Schalke 04 is a playoff contender going into the 2016 EU LCS Summer Split.
If that isn't clear enough, let me repeat that: Schalke 04 is a playoff contender going into the 2016 LCS Summer Split.
Yes, Team ROCCAT has significantly improved its chances to reach the playoffs and yes, one should not underrate Splyce, a squad that survived the 2016 LCS Spring Split and elected to keep its roster intact.
But discounting Schalke's chances of making the playoffs would be a crucial oversight -- here's why.
Hampus "Fox" Myhre
Schalke 04 (previously Elements) has put some work into giving the team the makings of a playoff candidate, especially in the wake of the departure of key players from the Unicorns of Love; they capitalized upon the opportunity by signing Hampus "Fox" Myhre to play in the mid lane.
On paper, the acquisition is a positional upgrade over Jérémy "Eika" Valdenaire, a player whose prowess in the position rests on team-fight centric champions lacking the mobility tools of a LeBlanc or Ahri, or the escape tools of a Lissandra. Fox's repertoire includes traditional team-fighting champions (e.g. Orianna, Lissandra, Lulu and Viktor) and assassins (like Zed and LeBlanc), broadening Schalke 04's offensive repertoire. He has also shown willingness to adapt to meta-game changes during the 2016 LCS spring season ( with Corki and Lissandra, with or without Teleport).
Fox developed as a resilient mid laner during SK Gaming's lows in the 2015 LCS summer split, further improving during his stay with the Unicorns of Love's during the 2016 LCS spring campaign.
His SK Gaming foray allowed him to focus on his play, where he conceded very few advantages; he averaged -39 gold at the 10-minute mark, far above PowerOfEvil's -146.3 during that period, and a 2.8 KDA ratio despite scoring the highest amount of deaths among mid laners in the LCS.
As for Fox's stop with Unicorns of Love, despite the revolving door policy the team held regarding its jungle position, he proactively ganked other lanes when possible and/or received his jungler's attention, thus contributing to 44 percent of the First Bloods across UoL's games. He may have relinquished as much farm as Eika (-5.1 CS differential at the 10-minute mark, to Eika's -5.8), but he gathered far more gold as a result of his contributions (-62 gold difference at the 10-minute mark, to Eika's LCS-lowest -231).
With a new mid laner in tow, it would be hard for Berk "Gilius" Demir to pool his efforts into Etienne "Steve" Michels's top lane or into the bottom lane, where the efficient Rasmus "MrRalleZ" Skinnenholm and the resurging Hampus "SPRATTEL" Abrahamsson dwell.
Dragon Control and the New Meta-Game
As baffling as it may seem on a first read, Schalke 04 knew how to control the dragon portion of the map. Despite being a former Challenger squad project under Team Nevo's umbrella, Gilius and company claimed 56 percent of the initial dragons their games had to offer, culminating into a 60 percent overall dragon control -- tied with Origen for second during the EU LCS spring split.
Despite lane swaps targeting Steve, who had evolved into an occasional carry threat, Schalke 04's mid-game recovery potential allowed them to steer clear from the relegation seats. The new dragon changes and the top lane balance tweaks open intriguing avenues for this lineup.
An already prepared Schalke 04 now benefits from Fox's presence, leading to more ganking opportunities and the ability to claim more objectives.
If Gilius wards more than he did during the spring split (0.75 wards per minute, lowest among supports and junglers) and takes the burden away from mid (Eika's 0.61 wards per minute were the highest among players outside of the support and jungle roles), the team would be able to read the map better and use Fox's resources more optimally, thus controlling the dragon area better.
That would apply more to lane-swap situations, however, which may happen less frequently given the Dragon's renewed status. Such status may lead to less-frequent lane swaps, leaving Gilius with the responsibility to place spotter wards for the solo lanes and Sprattel the responsibility to fight the fog of war around dragon.
The eventual lack of lane swaps also allows Steve to express himself more freely, whether he plays tanks such as Maokai and Trundle, or carry champions such as Fiora. Teams would have to react to the solo lane situations, leading junglers to pick their poison and eventually concede a dragon or a rift herald -- the latter being disastrous against a splitpushing top laner (especially if said champion had dueling abilities).
For Schalke 04 to become a playoff threat, Gilius needs to play differently than he did during the spring split. Fox's income would be better spent on items rather than vision, as Eika typically played it, and his team-fighting champions (Viktor, Orianna, Lissandra) would require some presence in the early game, if only for safety's sake.
All of this neglects to take into account the changes that other teams have made.
Can Schalke 04 contend against the front-loaded G2 Esports, now armed with a bottom lane that can nullify MrRalleZ and Sprattel and a mid laner in Luka "PerkZ" Perković that requires pacifying? Debatable at best. Steve's Teleports may give the team a fighting chance, and that would put communication and decision-making at that area to the test, on top of submitting Schalke 04 to the Alfonso "Mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez rotation experience, which by itself is enough of a challenge for a fledging squad.
H2k-Gaming, Origen and Fnatic may also be problematic, considering the amount of highly-skilled and game-savvy veterans each team boasts. But what about Team ROCCAT and Team Vitality, two squads that may struggle to gel communication-wise following their acquisitions of a pair of South Korean players each? Or the unchanged Splyce, the unsteady Giants, and the enigmatic Unicorns of Love?
Schalke 04 may very well outperform the latter group, as their pre-established synergies and Fox's arrival bolster the arsenal Gilius boasts and makes the team a truly formidable force to be reckoned with. It would be a turnaround for the ages, just one split removed from being pegged as a footnote in predictions across the spectrum -- ESPN's included.