The snake is a deadly animal, one that patiently wears down its prey until it finds the right time to strike. It may not always be the biggest beast in the fight but it’s one you can’t underestimate.
That’s a lesson that many teams learned when facing Splyce at this year’s World Championship, as the European third seeds tested some of the strongest teams from around the globe.
It’s fair to say the team completely exceeded all expectations fans had of them, especially if you cast your mind to the start of the year. With the power-house line-ups of G2 Esports, Fnatic, Misfits and Origen, there were very few – if any – touting Splyce as LEC title contenders or possible Worlds attendees.
The image of a mid-table side is one that Splyce have desperately fought to shed this year. In fact, during the LEC Summer Split, they slithered their way into the race for second as they duked it out with Fnatic throughout the season.
While it was a goal they ultimately failed to reach, it was just another bump in the road as Splyce continued forward until the organisation finally returned to the Worlds stage for the first time in three years.
Following all the set-backs, challenges and uphill struggles the Splyce players have faced, taking on three-time World Champions SK Telecom T1 all of a sudden didn’t seem so scary.
After Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup had watched former teammates go on to MSI glory without him, after Tamás “Vizicsacsi” Kiss waited four years to make his Worlds debut, after Tore “Norskeren” Hoel Eilertsen nearly failed to find a team, the players were simply thankful to play on the international stage. Though, that didn’t mean they were satisfied with anything but victory.
Season 9 has been an immense journey for Splyce but this is only the beginning for the squad – once you have a taste of competing against the best, it’s extremely difficult to not crave more.
Making the most of your opportunity
Splyce’s five players poured their hearts out in Madrid as they did everything in their power to try and overcome SKT. Marek "Humanoid" Brázda has had a bright debut year with his play oozing with unrefined potential. The 19-year-old has unsurprisingly been inconsistent at times this year, but the Czech midlaner kept pace with one of the all-time greats in Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and made sure that his opponent was never able to take full-control of the game.
Meanwhile, Norskeren was tasked with handling one of the greatest supports of all time in Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong who was subbed in for game three – the one match that Splyce would eventually win. While Mata has been sat on the bench in recent times and was clearly out of practice, you cannot take anything away from the Norwegian’s performance.
“I feel really lucky, I feel like I took the opportunity and gave it all I had”
Norskeren had already been causing SKT’s other support, Lee “Effort” Sang-ho, issues as well, but it was against Mata that the Splyce player really managed to shine. You could see why SKT had banned his Nautilus for a lot of the series, as he impressively hooked Park "Teddy" Jin-seong out of Mata’s lantern before landing another hook onto Faker just seconds later.
It was a scenario Norskeren could only have dreamed of at the start of the year and is one that he very nearly missed. After a strong debut year at ROCCAT in 2018, the support shocked fans and pro players alike when he revealed that he hadn’t found a team ahead of the new season.
It seems that I will unfortunately not be playing in the LEC next split.— Tore Hoel Eilertsen (@norskerenlol) 27 November 2018
Currently exploring options from other leagues, still hungry and motivated
Playing in the LCS was the best thing to ever happen in my life, and I will make sure I'll work as hard as I can to return.
“The time I was teamless, I almost gave up,” Norskeren admitted. “It was really a time of desperation where I didn't know what to do. It was at the last minute that I got to join Splyce – they didn't even know I was a free agent.”
Having gone from nearly quitting pro play to facing SKT, Norskeren said it was “surreal” to find himself stood across Faker on-stage. It was a moment that justified the months of hard work the support had subject himself to: “I feel really lucky, I feel like I took the opportunity and gave it all I had,” he says. “I needed to try my hardest because I knew if I didn't, I'd be back in the same situation and feel like I'd taken it for granted. So I just really tried my hardest and I'm just really proud of how we improved as a team.”
“I think maybe when I played at ROCCAT, I maybe didn't try my hardest, so I felt really guilty when I couldn't find a team until so late. The fact that I got this far in my first time at Worlds means if we make it next year, my goal will be making it back to this stage, and keep trying until I reach the ultimate goal of winning it all.”
From helplessly sat at the bottom to clawing his way into the world’s top eight, proud was a word used a lot by Norskeren – and rightfully so. It’s been a long and winding road for the 19-year-old but his journey is still only getting started.
Working in the shadows
After struggling to get past Unicorns of Love in the Worlds Play-Ins, it seemed hard to believe that Splyce would leave an impact on the Worlds stage. Yet, they were able to take games off two eventual semifinalists, SKT and FunPlus Phoenix.
The latter absolutely embarrassed Fnatic in the quarterfinals who had a tough showing in Madrid. Meanwhile, Splyce stepped up to the occasion and went toe-to-toe with the team many consider title favourites.
It was a rare moment that Splyce got one over Fnatic, even if it was inadvertently. In Europe, Splyce spent a lot of the season overshadowed by both G2 and Fnatic, though they remained in the title race until the final hurdle.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and that may have very well been the case with Splyce. They proved their doubters wrong as all of their players confirmed they can compete with the best.
The team’s gutsy effort won over the crowd in Madrid, and without a doubt some new fans too. It was an experience none of those five players will ever forget, but this won’t be their last opportunity. It won’t be long until the preparation for next year begins.