Image courtesy of @G2esports.
The League of Legends community held their breath this past weekend, as a duel atop the summit took place. A decisive final crowning the new kings of Europe, the Classico: Fnatic versus G2 Esports. This best-of-five series was the culmination of an absolutely incredible season.
Like almost all events around the world, the League of Legends European Championship has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 13, instead of SK Gaming and MAD Lions, Eefje "Sjokz" Depoortere appeared alone on the LEC stage. In front of the bewildered eyes of thousands of spectators, and in a tone reflecting the gravity of the situation, she declared that Riot Games had decided to postpone the split for safety reasons.
However, four days later, the publisher announced that for the first time in eight seasons the LEC would take place online, with each team playing from its respective gaming house.
There would be no live studio audience, no stage, no lights — the end of the Spring Split and the Playoffs would be contested from a distance, as if only scrims.
And yet, the stakes remained high, because this split was of particular importance for Fnatic and G2 Esports. With six championship titles in hand, the Samurai were chasing their great rivals, who taunted them from atop their seven trophies. Much more than a single title, the outcome of Spring Split would have either affirmed Fnatic's superiority, or strengthened G2's claim of being kings of Europe.
COVID-19: 0 - LEC: 1
In the end, the interruption of the league, and its resumption for Week 8 on March 20, didn't change much. Dominant in the first four weeks, G2 Esports continued their winning streak, and Fnatic contented themselves with just keeping up, unable to overtake them. G2 finished top across the regular season, while Fnatic and Origen competed for second place.
This could have been Summer 2019 all over again, but MAD Lions surprised everyone by finishing fourth. No one expected these rookies to reach this stage of the competition, yet the Lions had shown incredible potential in the last few weeks. They managed to overcome G2 in Week 5 — a feat that even Fnatic failed to achieve.
Behind them, Misfits and Rogue took the last two seeds — but, with the new format of the Playoffs, their chances remained slim. Placed in the losers' bracket, the two teams had no room for error. They were expected to be minor obstacles for the championship favorites, which ultimately came to pass.
MAD Lions, the buzzkillers
Fans imagined a meeting between Fnatic and G2 Esports in the semi-finals. However, while this prophecy was partially fulfilled through Fnatic's win over Origen, they were left shocked by what happened next.
MAD Lions, the rookie team, upset G2 Esports 3-2, sending the LEC champions to the losers' bracket and snatching their place in the semi-finals.
"They are trying to replicate the same system, the same idea [as FunPlus Phoenix]" Fnatic toplaner Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau told Laure Valée a few weeks earlier. Perhaps that is what allowed them to overcome G2.
Behind G2's defeat hid a reason much more complex than simply playing a style imported from China. At the start of the Playoffs, in line with the role swap of Luka "Perkz" Perković and Rasmus "Caps" Borregaard Winther, the defending champions had decided to develop their own style.
Rejecting the 1-3-1 that was the source of their success, the Samurai chose to adopt more team-oriented strategies. The defeat against MAD Lions seemed to demonstrate their inability to fully grasp this new game plan.
David vs Goliath, the rematch
However, fate had not finished mocking them. While G2 Esports progressed through the tournament tree, crushing Origen in their path, MAD Lions were smashed 0-3 by Fnatic. In the end, the Lion Cubs found themselves face to face with the Samurai in the losers' bracket semi-final in a decisive rematch
Before it even started, this series had already taken the form of an epic confrontation; where David met Goliath for the second time. However, the situation was very different: during an interview following Fnatic's victory, Bwipo exposed the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the Lions. G2 Esports had a front-row seat.
Without real surprise, the sling wasn't enough this time. After an anthology of technical problems, the Lion Cubs bowed. However, more was needed to dampen the morale of these rookies, now well known for the atmosphere within their roster. Even in defeat, Marek "Humanoid" Brázda kept smiling.
"Ahah, I think we had a lot of fun — especially Andrei [Popa, aka Orome — Ed.]," quips the young midlaner, "During the breaks in the last game, we knew it was already a bit lost, so we decided to have fun playing a little 'ARAM' style."
A real stage is perhaps what the Lion Cubs lacked to win the series. If cheers from the crowd generate a stress which accompanies even the most experienced veterans on a daily basis, they also lavish incredible energy — the kind of energy that moves mountains and allows players to win when it seems impossible.
"I find it sad," said Humanoid of the semi-final against G2 Esports. Alongside Splyce, the young midlaner from MAD Lions tasted playoffs, as well Worlds, last year — and his opinion of the online format was expected.
