When considering the League of Legends European Championship this year, there are at least three different tiers that shape up.
The first is made up of teams that are AT MINIMUM looking to return to Worlds: G2, Fnatic, in you go. Then there’s the second tier, the rush for third place. Rogue, retaining all but one of their players, lead this pack with a roster that is both upgraded and experienced. MAD Lions and Vitality are both looking for their bot lanes to either show synergy or get the tiniest bit upgraded (looking at you, Pierre 'Steeelback' Medjaldi) for a Summer run to contest.
Then there’s the third tier with the rest: the teams that, in many cases, are looking to defy their slim chances. In this tier, Schalke specifically are a mystery unto themselves in this regard. I expect them to hit anywhere from top three in Spring to collapsing in Summer if certain changes do not occur or certain players to develop outside of what has been shown.
But Origen? Origen are unknowable.
Fall from Grace
It’s no secret that 2019 Origen was a personal favorite. Its roster built upon no static parts — it was a completely new and fresh lineup, one that General Manager Martin "Deficio" Lynge can be very proud of.
Barney 'Alphari' Morris was the rock of this lineup, and had shown the ability to both dominate his opposition and play weak side. Jonas 'Kold' Andersen and Alfonso 'Mithy' Aguirre Rodríguez were already known as two of the smartest and most vocal players in the scene before arriving to Origen in 2019, making a dream pairing as a jungle-support duo. Erlend 'Nukeduck' Våtevik Holm and Patrik 'Patrik' Jírů (formerly Sheriff) shared key characteristic aggression.
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This roster seemingly had a perfect plug-and-play lineup that could do well from the start, with players smart enough in every single role to adapt and learn to play the game with fidelity. Yet, this Origen didn’t choose to fall into any sort of dogmatic play-to-botside fantasy like Schalke 04 did in their Spring split. They came to play proper League of Legends, and despite lagging behind as many teams that attempt to ‘play properly’ do in their early games, a blistering opening to the second half of the split with a decisive win against future champions G2 signalled the fruit of their long-rooted efforts.
They would go on to challenge them in two best-of-fives in Spring playoffs, dismantling Fnatic effortlessly along the way to the rematch. The world knew that Origen would again be the contenders to the throne come Summer.
It was not to be. We may never truly know what stymied the successful flow and pace that 2019 Origen had developed. Whatever happened had its makings just before Rift Rivals, a tournament that showed us a new and far less efficient Origen than before.
Origen had previously been the best early game team in the League, a team that completely suffocated you and left you no opportunities to advance. Sometimes this was their workmanship, like their tendency to set up for every single drake regardless of its intrinsic value to their composition.
While their setups were stronger than any other team's, Origen's dogmatic play into neutrals often left their lane setups vulnerable and this ultimately acted as their barrier to beating G2 - arguably the team with the best mid-game in the whole of Europe.
We never saw Origen develop away from these kinds of issues. Their jungle priorities in the early game started to shift into having more and more gaps. Suffocation was a thing of the past, and suddenly every opponent was finding ways to escape from Origen. There were some brief glimpses of the Origen of old — their second match against Vitality, for instance — but overall the team had gone from the very model of consistency and efficient gameplay to being just another team.
Despite multiple setbacks, culminating in a jungle substitute in the form of Kold’s academy counterpart Nikolay 'Zanzarah' Akatov, Origen still found their way into a Game 5 lead against eventual Worlds contenders Splyce. That would be their last game of the season, a potential bang that ended in a whimper. The team had clearly collapsed behind the scenes, with circumstances we don’t yet know, and the only certain thing was that this iteration had breathed its last.
The Many Faced Gods
Andrei 'Xerxe' Dragomir, Elias 'Upset' Lipp, and Mitchell 'Destiny' Shaw join Origen for 2020. A complete roster overhaul with only two-fifths retained signalled a dramatic change in direction for the team. The question now is what direction? Was this a straight upgrade? A shift in focus to a different kind of playstyle? If so, what kind?
For starters, Xerxe is a player with a more storied history. In Unicorns of Love he was the very evocation of its ‘mad scientists’ reputation, a worthy successor to his predecessor Mateusz 'Kikis' Szkudlarek. He brought a certain level of aggression with strong skirmishing picks like Rumble to force heavy contests, or strong invade priority with champions like Kayn.
