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Four in a row: A brief history of G2’s evolution in the EU LCS

G2 Esports is the undisputed king of the EU LCS
G2 Esports hoisted its fourth consecutive EU LCS trophy over the weekend. Photo courtesy of Riot Games.

As the peels of silver confetti fell, Kim “Trick” Gang-yun immediately stood and looked to his left with his arms outstretched. Luka “PerkzPerković, the only member of G2 Esports to have been with the team since its EU LCS debut, put down his headset to answer the embrace as the rest of the team followed suit to join the huddle.

The Paris crowd whistled. Owner Carlos “ocelote” Rodríguez Santiago eagerly rushed on stage to and gestured to the staff to join him as play-by-play caster Trevor “Quickshot” Henry started narrating.

“No LCS team has done it,” he began. “At four titles, G2 are one win away from topping the old legacy. It is no doubt that they are the best franchise consecutively for two years.”

Four in a row. Only LMS team Flash Wolves has matched a string of four domestic league championships since the LCS’ inception. G2 had it in mind since at least halfway through the split.

I heard no one has four straight (championships) in LCS or LCK,” Trick said more than a month before G2 defeated Misfits in Sunday’s final. “So I wanted to make the record.”

After perhaps G2 Esports’ worst split in memory, the team had its most decisive 3-0 final victory against Misfits. During the season, team captain Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez confessed he was worried about G2’s chances to return to the League of Legends World Championship.

Now I’m worried, honestly,” he said. “I really feel like — it doesn’t feel well anymore, you know? I think we need to speed up the process if there’s any process at all. We need to get things working again or we will not make it.”

G2 dragged itself through a summer of failed 1-3-1 compositions, a five game series against Splyce where mid laner Perkz found himself picked off, and shrugged off yet another period of “vacation.” But that doesn’t make the entire journey easy or unworthy of celebration.

In four separate finals, G2 faced four different opponents. Teams G2 played last year are no longer in the LCS. Still, this team remains the Kings of Europe. That title feels more impressive than ever, and comparing the G2 that hoisted the trophy in Paris to the one that entered the LCS two years ago makes their growth from awkward teenager to ruler of the EU LCS all the more impressive.

At the close of 2015, dominant EU LCS team Fnatic, holder of the undefeated 18-0 record, split in three pieces. Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim left for Team SoloMid, and top laner Heo “Huni” Sueng-hoon left with jungler Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin for Immortals. That left Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten to remake Fnatic.

Meanwhile, Origen, second place team of 2015 EU LCS summer and worlds semifinalist, lost mid laner Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez to the background where more ownership demands occupied his time. As the 2016 spring split dragged on, it became clear both rosters took a hit in performance.

Three other teams — two of them entirely new to the league — pushed up to the top of the standings. H2K Gaming, long known for smart regular season performances and strong 1-3-1 play, Team Vitality, new owners of the Gambit Gaming spot and victors in high vision battles with creative compositions, and G2 Esports, a no holds barred, aggressive jungle-mid centric team, competed over the first seeds. That time felt exciting because three staunchly different teams had risen to fill a void left by Fnatic and Origen. The first place victor became a guessing game.

Throughout the course of that split, G2 lost only three games in total: one each to Fnatic, H2K, and Vitality. Despite this initial success, the roster of Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek, Trick, Perkz, Kim “Emperor” Jin-hyun, and Glenn “Hybrid” Doornenbal was expected to choke in the playoffs.

Dubbed Europe’s “team-fighting team” with a tinge of derision, the execution of G2’s lane swaps fell under a critical eye. “Team-fighting team” was something of a misnomer, as most of G2’s kills came from skirmishes around the mid lane. The team invested heavily in wards to keep Perkz competitive while Trick invaded and grew his jungle experience lead over his opponent.

Though scrappy and rough, G2 had a lot of characteristics European teams at the time lacked: a fixated control of mid lane and the ability to grow map control from there. Perkz and Trick ended the regular season as Rookie of the Split and MVP for a reason.

