There are so many extraordinary prospects in Europe with more opportunities for players to prove themselves than ever before thanks to regional leagues and the European Masters.
There have been a lot of LEC debutants this season who scratched and clawed their way through the continent’s competition in order to reach the pinnacle of European competition, and there will be plenty more vying for a moment in the sun when the EU Masters Summer 2019 tournament kicks off next month.
There perhaps isn’t a player who’s completed their journey as quickly as Excel Esports’ Jesper "Jeskla" Klarin Strömberg, however. The Swedish ADC managed to make his LEC debut just a year and a half after joining his first ever competitive team, now-disbanded German organisation Attempting to Reconnect, back in June 2017.
Jeskla began playing League of Legends around the start of Season Four and tells us he was instantly hooked: “One of my friends started playing it and I had just gotten injured in football. I didn't have a PC so I was just playing on the school computers and I got to Diamond from playing on those. In the beginning, I just played with friends just for fun but then I actually I got so much better than them and started tryharding – always improving was even more fun.”
The Swede’s story is very similar to that of his fellow countryman Martin “Rekkles” Larsson who also suffered an injury which prevented him from playing football so he channelled his competitive energy into League of Legends instead.
“It was quite tough at the start because I had so much to learn, I was just a solo-queue player who didn't know anything about playing in a team.”
It didn’t take long for Jeskla to trade his school’s computers for a gaming house as his parents allowed him to take up competitive gaming full-time once an offer came in from MAD Lions. The ADC would spend the next year cutting his teeth in Spain which is notorious for being one of the strongest regions in Europe.
For Jeskla, it was a year of growth both in and out of the game: “It was quite tough at the start because I had so much to learn, I was just a solo-queue player who didn't know anything about playing in a team. It took me maybe a month and I also had issues playing official games as I was quite nervous at the start but I just got better and better.
“I didn't know what to expect at first but it was super nice. I just love competing. MAD Lions was my first gaming house and it was kind of hard to deal with because the location of the team was in the middle of nowhere. We were stuck in the house so if practise didn't go well and we didn't win then it was quite a bad atmosphere.
“Then I joined Movistar Riders and everything was completely different. There were so many Swedish players in that team, there was a really good atmosphere. I learned all the basics and I could actually focus on myself more and it was amazing – we had like 15,000 viewers on every game.”
Stepping up a level
That spotlight is something Jeskla has always craved due to his innate desire to showcase his abilities. The Swede’s big chance came in the form of the first-ever EU Masters tournament last year which he qualified for with his Movistar teammates. Though the tournament didn’t go his way, it’s an event the Swede remembers fondly:
“It was really cool, it was the first EU Masters so a lot of people were watching. It felt like a tournament that even the EU LCS players watched, so you could show yourself to other teams. I think getting recognition from other pros means more to me than coaches or anyone else because having pros see you as having potential is much more influential.”
“The teams there in general were so much better. You had the top team from every region who were obviously superior to middle and bottom tier LVP teams so it was a lot harder. I still felt like we were stronger than other teams it was just about how we played in official games. How we played in scrims didn't really transfer over which was really sad.”
While Origen’s makeshift roster of veterans like Konstantinos-Napoleon "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou and Choi "inSec" In-seok grabbed the headlines, a new generation of talent made a name for themselves. It speaks volumes that 11 competitors from the first EU Masters have since made their debuts in the LEC this season as Jeskla has been joined by SK Gaming’s Toni "Sacre" Sabalić, Oskar "Selfmade" Boderek and Juš "Crownshot" Marušič, Fnatic’s Tim "Nemesis" Lipovšek and Felix "MagiFelix" Boström, Misfits’ Thomas "Kirei" Yuen, Rogue’s Finn "Finn" Wiestål and Emil "Larssen" Larsson and Excel’s Joran "Special" Scheffer.
The following offseason, Jeskla travelled out to Korea to continue his development while also hoping to receive an LEC offer. To the Swede’s surprise, he had multiple teams reach out to him and eventually opted to join Excel in order to fulfil his dream.
“Walking on the LEC stage for the first time felt unreal almost, from the very beginning I wanted to play at that level” recalled Jeskla: “Playing on stage is such a special feeling, it's so good. Even if you lose, having people watch your games and having a crowd in front of you feels amazing.”
The 18-year-old has since held onto his starting-place despite tough competition from former Worlds semifinalist Petter "Hjarnan" Freyschuss, which speaks to the level of talent in Europe outside of the LEC.
We’ll soon get to see more future-superstars look to prove themselves when EU Masters returns in September. Every regional league’s strongest teams will clash on Summoner’s Rift in what be another sensational tournament to watch. As the next generation of talent continues to emerge, it’ll be exciting to see which players can follow in Jeskla’s footsteps and seize their big opportunity.