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With Worlds 2021 on the horizon, the League of Legends European Championship’s first seed, MAD Lions, are one of the 22 teams from across the globe getting ready for the biggest and most important event of the year. The 2021 League of Legends World Championship will feature each region’s best players, all fighting for the same goal: to stand atop the mountain and hoist the Season 11 Summoner’s Cup.

Heading to Iceland as the champions of Europe, MAD Lions has big shoes to fill. In the last three years, Europe’s first seed has at least made it to the semifinals of the World Championship, and two even reached the grand final. With Gen.G and Team Liquid in their group and LNG Esports destined to join them from the Play-In Stage, MAD Lions are in a good position to reach the Knockout Stage.

MAD Lions (LEC) Worlds 2021 starting roster breakdown

Top: İrfan “Armut” Tükek | Signed in November 2020. Formerly played on Papara SuperMassive in the Turkish Championship League.

Jungle: Javier “Elyoya” Prades | Signed in November 2020. Formerly played on Movistar Riders in the Superliga Orange.

Mid: Marek “Humanoid” Brázda | Signed in November 2018 on Splyce, remained with the organization when it rebranded to MAD Lions.

Bot: Matyáš “Carzzy” Orság | Signed in November 2019. Formerly played on BIG in the Prime League.

Support: Norman “Kaiser” Kaiser | Signed in November 2019, formerly played on mousesports in the Prime League.

Coach: James “Mac” MacCormack | Signed in December 2017 as Assistant Coach on Splyce, remained with the organization when it rebranded to MAD Lions.

How they got here

2021 was the year of MAD Lions in the LEC. Following a disappointing elimination from the Play-In Stage at the 2020 World Championship, the organization replaced its top side and brought on Armut as its top laner. Then rookie Elyoya took over the jungle role. But that wasn’t the only change. When Peter Dun crossed the Atlantic to join Evil Geniuses, Mac was promoted to head coach.

With a new vision, MAD Lions focused on diversifying their play. Their rookie squad had performed beyond expectations in 2020 but was limited to playing an aggressive style. It took some time for MAD Lions to find their footing in the spring split as a result of the lineup changes and playstyle goals. However, once the Playoff Stage of the LEC commenced, MAD Lions popped off. They claimed the championship and put an end to a seven-year-long era of Fnatic and G2 Esports winning every title.

The 2021 Mid-Season Invitational was MAD Lions’ true test to shed off the Worlds 2020 disappointment. They did so successfully. With the bot lane duo of Carzzy and Kaiser firing on all cylinders, MAD Lions took reigning world champions DWG KIA to five games in the semifinal. Though MAD Lions fell in the end, they had undoubtedly proven themselves.

MAD Lions faced a slew of new challenges once back in Berlin to play in the LEC summer split. The intense schedule of the spring split and MSI had pushed players and coaches alike to the edge, resulting in burnout. On top of that, the entire squad was forced to live quarantined for the first weeks of the LEC summer split after two people tested positive for COVID-19.

Rather than forcing their players to continue to grind, MAD Lions’ staff tackled the issues with a measured approach. With their competitors failing to seize the opportunity to push MAD Lions down and mid laner Humanoid stepping up to lead his team through rough games, the squad still managed to finish in a shared second place in the regular split.

With recharged batteries, all of MAD Lions’ players stepped up in the playoffs once again. Fueled by their love for playing on-stage best-of-five series, MAD Lions took down G2 Esports, Rogue, and Fnatic in dominant fashion to earn the summer split champion crown, heading to the World Championship as unquestionably the best team in Europe.

Players to watch

Humanoid is not just the best player on MAD Lions; he is the best player Western regions are sending to Reykjavik to compete on the international stage. In previous years, the Czech was an ok laner who did his job serviceably well. One aspect of his play continued to haunt him, though: he would die, a lot, and unnecessarily so. “…and Humanoid dies in a sidelane” became a running gag.

But in 2021, Humanoid acquired the superstar status he had been chasing in previous years. He was unrivaled in Europe on control mages such as Viktor, Orianna, and Ryze. Humanoid had not forgotten his assassins, though. Akali, LeBlanc, it was all the same to him. Humanoid pushes in his lane, roams to see if he can snatch up a kill, and returns even stronger.

Humanoid embodies his team’s spirit and mental fortitude in a way that few players do. That’s where his true genius shines. Even if he has a game where he’s not the one dealing the damage and racking up the kills, Humanoid finds ways to be the perfect asset. He’ll be the facilitator so his fellow players can push the enemies into a corner. Humanoid is as good as they get in the LEC, which is why Upcomer included him in our Top 10 Players at Worlds.

Of course, Humanoid can’t do it all on his own. The importance of the support role in current League of Legends saw the rise of an emperor: Kaiser. In the laning phase he can, admittedly, be a bit inconsistent at times. Yet Kaiser still is a world-class support player. He understands the flow of the game extremely well and reads his opponents like a book. His gank timings are clean and through clever positioning, it is often Kaiser who sets his team up for success in team fights.

Kaiser’s most iconic champion is Leona, but just about any tanky support player does the trick for the German. If the Worlds meta shifts to different support champions, it will be interesting to see how he adapts.

And then there is Elyoya, the prodigal jungler and the next testament to MAD Lions’ excellent choice in picking up rookies. In a league that hosts junglers such as Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski, Kacper “Inspired” Słoma, and Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek, Elyoya managed to join the conversation for the best jungler in Europe in his rookie year. In his first eight games in the LEC he played eight different champions, flexing his abilities from the get-go.

How MAD Lions can succeed at Worlds 2021

Excellent players aside, it is MAD Lions’ team play that gave them the No. 5 position in Upcomer’s Worlds Power Rankings. They play off each other with such astounding natural comfort that it often seems like they’re all controlled by the same puppeteer. As highlighted above in the clip where MAD Lions defeated RNG in the MSI Rumble Stage, the team’s coordination in team fights is nothing but superb.

This is core to what makes MAD Lions so frightening. Even when they are 10,000 down in gold and the opponent is knocking on the doors of their base, MAD Lions can come back in the game. They see the smallest windows of opportunity and seize them confidently. At times they have the same feel to them as the G2 Esports squad of 2019, who reached the Worlds finals in that year.

MAD Lions is flexible and adapts quickly to what their opponents brings to the table. The meta at Worlds is a big question mark as the result of big changes in patches 11.18 and 11.19, and the squad’s adaptability is a clear advantage.

The European champions have everything lined up to make it out of their group. Gen.G is traditionally a predictable team and while they have great players, MAD Lions should find a counter strategy to them. Team Liquid came together as a team once the playoffs started, but in best-of-ones they struggled.

Playing best-of-fives is what MAD Lions’ players love more than anything as it plays right into their abilities to study opponents and adapt. However, in the Worlds Playoffs Stage, they’ll meet opponents who can punish their slip-ups relentlessly. MAD Lions’ biggest weakness is their early game. If they drop that ball against top teams such as DWG KIA and FPX, the fight to climb back into the game will almost certainly be insurmountable.

This article is part of an ongoing preview series of all 22 teams competing at Worlds 2021. For our complete release schedule and more information on the other 21 teams attending Worlds, check out Upcomer’s Worlds 2021 Outlook Series hub.