The core of G2’s strategy has remained flexible even as it has evolved, but it feels at times like Perkz and Trick were never more in synch than they were that spring. As soon as Trick found himself caught in the enemy jungle, Perkz appeared behind him as if Trick had a third Summoner Spell. When Perkz played far forward in lane, Trick was there for a dive.

A great deal of G2’s strength came from that lack of hesitation, but they set up wards and denied the enemy jungler well. G2 just felt detached from the side lanes and only barely managed lane swaps, preferring instead to use a top lane Teleport to keep bottom lane relevant.

We just went luckily through EU LCS,” Perkz said a year later. “Trick and I were pretty good. Kikis kind of stepped it up in playoffs too…it’s kind of strange for me because I would never expect to win the spring split.”

When looking to crown the eventual playoff winners, many were quick to dismiss G2. The team didn’t have the sophistication of H2K or the cleverness of Vitality. On top of that, G2 had two inexperienced rookies on the roster that might choke in a high pressure situation.

But no one in the playoffs could properly slow G2. Both matches against Fnatic and Origen went to four games for a symbolic take down of Europe’s last two top teams. In the final match against Origen, jungler Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider heavily focused mid, but Perkz — down three kills — still kept pressure mid and used roams and team-fighting to snowball the game to a close.

Of course, no Cinderella story exists without problems. With its first EU LCS title under their belt, G2 had already started looking to raise its ceiling. With the second annual Mid-Season Invitational on the horizon, G2 looked for ways to improve the bottom lane. G2 began organizing a blockbuster move on the way to the Shanghai tournament. That move caused the two greatest controversies in the team’s history.

With Origen felled in the EU LCS final, G2 had eyes on mithy and Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, pegged as the best bottom lane in Europe. Not only did the move disrupt G2’s practice for MSI and contribute to its disastrous 2-8 performance in the group stage, but the Origen move created waves of backlash from the Spanish organization’s fanbase.

G2 instantly became villains, and though that mantle is never easy to carry, it was one the marketing team embraced with popular shorts like “G2 is Everywhere,” featuring the team parodying the Riot Games short “EU is Everywhere” by vandalizing logos and memorabilia of other teams. The advertising helped the players blow off steam while they focused on climbing to another semifinal bye in the summer split.

G2 began its more than a year long undefeated run that summer. It occasionally dropped single games, but never lost a series. The eight game losses, however, showed signs G2 still wasn’t the worlds-beater that Europe craved from its top team.

“Since EU didn’t have old school teams that went to worlds,” mithy said, reflecting on 2016, “and other regions did, when you’re a veteran team, you play more together…Veteran teams or teams that have been playing together for long have experienced playing good teams and seeing what really good teams do in the game.”

While G2 Esports played best around its jungler of any team in Europe, it lacked the finesse of coordination between mithy and Trick. If mithy wanted to base and head to ward the enemy jungle with his Sightstone, Trick would sometimes prioritize getting top camps. Even if the team’s top laner had the push that would prevent Trick from getting invaded, he and mithy didn’t meet up around bottom lane.

G2 divided the map in this manner. It showed strongest in that summer’s semifinal match against Unicorns of Love when Trick camped around top lane — now Kim “Expect” Dae-han, not Kikis. After Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamas got an advantage in one game, Trick righted it with pressure in subsequent matches, but that’s when another common G2 trend began to emerge.

It takes more than one game for G2 to get it right. Common habits like Trick trending toward a full clear and a back in the jungle sometimes slowed down the team’s early game. Zven and mithy got a clear advantage in bot, but it didn’t always transfer to the rest of the map. With a change in the mid lane meta, Perkz had difficulty playing less mobile champions and frequently got caught out.

Perkz seemed to feel uneasy, perhaps cocky. The mid lane meta with Taliyah and Aurelion Sol didn’t suit him.

“I just didn’t like the play style, you know? Like push and roam, push and roam, can’t win lane or can’t lose lane. It was just a really boring champion.” Perkz laughed. “I just refuse to see this champion in my game.”

All these smaller problems contributed to a build up of disconnect on two different sides of the map. While it seemed a lot like G2 played well around its jungler, the team mostly just held strong lanes to allow Trick to farm. Trick didn’t necessarily play to the side of the map with pressure, and he didn’t take advantage of snowball opportunities when they became available.

