Week four of the ESL premiership has concluded and consequently the half way mark has been and gone.
Team XENEX support player Tom "Prosfair" Willis reviews the teams in the ESL Premiership in this in-depth article.
Starting from the bottom of the table we have Team Paria. Qualifying under the alias Battle Cops, this roster of unknown faces to the UK has unfortunately failed to win a single map so far.
However I feel they have done themselves proud simply by qualifying, it’s not an easy task to break into a scene especially with the number of teams attempting to qualify. Choke Gaming had experienced players including Artorias, Charlietea and others, and the fact that Paria managed to qualify whilst Choke did not shows merit in of itself.
"I feel they have done themselves proud simply by qualifying, it’s not an easy task to break into a scene especially with the number of teams attempting to qualify."
Paria have since played MnM, Enclave Gaming, Excel eSports and GLB. In their matches Paria often fall behind on farm in the lane phase and also during the mid-game when they let waves die to towers more often than necessary.
They focus too much on reactive plays and never take the initiative to force anything themselves. Coming into the latter half of the Premiership I would like to see them put more emphasis on aggressive team play.
Despite this being their first season in the Premiership, Bulldog have competed in the second season of the UK Masters and it was definitely no surprise when they qualified.
With players Nyx and Faxulous remaining on the roster from Masters and some highlight names such as J3T and Archie added to it, Bulldog definitely have a team which could have ended up higher on the rankings. It should be noted that Bradtek has played mid-lane instead of Nyx since their second game vs Excel.
Bulldog currently sit on three points with no wins, one loss and three draws. They could have done a lot more to start the season.
"They have quite a high ceiling for a team, with a good mix of role players and playmakers, however I feel this is where they fall over."
I would describe Bulldog as a highly inconsistent roster. They have quite a high ceiling for a team, with a good mix of role players and playmakers, however I feel this is where they fall over.
In the last Season of the UK Masters, J3T was praised as an incredibly skilled up and coming jungler, managing to stand out among the likes of experienced players such as Broxah, Phurion, Sancus, Candyfloss and Skudzy.
In this season of the Premiership, most of these players have left and only Sancus, Candyfloss and Phurion remain (Phurion as a substitute for MnM). If ever there was a time for J3T to assert himself in the scene, it's now. Cyclone's jungler Demo has started making waves himself, claiming his own MVP in week 2.
I honestly feel a large part of Bulldog's inconsistency is due to J3T. His performances are often lacklustre in the games in which they lose, and much more reminiscent of his old play in their wins. As Bulldog still have yet to play Cyclone and XENEX, I feel these games will be very interesting to watch with a focus on how all the junglers match up.
GLB are another team which have been around a while in the UK scene, indeed competing in the last season of the Premiership.
GLB are probably the team with the least surprising results. They have a team of three fairly well known UK players from different team backgrounds along with two EU imports. However the three UK players haven't really won anything or placed particularly highly.
One could almost predict that GLB would end up being a middle of the pack team without any real upset potential on the higher teams. So far they have managed to match this with their play, drawing against Bulldog, beating Paria and losing to Cyclone and XENEX.
"One could almost predict that GLB would end up being a middle of the pack team without any real upset potential on the higher teams."
The teams they have left to play are MnM, Excel and Enclave. Despite being of a similar average level to Bulldog, the issue I see with GLB is that unlike Bulldog, I don’t see them having a significantly above or below-average level game, in fact average seems to be the very word that sums them up.
Realistically the only way up is a lot of hard work and effort, the issue being that at least two of the teams they have yet to play almost epitomize the term 'hard work'.
The only other way I see them improving is if one or more players find it within themselves to improve their individual play to a significant degree as to impact their team's play.
When Enclave first qualified I predicted they would be the seventh-place team, I remember thinking that they didn’t have the individual talent to make it far in the Premiership.
It has never been such a pleasant surprise to be proven wrong.
Enclave more so than any other team seem to actually warrant the use of the word. They very much seem like a unit in their play and in their attitudes.
