2021 LEC Spring Preseason Rankings and Preview
The fourth and final major region in League of Legends esports kicks off this Friday. On January 22nd the LEC Spring Season commences, ushering in the new year for top tier European League of Legends competition. After one of the most drastic offseasons in the history of LoL esports, which saw players synonymous with their teams don new jerseys and regional legends cross the Atlantic Ocean, the cards are ready to be dealt.
1. G2 Esports
Surprise, surprise: G2 is our number one team for the LEC Spring Split. The team which arguably already had the four best players in Europe in the top lane, jungle, mid lane, and support role, has put the cherry on top by acquiring Martin “Rekkles” Larsson from Fnatic. With Rekkles coming off the back of one of his best performances ever during Worlds 2020 in Shanghai, the samurai are poised to lift the LEC trophy yet again. Whereas in previous years one might have wondered if Rekkles could keep up with G2’s aggression. The aforementioned Worlds performance (where Rekkles and Hylissang consistently got First Blood) takes those doubts away. In terms of gameplay power, there is no arguing that G2 has, by far, the greatest potential of any team in the league.
That said, G2’s expected performance does come with a few question marks. The departure of Perkz left a big hole. With incredible game knowledge, he used to be the one shotcalling for the team in the later stages of the game, guiding them through the motions towards victory. Now this responsibility won’t have to fall on Rekkles’ shoulders entirely. It’ll be interesting to see who picks up the sword. Another point of interest is how personalities will match. G2 already has strong voices on the team, and Rekkles undeniably is another strong voice. It’s easy to be a good team when things are going fine, but the true test for this G2 comes when it stares into the face of adversity.
Similar to their eternal rivals G2, Fnatic have made critical changes in their lineup. With Rekkles’ departure a new bot laner had to be found to wear the black and orange, and Elias “Upset” Lipp was added to the ranks. Upset, who was heralded as the ‘new Rekkles’, has played consistently well, but not ‘out of this world’ yet. His playstyle demands a lot of resources to be funneled to him to pop off. Thankfully, Fnatic’s new mid laner Yasin “Nisqy” Dinçer can complement many playstyles. On any team Nisqy played on, he excelled at enabling and amplifying his jungler’s strengths. Not bad at all when you have jungler Selfmade on your side. If Fnatic finds flexibility in their play, they’ll yet again find their way to the LEC Spring Finals.
The biggest task ahead for Fnatic is to get all the players on one line. That duty largely befalls new coach Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi. In the past, tensions within the Fnatic camp have surfaced regularly. Last Summer Split, the team was so lost that it almost missed out on making it to the Playoffs, and consequently Worlds, entirely. Fnatic has managed to pull it all together when it mattered most and put differences aside. But betting on ‘miracle glue’ to hold the team together won’t get them the championship. If cracks start showing in this lineup, the team may very well crumble completely.
Some people will have put Rogue as second in their power rankings and honestly, it’s hard to blame them. Rogue has steadily risen in the LEC, going from middle tier in the 2020 Spring Split, to serious title contender in the subsequent Summer Split. When people questioned Rogue’s diversity in play, they rose to the occasion and took G2 to a nail-biting fifth game in the Summer Playoffs semi final. The mid-jungle duo of Larssen and Inspired has remained intact, and why wouldn’t it? The two were in near-perfect harmony and formed one of the best duos in the entire league. Bot laner Hans sama is the third consistent to stay with the hooded blue squad—another big win for Rogue.
The change in the top lane is, without a doubt, an upgrade for Rogue. Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu joins the ranks as a seasoned shotcaller, a veteran whose play over the years has aged like fine wine. With Rogue having replaced Vander, it’ll most likely be Odoamne who will fulfill the role of shotcaller and in-game mentor to the more inexperienced players on the team. A role he executed well on Schalke 04. Talking about support replacements—that’s where the eyes will be on with Rogue. Adrian “Trymbi” Trybus comes in as a talented rookie who will likely need his time to match his team’s level of play. However, if he does so quickly, Rogue could easily contest with—and indeed grab hold of—Fnatic’s seemingly eternal silver medal.
