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Road to Kraków: Quarterfinals

The road to Kraków begins with the EU LCS quarterfinals, as Fnatic look to exact revenge on H2K, and two surprise playoff contenders Unicorns of Love and Giants push for a Worlds spot. With just two weeks left till Kraków and a little over a month till Worlds, these teams have everything to play for. Tune in to the EU LCS quarterfinals live from Berlin this weekend!

On August 27th and 28th the EU LCS will visit the beautiful city of Kraków, as Europe’s best teams attempt to book a spot at the 2016 World Championships in the U.S. The road to Kraków begins this Saturday as Giants take on Unicorns of Love, followed by a massive clash between H2K and 2015 Worlds semi-finalists Fnatic on Sunday.

Every team has something to play for, with a guaranteed Worlds spot for whoever takes the top prize in Kraków, as well as championship points that will determine who earns Europe’s second spot at Worlds. Tune in this weekend to see which EU LCS teams will make it to Kraków!

GIANT KILLERS

GiaNighT

NighT is a serious contender for Rookie of the Split

Our first match of the weekend sees third place Giants Gaming take on sixth-place Unicorns of Love. Both teams started the split in poor form, floundering at the bottom of the league standings before improving massively as the weeks went on. Giants in particular improved a significant amount, thanks in no small part to the team’s impressive new mid-laner Gun-woo “NighT” Na.

NighT’s performances make him a surefire candidate for Rookie of the Split; his 75.85% kill participation is the highest amongst EU LCS mids, showing just how big a part of this team he is. He consistently ranks in the top-5 of mid-laners based on his stats, and even when his team struggled earlier in the season he performed incredibly well, carrying them to crucial victories.

Giants’ other solo-laner Lennart “SmittyJ” Warkus is another highlight of a split in which the Giants organisation earned its highest finish in its EU LCS history. The former Dignitas top-laner’s upturn in performance helped push his team into playoff contention. In the last three weeks of the season, SmittyJ had the second-highest KDA, second-highest kill share, and fourth-highest kill participation of EU LCS top-laners. SmittyJ and NighT will be crucial in Giants’ efforts to scalp one of the top-tier LCS teams, but they’ll have to take down a resurgent Unicorns of Love first.

Despite needing to rebuild its roster once again, Unicorns of Love managed to continue its streak and reached the playoff stage of the EU LCS for the fourth successive split. The team has yet to miss a playoffs since joining the LCS. This record is not one to be sniffed at, especially considering how often the team had to replace players and completely reinvent its roster. A lot of this is down to the team’s veteran players that form its backbone: top-laner Tamás “Vizicsacsi” Kiss and support Zdravets “Hylissang” Galabov.

In the last three weeks of the split, Vizicsacsi had the highest DPM of any top-laner in the league, his performances on Gangplank, Illaoi and Irelia making up the bulk of it. Though he’s not a flashy player, Vizicsacsi is reliable and that can be a boon in a playoff environment. The ability to keep a cool head in high-pressure situations lends an edge to experienced veterans, and let’s not forget both Vizicsacsi and Hylissang were on the Unicorns of Love squad that famously reached the 2015 EU LCS spring finals in Madrid. Reaching another final is a longshot, and the team did well to even reach the playoffs, but if the Unicorns are to make an attempt at getting there, the experience of Vizicsacsi and Hylissang combined with the raw talent of players like Fabian “Exileh” Schubert will be critical to their success.

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FORG1VEN made a triumphant return to H2K's bot lane in week nine.

FORG1VEN NOT FORGOTTEN

While Giants versus UoL serves up a tasty appetiser, the main course of this weekend’s delicious playoff menu pits H2K against Fnatic. In week nine of the EU LCS summer split, H2K defeated Fnatic in a tiebreaker to claim sole ownership of fourth place, earning side choice in three of the games in this Best-of-five. Momentum is in H2K’s favour, especially should they decide to stick with Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou who made a triumphant return to the team in week 9 following Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek’s hand injury.

