SK Gaming’s dreams of remaining competitive in Europe’s top flight competition is being upheld by talent from the EU Masters. Here is their story.
2019 has been an iconic year for Europe thus far. The rebranding and formation of the LEC received worldwide praise for its production values. The competition within the LEC, fierce and unrelenting, pitted swathes of talented players against each other every week with limitless potential to creative narratives and rivalries. And finally, the European Regional Leagues (ERL) and the EU Masters (EUM) finally gained the traction and attention it deserves, for many of the players you now see in the LEC once plied their trade there.
From Spring to Summer, the list of European talent arriving at the gates of the LEC is seemingly endless. In a previous article on Jeskla, we can see the long list of names who have made their debut this year: reigning EUM champions Misfits Academy (replacing the main roster), Larssen and Inspired, MagiFelix, as well as recently Doss and Jenax, to name a few. SK Gaming in particular, other than their mid laner Pirean, banked on the burgeoning ERL scene to pave their way forward: Werlyb (who is a veteran, to be fair), Selfmade, Crownshot from MAD Lions, as well as Sacre and Jenax from their academy team, SK Prime. And finally Dreams, their support, who played in Vitality Academy.
From EUM to LEC
The regional leagues and the EU Masters are quickly becoming recognised as a must watch for scouts in the bigger leagues. Before joining SK, AD Carry Juš ‘Crownshot’ Marušič was part of one of the most dominant teams in the regional leagues, MAD Lions: “I played in the ERL for two years, first in France and then I moved to Spain to play with Nemesis and Selfmade in MAD Lions. I guess we were all on people’s radar, because we had pretty much won everything in the regional leagues: the EU Masters, LVP twice. So I guess people just noticed,” he says, recalling his time at Spain’s highest level of competition: the LVP Superliga Orange (SLO).
Crownshot also believed in their abilities and to him it was only a matter of time before they got their time in the sun. “Me, Nemesis and Selfmade were good enough for LEC even at the start but people needed time to notice. So I knew my time would come, it was just a matter of how long.”
His mid laner Janik ‘Jenax’ Bartels, who joined a split later, had a slightly different path: “[At the beginning] I got on my team with friends that I met in SoloQ, like Phrenic and Don Arts especially. Don Arts got me into BIG [Berlin International Gaming], and then after BIG through Phrenic I got into SKP [SK Prime].”
“Me, Nemesis and Selfmade were good enough for LEC even at the start but people needed time to notice. So I knew my time would come, it was just a matter of how long.”
Unlike Crownshot, who was part of the near indomitable pride from Spain, Jenax was part of the academy program implemented within the LEC and in his first split with SKP made Finals in the last edition of EU Masters. He recalls the first time he went to EUM with mousesports as well, in Summer 2018: “When I qualified for EUM the first time, it was kinda expected because we were supposed to be the best team, but in the DACH circuit it didn't go so well and we were second.”
“In the first EUM we didn't have the best performance. But in the second one it was redemption time. We made it out of play-ins and in the group stage we beat everyone and on the way to finals we also dominated,” Jenax says, remembering his journey fondly. He also remembers his favourite moment in the tournament: “The first match against Fnatic Rising I played Jayce into Akali and I had some nice mechanical outplays [against MagiFelix], that was really nice!”
The winding path
Compared to their starting point in the various ERLs, SK’s carries have come a long way, shouldering their neverending dream of striving for glory. Crownshot, however, believed that while the Spanish league was strong, the LEC proved a more daunting challenge. Entering the LEC was like climbing Mount Targon, according to Crownshot: “In LEC, it’s much better players. They know how to lane better, they know how to punish. In LVP, the whole Spring I was just given free laning phases against everyone. They were just not pressuring winning matchups. Overall the macro [was lacking], games went longer, people didn’t know how to snowball leads.”
“Lanes are played way more carefully, when needed to be carefully played, and more aggressive when it’s needed to be aggressively played. It doesn't matter how well you play individually, it’s more how the team synergy is,” echoes his mid laner Jenax.
The old adage goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. But what’s omitted is the need for something to make them fall in the first place. Stacked against the finest Europe had gathered in the LEC, Crownshot and Jenax had to gear up with the most important weapon of all: practice. “In the LVP we proved ourselves through a lot of tournaments and in a very long season,” Crownshot says. “Two or three match days a week but we played more games in LVP with Bo2s. We also went to a tournament in Portugal in the Summer and EU Masters, so it was a few more games but overall it's pretty much the same schedule”.
"In LEC, it’s much better players. They know how to lane better, they know how to punish."
But while it wasn’t an arduous transition for Crownshot, Jenax, who was only called up recently, felt the pressure: “In LEC it’s a bit harder, mistakes are still fine but they don’t happen twice and you need to put more focus into training so you can’t have bad games. The schedule is basically the same, sometimes it’s even fewer games. I play fewer SoloQ games because the games I play in practice are more stressful and I need to think about them more. So in the end I play a bit less everyday, but it’s more intense, the journey.”
Ad maiora, sempe
As intoxicating as reaching the LEC and playing on the big stage is, they both know this is only the beginning. Despite what many would consider a relatively successful first split, Summer has been a struggle. But Jenax remains unfazed, and his attitude towards SK Gaming giving him a chance on the big stage gives them hope for next split and beyond. “I learnt a lot about losing especially [in the ERLs and EUM], and also a bit about winning but losing is more important. No matter how the game is, I’m always positive, I always look to find ways to win the game.”
“I know Nemesis and Selfmade had really high goals when I talked to them at the start [of LEC]. I’m glad I’m here and the sky's the limit I guess. I will just try to make everyone proud,” Crownshot says, and his confidence is matched only by his desire to do better.
Jenax is also overjoyed that he finally got to play in the main team and remains optimistic: “Playing in the LEC here, it’s really exciting for me. I still feel some pressure, especially in the laning phase when I get pressured a lot, but over time this will probably change, so I'm really excited going forward.”
As the EU Masters looms over the old continent once again, teams in the various warring regions will take up arms in a race to qualify, before fighting in the neverending struggle to be crowned champion of the 13 regional leagues.
As the finest players get ready for the inevitable conflict, so do we; waiting with bated breath to watch the next generation of talent sound the drums of war and forge their own legacy.
Let the games begin.