League of Legends LEC 2020 Preview: Excel Esports

League of Legends. Photo courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Photo courtesy of Riot Games. /

European League of Legends returns this week with the LEC starting on January 24th. We’ll be previewing every team in the run-up to Friday, starting with Excel Esports.

Excel Esports were probably hoping for a stronger start to life at the highest level of European League of Legends. The organization’s dreams of reaching playoffs and challenging for trophies in their debut LEC season were quickly tossed aside as they struggled to ninth and tenth place finishes in 2019, picking up just nine wins along the way.

The idea of a ten-man roster combining veterans and rookies was met with enthusiasm at first, but it soon became clear that the squad lacked the experience necessary to compete in EU’s top division. As a result, Excel have made three major changes to the line-up during the off-season in an attempt to improve on a disappointing first year.

Jeskla and Mystiques occasionally showed signs that they were ready for the step up from European regional leagues to the LEC, but weren’t consistent enough to aid the team in their playoffs bid and have since been let go.

Their replacements, Patrik and Tore, have plenty of experience and recent success in Europe that Excel hope will be invaluable in their attempts to finish in the top six for the first time.

There’s also been a change in the coaching staff. David Lim has joined LCS team FlyQuest and taking his place is the “Six-Star General” Youngbuck, a man whose reputation precedes him. With six EU LCS titles to his name, as well as a 2018 World Championship runners-up medal, Excel now have the most successful head coach in European history leading the team.

On the surface, these are all incredibly positive changes, but just how much can Excel Esports improve in 2020 with their new signings? Here’s an in-depth look at the roster and their potential in the upcoming Spring Split:

Top Lane: Dae-han “Expect” Ki

One of three returning members to the Excel Esports starting line-up is Expect, the undisputed MVP of the organization’s first season in the LEC. Initially, there were fears that Expect lacked recent competitive experience having spent the entirety of 2018 as a free agent – with the exception of a brief spell with Origen in EU Masters – but those doubts were quickly dispelled.

Expect displayed his proficiency on both tanks and carries throughout Season 9, however, he preferred to lean on comfort picks Renekton and Rumble during the squad’s rough spell to offer some top lane stability for his teammates to play around.

While the season may not have panned out the way Excel had hoped, zero blame was placed on the South Korean as he routinely put in solid performances, but was let down by a lack of team cohesion.

Reuniting with former coach Joey “Youngbuck” Steltenpool could be the push required to propel Expect and his teammates towards recapturing former glories from the top laner’s G2 days. Perhaps winning back-to-back(-to-back-to-back) European titles is a little too ambitious for now, but there’s no doubt that Youngbuck and Expect have the experience needed to guide Excel to playoffs contention.

Jungler: Marc “Caedrel” Lamont

Often in League of Legends, you’ll find that when a team underperforms the first player to get the ax is the jungler. In Excel’s case, the opposite was true.

Excel Esports view Caedrel as the heartbeat of the roster and, being from the UK, stand-in captain in the absence of Raymond “KaSing” Tsang. He’s also taken on primary shot-calling duties from his predecessor, shepherding his teammates around the early game and setting them up for success in the later stages.

This was evident during Excel’s brief winning streak in Weeks 6 and 7 of the 2019 Summer Split in which the team rose from the dead, winning three consecutive matches, and climbing from the foot of the table to eighth-place. While this success was short-lived, it highlighted Caedrel’s control over the map through the laning phase and his ability to dictate the early game tempo, even when facing high-quality jungle opponents like Inspired and Xerxe.

Equipped with a renewed bot lane with double the experience of the previous Excel duo, Caedrel may now have the tools necessary to extend his early leads into the mid and late-game without the burden of a large gold deficit weighing him down.

Mid Lane: Son “Mickey” Young-min

The surprise package from Excel’s 2019 roster was undoubtedly mid-season signing Mickey. Claims that the mid laner was past his prime and no longer able to perform at the highest level were immediately dismissed as the South Korean instantly became a reliable carry for his team, controlling mid lane match-ups and dominating late game team fights.