Freeze’s injury paving the way for FORG1VEN’s return may have provided H2K the edge needed to finally trump Fnatic in a playoff scenario, and they will want revenge after losing 3-2 to Fnatic in the spring split’s third-place playoff. With FORG1VEN on the roster, H2K finished second in the regular season in spring, but could only scrape into fourth with Freeze in the summer. Freeze underperformed all split, but his injury seemed to play a big part in his lacklustre performances. Should H2K stomp Fnatic with FORG1VEN, it could give H2K a very tough decision to make when Freeze recovers.

Though all eyes may be on the AD carry, you can expect H2K’s jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski to go about his business as usual. Jankos was arguably the best player on H2K in the regular season, and looks to earn his first ever trip to a World Championship, which seems insane when you think about how consistently excellent Jankos is, even dating back to his time on Team ROCCAT with fellow now-H2K teammate Oskar “Vander” Bogdan.

Jankos caught fire in week 9 of the EU LCS with his fearsome Hecarim performance. He managed to rack up a combined score of 16/3/26 in three games on the Shadow of War, with a KDA ratio of 17.33. His overall KDA ratio for the 5 games he played of 17.75 was the highest in the league that week, and he ranks third in KDA for the entire split, behind only G2’s Kang-yun “Trick” Kim (a summer 2016 MVP contender) and Splyce’s Jonas “Trashy” Anderson.

It won’t be easy for H2K though. Despite going into the match as slight favourites due to strong  recent showings, their opponent Fnatic looks to be on the rebound after a terrible end to the split. Fnatic looked like a shoe-in for second for the majority of the split, with the possibility of catching out G2 Esports ever-lingering, until the colossal drop in form which saw them tumble down the stairs to fifth place. The team replaced top-planer Noh “Gamsu” Young-Jin with former G2 player Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek which did not bring the uptick they wanted, and just this week long-time head coach Luis “Deilor” Sevilla stepped down from the team.

As a coach, if you are not able to fix the issues it means that you are not doing your job properly or players aren't willing to cooperate. In any case, changes need to be made as soon as possible so the team continues growing looking into Worlds.

Luis "Deilor" Sevilla

However, none of that changes the fact that these Fnatic players are incredibly talented. Three of them competed in the semifinals of Worlds in 2015, and Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim a crucial part of the Fnatic team that made it to the semi-finals of Worlds in 2013 and the Against All Authority team that lost out to Fnatic in the Season 1 Championship. Lee “Spirit” Da-yoon was on the Samsung Blue team that regularly beat 2014 World Champion sister-team Samsung White and considered by many as the best jungler in the world, and Kikis is a reigning EU LCS spring split champion after winning it with G2 Esports. If any team has the talent and experience to overcome a few rough weeks, it’s this group of players.

Key to any recovery will be Fnatic’s bot lane. Anyone that watched the EU LCS in the last three weeks will tell you how poorly Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and YellOwStaR performed together, especially given how well they started the split. The obvious worry is that YellOwStaR’s time as a pro player at the highest level is quickly coming to an end, and he showed a lot of the jitters and poor judgment calls that led to an unsuccessful stint on TeamSoloMid in the spring.

Fnatic’s undeniably talented mid-laner Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten has slipped in the last few weeks. Despite impressive showings on Zilean and Azir, his performances on Ryze, Kassadin and Vladimir left much to be desired. With patch 6.15’s meta changes incoming, including a predicted return to more standard lane setups, it’s critical that Fnatic come out swinging in the laning phase. To that end, it’s on Spirit, Febiven and Rekkles to carry Fnatic to a spot in the semifinals and a guaranteed place in Kraków.

THE DRAGONSLAYERS’ QUEST BEGINS

The road to Kraków is one that’s surely paved with ups and downs, elation and bitter disappointment, and it all starts this weekend. Whether you’re a group of underdogs trying to take down a top team, or a squad of veterans on the rebound, the time has come to bear arms in the quest for glory. To win the ultimate prize, to slay the dragon at the end of their journey, they must first conquer the armies that stand in their way.