The offseason break is finally over, and with it comes the conclusion of the roster shuffle circus and the emergence of the 2016 League of Legends Championship Series spring season.
Starting Jan. 14, 10 teams will clash for a chance to be one of the top European teams and carry Europe's hopes farther than Fnatic and Origen did in 2015, where the two teams reached the semi-finals and fell to South Korea's finest, SK Telecom T1 and the ROX Tigers.
Some of the European LCS squads may have secured their seating at the top in virtue of successful off-seasons, sometimes at the expense of their competitors. To understand the competitive climate of the region, a forecast is in order; we look at the squads and their rosters (some of which are unconfirmed to date) and break down their potential fortunes in 2016.
Coach: Tadayoshi "Hermit" Littleton (NRG eSports)
Top Lane: Paul "sOAZ" Boyer
Jungle: Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider
Mid Lane: Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage
Mid Lane: Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martinez
AD Carry: Jesper "Niels" Svenningsen
Support: Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez
Following a thunderous run in the EU LCS summer split, Origen achieved a feat only North America's Cloud9 performed in 2013: transition from the Challenger Series to the World Championship within a single split. In fact, Origen surpassed Cloud9's mark as they reached the 2015 World Championship semifinals, whereas Cloud9 had exited the 2013 World Championship in the quarterfinals.
Throughout that time, xPeke juggled owner and player duties, resulting in a bulky schedule that left little time for practice. Realizing the impact such matters could have on team performance, in particular following patch releases, he decided to mimic SK Telecom T1's recipe of success and form a two-man rotation in the mid lane, recruiting UoL's former mid laner PowerOfEvil.
The move also provides strategic flexibility for team compositions as PowerOfEvil's knack for assassins pairs well with xPeke's recent foray with control mages, with Anivia starring his rotation during the World Championship.
Europe may have become more competitive, but Origen's dedicated roster has the edge, at least for the spring season, as other teams with new rosters seek to build chemistry.
Mark: S (yes, S-tier)
Top Lane: Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon (Immortals)
Jungle: Kim "ReignOver" Yeu-jin (Immortals)
Support: Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim (Team SoloMid)
Top Lane: Noh "Gamsu" Yeong-jin
Jungle: Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon
Mid Lane: Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten
AD Carry: Martin "Rekkles" Larsson
Support: Lewis "NoXiAK" Felix
Head Coach: Luis "Deilor" Sevilla
One of the best feel-good stories of 2015 ended in a bittersweet manner as Fnatic had to, once again, adapt to player departures. Gone are the dynamic South Korean duo, Huni and Reignover, as they explore the North American circuit as members of Immortals. Gone, also, is the heart and soul of the squad, YellOwStaR, who spearheaded the team's reign of terror in the 2015 summer split.
Unlike last season's rebuilding effort, Fnatic aren't empty-handed as Rekkles and Febiven have opted to remain on the roster, in a show of trust to the organization and to their coach, Luis "Deilor" Sevilla, the artisan of the team's rise.
However, just like last season's rebuilding effort, the squad managed to upgrade key positions following their marquee departures. According to Team Dignitas's former manager, Sami "Rico" Harbi, Gamsu is "potentially better" and "more well-rounded" than Huni. As for Spirit, he was one of the rare carry junglers to excel to a point that he continually drew two or more bans, failing which he would single-handedly usher triumph for his teammates.
Spirit had once complained about China's more relaxed training ethics, and he is likely to find a fitting structure under Deilor's helm. A few questions still remain: Can NoXiAK help Fnatic forget YellOwStaR? More importantly, how fast will the new recruits adapt and communicate in spite of language barriers?
