Right before the first match in Leicester, Michael “Veteran” Archer joined us to talk about the European Masters.
Head coach of H2k-Gaming shared his thoughts on the importance of national leagues for the growth of the region, recognizing and developing the young players, and becoming a fan of Illuminar before they even qualified for the semi-final.
Vie: I know ahead of the EU Masters you were quite familiar with the UK scene. But how about the other regions? Did you know what to expect from them?
Veteran: I was by far more familiar with the French and Spanish scenes than I was with the UK scene. I very sparingly watched the UK scene, and the majority of my experience with it comes from playoffs — otherwise it was sparse games of Misfits Academy vs. top UK teams. The French and Spanish scenes are by far the most effective at attracting young talent in Europe and received the majority of my attention accordingly. most of my top players to watch come from these regions.
Between the two I’d say I was the most familiar with the French scene. It’s divided into neat tournaments that are easy for me to slot into my schedule and catch up on, while the Spanish LVP is a lot harder to follow when you’re scrimming until midnight some days. I’d often have it on and only catch the last game or so if I’m lucky, but if there was a player I wanted more detail on then I’d make a concerted effort to catch up on his game – keeping up with the Spanish league becomes a necessity if you have a vested interest in the rising talent of Europe and the raw talent on display makes it worth anyone’s while. ESL Meisterschaft is also somewhat easier to follow. Watching them back in 2016 H2K was a fond memory so I still check back though it has dwindled – I used to watch a lot more of them while I was in Schalke relative to now, owing in some part to scheduling changes on my end and in others to the fact that LVP has consolidated a lot of the players I was watching there. I definitely catch their playoffs still.
Vie: exceL secured a Top8 finish for the UK. Is that a solid enough result for the underperforming region? Could you see it having an impact on the future of the UK scene?
Veteran: No region will say anything less than top 4 is ‘solid enough’ I’d hope. If the question is concerning the UK scene specifically then I’d be worried that a roster like Excel’s made it further in such a big event relative to Misfits Academy. This is not a slight against the players, they have a lot to be proud of and I’m glad they took their chance and ran with it. This isn’t going to be a slight against the soft import regulations of the European National Leagues — I think the fact that there are little to no restrictions in that regard is what has allowed the National League scene to function as such a bright starting point for future European player development. The North American Collegiate scene by its very intrinsic nature simply cannot replicate an underbelly in America like we have in Europe and it is (I hope) part of the reason why Riot were pushing that State-oriented tournament earlier in the year.
My issue is that org owners are typically not as well informed as people would wish to believe and I worry to a large extent that they will be led to blanket under-prioritise UK players relative to potential imported ones. Once you have that type of blanket ideology in one National League then it becomes a fairly doomed one. I hope I’m wrong and Excel’s example isn’t used to un-even the playing field against players from a country there, since the diversity in players is where the strength of the National League system arises and there are some strong UK players that shouldn’t suddenly find themselves discriminated against. There are some very hands-on owners, and that is not necessarily always a good thing, and I hope that they are surrounded by people who will keep them and each other objective about pick-ups in the future.
Vie: There were quite a few teams that really showed up this tournament. Could you say you were impressed by any of them? Any teams you thought would make the Top 4, but didn’t?
Veteran: MAD Lions and KlikTech were the only teams that looked to come in with a specific game plan at each stage of the game. MAD Lions simply came in with a wealth more experience about how to execute each stage of theirs vs. varying troubles. I wouldn’t say Kliktech were exposed, they were more learning. I was positively impressed by the adaptation they made to revert back to tempo junglers after their stints on Sejuani/Zac picks, since it meant they learned a lot more about how their team was actually functioning optimally and I wish we could see them go further in a different EU Masters – it seems very unlikely that they will stay together now the roster has been released. Likely LVP bound.
As for impressed, Illuminar look like a different team every series they play. I’m rarely one to heap praise onto specific coaches over players — in the end of the day, it is the players’ understanding that will win the game even if the coach guided them or taught them properly and it should be paramount that that is recognized — but Veggie amazes me in his ability to figure out how to make his group of 5 work together effectively over time. His teams do not come out with a defined style, they more come out clearly understanding their own strengths and weaknesses in a very short span of time and it happens consistently.
Reason Gaming should not have gone as far as they did either but they did, and KMT were the original upsets. That being his drafts basically focus all their strength onto purely Icebeasto and their map play with the pressure Icebeasto creates with a de-facto numbers advantage around baron from his manipulation of botside has won them many a mid-game. Sebekx has shown a lot of strengths as well, so for me this is a team that built around the strengths of their solo laners and have gradually found ways for their weaker counterparts to be useful around what they bring. I’ll reiterate that this is not the same team they were in groups. They aren’t even the same team they were in the RO12. I don’t know what team they’ll be by the time the semi finals start, so I’m probably more excited to see them in action than anyone else at this point.
Vie: How well would you say the top teams in the European Masters would fair against the LCS level teams? How big is the gap between the two leagues?
Veteran: MAD Lions could make waves. They’re the most complete roster out of all the remaining teams, and they have the fundamentals of the game down. I definitely see in them a few things that the lower end of the table doesn’t quite have down yet, particularly in terms of mid/jungle. That being said they evidently haven’t been challenged on a few things and even the way their mid/jungle play is not optimised at a certain point in the game. I hesitate to go into specifics on weaknesses about teams that are still in play for obvious reasons so I think I’ll leave it at that.
