Rift Rivals has arrived in Berlin! Starting Wednesday July 5 the best of EU will take on the best of NA in three days of glory-hunting, meme-generating and pride-inducing action. As the NA crowd comes to town and discovers the wonders of European fast food, we’re taking a look at some of the matchups to watch before it all kicks off later today.
EU MIDS, MAN
Fun fact: every mid laner participating in this Rift Rivals is European, or made his way to NA via a stint in Europe. Bjergsen, of course, burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old wunderkind on Copenhagen Wolves, before replacing Reginald on TSM a year later. Since then the young Dane cemented himself as perhaps the best mid-laner to grace the NA LCS along with Froggen, though the Echo Fox mid laner saw most of his success in Europe.
Cloud 9’s Jensen never played in the EU LCS, but like his countryman Bjergsen cemented himself as one of the NA LCS’ prevailing mid-lane talents. Jensen consistently rivals Bjergsen for the top spot in the NA LCS, using his intense laning prowess to out-muscle many of his opponents. Just recently Jensen got the better of Bjergsen in their NA LCS regular season series, picking up multiple solo kills in the process.
Both will put their rivalry aside for this week, as they must turn their attention to defeating their EU rivals, as too must former H2K mid-laner Ryu. The Phoenix1 mid laner achieved a semifinal finish with H2K at the 2016 World Championships, placing first in the group before taking out the surprise Albus Nox Luna, before crashing out in a one-sided series against Samsung Galaxy. During his time in EU Ryu revived his career, establishing himself as one of the best mid laners in the region before moving to P1 for the 2017 season. After helping them reach third place in the spring split, along with fellow Korean superstar and another former KT Rolster player Arrow, P1 have endured a trying summer split. The team is currently tied for eighth place, and it remains to be seen whether the Phoenix can rise again to compete at Rift Rivals.
Of interest will be the matchup between Ryu, the veteran, and Fnatic’s Caps, the rookie. This will be their first time facing each other, but Ryu’s already looking forward to playing against Fnatic’s man in the mid lane: “I never got to play against Caps, but he looks really good and should be fun to play against,” said Ryu, who believes he has the advantage in the matchup due to his veteran status: “Experience helps a lot, and will give me an edge.”
This is the level of opposition that our European heroes must overcome: former friends, rivals and compatriots, exceptional talents that departed European shores for the American dream. While it might be too much to hope for a reverse exodus, similar to the Korean stars that returned to their homeland in search of better competition, it will be a delight to watch these European players compete on EU soil once more. Even if some of our own consider them “retired”.
Though Perkz is clearly just having a laugh, he’ll want to be careful with his words. Perkz vs Bjergsen will be the matchup to watch in the mid lane this tournament. These guys battled hard at MSI, and though Perkz performed to his potential at the tournament he did not have an easy time against the Danish star. This will be a key lane to keep track of in the G2 vs TSM match, a volatile lane where a slip-up from either could throw the balance of the match completely off. Should G2 capitulate in the early game, especially in the mid lane, it would severely diminish their chances of going late. As we all know, G2 without a chance late game is a slow loss in the making.
How lucky we are that G2 and TSM open the show.
WHO'S YOUR CARRY?
We could pick out almost any match-up and hype it up with ease, considering the quality of players present at this tournament, and the AD Carry pool is no different; Rekkles, Arrow, Samux, Sneaky are all top-tier players. But let’s focus on the face-off between G2’s Zven vs TSM’s Doublelift. After all, his is the matchup everyone wants to see. Who can carry hardest?
After stellar 2016 domestic seasons, both Zven and Doublelift (considered the best in their role in their respective regions at the time) capitulated at Worlds, exiting the tournament at the group stage. Doublelift took a break from professional play for the spring split following the tournament, but is now back and seeking to dominate the bottom lane once again.
Zven, meanwhile, kicked on from the disappointment of Worlds, winning yet another split with G2 Esports, before becoming his team’s primary carry at MSI 2017. G2 managed to knock out a Doublelift-less TSM in the group stages, ultimately reaching the final where they gave the reigning World Champions and LCK champions a torrid time. Though they eventually lost 3-1, this was the closest a Western team had come to matching the Korean gods since Moscow 5/Gambit Gaming back in seasons 2 and 3.
Now they must face each other in Berlin as regional representatives for Rift Rivals, and this is sure to be explosive. We already know we’re in for a long, somewhat gruelling match should these teams match up evenly. G2 continues to run the ‘protect the Zven’ style in many of their games, though this has led to mixed success so far in the summer split, and we all saw how their games against TSM played out at MSI: near hour-long epics, with a G2 win hinging on whether they could overturn massive early deficits. It ended 1-1 overall, but only one of the two teams made it to the knockout stages.
Early pressure will be the name of the game, says Doublelift: “Right now I usually try to play to put the maximum amount of pressure possible on the enemy bot lane and jungler, draw attention and resources from the enemy team while not being in a position where it's possible to die. TSM is a team that needs lanes with pressure in order to invade the enemy team's jungle safely.”
While we’re not likely to see ‘protect the Doublelift’ compositions from TSM, he will surely have a large impact on the games they play. Can Doublelift and Biofrost put down Zven and Mithy before they take over the game? Or will the European duo survive and rise to the challenge in the late game?
The stars aligned: off-year Fnatic met summer split sOAZ in what has been the revered European organisation’s most successful split since the undefeated summer 2015 run with Huni and Reignover. Fnatic fans can, in a large part, thank their leading Frenchman for showing just how good he can be when he’s in the right mood. Many have likened his performances to smurfing, as he’s so far ahead of the competition he might as well be in another league. As we edge closer and closer to playoffs, when sOAZ gets his pre-Worlds buff, the difference will only become more stark.
Who then can challenge him? Can the NA top-laners even beat Expect and Vizicsacsi?
This may sound like pure hyperbole, but anyone’s who’s watched Fnatic in action this split will understand where we’re coming from. When you compare sOAZ to the competition, you wonder what it will take to bring him down. C9’s shuffling around of Impact and Ray is great for Ray’s development, but is he ready to take down a veteran like sOAZ with all his experience and guile? Probably not. That leaves Impact to bear the burden of shutting him down when the teams meet, and Impact has hardly looked stellar thus far, with Ray often preferred. P1’s Zig was a surprise standout in the spring split, his Kled in particular a force to be reckoned with, but he will struggle to have the same impact as sOAZ.
TSM’s Hauntzer, as usual, stands out as the most likely candidate to take down the Frenchman, but it will be no easy task. While Hauntzer is no stranger to carrying TSM to victory, that will be a lot harder against a veteran at the top of his game like sOAZ. A top-lane solo kill is out of the question, so Hauntzer will have to match or beat sOAZ in teamfights and through teleport utilisation. Hauntzer’s been a top NA talent for a couple of seasons now, narrowly missing out on the NA LCS MVP for spring, but this will be one of his toughest tasks yet. Should he take sOAZ down, he will have earned all the plaudits he will get.
Rift Rivals kicks off on Wednesday July 5, catch all the action on watch.lolesports.com and cheer on your region as they take to the Rift. The EU vs NA rivalry will hit critical mass this week, but only one region will claim the bragging rights until Worlds comes around once again. Which region do you think will be victorious?