After 10 weeks of regular season play with a brand-new two-group best-of-three format, the European League of Legends season moves onto the playoff stage. Six teams enter, but only one will leave with the European crown and a ticket to Brazil to play in the Mid-Season Invitational.
The action starts Saturday, and will take place each Saturday and Sunday until the final in Hamburg April 23.
It’s a single-elimination tournament with six teams, with the winners of each group (G2 and UOL) receiving first-round byes. The second seed of each group will play the third seed in the other in the first round, and the teams will be re-seeded before the semifinals to continue cross-group play. If multiple teams from the same group advance out of the quarterfinal round, the matchups will ensure there the top two teams from the same group do not play each other before the final.
Every series will be a best-of-five, and there’s a €200,000 prize pool on the line (€80,000 goes to the winner). Championship Points, which determines the region’s No. 2 Worlds representative, will also be rewarded (90 to the winner, 70 to second place, and so on until 10 for 5th/6th). There will be a third-place match during the final weekend.
The favorites: In Group A, G2 took first place in Week 1 and never looked back. The two-time defending European champions finished the split 12-1 and have only ever known first place in their history as an EU LCS team. Led by one of the best bottom lanes in the West and two-time EU LCS MVP Kim “Trick” Gang-yun, this year’s G2 has added improved play in the solo lanes to the equation.
The challengers: In Group B, H2K and Unicorns of Love shuffled the lead back-and-forth all year until UOL took it back in Week 8 and kept it. Both are strong contenders to keep G2 on its game, but UOL’s first round bye clears an easier path: because of the re-seeding rules, if H2K beats Fnatic, they will automatically face G2 in the semifinals.
For UOL, watch out for jungler Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir, one of the most exciting rookies in the reason and a player who isn’t afraid to pull out unconventional picks. For H2K, the top side combination of Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu and Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski continues to rival anyone’s in the region.
The upstarts: The winner of Saturday’s Misfits vs. Splyce match could give UOL a rough time in the semifinal, assuming H2K beats Fnatic. Misfits burst onto the LCS scene after winning promotion from Challenger last Summer, earning the second seed in Group A with an 8-5 series record. Meanwhile, Splyce wasn’t quite able to match the highs of 2016’s Worlds run, but a 7-6 record in Group B was good enough for third place and this roster does have plenty of experience in high-pressure series.
For Misfits, top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris is one of the best young stars in the region, along with AD Carry Steven “Hans Sama” Liv, who may get to play more of his favored carry champions as the meta shifts. Former Korean superstar Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon is always one to watch in the jungle, too.
Splyce likely won’t be a walkover, though: top laner Martin “Wunder” Hansen was arguably the best laner in his role this EU split, and jungler Jonas "Trashy" Andersen has been known as a savvy counter-ganker. Most important is the team’s synergy: theirs is one of the only rosters that kept their entire 2016 starting lineup intact, and that kind of experience tends to show in longer series.
The “we’re-just-happy-to-be-heres”: Oh, Fnatic. After a disappointing 2016 saw them miss the EU LCS finals for the first time ever and Worlds for only the second time, the organization unveiled a new all-European roster at the start of the split. It didn’t work out very well — the team swapped junglers midway through the season and never really hit the right balance.
After expected Group A cellar dwellars Giants Gaming and ROCCAT started the season a combined 1-13, Fnatic likely felt safe in its playoff pursuit, needing only to finish above those two. But then ROCCAT went on a tear, winning its last six series in a row and forcing Fnatic to beat Misfits in the season finale to hold onto its spot. Fnatic managed to do so, but the reward of a first-round matchup with H2K likely doesn’t feel too thrilling.
All times Eastern (US).
H2K vs. Fnatic, 11 a.m., EULCS1 — Fnatic wins, 3-0
Fnatic vs. Misfits, 11 a.m., EULCS1 — Fnatic wins, 3-0