With the 2014 season fast approaching, Riot Games took it upon themselves to fill the gap between top tier challenger league teams and the League of Legends Championship Series. With a sponsorship with Coke Zero they decided to create the Challenger Series, which serves the purpose of creating a clear point of entry into the LCS (instead of the regular tournament when one bad BO1 can send you home, a teams performance in the series will greatly help them make it to the promotion tournament) while also providing exposure to a lot of lesser known teams. Alongside this, competing teams will obtain a lot of experience in high level play, developing more strategies, as well as getting some much needed LAN experience.
To get into the 2014 Challenger Series, teams have to climb the ranked 5v5 ladder all the way to the top 20(NA) or top 10(EUW and EUNE). This will guarantee entry into the “play in stage” where they fight for one of the 5 slots in the LCS.
Three teams per region that failed to qualify for the LCS in the recent promotional tournament have been granted automatic entry into the Challenger Series, Ninjas in Pyjamas, SUPA HOT CREW XD and MeetYourMakers. However on the 9th of January, Riot Games announced that the Lemondogs organisation had failed to submit a roster for the LCS, and the three aforementioned teams will be fighting for their slot. With 2 teams from promotion tournament and 5 teams from the play in stage entering the Challenger Series, it leaves one spare place in the Series. At time of writing Riot Games have not announced their intentions for this slot.
The top teams from each region have been placed into the following brackets for the ‘play-in stage’
|Group||Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D||Group E|
|1||Cloud 9 Europe||Eternity Gaming||Reason Gaming||OMFGWTFBBQ v2||EYES ON U|
|2||Storm Games Clan||Pulse Esports||Frozenriders e-Sports Club||Gamers2 YO||L0L Lo6ite|
|3||Tick Trick and Duck||5 Deadly Sins||Heavy Botlane||Bleiz||inFerno eSports|
|4||ColliadesPoop||Superteam EU KAPPA||Spinaa Gaming||Unicorns Of Love||RGESC Wind|
(Courtesy of http://lol.gamepedia.com/)
The teams from each bracket will play in a Best of One series, until only one remains, leaving the top 5 to advance into the first challenger series.
This group contains the #1 seed from the EU West server, Cloud9.eu (formerly known as Apples is Sour). With a roster including ex Reason gaming K0u, and former Gambit Gaming support Voidle, they shot to the top of the challenger ladder with a record of 43 wins to only 5 losses.
Simply put, it is hard to believe that they won’t be able to fly through this play in stage with the same determination that they rose the challenger ladder, especially as the number one spot has left them in a group with the 6th EUW seed, and the 5th and 10th EUNE seed.
Voidle has been the focus of many people when they try and point the blame as to why Gambit Gaming were knocked out in the Quarter Finals at the Season 3 World Championships. Yes, mistakes were made, but it is easy to forget that Voidle was also on the team when they secured the 3rd place spot in the playoffs, and made it to worlds, and then got out of group stages, a feat that no NA teams managed.
All of this is before we consider the 2014 season changes to the support role, which have hugely benefited more aggressive, playmaking supports. Lets not forget that Voidle was arguably the most aggressive Sona player ever seen in the EULCS.
Aside from Voidle, there is ex – SUPA HOT CREW XD jungler K0u, who is no longer in the team due to age restrictions (which do not apply to the Challenger Series), Odoamne in the top lane, Febiven in mid and hjämanbakomallt taking the AD Carry Role. All of these players are in the top 15 in Solo Queue, with the exception of Voidle, who has his previous experience in his favour.
Group B is, in my opinion, also going to be won by the Highest Seed, Eternity Gaming. While some of the teams in this group are looking very strong, Eternity Gaming has the advantage of having been together as a single roster since the start of 2013. They have played under the banner of many organisations, including Counter Counter Clockwise, Revolt Gentlemen E-sports Club EUNE and RoughNex, before settling in with Eternity gaming in November of 2013. They have won many tournaments together as a roster, mainly the Go4Lol EUNE regular tournaments, which could provide valuable experience in these group stages.
