split. They maintain the same head coach in fredy122 and pick up legendary support EDward as an assistant coach. So not only do we have continuity between a few of the players and coaches but a collection of veterans to go with it. Wadid has been, in my opinion, a top half of EU support at his position over the course of his career so he's more than serviceable.
To me this team comes down to how good or bad Kikis is and coincidentally he's a really hot or cold player. I think jungle matters so much in professional play. Unless your lanes are a negative for you then jungle and coaching breaks ties. If Kikis and this coaching staff have the right read than this team will be able to overcome a weakness in the mid lane and be a solid middle of the table team. If not I think this team looks like they could be the worst team in the LEC this split which is ashame because I like the org and a lot of the things in place here so hopefully they prove me wrong on that front.

8) SK Gaming
Projected Starters: Werlyb, Selfmade, Pirean, Crownshot, Dreams
Subs: Phrenic (jungle), Keduii (ADC), Doss (support)
Coaches: Sheepy (co-head coach),  Brokenshard (co-head coach), Realistik (analyst)

This is the team I think I'm most likely to be wrong about and has the most upside of the bottom teams. 

Like a few other analysts out there I actually love that SK Gaming basically adopted a handful of players from the amateur scene and added a few pieces. Werlyb, Selfmade, and Crownshot played together on MAD Lions in the Spanish LVP and were winners of the European Masters after soundly defeating Ninjas in Pyjamas 3-0 in the finals. Add to that the well traveled Pirean (former SKT, Phoenix1, EnvyUS, Impulse), and Dreams who has been a sub or challenger player in Europe since early 2016 and I think you have a team that could come together a lot faster than people think because there won't really be any language barriers.

Now whether or not this team really comes together is a different story. I think continuity is important as I've mentioned several times in these writeups and this team could perhaps jump out to a fast start but I do think that, ultimately, quality matters and unless Pirean has a late career renaissance or these young MAD Lions players burst onto the scene that this team has a relatively low ceiling. I think this team will be weird to bet because they have experienced coaching and a good blend of veterans and rookies but a lot would have to go right for this team to end up a contender. Look to bet them early and take advantage of people sleeping on names they don't know but, eventually, for their quality to fall off. If this doesn't end up being the case then we'll know rather quickly that we have another Vitality on our hands.


B Tier

7) Splyce
Projected Starters: Vizicsacsi, Xerxe, Humanoid, Kobbe, Norskeren
Subs: none listed
Coaches: Peter Dun (head coach), Duke (strategic coach)

I'm just never excited about Splyce. These are solid players and there is some continuity here (buzz word I know) with the coaching staff so the question is going to be whether that is enough to succeed in Europe. I think it is, and that might be a bit of a hot take to some after EU "outperformed" NA last year. In my opinion, EU was a more competitive region to watch but wasn't necessarily a better or deeper region last year than NA was. People look at a close regular season table and international success but not the small things and overarching points in the region. I still think NA was better last year but I digress....

Splyce are going to be that middle of the table, gatekeeping team once again this split maybe higher if Humanoid can make an early impact. It's unexciting but it works and they'll almost definitely be a playoff contending team just because I think the bottom of the table in Europe has a lot of variables. If one or two of these bottom table teams overachieve then it wouldn't surprise me to see Splyce suddenly looking awful but I can't confidently say that will happen so here Splyce sit.

6) Origen
Projected Starters: Alphari, Kold, Nukeduck, Patrik (formerly Sheriff), Mithy
Subs: P1noy (ADC)
Coaches: Guilhoto (head coach), Fabian Broich (assistant), Deficio (General Manager)

Similarly to Splyce this team is solid but ultimately unexciting to me. This ranking is baking in a few factors. Nukeduck was an absolute monster last year and was on the same level as Caps, Jiizuke, and mostly better than Perkz for most of last year. Can he repeat? Sure, as a matter of fact I think he'll be great again this year but to perform at the level he did last year would be extremely difficult so I'm expecting a very minor decrease in his level. I'm also expecting an increase in former super prospect Sheriff's performance. Alphari was more than solid last year and I expect him to be a plus top laner again. Mithy will be serviceable at worst contrary to the popular sentiment of "he's washed up" which is founded in the stupid logic that he had a bad year on a TSM team that simply couldn't figure themselves out. Let's declare this dudes career over based on a weird year in a weird situation that weirdly didn't work out somehow (they were still a good team just not the world breakers some expected).

