With the League of Legends European Championship starting soon, it’s a good time to review the teams set to compete in LEC’s inaugural split and our expectations from them. Sadly, every ranking needs a bottom, and if I have to choose who we expect the least from – and I do – I’d go with SK Gaming.
This is a name that older League of Legends fans – and many esports fans in general – are well familiar with. SK is one of the oldest pro gaming organizations from any sport, and has been active in League since almost the inception of the pro gaming scene. It was at the founding of the EU LCS in 2013 where they ended fourth, and they have competed at Worlds twice – in 2012 and 2014. However, a great 2015 Spring Split was followed by a disastrous summer season, where SK ended in ninth place and had to play against Gamers2 – now known as G2 Esports – in the promotion tournament. They lost a dramatic 2-3 series that saw them relegated to the challenger circuit and, eventually, the regional tournaments.
The team has returned with the rebranding of the EU LCS and the franchised system, and this is the team’s roster for 2019:
Top Laner: Jorge “Werlyb” Casanovas
Jungler: Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek
Mid Laner: Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik
Bot Laner: Juš “Crownshot” Marušič
Support: Han “Dreams” Min-kook
Coach: Fabian “Sheepy” Mallant
The core of SK’s roster is the trio from MAD Lion: Selfmade, Crownshot and Werlyb. The Spanish team looked quite good regionally and won the 2018 EU Masters summer tournament, but arguably the biggest star of the team – Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek – was recruited by Fnatic (though Crownshot certainly made an impression as well). Pirean initially played in the NA LCS in 2016 and 2017 before being signed by South Korean giant SK Telecom T1 as their substitute mid laner. As the team slumped in the Summer Split, he started in the majority of their late summer matches instead of Faker. While this righted the ship for the time being, SKT chose to trust their long-time star and did not resign Pirean, leading to him becoming a free agent and eventually joining SK. Finally, Dreams has played for several years for several European pro teams and their academy rosters, last playing for Vitality Academy and tapped by Vitality as their substitute player for the 2018 Worlds.
So, why would a team composed of three players from the EU Masters champion, a former SKT player and a relatively experienced support be last in the rankings? First, several of their players did not look particularly impressive. Werlyb and Dreams have played in the EU LCS before, and while MAD looked great on the EU Masters scene, it might take a fair bit more to succeed on the LEC scene – especially without their star mid laner. Pirean did a fair bit of work on SKT, but he had worked with a different team around him as well, especially since LEC means transitioning to an entirely different region and atmosphere. As for Dreams, he has played in Europe for a while, but a lot of his experience is on academy teams – or the fairly unsuccessful Mysterious Monkeys roster in the summer of 2017. It is a roster with a fair bit of potential, but it has to show it can actually gel together and play well consistently. Coach Sheepy will have a hard time getting this team in the playoffs – and while we’d love for SK to surprise us, any place near or in the playoffs would indeed be a surprise.