On Splyce, that version of Xerxe all but vanished. He swore off the presumed riskier sensibilities of old, almost never invading before first resets and rarely playing to accelerate the game heavily. Indeed, Splyce as a whole were well-famed for their propensity to ‘disable’ their opponent's win conditions rather than focus on their own, a stratagem that led them to having the only game length that beat the LCS average.
The question becomes how much of this switch was environmental, and how much of it was up to him? The answer remains unknown.
Upset is a player who plays best when played around. Statistically the numbers bear out, placing him top two on the vast majority of stats in LEC Summer 2019. However, these numbers shift dramatically in his opening Spring split, where he held middling statistics in DPM and Damage Percentage while maintaining the top position in only one: KDA. Upset is at his best when his team plays around him, but he does not give that back in individual aggression.
It takes his teams time to adjust to playing so heavily for groupings with one particular player, and often leaves his teams meta-dependent. A similar pattern in statistics can be found in his 2018 debut season. Moreover, his teammate Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu found himself playing the weakest side version of top experienced by almost any player. Even in games where he was steamrolling ahead, the focus was very much to his counterpart on the other side.
Destiny is probably the biggest unknown of the three. He is almost entirely untested against major region teams, his highest placement being a 2-2 result with MMM in the Play-In stage of the World Championships, placing him 21st-24th. He will be slotted into a dynamic almost entirely in flux. The thing is that while statistically Summer 2018 Upset bears out to be a carry player almost on par with Summer 2019, the fact of it is that this became inflated from a long series of Ezreal/Varus games with a heavy emphasis on Braum/Tahm Kench from his support.
Coupled with a heavy priority on Poppy/Maokai from his top side, renewed focus was given to Nukeduck on hyper aggressive picks like Akali and Zed. While not the highest damage champions statistically, the carry focus was clear. When paired with the Summer 2019 incarnation with Ignar and his permanent focus on pick-based champions like Thresh and Blitzcrank, a new picture is painted of two very different kinds of Upsets. One who, when paired with a player like Nukeduck, can hand off primary carry duties elsewhere. Let’s not forget that during the brief period of funnel it was Nukeduck on the Kai’Sa.
The question is whether this version of Upset died with the dissolution and overhaul of the 2018 Schalke lineup. The answer remains unknown.
Point of Origen
There are multiple Origen iterations if we assume that all players will be on the same page. The variations are massive. We could be looking at an extreme version of Splyce, with Nukeduck and Alphari on scaling champions while their ADC waits on item spikes before a proper grouping can commence. One can see how each piece would fit in this kind of plan.
We could also be looking at a multiple-threat team from early levels, with Xerxe either facilitating early advantages and forcing skirmishes, or invading on priority. One can see again how each piece with Alphari’s love of champions like Rumble, Nukeduck’s love of assassins or Upset’s ability to break out aggressive picks like Lucian or Caitlyn could fit in.
This is assuming harmony between the players. Nukeduck is known as one of the best side laners in the league, but in the 1-3-1 composition the ‘carry’ version of Upset that works best in grouped scenarios is almost entirely misused. He even frequently shows signs of ‘Zven Syndrome': the propensity to go for aggressive resets on the mid wave rather than shallow ones before side lane pressure has been acquired, exposing him to collapse opportunities from his opponents.
Dreams of synergy are not necessarily sure to occur, and Upset has grown into a far different player than the last time him and his current mid laner worked together — arguably one even more ill-suited to wait for Nukeduck to carry.
As a final unknowable, what of jungle and support? The first Origen lineup was marked by their genius acquisitions in these roles, but Xerxe’s last two years have not been about grouped performances or map control. How, in this kind of environment, is Destiny to develop? It’s not like either of the former pieces that facilitated Origen’s smothering style are left, with Kold all but retired and Mithy transitioning into his new role as coach of one of Origen's tougher opponents, Fnatic.
How such a dynamic that previously defined this team will work out is probably the biggest unknowable here, and with no guarantee of consistency between carry roles the pair will be in immense flux as they figure out how best to operate.
There is no doubt about the level of talent available on Origen 2020, but Misfits 2019 is the latest example that spending on talent is not enough. One has to think of how the pieces of the puzzle fit together or risk abject and potentially humiliating failure.
Do these pieces solve the Origen puzzle? The answer remains unknowable.