The EU LCS goes to its finals series this weekend filling up the Palacio Vistalegre in Madrid. Everybody is hyped for the third place decider Vitality and to find out who is the current best mid laner in Europe, Nukeduck or Caps as they will face each other in the Finals on Sunday.
As an unexpected outcome of this past split, we’ve seen Schalke 04 rise to the top and qualify for the finals where they will face the favorites Fnatic.
During the summer split many teams struggled due to the unforeseen meta changes, some teams like Misfits would fight their way through with their old ways, teams like Fnatic would swap out their ad carry and play with their substitute in the starting roster or like Schalke and Vitality the team would just adapt to the situation. As the split progresses and the meta shifted back to a more familiar AD Carry and tank-oriented meta, Rekkles, and other ad carries took back the spotlight to them. However while ad carries weren’t in the spotlight two mid laners that stood out of the rest and took the spotlight to them, Schalke’s Nukeduck and Fnatic’s Caps.
Who is the best mid laner: Caps vs Nukeduck
The matchup everybody is looking for this weekend, is the matchup between two players, with similar styles and being constant carries for their teams this split, the matchup of Caps vs. Nukeduck. It is the new era of our classic western mid lane clash of Alex Ich, Froggen, Ocelote and xPeke. In the early days of the competitive League of Legends, all the community would talk about would get hyped about was the mid lane matchup. In the past years, we’ve seen some amazing mid laners play in Europe like caps, Perkz, Febiven and Power of Evil. However most of them never really got the superstar status like the legends mentioned above. They were great nonetheless but some of them only were recognized recently as the great players they are or only after leaving the EU LCS to play in North America.
Nukeduck is not a rookie at this point, he has been playing for many years already and has been known as an impressive individual player since the early days at Sinners Never Sleep and Lemon Dogs. While Caps is a fairly new discovered talent, only starting to play in LCS for the 2017 season after surprising everyone with his talent at TCL playing for Dark Passage. The interesting part is that both surprised everyone with their outplays and individual skill. With assassin type champions like Leblanc or Zed, both would showcase their individual skills as their ability to put on the carry pants and carry their team to a win.
As a matter of fact, Nukeduck has been known for years as one of the best mid laners in Europe, despite not being able to bring his fame from scrims to the European stage until this split he has been called out by a lot of players in interview for being one of the best in scrims but often not nearly as good on stage as in scrims. It also may play a factor that Schalke understands how to play around Nukeduck better than many of the other teams that he played previously. Adding the aspect that the meta this summer split played into his strengths definitely had a major role in his success, but even more his ability to carry.
While Schalke adapted to a playstyle around Nukeduck, giving the bot lane the safe matchups prioritizing a lot of Swain and Ezreal they would give Nukeduck always his comfort zone. Getting him on his beloved Leblanc, Irelia or his scaling comfort picks in Cassiopeia and Ryze. Schalke will then often favor the better and safe 2v2 matchups in Jungle and mid lane synergy so he is either able to farm or snowball through early game skirmishes.
Schalke shown very comfortable in two situations during their semifinals, either to setup Nukeduck for late game team fights or stick to their comfort zone set him up for roams and side lane pressure. Then Schalke proved in their semifinals as long as they are able to play to their strategies they will find a way to set Nukeduck up to success. He is the primary carry being lead by his teammates. As seen multiple times this split the Norwegian mid laner is capable of deciding team fights and games in crucial situations.
Fnatic thinks similar in their overall strategy. They can play around caps and often will do it so, for example when Caps calls to play Vayne mid lane because he thinks it is the right pick to play against Misfits draft, they will trust in his decision. Not only will Fnatic set him properly on whatever he plays in his wide range of champions of his champion pool. Caps has also been performing constantly on basically anything he ends up playing from ad carries, assassin's to ap mid laners he has been doing his job properly and plays you can not describe in words. The impressive aspect is that when he does something completely absurd, he takes it to another level on the next game deciding the match with that certain play. It is an understatement of his carry value to Fnatic throughout the split as he adapted well to the meta and was their backbone when certain decisions didn’t go as planned.
The interesting aspect is that Fnatic is very good at team fighting so they often focus on that and set up a variety of combinations for Caps or Rekkles to succeed depending on their strategy. Since Rekkles comeback to the lineup, their focus has been far more on tanky top laners and junglers leading up hyper carry compositions around Rekkles or double carry compositions around Caps and Rekkles.
To understand the matchup further, there is a need to understand both Junglers in the matchup.
