Aaaaaaaand we’re back.
The winter break in esports, if you follow more than one game, is short, but didn’t it feel like an age? All Stars was just over a month ago now, and we even had KeSPA Cup and Demacia Cup to tide us over, but it’s not the same, is it?
I know that, within a week or two, I will once again be considering an article about overexposure leading to viewer fatigue, but for now I’m excited about the start of LCK, LPL, LCS and, most of all, LEC. Heck, even the CS:GO Minors start this week, and iBUYPOWER Masters is looking more stacked than usual.
It’s a good time to be an esports fan, but for European League fans it’s an especially exciting time. Franchising is here and with it comes a list of changes and transfers as long as your arm. I covered a lot of these in the off-season but it would be silly to discuss the league favourites without mentioning what changes they have gone through.
Let’s start at the top, then. Worlds’ runners-up Fnatic have to be part of the conversation. They may have lost the best mid-laner in the league and one of the most experienced top-laners in the world, but this is an organisation with a long history of rebuilding. In fact, most players who leave Fnatic tend to go on a bit of a downward spiral.
Correlation is not the same as causation, of course, and there are notable exceptions, but the fate of ex-Fnatic players is oddly consistent. The guys who left to form Origen ended up retiring, Febiven’s stint in America was unexceptional and even the one-great Yellowstar had a tough time after hanging up his black and gold jersey.
Meanwhile, Fnatic always seems to come back as good as or better than before. There are teams that hang around forever simply by throwing together five players, avoiding relegation or disbandment. Fnatic is not one of them, however.
I don’t know if Nemesis is the next Caps – the next in a long line of legendary European mid-laners – but it’s not unlikely. Fnatic rarely pick up bad players, even if they were unheard of beforehand. Look at Caps himself: plucked from relative obscurity, having previously played for Dark Passage in Turkey. A lot depends on the newcomer’s ability to adapt to the spotlight, but Fnatic has a proven track record of moulding the clay of new talent into a finished product.
Speaking of former Dark Passage players, Bwipo being given the top-lane role to himself is great for all concerned. Not that he is necessarily a better player than Soaz (he might be), but because both players want to play all the time. We aren’t used to substitutes in European League and it was clear Soaz wasn’t happy playing second fiddle.
It’s a win for Soaz because he gets to play all the time; Bwipo wins for the same reason. Fnatic win because they have dealt of a potential threat to morale. Misfits win because they have a replacement for Alphari who is at least as good as he was, if not better.
By the way, just briefly, I consider Misfits a dark horse for the LEC this split. They struggled at the end of 2018 after a blistering start, but they have improved their roster more than anyone in the off-season. Soaz is at least on par with Alphrai, Febiven is straight up better than Sencux and replacing Mikyx with one of the best supports of all time is a no-brainer.
G2 is the biggest threat to Fnatic’s rule, however. Perkz and co were one of the biggest surprises of last year’s World Championship, but it was a matter before they finally played to their strengths, rather than suddenly becoming good again out of nowhere.
Origen vs G2 is the most exciting match of the opening week, but it has nothing to do with a naked xPeke. Sorry.
I really want to see how G2 will deal with having two top-class mid-laners on the team, and shifting one of them to a new role. Will they pick up where they left off, or do such drastic changes require more of a bedding-in period? Will it matter against an Origen team that is built completely from scratch and has its own teething troubles to deal with?
Fnatic also start their campaign against a new-old organisation. The world finalists’ changes were considerably less sweeping than G2’s, however, and I just cannot get excited about this SK roster: El Classico this is not. Indeed, Fnatic face two former rivals (SK and Origen) in the opening week, neither of which pose a huge threat in their current incarnations.
Fnatic should come out of the gates fast with two wins and it will be up to the rest of the league to try and keep up.