Vie: What about the individual players? Did anyone catch your eye? Anyone you saw and thought “I would love to have this guy on my team”?
Veteran: So I already knew about Milica from Schalke where we had Nikolai as a sub and he was able to identify this Cassiopeia that was completely 1v9ing a random solo queue game for me. I have been watching Selfmademan, Nemesis, Larssen, Crownie, Tynx, neon, Toaster, Satorius, Phaxi, Prosfair for a while so I’ll name some that surprised me specifically this tournament that haven’t got the coverage these guys have.
I swear every time NiP won a group stage game it was because Blomster Finn was smurfing. This guy was winning matchups you shouldn’t win – which is standard for National League let’s be real – but literally all I watched this guy in solo queue for was his Kled where he essentially one-tricks it but he was making impressive calls with his pressure with champions like Sion, outright destroying the map on Gnar, and generally seemed to have a good system in mind for how to play mid-late while his supposedly more experienced teammates were becoming utterly dependent on him. Larsenn had good performances and Smiley had his game to shine but Blomster has done some very impressive things on a consistent basis this tournament and I think that needs to be said. I want a replay of that Gnar/Sion matchup, no idea what he was doing to that guy but it should be illegal.
Jejky from Esuba was pathing exceptionally intelligently. He seemed to be very good at tracking where he should be relative to where the enemy jungler was, which is a hard thing to instill in even some LCS junglers. Not much has been said of Esuba since they bombed out so early but Jejky started becoming a seriously interesting player to watch, I felt like he had a very well studied view of the game as a jungler and was hoping to see a lot more from him further into the tournament. It’s a shame we never got there. I still now feel like if he was picked up by even an LCS level team he would be far from a crutch and you’d be surprised at how little you’d necessarily have to teach him.
Aesthetic [from Team Atlantis] by a similar degree was winning every jungle matchup, it seemed like a nightmare to play against this kid and he was putting on a 1v9 show. He seemed to be very efficient in his approach to the early jungle which is everything, but more so he seemed to have a great sense of where enemy players would be in an isolated scenario later in the game – basically, he was just very good at setting up picks to snowball mid-late game. I’m not too worried about this guy since his performance did make waves among a lot of National League players which is more or less what you need to do to get a job.
Vie: Some of these young players have insane macro, but they might be lacking in any other aspect. Do you believe the regional leagues, where the level of teams can vary tremendously, is the best environment for these players to grow?
Veteran: I think such an extensive system of leagues and tournaments is the absolute best thing these players can have to develop in. I think a culmination in the form of something like the EU Masters is the best next step to it. It doesn’t just work as a competitive next level but as a showcase that these players can be striving to impress in while they are practicing in their National Leagues. Something that these players need to get used to is pressure. All too often you’ll find players going from online Challenger Series to offline LCS or even offline CS Playoffs and it’s day and night. I know how the players competing at multiple LAN events per split in, say, the French scene will react to audiences of varying size. There will still be differences, but the players are allowed to work on their reaction to these pressures particularly since dividing the regions by Nation is a sure fire way to gather an audience in said regions.
Vie: That being said, there is a certain level of risk involved for any team looking to pick up an unproven talent, there’s this notion that they’ll get “exposed” against an opponent who actually knows what they’re doing. Do the EU Masters provide the right environment to ease those concerns? Or does it still look like a children’s playground looking down from the LCS?
Veteran: Again, I think the big distinction is online to offline. I wish the EU Masters had been offline from RO8 rather than Semi Finals, since if this is going to be the big showcase of potential LCS-worthy talent then you really do need to show them performing in an offline environment. Maybe even earlier than that if Riot can do so, since if they want this tournament to function in a showcase-like manner as it pertains to LCS then it should ideally be as offline as possible.
Vie: What did you think of the European Masters in general? Is it a step forward from the old Challenger system?
Veteran: I think the consolidation of the National Leagues as the direct underbelly for the LCS is much more positive than Challenger Series. It allows development of players and organizations on a far grander scale un-restricted by the team limit of CS. Each of these National Leagues have divisions below, you’re seeing sub-Master tier players be given a foot in the door to see if competitive play and the scrim environment are really things that work well with their ambitions. The very existence of these Leagues has done so much for Europe already and to see them become the mainstay and the fruits of their existence given a main stage in the form of the EU Masters is one of the best decisions I have ever seen Riot do for this region and it should be applauded.
Vie: And Riot talked about it a lot, too — the future of the region and helping grow the next generation of players. Do you believe EUM is the best way to do that?
Veteran: If Riot are serious about growing the future generation of talent then the support they have given to the fruits of the National League’s existence should be representative of how they focus on Europe in the future. This is not an arbitrary league run by Riot that becomes the de-facto step below LCS just because. It is a recognition of the organic growth of the scene from the people that will eventually make us a top region, and I believe that that organic growth is a fire to be kindled — not something to be consolidated, changed, standardized (particularly relative to NA) or any such thing. Let it be and trust the market.
If Riot simply look into how to expose the great work that is already developing rather than just go for control for the sake of control, then I will take their statement seriously and support them every step of the way.