4. MAD Lions
As far as the LEC goes, 2020 was the year of the MAD Lions. What was initially meant to be a two-year plan to win the LEC turned out to be a speedrun attempting that very thing. Under the guidance of the coaching staff and then-sophomore mid laner Humanoid, the four rookies MAD Lions signed for the year quickly flourished. However, the honeymoon came to a swift end at Worlds when the team was eliminated in the Play-In Stage. Now, on what basis a team decides to make changes will almost always remain behind their closed doors. But the fact of the matter is that MAD Lions abandoned their two-year plan. Shortly after their elimination from Worlds, they recruited İrfan Berk “Armut” Tükek—the very player who had helped eliminate MAD Lions from Worlds on SuperMassive—to become their new top laner. In the jungle they’ll field Javier “Elyoya” Prades.
Armut is, unquestionably, a talented top laner and an upgrade for MAD Lions in that position. A homegrown TCL player—a top-lane heavy region—Armut can bring versatility to his lane and play various carry champions with more comfort than his predecessor Orome could. Elyoya put himself in the spotlight last year in the SuperLiga Orange, Spain’s league. A player with promise, and in good company, but how well his talent is cultivated can make a massive difference for MAD Lions’ performance. Similar to Trymbi on Rogue, Elyoya needs time. Coaching is where another uncertainty comes in for MAD Lions this year. Peter Dun, the mastermind behind many successful rosters, has left for the LCS. Last year he helped develop James “Mac” MacCormack as coach. Now, it’s Mac who’s in charge of the ship, and it’ll be his first true test as Head Coach.
Vitality’s spot as fifth on this list will raise eyebrows. They finished the Summer Split as shared eighth with Misfits, and they’ve only made one change to their lineup: Mathias “Szygenda” Jensen is their new top laner. Is this change alone enough to lift the squad up four places, then? No. While fresh blood was absolutely necessary for Vitality’s top lane, Szygenda is still a debutant testing the waters of the LEC. Once again, time is of the essence to witness what he’ll truly be capable of in LEC Spring.
No, for Vitality’s fifth place on these power rankings we need to look at the other four members of the team. Jungler Skeanz took a step back to Vitality’s academy roster after the 2020 Spring Split to regain confidence. He then made his return during the second half of the Summer Split. Revitalized, Skeanz looked positively scary. A worthy top tier jungler. The bot lane of Vitality had trouble finding its groove initially. When it did, Vitality had already put their Playoffs fate in their opponents’ hands. However, the duo of Comp and Labrov is unquestionably strong. With a meta that seems to lean more onto the bot lane than it did last year, these two will be vital (pun not intended). Mid laner Milica had to play many an Azir and Corki for his team last Split, often in a more supportive role without making incredible impressions. He’ll need to step up and prove he’s versatile and has consistent carry potential.
6. Schalke 04
Schalke 04, the Miracle Runners. From dead last to fifth in one of the greatest recovery stories in esports history. Schalke’s legacy will not be forgotten. Needless to say, though, the team would rather not rely on last-minute performances. They’ve brought on Dino “LIMIT” Tot, a solid support player who largely flew under the radar on SK Gaming last year. Sergen “Broken Blade” Çelik, Schalke’s new top laner, might instantly be a top three top laner in the LEC. Plus, he only just turned 21 years old, meaning we’ve likely yet to see his peak performance.
So why is Schalke 04 sixth on the list, then? It actually is mostly because of the players who remained on Schalke’s roster, and what caused them to suddenly drastically improve last year. Gilius had everything to prove after being subbed out in the 2020 Spring Split, and joined a team that had nothing to lose. His enthusiasm spread to his teammates and they managed to play boldly, in the face of their opponents. But while it was Gilius’ energy that fueled the team, it was Odoamne’s leadership that kept the train from derailing, tugging his teammates back when his teammates were getting overly enthusiastic. The talent is there on Schalke 04, but will there be guidance in LEC Spring? And when the pressure truly mounts, like it did for Schalke against MAD Lions for a ticket to Worlds, will Schalke stand strong this time or crumble again? There are a lot of uncertain factors when it comes to Schalke’s in-game dynamics.
The latest attempt at creating a roster with more than five players comes from Misfits, who will have players “competing for their spot” in both the top lane and support role. In the top lane, Tobiasz “Agresivoo” Ciba and Shin “HiRit” Tae-min will compete for a starting position, while Oskar “Vander” Bogdan and Petr “denyk” Haramach duke it out for a spot next to bot laner Kobbe. And this is exactly where it goes wrong, and where it has gone wrong time and time again for European teams trying this LCK-style and LPL-style multi-player roster. Instead of playing for the team, these players will be inclined to focus on playing for themselves. Their attention will be on ensuring they play well enough to not be subbed out in LEC Spring. It leads to tension, anxiety, and underperformance.
