Europe has historically been an unpredictable league: who would have thought a Fnatic team with two unknown Koreans would become the first team to win a split without losing a regular season game? Or that Alliance, EU’s first major “superteam”, would fail to make an impression in their first split, but go on to win their second only to self-destruct versus Brazilian wildcard KaBuM at Worlds 2014? Such unpredictability makes the EU LCS exciting to follow, and the 2016 summer split has continued the trend.
One of the biggest surprises this split is the rise of Schalke 04, descended from that original Alliance team which morphed into Elements, and was then bought out by the Bundesliga club. While last split’s Elements featuring mid-laner Jeremy “Eika” Valdenaire was dull as stone, Schalke 04’s new mid-laner Hampus “Fox” Myhre is the spark igniting a fire in the team that was sorely missing. In week six they will face off against H2K in an icy encounter, with Schalke 04 looking to leapfrog H2K to third in the standings and potentially make a move on second-place Fnatic. It’s our EU LCS week 6 Match of the Week, and it’s live on Friday at 20:00 CEST!
Fox on Fire
We covered Fox’s impact in the LCS a little in our “Mid lane: by the numbers” article and “Krepo’s EU Gold Gods”, and for good reason: Fox has revitalised a mediocre team, finishing in seventh place with a 6-12 record, just barely scraping out of the relegation positions. The player he replaced, Eika, had the lowest KDA of all mid-laners in the Spring split and was 8th in DPM (499). It’s an entirely different story when we look at Fox’s stats so far in the summer split: the former SK Gaming and Unicorns of Love mid-laner tops the mid-lane charts in KDA (4.87) and kills (88), has the fewest deaths of mid-laners (39) and is second in DPM (709).
It’s not just about the stats, however, because while Fox excels when we look at the numbers, Fox’s fills a void in Schalke 04 that Eika simply didn’t. League of Legends is ultimately a team game, and while individuals can make a huge impact on a team’s fortunes, any Echo Fox fan will tell you that one star player does not a team make. Schalke 04’s roster includes LCS regulars that were always on the cusp of being real contenders but ultimately fell short. Rasmus “MrRallez” Skinneholm’s performances on SUPA HOT CREW led many to believe he was the next big European AD Carry, but his performances on Team ROCCAT (along with Schalke 04’s top-laner Etienne “Steve” Michels) couldn’t carry them through the EU LCS gauntlet to Worlds in summer 2015. Hampus “Sprattel” Abrahamsson was part of the poor Elements roster that competed in the summer 2015 split, where he competed under the name promisQ (or “pro-miss-Q” for all you memers out there) but lasted only a month before being replaced. Berk “Gilius” Demir joined many LCS teams over the couple of years, including multiple stints on Unicorns of Love, but never settled, and even played in Worlds 2014 as a sub for SK Gaming following Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnson’s suspension.
With Fox in the mid lane, however, these players look revitalised. Past performances have clearly been forgotten and Schalke 04 looks like a contender once again. It’s similar in a way to Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim’s return unlocking Martin “Rekkles” Larsson’s ability to play aggressively, the addition of Fox to Schalke 04 has unlocked the rest of the team and they’re playing with impetus and confidence. It’s amazing what finding the missing piece of a team’s puzzle can do.
Despite the improvements Schalke 04 made this season, they’ll still be going into Friday’s match as the underdogs. H2K are serial playoff contenders, though they consistently falter in their attempts to win the EU LCS trophy. On paper, H2K’s lineup in the spring split looked exceptionally strong, but the curse of Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou claimed another victim as they fell to Origen 2-3 in the semi-finals, after leading the standings most of the season.
In the off-season they dropped FORG1VEN to pick up Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek from former NA LCS team Renegades. The former Copenhagen Wolves AD Carry finally got his first chance to play with a top team and has been serviceable so far. A wrist injury has made it difficult for him to reach his full potential, but his performance on utility marksmen improves as the weeks go on.
To win this series, H2K will be looking to star jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Jankos has long been Europe’s best home-grown jungler, dating back to his times with support Oskar “Vander” Bogdan on Team ROCCAT. His intense, aggressive playstyle led to him becoming the first-blood king of Europe, and his early-game pressure, particularly his early ganks, suffocated opponents. His early game is less severe at the moment, but he’s still a potent threat and one H2K will need to utilise fully to overcome a strong Schalke 04.
H2K will also need to see big improvements in the mid lane. Despite Sang-wook “Ryu” Yoo’s decent stats this split, the numbers don’t tell the full story. Ryu always looks good on paper, and in previous splits he frequently carried H2K; even dating back to his time on KT Rolster he was a fearsome mid-laner, his Zed mechanics superseded only by the unkillable demon king Faker. In the 2016 summer split that spark is missing, and many would say it’s been missing since he returned from Korea after obtaining his working visa in the spring split. His focus on Viktor, the safe wave-clearing mid-lane power pick, further reinforces that impression. It’s time for Ryu to become the carry H2K needs him to be, especially after the departure of FORG1VEN.
Despite the star power within H2K’s roster, there will be no apprehension on the side of Schalke 04 when they take to the Rift on Friday. It’s the beauty of League of Legends, and indeed any major sport, that anyone can beat anyone, and H2K has shown itself vulnerable. This will be an explosive encounter in every lane, and what a spectacle it will be. Tune in on Friday and watch these contenders for the throne clash!