Conundrum in the EU LCS All-Pro jungle

EULCS Playoffs G2 Esports vs Splyce (3:07)

G2 Esports and Spylce faceoff in the EULCS Playoffs. (3:07)

The League of Legends All-Pro phenomenon, or the inability to differentiate the top team from the top player in each role, has plagued both the European and North American League Championship Series since the award's inception. The most glaring example occurred in 2015 when every single Fnatic member received the award for best in their role.

The phenomenon has some grain of truth to it. With the recent 2017 EU LCS Summer Pro reveal, teams one through three featured every single current Fnatic member, which means it becomes more difficult to suspend disbelief as each name appears on the screen.

In my personal contribution to the vote, I only had two Fnatic members across all three teams.

My votes

First Team

Top: Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu (H2K Gaming)
Jungle: Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski (H2K Gaming)
Mid: Luka "Perkz" Perkovic (G2 Esports)
ADC: Martin "Rekkles" Larsson (Fnatic)
Support: Lee "IgNar" Donggeun (Misfits)

Second Team

Top: Paul "sOAZ" Boyer (Fnatic)
Jungle: Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir (Unicorns of Love)
Mid: Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm (Team Vitality)
ADC: Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen (G2 Esports)
Support: Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov

Third Team

Top: Martin "Wunder" Hansen (Splyce)
Jungle: Nubar "Maxlore" Sarafian (Misfits)
Mid: Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten (H2K Gaming)
ADC: Samuel "Samux" Fernández Fort (Unicorns of Love)
Support: Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodríguez (G2 Esports)

One must then ask whether those who contributed to the votes struggle to disentangle top form of an individual from top form of the team -- or whether organizations have gotten incredibly good at consolidating talent. There's definitely some of the former, but there's a caveat for a strong, winning team environment encouraging personal improvement for every player involved. A quick look at one of the most touted junglers in Europe makes this clearer.

If a team starts winning, motivation always runs higher. As current Fnatic Head Coach Dylan Falco said, "It's always easier to work with any team when you're winning."

A team with several strong players who know and understand the game can help players like Rasmus "Caps" Winther and Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen evolve and learn quickly if they have a baseline level of talent. Meanwhile, for a player like Team ROCCAT's Felix "Betsy" Edling, whose first EU LCS split was probably his best on Gambit two years ago, it may be more difficult to muster the same enthusiasm to work hard on personal improvement every day.

"I don't think scrims are that fun anymore since I played for a bit," he said. "Taking some time off -- at least some days -- every week is probably better, at least for me."

Many have used "player consistency" to justify their voting, but the line between player and overall team consistency gets muddled too easily. A careful eye can still discern certain individual impact, and I am equally guilty of failing this test.

Broxah in his second ever split -- supplanted some of Europe's longtime jungle kings for first spot -- will consistently having winning lanes. All three of Paul "sOAZ" Boyer, Caps and Martin "Rekkles" Larsson average an experience lead at ten minutes, meaning that regardless of what side of the map Broxah will decide to play toward in a game, the opposite side likely wins anyway. Contrast him with someone like Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir, who received my second place vote for best jungler. Xerxe's laners do not win, but he always finds a way to stay ahead as an individual player. Even with opponent junglers constantly invading his jungle, he averaged an experience lead of 52 at 10 minutes, only 19 less than Broxah's 71.

Xerxe's mid laner, Fabian "Exileh" Schubert's effective champion pool this split (meaning not champions he has played, but champions he has found some modicum of comfort and success playing) has consisted of Vladimir, Talon, Leblanc and Kassadin. These champions have escape abilities for evading unexpected ganks.

"We had the problem where I just died too much to jungle ganks," Exileh said, "and died in general too much in the mid lane. This is kind of like -- at one point, you just have a result where you go back and pick your comfort picks. On those high mobility picks, I feel really comfortable."

