Going into the summer split of the European League of Legends Championship Series, G2 Esports looked to be the best Western team — and by a lot. It had the No. 1 bot lane and jungler, a top-two mid laner and a top-three top laner. There really isn’t any other team that could come close on paper, and G2 leads the standings with a 3-1-0 record heading into Thursday’s matchup against H2K. That tie, though, is something of importance: the only game G2 played without Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek was a loss. Shortly after the games for the week, Kikis decided to leave G2, and later released a statement.
It shouldn’t come to anyone as a surprise that Kikis left, but G2 should be disappointed. A quick visit to Reddit will see a flow of comments about how great a move it is for G2, and what a huge mistake Kikis made. At the end of the day, the results might not actually differ in the long run because of how good G2’s other players are, but it is disconcerting trend that is happening in the West, especially Europe of late, that there seems to be a “must have” for filling up both allotted foreign slots for Korean players.
Ki “Expect” Dae-han was picked up as a substitute top laner with the directive to split time with Kikis through the split. Aquiring Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez, both European natives, from Origen freed up a foreign import slot for G2.
In the short term, it’s a contest of who the better player is. And the answer is very clear: Kikis. Ignoring results from MSI, as every member of G2 played horrible, looking at the playoffs and finals for spring split, Kikis was a key factor that helped G2 win the title.
A perfect example would be the final game in the final match against Origen. G2 was being bullied around the map, with a stubborn pick from Luka “Perkz” Perkovićin the mid lane on Zed, and Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneide dominating the map with his superior ganks on Elise coming out of Origen. But Kikis was the one to do the carrying and help G2 make a comeback with constant pressure in his lane and amazing TP plays. It’s a small example, but being the deciding game in the finals for the spring split isn’t something to be taken lightly.
Over the split, Kikis’ play improved over time, and having a Korean import to split time was a reasonable slap in the face to Kikis. Firstly, Expect’s only real credentials was the fact that he was Korean. Expect played previously for 2144 Gaming and Xenics Storm, both of which was unsuccessful. In the game that Expect played last week against ROCCAT, there was an obvious difference in play. Expect had some questionable TPs, and even died 1-v-1 against the opposing top laner. His team fighting was also questionable, and probably a huge factor in the unsuccessful team fight around Baron that solidified the win for ROCCAT, when he flashed in to get the kill on the opposing Gragas resulting in his immediate death.
While one loss isn’t the worst thing to happen, the real problem was practicing. Kikisexplained: “One big downside for me was that I was suffering from the lack of scrim time since Expect and me were sharing practice slots.” This was putting a hamper directly on the short term growth of the team, which means that the pick up of Expect only meant he was there to be a long-term project. Expect was picked up by the team after the organization identified problems with Kikis, which he agreed to work on. Instead of being confident with its current player, G2 went to Korea to get an import.
G2 didn’t kick Kikis off the team, or even officially state that Kikis wasn’t going to start the rest of the games this split. But the fact that his starting spot was still in contention was putting a hamper on his play. It showed the lack of confidence the organization had, and the inevitable conclusion that Expect will eventually become the starting top laner. It’s saddening that people will bash Kikis and say that it’s a mistake for him to leave the team. It’s obvious that Kikis was in a lose-lose situation, and ultimately became a placeholder, “despite making marked improvements on all the issues we identified together.”
But that is how it is in the current landscape of esports. The goal is to win worlds at any cost, to shine as bright as you can, despite how short your career may be. Kikis is a of a rare breed, still keeping up despite being apart of competitive League of Legends since the very beginning. Most are not so lucky, but Kikis deserved better.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.