Jungle: Jean-Victor "loulex" Burgevin (Free agent)
AD Carry: Petter "Hjärnan" Freyschuss (Vitality)
Support: Raymond "KaSing" Tsang (Vitality)
Top Lane: Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu
Jungle: Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski
Mid Lane: Yoo "Ryu" Sang-wook
AD Carry: Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou
Support: Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan
Coach: Neil "PR0LLY" Hammad
If Origen and Fnatic's offseasons are labeled as successes, H2k-Gaming may have performed "the big heist." Following the departures of KaSing, Hjärnan and Loulex, H2k meticulously explored options in the free agent market and hand-picked some of the best European talent.
The result is a squad that will bring mass destruction to towers, enemy champions and nexuses in a hurry. H2k acquired ROCCAT's shotcalling duo, VandeR and Jankos, then added one of the best AD carries in Europe by far (FORG1VEN), and iced the deal by reengaging PR0LLY. In this state, H2k has potential threats in four positions. Yes, four, because we're counting Jankos, the First Blood King.
H2k may have secured its future as a perennial contender in Europe, provided potential slumps do not erode team chemistry, whether it be due to Jankos's emotional state or FORG1VEN's highly competitive mindset. The odds of such happenings are small, especially considering the approach that PR0LLY has to coaching, in particular with practicing moderate-risk situations and sticking to game situations.
In turn, PR0LLY can rely on a significant upgrade in the jungle and a mechanically savvy AD carry with a willingness to sacrifice for the team to build, eventually, one of the most fearsome squads Europe has ever housed since Moscow Five.
Purchased Gambit Gaming's LCS spot
Top Lane: Lucas "Cabochard" Simon-Meslet
Jungle: Ilyas "Shook" Hartsema
Mid Lane: Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm
AD Carry: Petter "Hjärnan" Freyschuss
Support: Raymond "KaSing" Tsang
Coach: Kévin "Shaunz" Ghanbarzadeh
Once home of the legendary Moscow Five squad that stood toe-to-toe with South Korea's finest, Gambit Gaming closed its LCS chapter and sold its spot to Team Vitality, an organization known for their First-Person Shooter squads.
In its first impression, Team Vitality impressed onlookers and drew praise from experts and competitors with a well-rounded roster, with shot calling duties falling on Cabochard, KaSing, and Hjärnan when prompted.
The lineup allows for threats to emerge as the situation prompts, provided bans do not hamper specific roles and Nukeduck and Cabochard are allowed to do as they please across the map. On a good day, Shook facilitates such situations, if not outright taking over by himself. On a bad day, KaSing and Hjärnan are neutralized, and Cabochard and Shook are left scrambling for solutions (if not neutralized themselves).
Bad days are a possibility, but it would take a squad of Origen's caliber to make it happen, which is quite telling of the ruckus this team could create come playoff time.
Qualified from the Challenger Series (auto-qualification), acquired from Team Dignitas
Top Lane: Martin "Wunderwear" Hansen
Jungle: Jonas "Trashy" Andersen
Mid Lane: Chres "Sencux" Laursen
AD Carry: Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup
Support: Nicolai "Nisbeth" Nisbeth
Coach: Jakob "YamatoCannon" Mebdi
It has been a grueling year for the 4everzenzyg trio (Wunderwear, Sencux and Kobbe), but they finally made it in the LCS, just in time for the age eligibility of the solo laners to kick in. Denmark has long been one of the main hotbeds for League of Legends talent, but Splyce have the first all-Danish roster in LCS history.
They also surrounded the young roster with figures of authority, in the shape of head coach YamatoCannon and adviser Chris Ehrenreich, CLG's former head coach. YamatoCannon came close to qualifying to the World Championship in his one-split tenure in Team ROCCAT - a feat Ehrenreich accomplished.
What is keeping these prospects from blossoming into a force? Experience playing onstage against top-caliber squads, which they are to acquire throughout the split (and perhaps beyond). Chemistry is unlikely to be a problematic side as the players have played with one another in the past - and that includes ex-Enemy eSports jungler Trashy.
