Schalke is a name that is well known to both Germans and football (soccer) enthusiasts. Now the club is also trying leave its mark on esports viewers.
The football club has founded a League of Legends team that is slowly but surely making its way to the higher echelons of competitive LoL. It remains to be seen whether Schalke can break through as an elite side, but they’re definitely on the right path.
Last year the team was fighting for a place in the EU LCS through the Challenger Series. After a couple of hiccups both in Spring Split (where they failed to reach the Promotion Tournament despite having a perfect 10-0 regular season) and the Summer Split, they managed to gain promotion to the EU LCS as second seed of the Promotion Tournament.
Drastic changes were made to the roster heading into the 2018 season. The only remaining member of the Challenger Series squad was Eli’s “Upset” Lipp.
The rest of the squad is comprised of former Unicorns of Love toplaner and Spring 2017 MVP Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamas, up-and-coming jungler Milo “Pride” Wehnes that came over from ROCCAT, long-time mid heavyweight Erlend “Nukeduck” Holm and the experienced support that goes by “Vander”, Oskar Bogdan.
Going into the season, this squad was projected to run near the top of the standings. This prediction was not without good reason. Upset has shown signs of promise in the Challenger Series, casually destroying opposing AD carries.
Likewise, Vander is a support that previously reached the semifinals at Worlds with H2K. He previously played alongside the likes of Forg1ven.
Nukeduck has long been considered one of the most intelligent and adaptable players of EU LCS. Vizicsacsi has established himself as one of the top tier tops in EU during his time at UOL and Pridestalker seems to have adapted to the competitive environment well during his rookie year.
However, the end of week six, the team sat joint seventh with a negative record of 5-7.
But what is to blame for these poor result when individually all players have the quality and experience to succeed?
Where are Schalke 04 falling short?
To know, we need to look at how the roster is individually performing this season.
Vizicsacsi has established a lane kingdom on top lane. He has an average 12 creep lead at 15 minutes, the highest together with Martin “Wunder” Hansen from G2, while consistently picking for late game.
Nukeduck has been constantly absorbing pressure in the mid lane where he usually lanes equally until the 15th minute (0 CS at 15). These stats are accentuated by the fact that these laners are self-sustained. They need little if any jungle attention and have control over their lane.
Pride himself has showcased mature and efficient jungling paths by having the highest CSD at 15 (2 full camps over his opponent) and adopting a style of prioritising clearing over gank efforts, a style that he shares now with Andrei “Xerxe” Dagomir.
He still does not let his team down since his assists and his one death on average per game leave him with the best KDA out of all of the junglers in the league.
Vander and Upset have been arguably the weakest link during Spring with Upset consistently falling behind the opposing ADC in lane. Upset has a -8 CSD at 15 and he has shined only on late game carries like Tristana and Kogmaw.
This, in essence, locks down Vander who has the 3rd lowest KP (69.5%) among all supports. He is behind only kasing and jactroll of the infamous Vitality solo-kill team. He also has the worst vision score among starter supports, which is just above two per minute.
The laning stats don’t yield any obvious mistakes. Even the team stats suggest that the are faring pretty well.
They are almost equal at 15 minutes, having only a 37 gold deficit. However, that is where the problems start to appear. They manage to come out almost equal, despite losing first tower in 58.3 percent of games. Even though they rarely manage to answer this; together with Splyce they have the worst tower difference at 15 in the league that is around 0.4. Proportionally speaking, this corresponds to around a 315 deficit, essentially a kill advantage. If one loses first tower, we need to adjust this number to 440 gold.
Already we see that Schalke is losing a lot of pressure in the early game macro-wise.
Even though they trade rather evenly throughout the game (towers lost versus towers destroyed on average are similar), Schalke are on the backfoot from the start, always arriving second at the scene of the crime.
This gets even worse if we look at stats like herald per game (8th in the league) and barons per game (joint last in the league) that need coordination from all of the team and vision control.
Questionable baron calls and even more questionable moments of indecision have plagued this roster and relatively low warding stats cannot be justification for this, nor the sole reason.
It has been acknowledged by many insiders, most recently by Raymond “Kasing” Tsang in the Euphoria Podcast, that Schalke04 have very good scrim results. But on stage they lack the proactivity needed to be competitive with the very best.
There could be several reasons for this. It is important to acknowledge that Pride has a farm-centric style. Thus, Nukeduck is on an island where he is frequently visited by unwelcome guests.
The flailing bottom duo only makes matters worse since in this meta support picks like Alistar and Tahm Kench can easily roam and catch the enemy mid laner unaware.
Despite his laning prowess, this makes him concede a lot of pressure and the entire Schalke squad is losing out.
This, combined with the relative inexperience of the jungler and AD has led to impaired shotcalling from all sides, since they are rarely in position to pull off a proactive play.
What next for Schalke 04 League of Legends team?
It is hard to estimate how much Schalke 04 football club is involved in the running of the esports department. However, it is obvious that expanding their horizons is of great importance to the club.
Paris Saint-Germain, one of the 10 richest football clubs according to Forbes, also had a League of Legends team. However, expertise and experience can’t be bought. They learned that the hard way and have since reneged on their investment.
The same can be said for the NBA basketball teams that have invested in the NA LCS, even though they have more money to play with.
The Golden State Warriors (valued at $3.1 billion) part own the Golden Guardians. Likewise, the Cleveland Cavaliers ($1.3b) are invested in 100 Thieves and the Houston Rockets ($2.2b) with Clutch Gaming.
Given their values, their actual investment so far is a small one. The entry fee for the LCS franchise was around $10m and no more than $5m has been invested since.
Their reason for investing is likely to target an alternative audience in a bid to boost their own brands.
However, none of them are yet challenging the best teams in NA LCS. In the Golden Guardians’ case, the rash decision to fire head coach Choi “Locodoco” Yoon-seop, despite decent results, seems to be indicative of a rather volatile entry into esports.
Schalke will have to draw it’s own conclusions about the lack of success that other sports clubs have seen. Hopefully they can learn from their mistakes and avoid repeating the cycle.
Schalke has the individual talent to rise to the top of the standings. They are currently just one win away from their closest playoff contender. With six matches still to go until the regular season ends, there is still hope for the side.
The squad has shown few encouraging signs. Most of their wins came against teams in a slump or below them in the standings. However, they have both the experience and hunger that makes them future contenders for the European crown.