So that leaves the player I dislike the most on this team, Kold. I think Kold is tremendously overrated simply because he was the best player on an abysmal team and SOMEBODY has to make the plays. He makes a lot of bone-headed decisions and is often really sloppy. I won't accuse him of this but there are definitely times where it looks like he's seeking the highlight reel and not making the correct play. I think the culture change to a non-UOL team will be good for his demeanor but it could also backfire. Remember this is a guy that talked about a relaxed, less serious team atmosphere being something he needed during an interview last year. I'm not saying that can't work but the rest of these players haven't succeeded in that type of situation. Just a thought. (not accusing him of not working hard or taking things seriously just that the UOL team culture was... weird and we know how that ended up after awhile)

If this team can keep their heads on straight and adjust to one another it's very simply five solid to excellent players and that's often enough to make playoffs and contend in Europe.


A Tier

5) Misfits
Projected Starters: sOAZ, Maxlore, Febiven, Hans Sama, GorillA
Subs: Obsess (jungle)
Coaches: Jesiz (head coach), PoohManDu (assistant coach, former SKT world champ coach and player), Paragon (assistant coach), Exi (remote analyst), Hajinsun (translator)

I was proven wrong multiple times last year by "washed up veterans." You know who else was "losing motivation" going into last year? Meteos and Ryu and 100 Thieves ended up fine. So did Gen.G (kinda...). I'll say it, League isn't like Starcraft or a shooter. You need a certain level of twitch reflexes and such but we've seen players in League play at an extremely high level into their late twenties and in other similar titles like DotA2 into their thirties. Febiven was one of the best players in any region during the Spring last season and I'm willing to go to battle on that if you want to. His Summer, and Clutch's, not so much but you could make the burnout argument or the bad team argument for him just like you do with any other player. He got tired of hard carrying. That's a real thing especially when you feel you're not getting a lot of help. Febiven has shown he can adapt to a move successfully.

Now that my Febiven rant is over let's review the rest of this roster. sOAZ was still solid in the games he played last year, granted Fnatic was excellent, Maxlore has shown us how good he can be, Hans Sama was actually someone that I was down on and impressed me a lot last year. Add future hall of famer GorillA, former world champion coach AND player PoohManDu and Jesiz as coaches and I absolutely love this lineup.

Could they turn into what I imagined 100 Thieves would be last year and I look like a dumbass? Absolutely but I'm going to aggressively compensate for lessons learned last year and believe in the old guys!

4) FC Schalke 04
Projected Starters: Odoamne, Memento, Abbedagge, Upset, IgNar
Subs: none listed
Coaches: Dylan Falco (head coach), DLim (assistant coach, former Team Liquid, Clutch)

Great coaching, a good mix of hungry youngsters and grisled veterans make this iteration of Schalke, much like last year, exciting. Upset will be improved and IgNar has seen it all so the bot lane should be rock solid and likely a plus for this squad. Odoamne will be a rock in the top lane as usual. The question is how good can the mid + jungle combo be in a European region dominated by excellent mid laners (and mediocre junglers)? I don't think Memento is anything special but he's serviceable. The player I'm excited about is Abbedagge. This kid is a potential showstopper. I'm not going to say he's the next Caps but man does he remind me of him. Creative, aggressive, versatile, confident. I'll admit I haven't watched a lot of the amateur scene in EU but the few times I've watched Abbedagge he's been the obvious best player in the game. With a rock solid lineup around him I think it's just a matter of whether or not he and Memento can work together as well as some of the top mid + jungle duos. If they overachieve I actually think Schalke could be the #2 team in Europe or even win the split. I'm going to be a tad conservative but the potential is there.