Time will tell if they will reach the playoffs and replicate the Unicorns of Love's Cinderella run in the 2015 spring split, or if they will focus on surviving, much as Giants Gaming did in the same time period.
One thing is certain: these guys have skill, and opponents have to prepare accordingly.
Qualified from the Challenger Series (beat SK Gaming 3-2 in the 2016 Spring Promotion Tournament)
Top Lane: Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek
Jungle: Kim "Trick" Gang-yun
Mid Lane: Luka "PerkZ" Perković
AD Carry: Kim "Emperor" Jin-hyun
Support: Glenn "Hybrid" Doornenbal
Coach: Joey "YoungBuck" Steltenpool
The adage usually states "three times is the charm." If you had to ask G2 Esports, they would make that four - the number of roster iterations and splits the organization partook in before breaking into the big league at the expense of SK Gaming.
The roster participating in the LCS is an alteration that may be an upgrade, provided the pieces mesh well and without issues. And there comes the challenge as the language barrier between Trick and Emperor and the English-speaking players awaits resolution throughout the 2016 LCS spring split.
G2 Esports salvaged the situation created by the departures of top laner Lennart "Smittyj" Warkus and AD carry Jesse "Jesiz" Le to Team Dignitas, as they acquired the high-risk, high-reward Emperor, and CJ Entus's development project in the jungle, Trick. For the rest, they can rely on their highly rated crown jewel (PerkZ), the man of many role swaps (Kikis) and Hybrid to help them survive initial jitters.
YoungBuck's foray into the coaching role may help stabilize matters, but will it be enough for the squad to prevail (or outright surprise)?
Unicorns of Love
Jungle: Cho "H0R0" Jae-hwan (Free Agent)
Jungle: Berk "Gilius" Demir
Mid Lane: Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage (Origen)
AD Carry: Pontus "Vardags" Dahlblom (Free Agent)
Top Lane: Kiss "Vizicsacsi" Tamas
Jungle: Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov
Mid Lane: Hampus "Fox" Myrhe
AD Carry: Pierre "Steeelback" Medjaldi
Support: Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov
Coach: Fabian "Sheepy" Mallant
It has been a rough offseason for the Unicorns of Love as they tried to refine their roster since Kikis's departure to G2 Esports. Times became rougher when centerpiece PowerOfEvil left the roster following UoL's elimination from the World Championship qualifier.
The Unicorns of Love experimented at IEM San Jose with Vizicsacsi, Gilius, Fox, Steeelback and Hylissang. The outcome was lack of in-game decisiveness, a slow elimination against Counter Logic Gaming, and the replacement of Gilius.
In comes Diamondprox, one of the most experienced junglers in the world, and the brain behind counter jungling, a strategy that disrupted opposite junglers and game plans and allowed Moscow Five to rise as one of the favorites to win the 2012 World Championship.
The extra brain thrust may help Sheepy refine the approach his squad takes to encounters, and it will be sorely needed as the European LCS ramps up in competitiveness. Unless Diamondprox proves to be the missing piece that Kikis was to the 2015 Unicorns of Love, the squad will certainly lag behind the top teams.
Top Lane: Etienne "Steve" Michels
Jungle: Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski (H2k-Gaming)
Mid Lane: Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm (Team Vitality)
AD Carry: Rasmus "MrRalleZ" Skinnenholm
Support: Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan (H2k-Gaming)
Top Lane: Simon "fredy122" Payne
Jungle: Karim "Airwaks" Benghalia
Mid Lane: Felix "Betsy" Edling
AD Carry: Karim "Safir" Tohki
Support: Edward "Edward" Abgaryan
Substitute: Vytautas "extinkt" Mėlinauskas
Substitute: ChrisTop Laneh "nRated" Seitz
Coach: Karim "ImSoFresh" Bbahla
Would you look at the devastation across Team ROCCAT's once nearly-signed players. Leave it to Tomislav "Flyy" Mihailov to initiate damage control and still build a decent squad.
