Even with the League of Legends offseason still underway, the landscape of teams in the LEC’s 2022 season looks completely different. Even as some European talents have chosen to compete in the LCS, several LEC lineups look promising. There’s been hype surrounding the reported lineups of teams like Fnatic, G2 Esports, and Team Vitality — all of them considered early favorites to win the LEC. Lost in that hype, though, is the reigning European champions: MAD Lions.
It makes sense. After a pretty disappointing finish at Worlds and an unnecessary Twitter debacle, MAD doesn’t really have the public’s favor. And while other teams have been signing big-name players, the only moves MAD has made have been dropping Marek "Humanoid" Brázda and Matyáš "Carzzy" Orság — two of their strongest players — in favor of some unproven rookies. This seemingly downgraded team has left many fans to conclude that MAD Lions may be out of title contention, and possibly out of the picture for Worlds. However, looking at the new talent Fnatic have brought on, the strong core still with the team, and the excellent infrastructure MAD has, it’s clear MAD Lions may not only be a contender, but perhaps a favorite for winning the LEC.
MAD retains the best coaching staff in the western world.
The big worry for MAD is how they’ll fare without two of their calling cards. Over time, Carzzy proved to be one of the best bot laners in Europe, whose aggressive style made him an excellent damage dealer and teamfight threat for the roster. Humanoid — a member of MAD since the Splyce days — was arguably the best player on the team, the main carry, as well as the biggest veteran presence. Without these two pieces, replaced by two rookies, how good of shape is MAD left in?
Let’s look at the most realistic worst-case scenario. Imagine that the two replacements are the most mediocre, potential-barren prospects alive, contending with the swill on EXCEL or Astralis. Would MAD be doomed? Possibly, but more likely they’d still have a solid team. They’d still have a strong early-mid game with Norman "Kaiser" Kaiser and Javier "Elyoya" Prades in tow. The latter is still only in his second LEC year, and will have more opportunities to grow into one of the best junglers in the world. And MAD’s propensity to focus topside will not be a problem with İrfan "Armut" Tükek on their side.
Even more, MAD retains the best coaching staff in the western world. They didn’t just retain their award-winning coach James "Mac" MacCormack. They kept more than the strategic brilliance of Christophe "Kaas" van Oudheusden. MAD kept the whole enchilada — every member of their coaching staff ready to task again. While teams like Vitality and G2 are scrambling to create a serviceable support system, MAD have a proven weapon even more finely honed.
That’s all considering the worst, though. Let’s look at what MAD most likely has.
Not rebuilding, but reloading
Humanoid’s spot will be filled by Steven "Reeker" Chen. No one is causing a fuss over this choice. Reeker has everything a team could want from a young prospect. He finished 2021 arguably the best mid-laner in the ERL, who seemed held back by the lack of firepower on BIG. Though his playstyle is different from Humanoid, he already shows excellent synergy with junglers, and his heavy-roaming style seems destined to pair nicely with the playmaking of Elyoya and carry-potential of İrfan "Armut" Tükek.
Joining the LEC as a rookie is always terrifying but there isn’t a better situation than playing with MAD right now.
And according to Evil Geniuses Head Coach Peter Dun, Reeker is “a really good team mate as well from what I hear, and easy to coach.” This is the ideal type of clay you want to put in Mac’s hands. While there may be some growing pains to begin with, it looks like a slam dunk prospect.
Replacing Carzzy is William "UNF0RGIVEN" Nieminen. This was the move that puzzled many fans, especially when Martin "Rekkles" Larsson was available. UNF0RGIVEN wasn’t the best AD carry in ERL, but obviously has great potential considering his talent in solo queue, and he has reportedly paired very well with Kaiser in tryouts. While there are more question marks surrounding him, he’s certainly in the right place to grow.
Joining the LEC as a rookie is always terrifying but there isn’t a better situation than playing with MAD right now. As mentioned before, MAD have shown success in playing topside, so UNF0RGIVEN and Reeker don’t need to immediately step it up for them to win games. There are few better support players to guide a young marksman than Kaiser — he’s experienced, a great communicator, and has shown the ability to pick up any slack. While Reeker many times played to the level of his team, he’ll now have the luxury of playing with a jungler that can consistently get ahead, while also having a very competent top laner he can roam to make plays.
They're like the San Antonio Spurs of the LEC.
It's not like MAD's rookies have straight dropped into the meatgrinder either: it's every other team is going to be struggling too. Judging from what we know in reports, almost all the other predicted top teams will have new lineups with new coaching staffs to boot, lineups that have mixed other rookies with players brought back from cozy LCS gigs. UNF0RGIVEN and Reeker aren’t going up against well-oiled machines, so they’ll have more opportunity to bloom later if they need to.
And once again, MAD’s coaching staff is fantastic. In three years, they have taken half a dozen prospects from the ERLs and turned them into at the very least LEC players, and at most some of the best in the west. They have the exact same system, a core of talented players that have bought into that system, and have been careful in selecting players willing to be coached. They're like the San Antonio Spurs of the LEC.
Trust the process
MAD should be fine going into 2022, but there will be some big adjustments. It’s good that Reeker is seen as the more promising player of the two, as Humanoid was a big part of the team, meaning he’ll have to carry his weight faster than perhaps UNF0RGIVEN. Though some of it probably had to do with his team circumstances, he also needs to capitalize on winning situations more so than he has shown in his time in the LEC. Additionally, MAD needs to develop more versatility as a team. Focusing Armut may work for a while, but without other playstyles they could end up one-dimensional and be easy for teams to beat.
Yes, MAD probably won’t be immediately as successful as they were last split. The losses of Humanoid and Carzzy are major setbacks. However, they have the foundation, the prospects, and the right environment to once again be one of the strongest teams in Europe. They’ve done it time and time again, they can do it once more. Keep Calm and Carry On.
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