With the Season Finals well underway, we're recapping all of the action and teams' growth from Summer until this halfway point as they fight to be the first ever Season Finals champions.
It's been a long road but the LEC's first year under its new format is coming to a close as the Season Finals have begun. With teams around the globe already locking in their Worlds spots, EMEA's top prospects have been fighting for the right to join them. Let's take a look at the competition ahead and how the teams have been faring after Summer.
Already locked in teams including Gen.G and T1 who will be competing on home turf and a powerhouse JDG roster who are looking to complete the golden road after winning the LPL Summer Split will give tough competition to any who qualify. The LCS is also looking to challenge, with a powerful C9 roster looking to reach new heights, and Golden Guardians blocking the door to Worlds entry for the LEC's fourth seed.
Death from afar and death in a ball
Starting off summer finals weekend was a winner takes all matchup between Team Heretics and Fnatic, with the winner locking in Season Finals and the loser being unable to sneak across the margin of points required to qualify. In the end it was Fnatic who came out on top, as they switched up their strategy following a D1G1 loss and a shaky D1G2 win thanks to the Hextech Soul. Shifting to a poke-oriented strategy, Fnatic were able to find an identity and take the series 3-1, but failed to convert this strategy into success against XL, with the only standout pick in their 3-1 loss to their British brethren being Razork's unexpected Kindred pick in D2G3.
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Piloted by Noah, lethality Varus made its return to the LEC stage alongside Humanoid's Jayce in both game three and game four for Fnatic. After weathering the storm of Jankos and Vetheo's exceptional roams in the laning phase, in the mid-late game the long-range damage of these two champions was able to make contesting fights and objectives hopeless for their opposition. Jayce in particular had a high priority throughout the weekend in pick/ban across all of our top four teams.
Fnatic look to be in the midst of shaking things up from this strategy so far in Season Finals, but it hasn't been without some bumps in the road. Continuing this poke strategy against Excel, Fnatic found some success but seemed over reliant on Ivern, Jayce, and Kai'Sa, all champions which are highly contested in pick/ban.
Thus, they seem to have made the switch from death from afar to death in a ball and are playing a style much more similar to that of the LPL and which we saw in the LEC's Spring split, clutching out wins in game four and five of their elimination series versus XL in Season Finals, and successfully claiming revenge for Summer. Centred around picks such as Taliyah and Tristana which can be flexed between roles, it offers the team some more draft versatility as well as high teamfighting damage. I'd also like to bring attention to Trymbi's Nautilus pick, which has been scoring early kills for Fnatic and helping them through some otherwise shaky laning phases.
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G2 executed a similar strategy against XL in their 3-0 finals sweep, with an extremely high priority on drafting Kai'Sa, which they flexed between Caps and Hans Sama. Hans in particular looked menacing on the pick in D3G1 and D3G3, with a combined KDA of 20/1/17 over the series. G2's ability to flex this key pick around enables them to fill in the gaps of their composition with other strong picks such as LeBlanc and Kog'Maw in order to successfully adapt and counteract the opposition's drafting in the second round of picks.
The most notable example of G2's drafting excellence is shown in D3G2, whereby G2 locked in the meta-threat bot lane of Rell/Kai'Sa first and second, blinded a strong top lane pick of Jax for Brokenblade third and then completely flipped the script on XL by flexing these champions into the jungle and mid lane roles respectively and locking in their tried and tested Braum/Kog'Maw bot lane.
G2 seem to be happy with this style for the most part, and have continued their unorthodox drafts, but it isn't just random, carefree picking. Brokenblade has been holding down the fort on tanks such as Poppy and an unorthodox yet effective Kled pick, and Yike seems to be experimenting with carry picks again, such as his Evelyn pick in W1D2G2 vs BDS. Additionally, Kog'Maw and Braum remain a high priority pick for the team, with Braum in particular overrepresented in pick/bans in G2's series as other teams experiment with the pick in order to deny it from them. They're surely the ones to watch as they race towards the first ever Season Finals crown.
