King Nothing: G2’s Paper Crown

Fnatic’s disheartening defeat highlights a larger problem for what used to be one of the most exciting leagues in League of Legends eSports.

The G2 Era has been the worst period in the history of European League of Legends.

Europe, once a region known for its flare and charisma, has stagnated. Fnatic, whose self-proclaimed “animal style” was no match for the methodical suffocation of G2’s macro game, was dispatched of convincingly. G2 looks poised to win a third consecutive EU LCS title.

G2’s False Dynasty

G2 is a good team. Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Kim “Trick” Gang-Yun have been the region’s best at their respective roles for three straight splits. Luka “PerkZ” Perkovic fixed his positioning issues on control champions that plagued him during his rookie year. Ki “Expect” Dae-Han has shown versatility along with improved team synergy, and even with Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre showing shades of KiWiKiD in his death count this split, the best support in the history of European League of Legends should not be underestimated.

G2 have lost one domestic match in a calendar year. They are absurdly good.

G2 Zven and Trick
Courtesy of Riot Games

And yet, G2’s utter dominance has left Europe with little claim to…well, anything. North American League of Legends is known for its narratives. Korean League of Legends is top shelf gameplay, and the LCK is home to the best player in the history of the game. China’s aggression has been a trademark for years, and Taiwan’s top teams are as fun to watch as anyone in the world.

Historically, Europe has been fun to watch because it was a region with a flair for the dramatic, but also one that could be counted on to show up internationally – and look damn good doing it.

The first few generations of European League of Legends stars were just that – stars. Homegrown heroes like Enrique “Xpeke” Cedeno Martinez and Martin “Rekkles” Larsson absolutely smashed the stereotypes against the social skills and lifestyle of “hardcore” gamers, matching charisma with exciting, high-level gameplay.

Europe had swagger, and crucially, they could back it up internationally.

Europe had swagger, and crucially, they could back it up internationally. Moscow 5 was the best team in the world for the better part of a year. Henrik “Froggen” Hansen was the best player in the world in Season 2. Fnatic, through two different core rosters, was the great western hope against the dominant South Korean squads.

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G2, for all of its domestic success, has done nothing but disappoint internationally. After their infamous “vacation” following the 2016 EULCS Spring Finals, G2 showed up to MSI out of sorts, failing to get past the group stage after being lauded by experts as the second best team at the tournament. G2 disappointed similarly at the Season 6 World Championship, winning only one of their six games despite being universally predicted to exit the group as its second seed.

The 2017 IEM Katowice Season XI World Championship was the perfect opportunity for G2 to restore honor to Europe’s international reputation. EU was sending their three best teams in G2, H2K, and Unicorns of Love, and the only noteworthy competition was LMS ace Flash Wolves. It was widespread opinion that anything but a championship would be a massive disappointment for Europe. G2 had a promising tournament, squaring up nicely against a shaky-looking Flash Wolves in the Grand Finals, but were swept by the Taiwanese titans in pathetic fashion.

G2 are the self-proclaimed villains of Europe, but the swagger falls flat with repeated international disappointment. EULCS has no more heroes, and the villains aren’t particularly redeeming.

G2

Domestically, the G2 Era has not been kind to the EULCS in the excitement department. This extends beyond G2 as a team – this split, the bottom four teams were only able to take three total wins against the top six teams. Europe seemed content to follow the predictable script, with ROCCAT’s late season surge for a miracle chance at playoffs being the only surprise of the split. For a region once known for its explosiveness and upset potential, this departure has been a significant detriment to the region in terms of watchability.

Europe’s Former Kings

Fnatic’s 3-0 upset of H2K in the 2017 EULCS Spring Split Quarterfinals was the most exciting thing to happen in European League of Legends in almost a calendar year.

FNC Rekkles

Fnatic’s unhinged “Animal Style” puts primary shotcaller and AD Carry Rekkles on off-meta picks such as Twitch, Tristana, and his trademark Kennen. He builds essentially the same build every game—Blade of the Ruined King, Runaan’s Hurricane, and Frozen Mallet—and prioritizes side lane pressure with a playmaking style enabled by both champion pick and build. By allowing Rekkles to be the primary playmaker as well as the shotcaller, Fnatic shore up synergy issues by bringing all aspects of in-game leadership to a definitive central point.