This player combination of high-skill ceiling players and once World Championship participants (Edward and fredy122) proves extremely intriguing, if not unpredictable. With four players known for high mechanical focus, Edward may be the sole leading voice in-game.
Team ROCCAT fancies such a prospect, especially with one of the top emerging AD carries in tow in Safir (formerly Jébus) and a coach that may be tailor-fit for the situation in ImSoFresh.
Are high-level mechanics and the assembly of a roster on such short notice ROCCAT's salvation, or do they precede their doom? Can the players tick significant developmental check marks in time? If so, we are in for a gigantic surprise.
Team ROCCAT may end up hitting as hard as a foam stick... or as hard as Thor's hammer. This is especially true if extinkt returns to form and becomes part of the rotation.
Mark: At best, B. At worst, D.
Top Lane: Jorge "Werlyb" Casanovas (Huma)
Jungle: Federico "Fr3deric" Lizondo (Free Agent)
Top Lane: Peter "Atom" Thomsen
Jungle: Tri Tin "k0u" Lam
Mid Lane: Isaac "PePiiNeRO" Flores
AD Carry: Adrián "Adryh" Pérez
Support: Oskar "G0DFRED" Lundström
Coach: David "LoZarK" Alonso Vicente
At worst, Giants Gaming may thank the Elements for their misfortunes, as the Spanish organization may owe them LCS auto-relegation avoidance. At best, we may be in another G0DFRED situation, when a solo queue star rises up to the challenge and becomes their guiding light en route to a surprising LCS playoff berth.
Giants have improved their roster, but so did everyone around them not named Elements.
K0u has finally reached the LCS, after years of struggle and once carrying the billing of the best rising jungler in Europe. Behavioral issues have delayed his day of reckoning to Jan. 14, 2016, but recent scrimmage results seem promising on his regard - on which case, the jungle position has been brutally upgraded.
Is Atom a step up over Werlyb, and will his mechanical prowess transfer well to the LCS, where the viable champion pool shrinks and where communication is an essential tool? Unknown.
The only known quantities are the three remaining members, Adryh, G0DFRED and PePiiNeRO - solid building blocks, especially when on a tear, as they were in a 4W-2L LCS summer record three weeks in.
Top Lane: Kevin "Kev1n" Rubiszewski (Free Agent)
Mid Lane: Henrik "Froggen" Hansen (Echo Fox)
AD Carry: Erik "Tabzz" Van Helvert (Free Agent)
Top Lane: Etienne "Steve" Michels
Jungle: Berk "Gilius" Demir
Mid Lane: Jérémy "Eika" Valdenaire
AD Carry: Rasmus "MrRalleZ" Skinnenholm
Support: Hampus "sprattel" Abrahamsson
Coach: Patrick "Nyph" Funke
Substitute: Marcel "dexter" Feldkamp
Upon failing to sell their LCS spot, the Elements organization was forced to field a new roster for the 2016 LCS spring split. With that in mind, they joined the offseason months after Origen hired PowerOfEvil, or days after H2k's big heist.
I would give them an F, had their roster not featured the likes of MrRalleZ, Steve and Eika and Gilius, strong players on their own. Instead, I will settle for a D- considering the squad's relative standing in a stronger European scene, and due to my skepticism at how the mix could function and at relative lack of experience at the top level.
The roster will not contain any of the previous starters as management issues arose during the spring and summer splits. The issues ultimately rang the bell for Froggen's departure to Rick Fox's team in the North American LCS, allowing him to follow on the footsteps of former Counter Logic Gaming Europe teammates Mitch "Krepo" Voorspoels, Stephen "Snoopeh" Ellis and Peter "yellowpete" Wüppen, albeit two years later.
Make no mistake: the rumored roster packs quite a punch if we decide that potential is a metric (the same metric that Fnatic's coaching staff turned into a world semifinalist). But Elements may be on its last ropes.