MAD Lions, our Spring split champions, have suffered quite the fall from grace, bombing out early on in the Summer split. That being said, their championship winning run earned them the right of revenge in the Season Finals, it's a chance they've clearly been hungry to take.
Throughout Spring, Carzzy and Chasy showed incredible form, and so they were my ones to watch for this roster. It was a big if, and whilst Chasy had some struggles in MAD's series vs Excel, Carzzy is sure to have a spring in his step once again. With Hylissang in form, Carzzy is able to carry to the fullest of his abilities, finding early leads and being a massive source of damage for his team in W1D1G1, as well as clawing back the win with a clutch quadra kill in game two of the same series. Elyoya has been showing up again, and it's no surprise why with his contract nearly at its end - let's see if this time the MAD Lions can finally sink their teeth into some international competition.
French giants Team BDS struggled to find momentum for a long time in the LEC, but have improved by leaps and bounds since the current roster's return from its ERL team. Showing up massively in Spring, they showcased summertime promise but couldn't hit the same heights. Nevertheless, it's been a year of firsts for this org, and they're on track to reach another after making the LEC's top four in Season Finals.
Nuc, a choice many questioned as BDS' franchise player, has been showing up consistently in the team's success and looks like a genuine threat in the mid lane, particularly on aggressive mages such as Cassiopeia. In addition, Sheo has been a standout all year and has been finding his feet again within the roster, coordinating the team through the mid game. Although Adam looks like the team's Achilles heel at the moment, underperforming against both BrokenBlade and Irrelevant, if he can learn to play weak side fully and the team are able to play for an in-form Crownie (who looked monstrous in BDS' W1D2G2 win over G2) it could be time for a BDS breakthrough like never before.
Goodbyes to two
Despite being - for lack of a better word - stomped in the finals by G2, there's a lot of positive takeaways for the XL roster who have grown by leaps and bounds individually and as a team over the course of the Summer split and Season Finals. With an identity still centred around aggressive teamfighting and rift herald control, XL showcased a lot more pick diversity and some members in particular shone.
The veterans of the roster, Odoamne and Abbedagge both had some monstrous showings in XL's run to second place in Summer. Peach is also finding his footing within the roster, playing much more proactively and chasing leads for his laners to help XL through any early game stumbles. This is a roster that has gone from back-to-back tenth finishes to going five games against an in-form Fnatic super team. I hope that being smacked around by the current kings of Europe in 3-0s by G2 in Summer Finals and the MAD Lions in Season Finals doesn't shake the team's resolve, and I remain hopeful for the future of this roster.
Lastly, SK Gaming remain as they were - a roster filled to the brim with promising talent shepherded by their veteran jungler Markoon - but still unable to quite break into the upper echelons of the LEC. If any team had something to prove it was them, but this dark horse of the LEC was unable to make a big statement by punching their ticket to Worlds.
Markoon will be key in guiding his team to success in the future, and I'm particularly zooming in on how he interacts with Sertuss. At their peak, the two are a terrifyingly lethal jungle-mid duo, and with champions such as Akali and Sylas coming back into the fray SK's stocks could be on the rise come next split.
Rell remains the premiere pick of the LEC, with a 100% representation throughout Season Finals so far. Closely following behind are Tristana, Renekton, and Xayah all with near 100% representation.
The ADC pool is large and varied in the LEC right now, but popular backup picks include Kalista, Draven, Kai'Sa, Zeri, and Ezreal.
Ivern and Taliyah are still highly prevalent, with the latter banned out often due to the ability to be flexed between jungle and mid. Other mids such as Maokai and Sejuani are being pushed out in an oversaturated jungle meta, unlike Poppy which has been finding a new home in the top lane as a disengage tank, much like the popular support pick of Alistair.
Azir and LeBlanc are additionally standing by as popular mid lane picks, but the pool is quite varied in this role due to flex picks and the occasional Neeko making a surprise appearance.
LEC Season Finals continues today, culminating in the grand finals next week in Montpellier. You can watch on the LEC's Twitch or the LoL Esports site, and as always we'll be bringing you full coverage of the league's twists and turns.