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Joining the line-up for the Summer Split, it didn’t take long for synergy to develop between Mickey and his jungler, Caedrel, and they soon became a threatening mid-jungle duo capable of competing with the likes of LarssenInspired and TrickAbbedagge.

Despite his side often falling behind and losing games to vastly superior opponents, Mickey became known as a competent laner picking up 3 solo kills in the Summer Split and creating a pressure point for Caedrel to play around.

With a full split on the LEC stage alongside teammates Expect and Caedrel now under his belt, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mickey confidently fly out of the blocks in the 2020 Spring Split opener this weekend prepared to establish himself as a top tier mid laner in EU this year.

AD Carry: Patrik “Patrik” Jírů

When Excel signed rookie AD Carry Jeskla it was made clear that the Swede was one for the future and needed time to cultivate his skills and grow on the LEC stage. However, twelve months later it was obvious that the investment wasn’t paying dividends and Jeskla’s development hadn’t progressed as swiftly as Excel had first hoped, so the bot laner was released in the off-season.

In steps former Origen marksman Patrik who, for all intents and purposes, had a strong 2019 season and was a dependable carry for his team throughout the year. Nevertheless, the latest super-team on the block failed to meet their lofty expectations, concluding the Summer Split in eighth-place and being unable to qualify for the World Championship, so changes had to be made.

Excel became a direct benefactor of those changes, signing a player with a wealth of experience on both struggling and successful rosters, while always putting in admirable performances.

The Czech won’t be expected to be the primary carry on his new team but will need to contribute his fair share if Excel are to be successful in 2020.

Support: Tore “Tore” Hoel Eilertsen

Excel’s new-look duo also includes Tore (formerly Norskeren), a player who has impressed viewers and analysts alike since he first stepped foot onto the European main stage back in Spring 2018 with Team ROCCAT.

Back then his early roaming and playmaking often resulted in an early gold lead that could then be rapidly snowballed into victories for his team. And when he secured a move to Splyce in 2019, he proved that he was a well-rounded support also capable of a passive approach while peeling for one of Europe’s strongest AD Carries, Kobbe, and helping his team reach the World Championship knockout stages.

Once again Excel profited from another organization shaking things up, buying out Tore’s Splyce contract during the MAD Lions rebrand and the player was allowed to make the switch despite having an exceptional year on the roster.

Appearing at his first World Championship at just 19-years-old obviously merited high praise, and as a result, the Norwegian has cemented himself as one of the most promising support players in Europe right now.

A new environment and a new bot lane partner mean it won’t be plain sailing for Tore this year and it might take time to adapt, but he’s been in this situation before and seemingly hasn’t struggled with the change. If Excel’s newest recruit can recapture a fraction of his form from last year then the organization will go far and improve enormously on their prior struggles.

Prediction: 5th Place

Excel Esports have made a strong statement about their future in the LEC with these three signings, upgrading the roster in key areas, and making significant strides towards securing a place in the Spring Split playoffs. There’s no doubt that this iteration of the line-up is much stronger than last year’s and can potentially achieve Excel’s goals by breaking into Europe’s top six in 2020.

That being said, the bottom lane wasn’t the only problem this team had in its debut LEC season and the remaining issues will have to be ironed out if they want to be successful this year. Most notably, Caedrel must shore up his occasional lapses in concentration and overextensions that were often the root cause of his team’s early game gold deficits.

Overall, with the abundance of rookies entering Europe’s top division and several teams shaking up their rosters after a disappointing 2019, Excel simply have to be targeting playoffs in the Spring Split.

While close rivals Misfits, SK, and Vitality have averaged three roster changes each during the off-season, Excel have already attained the synergy and familiarity required to push on and topple the less experienced squads around them to claim a playoffs spot in 2020.

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The 2020 League of Legends European Championship begins on Friday 24 January! Catch Excel Esports vs. Schalke 04 at 15:00 EST / 21:00 CET on the Riot Games Twitch channel!