The botlane of Strategas and Niko3333 have been playing together since the summer of 2012, so they will be looking to use this high level of synergy to break down their lane opponents, while midlaner Tiridus has been a regular appearance at the number one spot in the EUNE Solo queue Ladder. Tiridus’ brother, Mowarth, has played in both the Top and ADC roles before locking in his current Jungler position. In season one he played a very high amount of his games as shaco, but currently seems to favour other high early impact junglers like Lee Sin and Elise. MikeyR is a well known irelia player, who frequently draws bans in Solo Queue, on top of being the author of the highest rated guide for the champion on LolKing.net
Pusle eSports is another recognisable name in this bracket, however the current roster has only been together since last October, and I believe that it is the immense level of experience from Eternity Gaming that will see them win over not only Pulse, but 5 Deadly Sins and Superteam EU KAPPA too.
Once again my pick for group C is the frontrunner in its respective bracket, Reason Gaming (formerly Tricked eSport v2) with the Number 2 spot in the EUW challenger ladder, who were a mere 4 league points behind Cloud9.eu. A relatively new team in terms of the current roster, they still managed to earn their challenger slot with a convincing 46 Win – 16 Loss record. Made up of great individual players, this tournament will be a true test of their teamwork, along with their ability to play under pressure and deal with the targeted picks and bans that come from an event of this importance. While based on scrim performance, their aggressive playstyle is paying off against other top challenger teams, with the synergy between Senux in the Mid lane and Trashy in the Jungle proving to be a devasting force, transitioning them into the mid to late game with at least a few kills under Senux’s belt.
The lower seeded EUW team, Heavy Botlane has been making waves throughout the amatuer scene, with some writers calling them the “dark horse” of the qualifiers, with everything to prove and not much to lose, the young team could pull an upset and take the challenger series slot from the higher seeded teams grasps.
I may be dividing opinion here, but my top pick for this group is the team led by ex-SK captain Ocelote, Gamers2Yo. Ocelote himself was the Midlaner for SK Gaming for 3 years, before stepping down to pursue other prospects. It’s no secret that along with his brand Ocelote World which he has created, he could easily sponsor a team if they reach LCS.
Popular opinion is that Ocelote, especially during season 3, was in decline. However I believe that his admittedly short break from competitive League of Legends along with escaping the pressure of relegation matches has allowed him to bounce back.
The players he has chosen for his challenger team all come with an impressive record. The top laner Jwaow, was a dominant force during his time on TCM, and was also a forerunner for the top lane position on the rumored “EU superteam” from Froggen, which as we know later turned into Alliance.
Over the last few days, Gamers2Yo have been playing with Crazycaps, and while Samux is a good player who stepped in after Chaox failed to get a Visa, they team is looking to try moving forward with Crazycaps taking the marksman role. While listed as a member of the current Lemondogs roster, the current rumours and lack of confidence in the organisation from his teammates have led Crazycaps to pursue other options, and the promising lookng team from Ocelote appears to be a strong team.
Rounding out the team are two more Ex-LCS players, Diuod, formerly of Millenium and against All authority, and Morden, who jungled for GIANTS! Gaming during their showing in the S3 Spring Split.
Easily the closest of all the groups, containing the 3rd and 8th seed out of the Challenger Ladder of the regions. The first team, EYES ON YOU, has been playing as a Ranked 5 team for quite some time, with 290 games played together. So while not competing in many (if any) tournaments, they have built up a good amount of team synergy that could give them the edge in this qualifier.
The lower seeded EUW team, inFerno eSports, has a roster that has been around for a reasonable amount of time, playing the challenger ladder for quite some time, with over 200 games played. While having not entered many tournament type events, they will be looking to prove they have what it takes, and they got placed into a good group to prove themselves.
The EUNE teams are fairly polarizing, with the higher seeded team, Lol6ite, having played nearly 200 games together, while RGESC Wind have a short but very impressive record of 41 Wins – 13 Losses. Both are incredibly strong teams with great showing in the challenger ladder, but I will have to give this one to EYES ON YOU. I believe that their vast experience in playing as a team is the key to performing well, although of all the groups this is the most interesting and closely matched, where any of the four competing teams could easily secure the spot.