Ahead of the League of Legends European Championship’s third week of action, Ivan “Razork” Martin shared that he felt that “everyone besides Schalke” was a playoff-caliber team in the Summer Split. After week 3, it is inarguable: seven teams out of 10 are fighting for four playoff spots – spots that could propel a team to a World Championship qualification under the right circumstances.
Excel Esports’ rookie top laner, Felix “Kryze” Hellström, strongly believes that his team could make it. After a laborious 0-4 skid, Excel steered themselves back into contention as they won four games out of their last five.
“People should look at Excel as a playoff team for sure because I do believe we're going to playoffs,” Kryze said in an interview with Inven Global. “And I strongly believe we're going to Worlds as well if we keep up the performances from the last two weeks.”
Their latest victory against G2 Esports showed the squad’s development across the board, and Kryze’s rising comfort levels as he eases into the LEC’s difficulty levels. After some early-game jungle assistance from Marc “Caedrel” Lamont, Kryze dominated his Quinn versus Sett matchup, ensuring that his teammates could focus on winning the other lanes – with or without his roaming assistance.
Excel’s victories have followed a set pattern: Caedrel rotates around the top lane to snowball Kryze’s lane, or to ensure the top laner’s survival. From there, the situation has generally spiraled out of control of their opponents (in the early game against Schalke 04 on Wukong, and during the late game as Kayle against SK Gaming.
If you had to ask Kryze’s teammates, they might fancy him playing champions that require little attention, much to his dismay. “Everything except Ornn is fine,” he said. “I'm not the biggest Ornn fan, but my team is pressuring me into it.”
“They're trying to transform me into a tank player. Hopefully, I can escape their grasp,” he added in jest. “Honestly, I'm overexaggerating a bit. Mostly, they let me play what I'm comfortable on, and they trust me.”
Although Kryze enjoys a measure of comfort, there is a limit to how much leeway he receives. There is no way that he would get away with playing Tryndamere in a competitive setting, as he did once in the Swedish Esports League in 2019 – not that he would ever suggest it, bar mind-boggling balance changes.
Back then, Kryze’s play in the solo queue environment impressed William “Unforgiven” Nieminen enough to earn him a spot in Östersunds FK Esports, a team that went undefeated in the 2019 Spring Split before it faltered in the Nordic League. In the next split, after an organizational rebranding and roster overhaul, his team – now known as FALKN – qualified to the European Masters.
"I was watching every game of his, he’s my role model. I like his playstyle and champ pool a lot."
“I never thought I would ever go to EU Masters at all,” he said. “It started out with Unforgiven, who asked me to join the Swedish League team, which I thought was for fun, but then it started to actually become serious, because we were winning a lot, and were actually going to EU Masters.”
“It went up from there,” he added. “I went to the German League after competing [at the] Nordic Championship and EU Masters. Then, from the German League, I went straight to LEC. I got very lucky, I think.”
Lucky as Kryze might label himself, he worked hard to reach the LEC within a year and a half from his first competitive start, an exceptionally fast transition in today’s standards. Beyond honing his mechanics in solo queue, he studied footage from the LEC, the North American League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), and South Korea’s League of Champions Korea (LCK). In the latter, he found a role model: DAMWON Gaming’s Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon.
“Last year, I was definitely watching Nuguri the most,” Kryze said. “I was watching every game of his, he’s my role model. I like his playstyle and champ pool a lot. He plays stuff like Vladimir and Jayce, and I really like to play those champs.”
Despite his hard work, Kryze did not envision himself qualifying to the European Masters in the 2019 Summer Split, much less joining Excel Esports, a LEC team, one year later as he saw the LEC as a possibility after another year of regional league play.
“Usually, I underestimate myself a lot,” he said. “That's something I've had trouble with, and I'm not sure I am the right person to say [whether] we deserved it or not.”
If Excel’s performances are any indication, Kryze is more than alright, with some of it to be attributed to his play. But it would be unwise to overlook the organization’s part in it, as his transition from home in Sweden to a gaming house has been seamless.
The top laner has enjoyed the ease of access to his teammates, a huge leap from talking to regional league teammates during scrims and games – and only during those times. Just as importantly, under the supervision of head of performance Fabian Broich, his performance has improved.
“I think [Fabian] is a really nice guy,” Kryze said of Broich. “He helps us with our bedtimes, that we eat the right stuff, and that we feel well and healthy overall. He has a lot of impact on our performances."
“It's completely different from living home because you actually have someone looking over you to make sure that you […] do what you should do,” he added.
“We did not deserve to go 0-4 at the start, and we've proved that a bit: we're 4-5, won four out of our last five games, so that feels pretty good.”
Despite that, Excel started the season on a 0-4 losing streak, which observers saw as a sign of their weakness. On one hand, their schedule did not help: MAD Lions, Rogue, Origen and Fnatic spared no quarter on their first encounter. But they did their part in recovering from those setbacks.
“We did not deserve to go 0-4 at the start, and we've proved that a bit: we're 4-5, won four out of our last five games, so that feels pretty good,” Kryze said.
But an oft-overlooked aspect is that the organization is fielding a different squad in the Summer Split, with roster changes in the solo lanes as he and mid laner Joran “Special” Scheffer have joined over Ki “Expect” Dae-han and Son “Mickey” Young-min. Although the language barrier is gone, the players lack experience playing with one another.
“We're still learning a few things,” Kryze said. “We need to know each other a bit better to see how the other person plays, but I think we're starting to figure that out. Our teamwork is getting way better.”
As synergy improves, so do Excel’s prospects throughout the Summer Season. Should they keep their momentum, they might hand their organization its first LEC playoff appearance since the league entered the franchising era. But then…
“Hopefully we can go further than playoffs,” he concluded, alluding at the possibility of Worlds qualification.