The creation of the LEC gave one small team from England the chance to dream, a chance to prove themselves on a bigger stage. Excel fought tooth and nail through the UK scene until five years after its inception, the organisation was finally given its big break.
Becoming one of the LEC’s 10 teams was a monumental achievement for Excel but that was only the first checkpoint in the vertiginous challenge they faced. Adapting to a new level of competition while upgrading across the board was a tough task, especially within the time frame they had, according to Excel co-founder and director Joel Holmes-Darby:
“It's no secret that our history doesn't involve any experience with competing in the LCS, we had to build a full roster from scratch including coaching staff. “
“I maintain that the greatest day of my career so far was the first Saturday of LEC when we got our first win. Beating Rogue despite the monumental task that was ensuring that we were even on that stage in Week One and competitive within the timeframe that we did it.”
Fighting against the odds has always been one of Excel’s biggest strengths but their LEC opponents were sometimes too much for them to overcome, despite some spirited performances. In what would have been one of the biggest upsets of the season, Excel came agonisingly close to handing eventual champions G2 their first loss of the season but the British underdogs couldn’t close out the game or find a way to stop Rasmus “Caps” Winther’s Akali. That match summed up Excel’s season: they were always in the fight, but couldn’t land the knockout blow.
And though they were struggling with the battles on Summoner’s Rift, the organisation faced a much larger challenge outside of game. A lack of experience and time came back to haunt Excel as their new training facility in Twickenham, west London wasn’t ready and not all of the players could make use of it anyway due to visa issues.
Because of that, Excel begrudgingly adopted the gaming house approach and had the players stay in Berlin for the season with nowhere near the same amount of resources as they had hoped to offer.
Joran “Special” Scheffer admitted that it was difficult to focus at times: “There were a lot of issues with how things were handled with Excel, there were a lot of external problems which we couldn't really do anything about as players but it still affected us in terms of performance. We didn't have a chef until very late – all of these small things add up.”
The midlaner was one of the many rookies who represented Excel throughout the split, all of who the organisation had to get stage-ready, further adding to the challenges they faced outside of game.
That was a burden that mostly fell on the shoulders of team captain Raymond “KaSing” Tsang and he conceded that at times, it was almost too much for him: “I don't feel like it was a good environment for me to be in because I didn't get the necessary help I needed as a player.
“I feel like just because I'm a veteran, that means all of my priorities should be on teaching others rather than learning myself. I basically became a worse version of myself in Spring Split, I was there to improve others but not myself. I feel like I probably regressed during my time in Spring, I think I got worse.
Trying to help everyone else without helping himself was a draining experience which eventually lead to KaSing taking advantage of Excel’s 10 man roster and ask for a break:
“Basically, I said that I don't want to play if we haven't got anything to play for. When I was playing, there was always a chance of playoffs even if it was only 5 percent and relied on other’s results. But once we lost that opportunity, I wanted to take a break. Excel wanted to give Mystiques a try anyway because he had been performing well in scrims and I thought it was a good chance for both of us.”
Despite being a former Worlds participant, KaSing is not content with his lot and certainly wasn’t happy about finishing in ninth, the lowest placing of his career. When the support went to Rotterdam to be a part of Excel’s booths at the LEC finals, he couldn’t help but reflect while he watched G2 lift the trophy:
“Being in Rotterdam, I personally felt ashamed. I felt like I didn't deserve to be there, I lost so much, why would I deserve to go to an event? I should be practising for next split, that was how I felt.
“I've spent long enough not making it further than semifinals, I've always lost in the semis every time.”
Now though, he’s looking forward. “Summer Split is always the one that matters most,” he says. “I'm going to try and not make the same mistakes of not spending any time on myself. In the end, it's good to focus on yourself sometimes, you can't let yourself be the weak link."
“I think in Summer we can make playoffs, I can almost guarantee it actually.”
It’s been a baptism of fire for the organisation but the Summer Split represents a new opportunity. Rather than try to extinguish the flames, all of Excel’s players are fired up including Special who can’t wait to return to the stage once more. “Excel did a really good job of fixing things at the end and that's why I'm really excited for the Summer,” he says.
“It's such an improvement from last split, everything is in place already. The houses are super clean and modern, the Twickenham facility is really professional, we'll be able to fully focus on just playing and that's when I think our players will be able to shine."
Excel’s rookies showed their talent last split and with help from new head coach David “DLim” Lim and no outside distractions, they should be able to showcase the best of their abilities and challenge the LEC’s top six – a feat that KaSing is confident his team can accomplish:
“I always felt like I can make this Excel roster work, I just didn't have enough resources. I think in Summer we can make playoffs, I can almost guarantee it actually. I felt like we still had a good chance of making playoffs in Spring and we had some really good early-game performances against everyone, even G2. It was more a case of us throwing games which cost us, every game was winnable.”
Excel have always been labelled as underdogs and that tag wouldn’t stick had they not faced hardship. Spring Split was a gargantuan task but one that will make everyone in the organisation stronger. It doesn’t matter how many times they’re knocked down, Excel will get back up and keep swinging – the rest of the LEC better be ready for a fight.