"Playing on stage is just a lot better because there is hype. Today, it looked like a normal day. We just played a scrim, but instead, it was an official match."
However, MAD Lions should not feel ashamed. The split rookies completed an honorable journey, claiming an unexpected podium finsh.
"We took third place, which is far from bad for a team made up of four rookies," explains Humanoid, "At first, we were just aiming for Playoffs because we were really not good. Then, as the season went on, we realized that we could be better than sixth or seventh place. I did not expect to be third, I think we have exceeded the expectations of many people."
Indeed, the Cubs have hit the headlines, and they are already tipped to be formidable competitors in the Summer Split.
A final at the top of Europe
The threads of fate seemed to have found the direction it had been given a few weeks earlier. G2 Esports prepared to meet Fnatic in a duel at the very top of European League of Legends.
On the side of Fnatic, nobody imagined defeat.
"I fully believe the three will end up on our side of the scoreboard," commented Bwipo before the final, "How many games they end up racking up before that happens is something I don't know. That's just a feeling I get, I'm very confident that we're going to win. I know we're going to win three games, I just don't know if that's going to take five games in total or if that's going to take four or three.
"No matter what you do, you're always going to regret not winning a final. So, even if you set your expectations, it's still going to feel awful when you lose. No matter how low your expectations are. That's why, when I went to Worlds in 2018, I just shot to the top. No matter what I do, if I lose in quarters and groups, it's all going to suck. So I'm just gonna go ahead and say 'I'm winning Worlds.' Same logic here."
Even before the draft started, the atmosphere was surreal. Instead of an epic opening ceremony marking the end of the split and the start of the final, DJ Robin Schulz was mixing in front of a green background. Despite the unprecedented context, Riot Games had made considerable effort to ensure the show went on.
"Caps had an epiphany."
After this strangest show, Fnatic and G2 finally found themselves on the Rift for an expeditious and — let's be honest — almost scripted final. The Samurai made no quarter of their opponents, demonstrating mastery and an edifying cleanliness of play. Never had we seen them so precise; it seemed impossible to believe that this was the same team which, a week earlier, succumbed to MAD Lions.
In reality, it was G2 Esports' turn to give a lesson in League. With the touch of a master, the Samurai rolled out their plan. They essentially won the first two games during the draft phase, before even setting foot on the Rift.
Their success? In an interview with Laure, Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski said that "Caps had an epiphany" on the eve of the match — Kog'Maw and Lulu in the botlane to counter the popular Aphelios-Tahm Kench duo that Fnatic liked to play.
This revelation immediately paid off, catching Fnatic short in the first two games. In the third, Rekkles and his team seemingly woke up: they managed to take control of the early game. However, after some classic, almost signature shenanigans, G2 regained the ascendancy — then claimed their third victory.
In flip flops and socks
The spectacle we witnessed then was incredible, even more so than any LEC ceremony. In socks or flip-flops — or even both — each member of G2 came to lift the trophy, delivered specially to their Berlin gaming house by a courier appointed for the event. A handful of confetti flew through the air and, in turn, the players and coaching staff made their way to the center of the room to celebrate their glory, to the amused applause of the rest of the group.
It's difficult to fully comprehend this victory, when just a few months earlier they were on stage at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris, facing FPX in the final of Worlds 2019. In the shadow of this defeat, and in light of the seventh LEC trophy added to their cabinet, G2 Esports seemingly stand out as the best representatives Europe has. Despite the fact that several of their players are gradually feeling the years weigh upon them.
Jankos went on to claim the LEC's coveted MVP award for the second split in a row, but both he and Perkz are beginning to consider life post-LEC. However, they don't forget the timeless rivalry between themselves and the LCS.
"If I become worse at the game, then the LCS will make sense. If I went to NA, I would go for the dollar, you know?" The Polish jungler burst into laughter.
We are still far from such events, because the gaze of G2 Esports yet again turns to Worlds — and like Perkz, Jankos desperately wants to add the elusive Summoner's Cup to their collection. Before then, Summer Split will have a very special flavor, as another G2 victory would cement their recent dominance of the European championship.
By claiming an eighth title, the Samurai would also become the most decorated team in LEC history — ahead of bitter rivals Fnatic. Time will tell if that comes to pass.
- Individual interview with Humanoid
- Post-match interviews by Laure Valée
- EUphoria Season 5 Episode 14
In a series clean sweep, G2 Esports stomped Fnatic to become the Spring Split League of Legends European champions!
With the end of the Spring Split of the LEC, a new MVP was crowned! For this Split, it is the jungler of the G2 Esports, Jankos, who wins the title.