In EU,” mithy said, “you get away with not playing a lot more towards your jungle. There’s a lot more trading and just lane phase in general. It’s hard to say, I think as a team, if you are a good team, you play more with your jungler.”

Add in the fact that the elimination of lane swaps from the meta hit hard on one of the macro strengths of mithy and Europe as a whole, and G2 had more than a few problems to fix at its pre-worlds Korean boot camp. It didn’t quite make it.

After an embarrassing collapse at worlds and a 1-5 record in the group stage, G2 had some soul searching. Many of its games snowballed, but G2 pressed any advantages too hard around Baron. Not accounting for respawn timers, G2 lost leads twice against the ROX Tigers, a Korean powerhouse.

Perkz said one of the biggest takeaways from the experience was not to second-guess themselves. G2 didn’t properly figure out the meta before worlds and ended up changing champion priority at the last moment. Going back into worlds this year, his mantra is simple:

“Stick to our shit.”

Stick to our shit, however, worked slightly against G2 at times throughout the 2017 spring split. G2 went for late scaling drafts or misidentified win conditions in the IEM Katowice final against Flash Wolves. Much of that came from early fumbles when Trick would force ganks and not account for Teleport — as in the final spring regular season series against Fnatic — or improper lane assignments.

Whatever the reason, G2 ended up behind a lot in the spring. Despite that, G2’s domestic record remained intact. The team didn’t lose a series until the fateful final best-of-three against Team ROCCAT.

ROCCAT identified G2’s dependency on pushing mid lane and went for heavy clearing champions like Nasus and Swain. Without mid control, G2 lost some of its strengths in setting up for and making plays around Baron or taking strong team fights. G2 couldn’t just “run it down,” and ROCCAT came out ahead of G2 in a series for the first time in over a year.

G2 faced Fnatic again in a semifinal, but neither that team nor Unicorns of Love could take advantage of suddenly appearing gaps in Perkz and Trick’s synergy. Fnatic’s tendency to tunnel on side lane gave up Barons to G2 after it got major early advantages, and Fnatic played awkward lane swaps that gave up early turrets to G2 in exchange for kills. Neither surprise tactic worked. Unicorns, in part because of issues with its mid lane champion pool, was entirely outclassed.

Some of the gaps in jungle and mid control continued to arise when G2 went to its second consecutive MSI. When G2 didn’t know how to necessarily answer foreign comps, it fell back on Kog’Maw picks and late-game team-fighting. When teams like WE drafted to burst through Shen or Orianna shielding to eliminate Kog’Maw, G2 had limited responses.

But G2 put Trick on comfort with the likes of Olaf and began tunneling hard on taking over mid lane. Against SK Telecom T1 in the final, G2’s philosophy seemed to consist of “If we take out Faker, we win.” Repeated ganks mid allowed Perkz to snowball, but Lee “Faker” Sanghyeok was able to pull pressure from nearly all of G2 and free up side lanes. Even so, G2’s place in the MSI final demonstrated definitively that the team had evolved.

That accomplished, the villain’s mantle retired, G2 took well-earned rest. Its debut match in the EU LCS summer split featured three substitute players to give Expect and Trick an extended vacation and allow Perkz to recover from illness.

The mantra after that became: “We need to figure out the meta.”

During the process, G2 abused the popularity of Doran’s Shield and the fail safe of hyper carries like Kog’Maw. The team shied away from lane winning utility ADCs more common in other regions, and much of EU LCS followed suit in building scaling compositions.

In the early weeks of LCS,” Zven said, “we didn’t want to play Ashe/Varus much in scrims because we couldn’t really win if we played the right way to play the game. We were struggling with — Ashe is a champ where, if her team is behind, you lose because you can’t carry by yourself.”

Dire comparisons between G2 and Origen began to arise. During Origen’s last split with Zven and mithy, it felt the team had begun to rely too much on hard carry performances from its bottom lane. When G2 struggled, it also looked to Zven.

In case of emergency, break hyper carry box.

