The League of Legends European Championship Summer Split has featured some good games, some bad ones, and some ugly – in unexpected ways, as the standings attest. MAD Lions and Rogue lead the standings at 6-1 and 5-2, with SK Gaming, G2 Esports, Misfits Gaming, and Origen trailing at 4-3.
You read that right, SK Gaming, the team that ended the Spring Split at 4-14, have tied their win total and looking dominant enough to make observers forget about their early-year woes.
“It's a bit weird [of a] feeling to be the only one left and with everything changing around you, but I would say I'm coping fine with it.”
Things were not always that way for SK, who finished sixth place in the 2019 Spring Split and came close to qualifying for the playoffs in the Summer Split, but an offseason lineup overhaul put their prospects of LEC contention in jeopardy. From the lineup that SK Gaming assembled before the 2019 Spring Split, AD carry Juš “Crownshot” Marušič is the sole remnant.
“It's actually funny that I am the only player left from last year's Spring Split,” Crownshot said in a recent conversation with Inven Global. “It's a bit weird [of a] feeling to be the only one left and with everything changing around you, but I would say I'm coping fine with it.”
In truth, the 2020 season went beyond that: alongside Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek and Tim “Nemesis” Lipovsek, the trio were the core of the 2018 MAD Lions squad that dominated the European Masters circuit that season. Nemesis left for Fnatic in 2019, with Selfmade following suit in 2020 after a season filled with ups and downs.
Both players justified the hype surrounding them before they joined the LEC, with many regarding them as the strongest Jungle-Mid duo outside of the professional circuit at the time, with Crownshot agreeing that they indeed were, ‘by far.’ But unnoticed to many he stood, making waves of his own as an AD carry, be it in lane or during team fights. Those who noticed knew what he could do, but it has not fully caught on across the board.
“I would say I was in their shadow in 2018,” Crownshot said. “I did enjoy playing with them, but I want to prove myself alone, without them, that I am a top-tier player. I believe I can be top-tier.”
Showcasing elite play is one thing; displaying it despite roster changes galore is another – especially when they happen every single split. SK promoted top laner Toni “Sacre” Sabalic to the main lineup before the 2019 Summer Split, promoted then-mid laner Janik “Jenax” Bartels mid-split – a move that pushed them into playoff contention –, signed jungle veteran Kim “Trick” Gang-yun and support rookie Dino “LIMIT” Tot before their 2020 campaign started, only to perform three more changes before the start of the Summer Split.
“Everything changes around me pretty much every split, so it's kind of hard to find consistency in rosters and relationships, but I would say I'm doing fine so far,” Crownshot said.
This year’s Spring Split fell short of being qualified as a disaster – but it cannot be called so. The players weathered the storm of losses and showed signs of life on the final week with a 2-0 showing, beating the playoff-bound Rogue and seventh-place Excel Esports.
“We tried to keep working hard and get as many wins as we can,” Crownshot said. “The last weeks probably helped us, because it showed us that we are good enough to take games off teams, and it probably helped us in the summer. We saw what style works for us.”
Following that realization, SK tweaked their playstyle to focus on their strengths. In came mid laner Dirk “ZaZee” Mallner from the academy, with Jenax sliding to the top lane role —one where he is flourishing. To complete the moves, Lamine Lounis “Kanani” Khouani took on a strategic coaching role, with former Misfits Gaming head coach Jesse “Jesiz” Le taking over head coaching duties.
Jenax’s positional swap came with expected consequences, considering his strength at champions frequently seen in the top lane (e.g. Aatrox and Sett) and his team fighting power. But Jesiz’s arrival was the X-factor: what he, a winner of a few EU Masters tournaments as a player and as a coach, and a World Championship quarterfinalist in 2017 on Fnatic, brought to the table could bolster SK Gaming’s chances at playoff contention.
It might be too early to tell, but it is working in the short term. And it is no accident: his overarching knowledge of the game has resonated within the team, particularly with Crownshot, who revealed the main component behind it: a focus on individual performance.
“A lot of coaches just say: 'you need to communicate well,' you need to be good friends, or 'you need to be good as a team and you need to do this,' but I think individual performance is the number one factor in good teams,” Crownshot said. “If your players are good, everything else is easier. If you lane well and teamfight well, everything else comes easier.”
“When I talked to [Jesiz] and saw his vision about the game, I saw that he's legit, you know?” he added. “Taking responsibility for wins instead of dodging them off on 'communication and this and this' is important. That's the way to contest top teams: you take responsibility for yourself and try to play the best you can. You need good individual performances first and foremost, in my opinion.”
With enough wins under their belt, SK Gaming could set their eyes on a playoff berth that has eluded them in back-to-back splits. More importantly, after Riot Games announced that four LEC teams would qualify for the World Championship (instead of three in the previous years), Crownshot has that event squarely on their sights.
“I really want to play against international bot laners,” he said regarding his personal aspirations should that happen, before adding: “It's a big opportunity for EU now, for us and for a lot of teams. There are four spots in EU now. I don't want to waste this opportunity.”
But it has to start in the regular season. So far, so good: SK are in the thick of the playoff hunt after a 4-3 start where they scored wins against Origen, Misfits, Schalke 04 and G2 Esports. And it falls upon the players to perform individually, as seen through Jenax’s Volibear dominant performance against Misfits, or through Crownshot’s steady string of solid showings with a 5.8 KDA ratio across seven games.
“As long as I focus on myself first and make sure that I play well, other things will be fine as well,” Crownshot said. “I didn't feel that way in spring; I felt we had a lot of team issues. Now, it's just more solid, so I can focus more on myself, which is a nice feeling.”
“I just want to show people that I am top-tier, and that Limit and I are top-tier as a bot lane,” he added, before concluding: “I would like to thank the fans as well. I will keep working hard to prove what I want to prove.”
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