Key to success: Amazing vs Broxah
Both junglers play a major role in the success of both teams. While Broxah is a more support oriented jungler, Amazing is the leader and primary playmaker for Schalke. If you give amazing an opportunity to get a lead, to punish a mistake he will do it right away. For example in the series against Vitality, as soon as Cabochard would do a mistake top lane and there would be an opening to grab an advantage bot lane Amazing would set it up right away.
Free the pressure from the bot lane as soon and safe as possible then refocus on playing around Nukeduck. In the meantime Broxah almost solely focuses on zone control and counter ganking, his main priorities lie in hindering the enemy jungler to have success while his team scales up. This difference in style between both junglers is based on their main strategies as a team. Fnatic plays more late game teamfight oriented and Schalke focuses on fights in the early to mid game. The transition to mid game will be the most contested point in the game, because this is when the games are usually decided in Schalke’s games. They are super strong and almost flawless when ahead but showed struggles in their playoffs series when behind. Often times the shot-calling wouldn’t be 100% on point or simply they will lack the ability to stall out games due to their compositions. By playing Ezreal ad carry and picks like Leblanc in mid often lead to a lack of waveclear making it difficult for them to hold sieges and scale the games out. So they depend on their sidelane play.
So for Schalke to be as successful as they were against Vitality they will need Fnatic to make Mistakes to play like they use to do. Fnatic definitely does some mistakes too, for example in their loss against Misfits in the semi-finals where they did some very questionable decisions early game against a draft that had to succeed in the early game, feeding Hans Sama Kalista three kills early on, making the draft situation almost unimportant as the Kalista became so strong early on. Anyhow, this is not normal for Fnatic to do.
So in order for Schalke to be able to break the matchup, Amazing will have to break Broxah’s controlling early game. With that Schalke will need to either outperform Fnatic’s members in lane, pick at least two winning matchups or simply be more aggressive in the early game to force mistakes, which is not very easy against Fnatic when they play a very comfortable and safe style.
Which leads back to mid lane matchup as the 2v2 Jungle and mid lane matchup will be their focus so, taking away Ezreal and Varus in the pick and ban phase will make things interesting as Schalke won’t be able to go for the comfort safe laning in the bottom lane, which caused some difficulties in their overall game plan against Vitality, while they will also have to deal with Rekkles Tristana in the ban phase. With that Schalke will have to start thinking outside of the box when it comes to playing bot lane champions, buying losing lane matchups that scale in order to have priority midlane.
Making Ashe, Sivir and Jhin highly prioritized picks if they want to continue a more supportive style in the bot lane. Or as options leading to a high priority on the Xayah Rakan bot lane as it is extremely safe or it will force Upset onto picking Jinx and scaling up to take on Fnatic’s team fighting. So when the options might not seem as safe for Nukeduck, they could look into a Malzahar, Jinx and Tahm Kench setup and be as effective in the early to mid game. This composition would benefit their early focus, safe lane match ups and also a very good first item spike with Malzahar being able to make plays. Which will lead to one player having to step it up in the series, Upset.
While Amazing and Nukeduck might have been most prominent carries for Schalke, one of their players has been overlooked for a good part of the split as he often stands in the back and has not been the one getting the star credit. Upset has been Schalke’s main DPS during the whole season as the only one with a share of over 30% of the team's whole damage.
That’s why he was elected for the ADC of the split, despite most of the community expecting Misfit’s Hans Sama, while Misfits played around Hans Sama as their primary carry, Upset had to be successful without getting that much attention from his team. The priority of Schalke is just to give the safe bot lane to Vander and Upset since all they want is for Upset to farm and Vander be able to either roam or affect the map with his Shen support play. Despite all the losing matchups having to lose farm to benefit the team’s strategy Upset still managed to constantly provide that late game damage output his team needs from him. Making the matchup against Rekkles even more interesting, because both follow a very similar style of play. Farm, Scale and carry later.
According to my twitter followers, Fnatic is set to win, however, there is a chance for an upset in Madrid and an important one. As it is the first Football Club to reach a Finals in one major league of legends region. As we know there have been enough rumors of other clubs being interested or at least taking a look into investing in Esports. So Schalke 04 could write history and bring European League of Legends and the European Esports culture by winning the finals in Madrid to a new level. But for that to be possible they will have to break the Fnatic code, find a way to force mistakes and set up their win condition. It’s far from impossible but Fnatic seems to be on the stronger side in this finals.