It’s a shame, because Misfits could be such a solid Playoffs contender. Breakout player Razork, who won the Spring Split Rookie of the Split title last year, showed signs of his brilliance towards the end of the Summer Split again. Bot laner Kobbe started off rusty, but especially when paired with new hire Vander could form one hell of a beastly duo. For Misfits’ own good, they should commit to a five-player roster and go from there. The repeatedly failed formula they’re aiming for now is a waste of potential.
8. Excel Esports
Excel impressed in the Summer Split last year. With a far less-renowned roster than Fnatic they went toe to toe in score for a long time, and barely missed out on making it to the Playoffs. They held their own impressively amidst the chaos of that Split. For 2021, Excel brings in two new players: Paweł “Czekolad” Szczepanik as mid laner, and Daniel “Dan” Hockley as jungler. Both players had great years in the European Regional League system. Czekolad jumped in the spotlight with AGO Rogue in the UltraLiga and Dan did the same with Fnatic Rising in the NLC.
Excel’s low rank stems from a few aspects. Firstly, it’s the same mantra repeated in a bunch of the teams listed above: rookies always take time to develop. To rely on Czekolad and Dan would be foolish of Excel. Talented rookies who can carry their team from the get-go are extremely rare. Kryze, the top laner Excel fielded in the Summer Split and will field this year, has simply failed to impress. Aside from one or two games where he stood out, he had trouble keeping his head afloat. Excel’s bot lane duo is their treasure, and Patrik is their crown jewel. Last year, Excel’s strategy increasingly became “funnel everything to Patrik and hope he can pop off”. It may have worked then, but you simply can’t expect that strategy to last. Excel needs to be able to diversify in LEC Spring, and it’s hard to see them do that early in the year. Perhaps, in time, this roster can flourish. It’ll need a dose of faith and a lot of hard work, though.
9. SK Gaming
SK Gaming is one of the two LEC teams that kept only one of the players they played with in 2020. Jesiz has been granted an extension on the team after his swap from the mid lane to the top lane was surprisingly successful. All the other roles, though, were filled with new players: Kristian “TynX” Østergaard Hansen as jungler, Ersin “Blue” Gören as mid laner, Jean “Jezu” Massol as bot laner, and Erik “Treatz” Wessén as support player.
The hill to climb for SK Gaming seems so big. TynX and Blue generated a lot of buzz last year with their performances in the LFL and TCL respectively. But the mid-jungle synergy is an intrinsic part of competitive League of Legends. It’s one that needs time and practice to develop. The same goes for the synergy between the bot laner and the support. How quickly can Jezu and Treatz get in sync? Jezu is young, comes from the ERLs, and has room to develop. But Treatz did not leave the best impressions on TSM and has been in the scene for a while without having a breakthrough performance. So how will the jungle-support synergy play out between TynX and Treatz to roam and apply pressure across the map? It’s all up in the air, and SK Gaming has taken many risks with the moves they’ve made.
At the bottom of the list we find Astralis, whom have been the butt of many jokes in the community already. No jokes here though, just an analysis of why they’re expected to not perform well in the LEC. Following a disastrous Summer Split, in which the org (then still called Origen) finished tenth with a star-studded roster, Astralis has clearly opted for cheaper options. It’s a move in line with the company’s overall financial cutbacks that were reported on in the past. The four players have been added to Astralis’ roster to build around mid laner Nukeduck are: top laner Matti “WhiteKnight” Sormunen, jungler Nikolay “Zanzarah” Akatov, Jesper “Jeskla” Klarin Strömberg as Astralis’ bot laner, and Hampus Mikael “promisq” Abrahamsson as the support player.
Astralis fields one of the oldest rosters in the LEC with three players at 24 years old and one at 26 years old. While age doesn’t say everything—G2 jungler Jankos, who is 25, still is a top tier jungler—it does raise question marks. Especially when you haven’t had a stellar breakthrough performance yet in years and years of competing. In the ERL system, WhiteKnight didn’t have a standout performance last year. Zanzarah did really well with AGO Rogue, and Jeskla and promisq helped mousesports to win the Prime League. But the LEC is a different caliber. Then there is mid laner Nukeduck. He once was said to play a boatload of champions on the top level, but didn’t even crack in the top five of best LEC mid laners last year. If Astralis sets realistic goals for LEC Spring and takes steps towards those goals one at a time, they’ll see some growth this year. But the ceiling for this roster, however, doesn’t seem to be very high.