Despite his mid laner having the lowest experience difference at 10 minutes in the league and a poor champion pool with choices that often need time to scale and give up pressure, Xerxe found ways to remain individually competitive and average an experience lead. Often, opponent junglers would invade on Xerxe with the intent to keep wards on him, kill him, or deny him camps. Yet Xerxe often found ways to make sure he made it to his camps on spawn, clear them, and scale well.

When Xerxe knew he had an experience advantage, he forced skirmishes in the bottom side river, often involving Exileh, to help get his mid back into the game. Xerxe's lack of direct presence ganking mid became a point of criticism, but the flip side is true of Unicorns of Love's 2016 jungler, Kang "Move" Minsu, who casters sometimes dismissed for how easily he fell behind in experience in favor of ganking mid frequently.

Unicorns of Love struggled keeping pressure mid partly because of Exileh's pool and his self-professed difficulty with matchups, but the criticism was generally levied at his junglers. Meanwhile, Fnatic prioritized having pressure lanes all split, getting counterpick in lanes and winning extremely hard with Blade of the Ruined King AD carries.

Fnatic's overreaction to losses in the EU LCS pre-Rift Rivals exposed more holes for Broxah than Xerxe. When Fnatic's style started to fall apart domestically, they began drafting weaker scaling mid lane matchups at Rift Rivals.

When Caps fell behind in lane, Broxah performed much worse without the security of pushing lanes, falling behind 173 experience on average. Domestically, when he ganked top early, Broxah benefited from sOAZ's frequently praised ability to know the enemy jungler's location and react well to escape gank threat. This ability also aided Broxah in a 2v2 situation. He didn't have this same luxury when Fnatic often gave up pressure in nearly every lane but bot.

Even after Rift Rivals, Fnatic still emphasized a strong bottom lane with the likes of Ashe and Varus, allowing Rekkles to freely stack waves. By stacking minions in bottom lane, Fnatic deterred turret dives and controlled the lane in absence of jungle pressure when Broxah played top side, which the team started doing more often.

Broxah also played early pressure jungle picks for the majority of the split, and when teams opened Elise, and sOAZ was playing the likes of Shen, this created a very easy lockdown for a near-guaranteed gank of the top laner over-extended. It's hard to give Broxah the benefit of the doubt when the Fnatic style and environment enabled him, especially when other EU LCS junglers pulled off more creative map movements with more constraints and go unrewarded.

H2K Gaming's Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski stood out the most this regular season. He played the only Zac that felt like an early pressure jungler, abusing creative gank paths with Elastic Slingshot that others didn't consider. When he did invades, he often put down vision and counterjungled, and he coordinated with his lanes to abuse stacking waves for dives. Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten played more mages like Orianna or Syndra and fewer roaming mids, but Jankos often abused mid pressure without coordinating with him to get side lane control.

Aside from Jankos, it's hard to make a strong case for or against any jungler in EU LCS, largely because the fundamental aspect of how to play lanes and coordinate ganks escape many teams. A lot of times, it feels like junglers and laners aren't enabling each other and things become even more muddled.

"I think H2K's main focus is that we talk to each other a lot," Jankos said after Rift Rivals. "And then if we have lanes pushing toward opponents or lanes pushing to us, we always talk about it, and we try to always set up something."

As a region, Europe still has a long way to go to properly consolidate the best talent on the top rosters and then put them into a functioning and communicative dynamic. Many experiments that have attempted this and made headway on paper like the current Team Vitality lineup have failed. Vitality's top three status in the spring of 2016 seems like a distant memory, but then, less than two years ago, much of the current roster all came under discussion for best in role. Not even a whisper of them cropped up in the voting this split.

As a result, when these votes come out with players only representing four teams, it's hard not to feel skeptical. Even beyond the jungle role, the likely hardest for a casual spectator to rate, the likes of Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm didn't make the cut for mid lane. Players in top six teams like Martin "Wunder" Hansen, Splyce's bottom laners, and Lee "IgNar" Donggeun didn't appear on the list despite having instrumental roles in their teams' successes when they win. Europe has enough talent that has been scattered and spaced out more than these awards seem to suggest. The overall team play in the region, however, has prevented them from shining.