They’ve also been a very creative team in the pick/ban phase, albeit with mixed results. Rookie Mid Laner Rasmus “Caps” Winther played 17 champions in 42 games, including a surprisingly competent Aurelion Sol and a pocket Kayle. Prioritization of flex champions is abundant—we’ve seen Varus, Kennen, Camille, Miss Fortune, and Malzahar flexed, sometimes unnecessarily. Fnatic’s coloring book has no lines or rules; just a big green “GO” button.

Let’s be clear—this is not a good team. This is not the optimal way to play League of Legends. But Fnatic is an unapologetic, extreme representation of what the EU LCS has been missing: a team that people want to root for with a hero at the helm.

It’s not particularly surprising that G2 dealt with Fnatic in such methodical fashion. While G2 succeeds on conventional picks and converts early game leads into suffocating macro wins, Fnatic thrives only within the confines of their strengths. After a dominant game 1 victory, Fnatic’s chaos was contained, and G2 made quick work of the series. It was disheartening to watch the methodical, measured macro game of G2 smother the imperfect, beautiful chaos that was Fnatic’s style of play. The former kings of Europe ran out of magic, and their defeat at the hands of G2 was symbolic of the plagues afflicting the EU LCS.

Expected? Absolutely. Fun to watch? Not even close.

Shot at Redemption

It’s a fitting finale that Unicorns of Love will be the ones to face G2 in Krakow in the Finals this Sunday. If Fnatic was a spark, Unicorns of Love is a beacon of hope. The most likeable team in Europe is currently at the peak of their organization in terms of level of play, and they succeed with both on-and-off meta picks.

Unicorns of Love is no longer the wild, “chaos style” team that burst onto the scene at the end of 2014. They have found a system that works no matter how heavy the flow of player turnover, and they have developed into one of the stronger macro teams in EU. G2 come in as the clear favorite, but if Unicorns of Love can unlock star Top Laner Tamas “Vizicsacsi” Kiss and generate early advantages on the upper half of the map, they can become the heroes of the EU LCS by dethroning G2.

Should G2 win their third consecutive EU LCS title, they can redeem Europe all on their own with a strong international performance. If G2 make a deep run at MSI, it won’t matter that the way they play the game isn’t particularly exciting. It won’t matter that their time at the top has directly coincided with the stalest stretch of European League of Legends.

It won’t matter that viewership of the EU LCS has dropped drastically, or that the European scene has never developed personal brands and narratives to the level of their North American counterparts. International success has a lot of mileage when it comes to the pride of a region and the adoration of the regional fanbase.

Counter Logic Gaming was the laughing stock of North America for years. Strong starts to splits were common for CLG, but the second half of the split would see them falter and crumble, often bowing out in the quarterfinals and even experiencing the dangers of relegation first hand. When CLG defeated TSM in the 2016 NA LCS Spring Final and punched their ticket to the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational, no one expected them to make it out of the group stage.

CLG responded with the greatest international performance in North American League of Legends history, taking games off of SK Telecom T1 and Chinese powerhouse Royal Never Give Up in the group stage and riding the momentum all the way to the Grand Final.

One year later, CLG has kept the exact same roster, trying to recapture that MSI magic despite middling results since.

G2 Mithy
Courtesy of Riot Games

Mithy expressed in a recent interview that it would be encouraging for people to support G2, but that’s something the players will have to earn. If G2 won the EU LCS and made the MSI final, all previous embarrassments and criticisms would melt away. However, if the villains of Europe are unable to match their domestic reign with strong international results, the European League of Legends scene will continue to be defined by stale domestic competition and zero hope for international glory.

DiscoSheep is the Co-Founder/Editor-In-Chief at HOWLA eSports. You can follow him on Twitter @HOWLADiscoSheep for more live League of Legends.

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