I’m someone who often finds the self-deprecation of the UK scene by players much exaggerated and often highly hypocritical. Yet even to me, the Enclave roster is a breath of fresh air to the scene.
Sportsmanship, hard work and teamwork are the first three words that spring to mind for me when describing Enclave, which isn’t to say the other Premiership teams lack these qualities, but simply that Enclave exemplify them.
"The Enclave roster is a breath of fresh air to the UK scene."
Their standout player for me is Jakamaka, to the best of my knowledge the last time he played in the UK scene was in the 2015 summer season of the Premiership when he played ADC for TCA (yes - back when Raizins was a jungler).
Despite this long hiatus from the scene and my initial projections for Enclave, I feel like I heavily misjudged him as his play has been consistent throughout Enclave's matches.
I have to say that their second 'carry player' would be their shot-caller. While it's an unorthodox way to measure a carry player, I feel that the shotcalling from Reclamation has to be highlighted as it is so core to Enclave's ability to win games.
Another new organisation for the Premiership, Cyclone are an Irish organisation doing a surprisingly good job in their first foray into the Prem.
Qualifying under the name RÄÄÄÄÄÄNDOMSS, this team featured jungler Tyrin as the only established player, however he stepped down for newcomer Demo upon helping the team qualify.
Without having much information to go off, this team was a bit of a dark horse coming into the season and managed to draw with established team Excel in their first week of play.
"This team was a bit of a dark horse coming into the season and managed to draw with established team Excel in their first week of play."
However their performances have not been incredibly consistent, they dropped a game to Enclave and were quite easily beaten 2-0 by MnM. Realistically for a roster of almost completely new faces, along with a new organisation, their place in tied fourth is highly commendable and a great stepping stone for future endeavours.
I already mentioned that their jungler Demo received an MVP in week two for his play, but I reiterate it here because I feel it needs to be mentioned that he really is the start player for Cyclone.
Almost all of their early game action seems to come exclusively from plays which at least include Demo. The second player I would like to mention is Kerberos. While widely regarded in the scene as a Kayle and Darius two-trick pony, I would argue that Cyclone look much stronger in their wins when he plays meta champions, most notably Nautilus.
He wouldn’t be the first UK player to make the transition from solo queue to fives in regards to champion pool; I mention him because I feel it might be worth looking at how he grows as a player later on in the season.
Can Enclave and Cyclone make the final?
It should be noted that both Cyclone and Enclave can still make the top two spots, however it would require quite a fortuitous string of circumstances.
Not only do Enclave have to upset Excel and MnM while Cyclone would have to beat XENEX, but a string of other upsets from other teams would need to occur to stop the top three teams gaining any more points.
On top of this, Cyclone and Enclave would have to make sure they do not drop a game elsewhere. It will become apparent after week five if a miraculous run could still be made as they play XENEX and Excel respectively. Unless they 2-0 their matches this week, their chances of making the finals will go up in smoke.
Not only were MnM last split's champions, but also from initial roster announcements the favourites for this split. It is quite surprising then to find them languishing in third place with over half of the season gone.
Along with Excel, MnM are probably the most well-established organisation in UK League of Legends and it looked like another return to form for them when they demolished Paria in week one.
The real upset came in their second week when they lost both games to team XENEX, while in game one it should be noted that they had to use their jungler substitute to fill in for their AD carry, in game two they had their full roster present and lost in a short 25-minute game. Since then they have also lost a game to Bulldog.
"It is quite surprising to find them languishing in third place with over half of the season gone."
One might think that losing a game to the seventh-placed team would highlight some horrible consistency issues in the team or maybe show they are far weaker than expected, I do not think that is the case as the manner in which this game was lost is quite telling.
MnM had a fairly significant advantage teamfighting and split pushing in the later stages of the game. Bulldog also had the much lauded red side Varus, known for its ability to make doing Baron for the blue team exceptionally risky.