S Tier

3) G2 eSports
Projected Starters: Wunder, Jankos, Caps, Perkz, Mikyx
Subs: Thebausffs (Top)
Coaches: GrabbZ (head coach), Duffman (head analyst)

So this is going to look strange because I actually think I'm higher on G2 than a lot of sharper analysts. I think people are WAY WAY overstating a lot of the potential "downfalls" to this team. Firstly the "too many cooks" (or too many carries) argument to me has more often been debunked than proven correct. Just like in professional sports I think more often than not you just want great players and it appears G2 had the same logic. Secondly, there have been a number of successful role swaps that were more extreme than this and the constant throughout those successful examples? GREAT PLAYERS ARE GREAT. Perkz is a great player. Underlying this entire sentiment to me is that I think Season 9 will return slightly to the days where individual skill is king with potentially longer laning phases but not longer games brings a demand for individual talent and great jungling and G2 have both of those things.

I'm baking in some growing pains here by putting G2 3rd but I actually think this team has the upside to be better than Fnatic if they struggle and G2 can get it together fast. Don't let stupid narratives drive your analysis. These are all excellent players on an excellent organization. Period.

2) Team Vitality
Projected Starters: Cabochard, Mowgli, Jiizuke, Attila, Jactroll
Subs: none listed
Coaches: YamatoCannon (head coach), dannerlame (analyst), Lelfe (head of scouting)

Team Vitality were the team I was most wrong about last year in any region. I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong and I eventually did. I even called their success in group stages at Worlds so I definitely came around but one thing I said over and over last year was that YamatoCannon is like the League of Legends version of hockey coach Peter Laviolette. Teams in their first split with him tend to over perform and then over time under perform. I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe it's a motivation thing, maybe his strategies are linear but it almost always happens.... except for last year.

It turns out this team is just full of good players and they play well off of each other. They also know who they are, mix it up when necessary, and play with a ridiculously high level of confidence. Last year I was aware of the hype around Jiizuke but I was waiting to see it. It turns out he was even better than advertised and was, debatably, the second best mid in Europe last year. To me Mowgli is an upgrade at jungle to the inconsistency of Gilius/Kikis as long as he can overcome the potential language barrier. Vitality look to be one of the better teams in Europe as long as the previously mentioned YamatoCannon effect doesn't happen. I think even if Mowgli struggles early this team should be able to carry the torch until he fully arrives. Vitality will challenge to win this split. This is the other pick I feel like I could be the most wrong about. They could easily come back down to earth but this team just feels different than a lot of YamatoCannon's previous work. 

1) Fnatic
Projected Starters: Bwipo, Broxah, Nemesis, Rekkles, Hylissang
Subs: none listed
Coaches: Youngbuck (head coach), Mephisto (assistant coach), Gegemont (head analyst), Xirreth (behavioral coach)

So Caps is gone and Nemesis is in. MAD Lions dominated the European amateur scene in large part due to the utter dominance of Nemesis. In a region that has a seemingly endless supply of franchise mid laners Nemesis and Abbedagge made the amateur scene look like a joke with consistent outplays. Nemesis is a bit less aggressive but to me absorbs pressure a lot better than Abbedagge does. I'll be talking about these two a lot so get used to it. Nemesis' potential is so impactful that I think if SK Gaming were able to keep four of the five MAD Lions together they would have been a playoff team and instead I have them finishing out of the playoffs and potentially worse.

I don't really need to say a lot more about the returning members of Fnatic. Unless Rekkles has some kind of a breakdown akin to last season (which I doubt, he was just burned out and likes being dramatic) then this is going to be the best team in Europe unless Nemesis ends up being an active negative. It would take a colossal failure on his part for this team to not win this split.

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