If the rumours are true, then the League of Legends EMEA Championship (LEC) Spring split could be blown wide open, and we could be witnessing a reunion six years in the making. The last time Elias “Upset” Lipp came close to playing with Luka “Perkz” Perković was with G2 Esports as an ADC substitute back in 2017.
It’s always been clear that “Perkz”’s opinion of “Upset” has been high. When he won the Spring split of the League of Legends Championship Series back in 2021 with Cloud9, “Perkz” publicly made it clear that he had recommended “Upset” as his replacement on Twitter:
Then again, coming into the 2022 Spring Season, the news came to light that a move to Fnatic for “Perkz” was impossible. Carlos “ocelote” Rodríguez Santiago had considered the possibility that Cloud9 might sell him to their European rival Fnatic, and wrote a clause in the transfer agreement stating that “Perkz” could not be sold to Fnatic. However, prior to this knowledge, “Perkz” had been hinting at plans for both himself and Barney “Alphari” Morris to make their way to Fnatic in the prior off season, meaning Fnatic’s 2022 roster would’ve consisted of:
- Barney “Alphari” Morris
- Luka “Perkz” Perković
- Elias “Upset” Lipp
- Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov
As a result, the Team Vitality deal went through, and “Perkz” once again found himself on a team plagued with issues in the Bot Lane - a factor that had been a driving force for him to make the move to ADC himself in 2019. Outside of the culture that is clearly present in the MAD Lions organisation, Matyáš “Carzzy” Orság appeared to flounder in his performances alongside Labros "Labrov" Papoutsakis. “Labrov” was a highly rated player with a considerable solo queue reputation, but lacked a lot of competitive experience. For whatever reason, the pair never really seemed to work well together.
Despite changing out Junglers midway through the year, the synergy couldn’t be found in the places it was most necessary. To see a European team struggle with Jungle-Support synergy was strange. Usually it’s standard European practice - especially amongst the great Supports such as Mihael “Mikyx” Mehle or "Hylissang" - for the Jungler to alleviate pressure Bot side. This didn’t seem to happen in the “Labrov” and Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek edition of Vitality. There were only a few occasions when they made it work with their replacement, Kang “Haru” Min-seung, too.
Overall, it was clear coming into the 2023 Winter split that the Vitality roster had to change. Naturally, the arrival of Zhou “Bo” Yangbo was foretold, a player who was undefeated during his stint playing in FunPlus Phoenix. For a Western team to get their hands on such an import is practically unheard of. He wasn’t a player coming off the back of success, or one arriving at the back end of his career, but his suspension for match fixing made this the better career move. With the most promising Chinese Jungler paired with “Perkz”, the most decorated, capable and adaptable Western player of all time, Vitality set out to create a structure that would work around “Bo”.
“Upset” was reportedly one of the first players Vitality had in mind, amongst names like Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau and Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu. The hands down best ADC from Europe in 2021 was reportedly up for sale. Whilst on Fnatic, they found a plan to win the game: pray “Upset” 1v9’s. The thing is, when “Upset” says he will do something, he follows through with it. Fnatic made the League of Legends World Championship, and all the praise went elsewhere. “Upset” was pigeonholed as a selfish player who demanded the world of his teammates.
On the other side of things, Vitality were once again hyped up to be the biggest competition for G2 coming into the Winter split. They had all the pieces that had either felled a Western team in the past, or caused them to rise to the top. The line-up consisted of the West’s most decorated player, a prodigal Jungler from China, an ex-T1 academy Top Laner, and even the Bot Lane duo were projected to be solid and fit in with the style the team was going for.
- Read: LEC Power Rankings
In the prior year, “Carzzy” and “Labrov” had failed to sufficiently absorb pressure and play to weak side without being exploited, whether that was by being ganked, or simply outperformed in their lane. Vitality once again had a mechanically strong Top side; this remake was an attempt at finally having a Bot Lane duo capable of absorbing pressure. Norman "Kaiser" Kaiser seemed like a slam dunk in this team, a team fight-oriented player who was good at absorbing pressure in lane. He is also well known for his ability to roam, an area where Vitality, as mentioned previously, had struggled. On paper, at least, it looked like this team was well made.
However, there were indications during the regular season that this team was more Top heavy than first thought. In a Zeri meta with Matúš "Neon" Jakubčík being so well remembered for his performances last year, there were so many opportunities to step up and carry that were sent his way. But it appeared as if he was unable to answer the call. This problem only escalated in the playoffs, and to make matters worse, “Kaiser” appeared to be making decisions in the early laning phase that would lead to them conceding multiple deaths. By the end, from excerpts of “Bo” in Mic Check, and the way Vitality were drafting, it was clear most of the team had entirely lost faith in their Bot Lane to do even the bare minimum. To lose a full tower in 9 minutes to a lane sporting a Soraka Support for instance, is a feat that should be impossible.
Thus, there was a call for change. Something needed to happen. Vitality couldn’t go into the Spring split not believing in their Bot Lane. Fnatic couldn’t field the best ADC in the league and have him sit on the bench collecting paycheques. With no clear way of upgrading their Support, Vitality only had one obvious choice. It’s not that “Neon” individually was particularly bad, but the pieces didn’t suit him. That being said, despite “Neon” clearly being a good player, “Upset” is just better. So, while it’s a shame to see “Neon” benched, it’s better for Vitality, and the LEC, that “Upset” is playing.
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It’s not the first time Vitality has made a roster move that has us convinced this is the one. I’m sure many fans will have already adopted the mantra of “this is the year!”. Although it’s wise to set realistic expectations, it’s close to being called a super-team once more, and any fan of European League, or League as a whole, knows that only one of those has ever worked – G2 Esports. It’s also true that every ADC that has passed through Vitality in recent memory - Juš “Crownie” Marušič, “Carzzy”, and “Neon” - has looked better before and after their time in the line-up. Here’s hoping “Upset” can break the mould. If anybody can bring them their first LEC trophy, its him. No more excuses.