But as G2 kept asserting, most problems came down to conversations. Members of the team got picked off because of confusion around dragon and Rift Herald priority. The attitude toward scrims, as Perkz put it, became extremely negative when they weren’t winning as much as they did in the past.

Then two things happened. The meta switched to heavily favor tank jungle picks like Gragas and Sejuani, and G2 used Rift Rivals as a wakeup call.

“We had a talk during Rift Rivals,” Perkz said, “then we had a long talk after Rift Rivals. We got all of our problems out, and we discussed them, and we made good plans for short term, for long term. We just — it was a really great feeling. Everyone felt so relieved. We decided to take scrims a bit not so serious. We take it very serious, but not like — we don’t get mad if we lose. And we try to not doom the games. We try to play from behind. We have a lot more fun. We make a lot more in-game jokes. It just feels so good to scrim now.”

A combination of the meta aiding G2’s natural style centered around holding lanes and letting Trick farm with priority mid and a refresher did the trick. G2 began to climb back toward the top of its group. Despite finishing second and not earning a semifinal bye, G2 still felt destined for the summer final. A 2-0 loss to Fnatic to close the regular season had more to do with a sudden misunderstanding of champion priority and how to draft Lucian mid lane compositions.

Against Splyce, G2 showed some of its old holes. Caught out in rotations, Splyce used pick compositions to disentangle G2’s jungler from his mid laner. Particular in Game 4, Perkz found himself locked down by Splyce’s Jarvan IV and Sejuani combination in river while he looked for wards.

“I lost my focus,” Perkz said of the series against Splyce. “I don’t know why it was. It was the first time this year – the first time ever that I actually just lost focus. I drank like two cups of coffee instead of one.”

But the G2 that appeared in the rest of the playoffs, after its least dominant regular season to date, was the most ruthless spectators had seen yet. Perkz and Trick with careful mid lane attention pushed back the H2K duo of Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski and Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten. With a stronger 2-v-2, after an initially close Game 1, G2 closed out the semifinal with echoes of the team that debuted in the EU LCS in spring — just a few more missed ultimates in the mid lane from Trick.

Against Misfits, however, the development and growth of G2 truly beamed. On the stage in Paris, Misfits’ careful control mid and attempts to snowball were matched by G2’s better collapse compositions and more careful setup. When Misfits failed to prep a wave in the top lane around Baron, G2 could pull the monster objective unendingly, knowing it had the better teamfight compositions, and Misfits’ Rengar had no clear opening.

The G2 that won the 2017 EU LCS summer final feels the same and yet completely different from the G2 that entered the EU LCS last spring. This G2 still makes their jungle and mid lane duo the focus, it still has a few holes in when to go mid, and Trick doesn’t always pressure advantages as well as he could. Perkz sometimes forgets himself and roams to river to ward without shallow vision in the jungle or an awareness of his opponent’s location.

Ultimately, with a powerful bottom lane, this G2 no longer feels the need to skirmish and shock in the early game. Zven sits as a safeguard when everything goes wrong, and G2 has finally become the “team-fighting team” it was dubbed soon after its LCS debut.

It’s a crutch on which G2 might rely too heavily, but Zven and mithy give Trick and Perkz the breathing room they have needed to become the team’s stars. G2 has learned to become more conservative with its use of pressure, to ward and push methodically before a play. The basics have allowed G2 to soar well above the rest of Europe once again, and the fact that it never felt satisfied to just be the best in the EU LCS has allowed it to stay that way.

When G2 went undefeated in Europe for more than a year, but came back from its break and struggled, the rest of the competition didn’t magically level up. G2 legitimately tripped and fell for the first time in its EU LCS career. Once villains, the newly crowned heroes had to fight to come back out on top. The decisiveness of their semifinal and final wins, the felling of their fourth grand final opponent, proves that G2 remains Europe’s top representative for worlds by a significant margin.

“Even if next split,” Perkz said, “we disband or people will leave, you know – or God knows what happens. Maybe LCS format changes, or whatever. It’s gonna be this legacy, and no one else has ever done it…”

Four in a row. Perkz and Trick have remained the central duo of G2 for four consecutive domestic titles.

It’s even more impressive than it sounds.

Photos courtesy of Riot Games

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