Money can buy you success, but it can’t guarantee it. The LEC Winter split lasted just a couple of months, but that was still long enough to prove the aforementioned point, seeing as the gargantuan rosters of Fnatic and Excel Esports were the only teams that failed to qualify for the Group Stages.
Highly decorated Bot Laner Martin “Rekkles” Larsson made his long-awaited return to Fnatic, joining a roster that made it to Worlds last year alongside rookie Support Rúben "Rhuckz" Barbosa, who subbed in at the international tournament and performed well.
Meanwhile, Excel brought in a huge influx of players, including the experienced Top Laner Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu, who had played a huge role in Rogue winning the LEC last Summer. Another new recruit was young Mid Laner Vincent "Vetheo" Berrié, whose insane performances earned him the LEC MVP award last Spring, despite the fact that his team didn’t even make the semi-finals.
Both rosters were supposed to be competing at the top of the standings, but instead were forced to watch on as significantly cheaper line-ups from the likes of Astralis and Team BDS left them behind.
We’d argue that out of those two eliminated teams, it’s Excel who are in deeper trouble. This is due to one simple reason - they don’t have an ‘academy’ team competing in the EMEA Regional Leagues (ERLs).
Wealth of talent but lack of alternatives
Obviously, having an ERL team doesn’t directly affect your LEC performances - hence why nine out of the 10 teams voted to scrap the rule that made having one a necessity. What it does impact is your options once things go wrong, and that’s why Excel now find themselves in quite the predicament.
With the new format, there’s a severe shortage of time. No team is going to sell their top players just two months into the season. That’s why Fnatic have looked to their Fnatic TQ roster from Spain’s LVP, and have promoted Óscar "Oscarinin" Muñoz Jiménez and Henk "Advienne" Reijenga to their LEC squad. It may not work, but their previous line-up clearly wasn’t going to either, and they have very little time to turn things around if they want to qualify for MSI - something an organisation of their prestige should always strive for.
It’s a luxury that Excel don’t have, as they decided to go all in on their LEC squad after the NLC was demoted to a non-accredited league. That allowed them some more budget, but without a clear plan and idea of how those players would gel, it was doomed to fail. Now, the lack of a back-up plan is coming back to bite them.
After the disaster in Winter, Excel faced two options. They could have spent the last month working on team building and finding a way to get the absurdly talented crop of players on the same page. The Winter split didn’t mean much - they can still qualify for MSI - but getting that squad to turn things around after how badly the last split went is a massive ask.
The other option, and the one they’ve seemingly opted for, is searching for scraps in a barren transfer market in hopes that a free agent or cheap player can miraculously solve all their issues.
The rumours are that Raphaël "Targamas" Crabbé will be replaced by Dino "LIMIT" Tot, who was a substitute for Team BDS in Winter. It makes sense, as they need a leader who can give them direction in game, but after his previous struggles in the LEC it’s hard to imagine Excel’s fortunes will change substantially. Then again, you can’t always judge a roster move by the player’s strength on paper.
However, it is only one change - arguably in a less impactful role - to a very dysfunctional roster, and it’ll take time for him to fit in as well. At the very least, there are some former Schalke 04 Esports staff members at Excel who have worked with "LIMIT" in the past and will know what he can bring to the team.
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While super teams do usually fail, it’s foolish to presume that an expensive roster is destined to crash and burn. G2 Esports had to dig deep into their pockets to secure players like Steven “Hans Sama” Liv, but it worked, and now they’re deservingly champions.
With little to play for this Spring, if G2 had an ERL team, they could experiment with their line-up. They could also give an up-and-coming rookie a huge opportunity at little cost other than the wages of their players not competing. Their main roster could even have an extended boot camp in Korea as the organisation recently joked about.
Obviously, that’s an extreme scenario, and one that would foolishly risk their preparations for MSI. However, it’s a good example of how having that second squad can give you options.
But outside of having a back-up plan, there’s also the traditional reason for having an ERL team: investing in young talent.
While teams can just sign the top ERL talent from smaller organisations, it’ll probably come at the cost of a high fee to get them out of their contracts. For the best players, most organisations would struggle to battle with the draw of big-name organisations - hence why G2 were the ones to secure the services of Martin "Yike" Sundelin.
The best example of investing in an ERL team comes from the very early days of the LEC. Rogue’s first academy roster became the starting line-up a year later, and it was the core of this squad that pushed them to become one of the best in the region. Even recently this year, Team BDS promoted the majority of their ERL roster from last year, and saw significantly better performances as their synergy worked wonders against most unsettled squads.
It’s not a guarantee, and it’s far from the biggest factor in an organisation’s success, but ERL squads have always offered massive potential benefits. It’s that focus in developing young talent that has helped improve competition in Europe over the last few years.
Yes, the scope of the ERLs has grown substantially, and it’s impossible to keep track of every rising star. But if a team does manage to unearth a hidden gem early on, the financial benefits alone can be huge, even if they end up selling the prospect.
And then, should things go wrong in the LEC, that superstar-in-the-making can be fast tracked to the top giving them even more critical experience thanks to the new format.
Due to the fast and unforgiving nature of said format, having such a talent ready to promote could save a team’s entire season. ERL teams are no longer just an investment, they can now also act as an insurance plan.