For MnM to start Baron with knowledge that Bulldog were nearby was bold, but a decisive and unexpected call can often win a game. Continuing to fight the Baron when Bulldog warded it one second into the attempt is foolhardy at best and arrogant at worst. When you consider that the enemy Jungler was Olaf with ultimate and ghost both available to him it’s hard to think why MnM didn’t just back off from the Baron as soon as it was spotted out.
In reality it could have been a multitude of reasons, miscommunication or confusion could have led to MnM misjudging the above factors. In reality we have no way of knowing why, however I feel that had MnM not made this uncharacteristic blunder, they would currently be sitting at second place in the league rather than third.
Excel have been in four of the five seasons the Premiership has seen since its inception, and never failed to make top eight at any of the i-series tournaments they have attended.
It is no surprise then to see them sitting at number two in the Premiership.
It is of course every team's goal to win. For a team like Excel who have come close on so many occasions, it would mean more to them than most teams in the league to finally grab that first place. So while they do sit at second place it must be heartening for them to be the only team to have taken a game off of the number one team in the league: XENEX.
Similarly to MnM, their single loss to a team apart from XENEX came off some uncharacteristic play. Starting the game with an almost 1,000 gold lead at two minutes into the game, along with a 2-0 Fiora, should have realistically won the game before it began.
"For a team like Excel who have come close on so many occasions, it would mean more to them than most teams in the league to finally grab that first place."
Instead of allowing Fiora to win them the game with split push and her insane lead, Excel grouped up with the Fiora and started taking a lot of unnecessary fights. The nail in the coffin came when Excel made a rotational error which allowed Cyclone to take the Baron uncontested, at which point Excel engaged the far superior teamfighting composition of Cyclone in a direct team fight. This resulted in an ace for Cyclone along with picking up the Hand of Baron.
I also want to note the difference in Excel's play in the first three weeks and their play versus XENEX in week four was phenomenal. They appear very much like a team gunning for that top spot.
Excel and MnM's chances to reach the final
Both MnM and Excel have very strong chances to make it to the finals. There is a slim chance that XENEX does not finish top two, however this would require a fair few upsets and is also directly out of either teams’ control.
On the other hand, they have yet to play each other and with only one point separating them, their game is very likely to be the deciding match for second place.
I expect both teams to beat the lower table teams cleanly and to meet up in the final week with the second place spot on the line. If both MnM and Excel do not drop a game between now and the last week, it will mean that MnM need to 2-0 to qualify for the finals, yet Excel will only need a draw.
If MnM make the spot, it is a chance for them to finish the season strong despite the rocky start and get revenge on XENEX. If they manage this they can retain the crown as the best team in UK League of Legends.
For Excel it would be their first final in UK League of Legends and give their players a chance to win the league they have been competing in for seasons now.
XENEX is a new organisation to the League of Legends ESL Premiership, but they have previously competed in the CSGO part of the tournament so they are not a fresh organisation to the overall scene.
Building a roster from parts of different teams which competed in the UK Masters, they picked up some of the strongest UK players in their respective positions along with an incredible strong import mid-laner in the form of Backlund.
Looking unstoppable over the first three weeks, they set the fastest game in the entire Premiership with a 22-minute win over GLB. However in week four they lost the second game in their series versus Excel, showing to the rest of the UK that they could in fact be beaten.
Disclaimer: I asked G2 Vodaphone Coach Furndog for his thoughts on team XENEX due to potential bias if I did it myself. Below is a paraphrased summary of his comments. Bracketed comments are my own.
"The strength of team XENEX lies in the experience the players already possess combined with their hard work and will to learn," Furndog said.
"A potential weakness could be their lack of big match experience, they could react badly to playing on stage (As a team looking to make finals this is a big question mark for XENEX - Prosfair).
"In terms of key players, Backlund is definitely one of them purely based on his mechanical skill, the other would have to be Prosfair due to his team leadership, shotcalling and the work he puts in outside of game working on draft."
"The strength of team XENEX lies in the experience the players already possess combined with their hard work and will to learn."
It's still possible for every team but Paria to qualify for those top two spots.
My predictions for final standing is still XENEX taking first with either Excel or MnM taking second.