Image: Ubisoft/Kirill B.
Since replacing their 2021 ‘super team’ with their current roster, the Wolves Esports team -- previously known as Vitality and LFO -- has gone from seventh to fifth, third, third again, and then first place.
In this time, they’ve added just a single player between their two third-place finishes, and it only took a few months for Yanis "Mowwwgli" Dahmani to mesh with the team.
This means that internal improvements in the team have led to the rise from seventh to first, rather than a reinvention of the team to make it to the top (even if reinventing the ‘super-team’ idea was what was needed at first).
This steady progress without a roster change is unusual, especially in Europe.
At a regional level, the idea that it takes a couple of stages for a new addition to fit in and make their mark is almost entirely a myth in Europe. When looking at team records, what has taken most rosters to the top isn’t sustained development, but the addition of the new hottest player (which inevitably never lasts).
A good example of this are G2 Esports. When the team added CTZN and Virtue, they went from third in Europe to second, then dropped to third and seventh in the following two stages. Then Jonka and Hungry joined, leading them to jump up to second place again, only to be down in seventh three months later.
Most recently, the team finished two stages in fourth after adding in three new players, but had a much cleaner route to this position in Stage 1.
Moving over to the current Rogue roster, when LeonGids and karzheka first joined at the beginning of 2020 they finished in first place… and then immediately dropped down to 10th. Then cryn joined, putting them back into the top-four… then they dropped down to 10th again. Then Prano joined and yoyo-ed them back up into fourth.
NAVI’s best example of this is their 2021 roster, which debuted in first place and saw no roster changes… and two stages later was in eighth place. Heroic this year debuted their new team in first place and ended Stage 2 in fifth, also.
Time and time again, these teams make a roster change and immediately become the best in Europe. But not only can they not sustain it, they also fall down the standings immediately afterwards. These teams aren’t improving internally (at least in line with the rest of the region) and it’s always the transfer of a player at their peak that just gives them a short-term boost.
This is what makes Wolves Esports’ current run of form so remarkable. They didn’t debut in first place -- they debuted in seventh and worked through their issues to climb upwards. Not only did they not need a new player to jump up the table, integrating their new player slowed down their progress in the short term in what is the exact opposite of what we see in every other team.
This is what you’d expect in a well-functioning team. Top rosters will likely not have everything figured out with perfect communication and perfect chemistry in the very first stage after a new addition. Things take time to grow, and Wolves are the only team in Europe in years that have had sustained growth.
The rest of the world
Looking over at North America, the results are much more all over the place as expected.
The Soniqs jumping from eighth to second place without needing a roster change is something Europe hadn’t seen before this year. On the opposite end, there is SSG’s fall, which is very similar to that of NAVI. SSG have lost ground on their opponents despite having had a year to improve upon their Stage 3 2021 NAL-winning debut performance with Skys.
Over in Brazil, we have the best example of sustained improvement in FaZe Clan. While they had a few rough stages, they have improved their standing over time from fifth to first, fourth to first, and now sixth to third. After a bad stage, they saw what went wrong and worked to fix it, ultimately leading to a title after Stage 3.
These improvements can be seen across the table, especially in Team Liquid and Ninjas in Pyjamas. Every team being able to grow and improve upon a prior performance is what leads to messier results, with teams rising and falling without roster changes. In Europe, with a few exceptions, teams usually fall until a roster change happens, which is a key contrast.
Is this why Europe is struggling?
Europe needing a constant stream of new players to boost teams is nothing new. The initial G2 roster won the Pro League in their debut season together and remained on top for two years.
When they fell, it was another newly promoted team in Team Empire that won the Pro League in their debut season. Then the next (and most recent) European team to win was NAVI in their debut Pro League season as well.
Looking at smaller tournaments, the only team to ever win a multiple of the eight Six Minor tournaments was the British Team Secret roster. They won their first title three games into their debut Pro League season, while all nine Six Invitational and Six Major qualifiers have been won by a then-current or recently promoted Challenger League team -- MNM, Mkers, BDS, forZe, Empire, Secret, ROOM FACTORY, EURONICS Gaming, and Lucky7.
With the lone exception of ENCE Season 6, every single successful team in Europe has been world-class straight from the get-go. And when they faltered, a handful of new Challenger League rosters were waiting with fresh blood.
When you consider the talent and success that has come out of the EUCL before, it’s hard not to imagine that the teams that just missed out on promotion by a few rounds were also world-class but never made it far enough to prove it.
The mid-table teams pick up players from these teams, which fuels their short-term jumps up the standings. The EUCL was a breeding ground for talent to grow, while these same players withered away in the EUL.
Now the European Challenger League is effectively dead, Six Minors are no more, promotion to the EUL happens annually, Six Major qualifiers have been eliminated, and professional teams are pulling out of all non-EUL tournaments. This hurts tier-two teams as those on the path of NAVI 2018 simply can’t get the experience and opportunities anymore.
This means that we don’t have the new explosive rosters dominating the world from day one, and the top teams don’t have this pool of possible players to pick up from. Furthermore, it makes it harder for tier-two pickups to adjust, as their EUL debut is the very first time they’ll play a top-tier opponent in a professional match.
For contrast, in 2018, Doki and neLo’s MNM roster (that became the Season 10-winning NAVI) got to play the likes of Team Empire, Mock-it, and Team Secret within just two months of the roster coming together.
This is all to say that how European Siege earned success in the first four years of the game is over. The region hasn’t won a single global title since Six Minors, Six Major qualifiers, and regular Challenger League seasons were cancelled in 2019. These events helped breed constant S-tier players who could go straight on to win titles.
This is not to say there aren’t good players in tier-two now, but MNM didn’t qualify for the Charlotte Major despite their SI 2022 appearance, and Heroic took a year plus multiple roster changes to get into shape despite both winning their EUCL seasons.
From what we can see on the outside, Wolves are the first team since the original G2 roster to make significant strides forward internally, stage-by-stage in Europe. They’re doing what FaZe, NiP, Soniqs, and DZ have been doing for years now, as NA and Brazilian teams had to work on themselves without the stream of players from the Challenger League to rely on.
Wolves have caught up with the times. Whether this translates directly to success at the Berlin Major is a whole different question, but this is step one of getting Europe out of the mud -- faith in and patience with your current roster.
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