How EXCEL finally broke LEC playoff curse
We caught up with AD Carry Patrik ‘Patrik’ Jírů and assistant coach Yi Wei ‘Nelson’ Sng to talk EXCEL’s historic spring split, and their hopes for the org’s first-ever playoffs.
EXCEL’s inability to make playoffs has been a running joke since their entry into the LEC in 2019. Multiple roster changes, coaching swaps, and even a rebranded logo have been unable to lift their LEC curse, and they remained the only organization in Europe to have not made playoffs.
That was until March 5, when XL finally made it beyond the regular season.
They secured the spot with a dominant victory versus SK Gaming, heading into playoffs as the fifth seed. They even managed to secure a higher seeding than supposed EU superteam Vitality, who they’ll face in the opening round of the playoffs.
How did we get here?
For AD Carry Patrik ‘Patrik’ Jírů, the playoff hopes started materializing for the team the first time they were able to take down Vitality.
“I think, when we played Vitality the first time and we won that game, that was when I started thinking we’d make the playoffs. I considered them a really good team.”
Despite Vitality’s downturn in performance towards the end of the split, Patrik is not convinced that Excel’s opening match against Vitality will be a free victory.
“I think we’ll have to wait and see what they look like in playoffs,” he explained. “Because the break is three weeks, and three weeks of practice can really change a team.”
But how much have those three weeks of practice changed EXCEL? According to assistant coach Nelson Sng, the team has been focused on “refining what we already have”, rather than trying to drastically change their style in a three-week window.
“We need to learn how to play to ourselves, and our own strengths. I think, coming into playoffs, if we draft the way we drafted throughout the split, the most important thing for us is making sure we don’t get punished in the early game.”
The Mikyx effect
The announcement that support Mihael ‘Mikyx’ Mehle would be joining the team in week 2 of the LEC was one of the most controversial moves of the split.
Fans were quick to criticize EXCEL for their handling of the situation, with former support Henk ‘Advienne’ Reijenga expressing his dissatisfaction with EXCEL’s choice to bench him.
However, it quickly became clear why the team had picked up the former MSI Champion and five-time LEC titleholder. Although EXCEL are still by no means a perfect team, they’re leaps and bounds ahead of anything we’d seen from them in previous years. And while Mikyx is not entirely responsible for this change, he’s undoubtedly been a big part of it.
When EXCEL announced Mikyx would be joining the team, they highlighted how his experience and multiple domestic titles would bring a new level of confidence to the team.
While Nelson asserted that the concept of a “winners mentality” is more of a meme than a tangible boost for the team, Patrik claimed that Mikyx’s confidence had had a tangible impact on the roster.
“I think a player like Miky with some titles on his belt is way more confident than the average player, and I feel like that spreads to the rest of the team. It was a nice change for us.”
But the Miky deal might never have been achieved if not for Nelson, who worked with the player during his stint as G2 Esports’ strategic coach in 2021. “I think if I wasn’t in EXCEL, then Mikyx wouldn’t be in Excel either,” he explained, highlighting how Mikyx had been a “quick fix” for the glaring issues in Excel’s gameplay.
“Coming into Excel, I watched their games and I felt that this was a team that just couldn’t teamfight well at all. And we had to make a change. Somehow we managed to lose in the first two weeks when we had what I would say were better team comps, but we just couldn’t execute the fight.”
“I had to find a quick fix, and I think then Mickey was the best option.”
What to expect
Excel are in uncharted territory from this point forward. Although multiple members of their roster and coaching staff have made playoffs before, and a couple even have domestic titles under their belts, this roster is completely untested in a best-of-five format.
They’re not worried, though. Patrik and Nelson agree that a top-three finish is entirely doable for the team, but they’re a little more hesitant to dream of a finals spot.
“I think making top three is pretty reasonable for us for right now,” Patrik explained, “but maybe we can go even further.” Nelson echoed this sentiment, explaining that the team felt confident with their opening matchups of the playoffs after having beaten Vitality twice in the regular season.
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But Patrik has always been hopeful about EXCEL’s playoff chances, even after so many years of near misses.
“Every split I play, I like to think that I will make the playoffs, then if the team is doing well, I like to think that I will win the split. Of course, that doesn’t usually happen, but I think I have high ambitions when the split starts.”
Whatever happens, it’s a historic moment for EXCEL
And finally, those high ambitions are being realized. Patrik is the longest-standing member of EXCEL’s current roster, with almost three years on the team. His dedication to the org has often looked foolish from an outside perspective, but he has never been one to dwell on the org’s less-than-stellar past performances.
“I didn’t look too much into the past with this team, because every split we’ve had a different roster. There’s not a single player remaining from those rosters. So it wasn’t a big deal for me to stay this year- I thought EXCEL’s roster was the best offer I had, including some overseas options.”
And now, his loyalty has been (somewhat) rewarded. Based on recent history, Excel even look like favorites heading into their first playoff matchup. They’ll face off against Vitality on March 27, for their first-ever best-of-five series.