In any form of sport or competition, the most successful tend to be those who will do anything to win. Whether it’s the football player who bends the rules, the rugby pro who continues playing through his injury or the retired midlaner who makes his own League of Legends team.
The latter describes Carlos “ocelote” Rodríguez Santiago, SK Gaming’s former midlaner who was remembered as the person on the receiving end of Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño’s legendary backdoor play. Now, Ocelote is better known as the man who founded one of Europe’s greatest ever teams, G2 Esports.
And alongside him is Luka “Perkz” Perković, the face of the organisation and a player with the same mentality. Desperate for G2 to become one of the best teams in the world, the Croatian gave up his mid lane spot and moved to the bot lane to make room for former Fnatic superstar Rasmus “Caps” Winther.
It was an unexpected roster swap that will go down as one of the greatest moves in LoL history. That line-up of G2 would go on to produce one of the greatest seasons in European history with two LEC titles, an MSI trophy and a Worlds final under their belts. Moving forward into next year, the expectations on the squad could not be higher.
Expect the unexpected
Just like in the off-season, you can never quite predict what G2 will do in games. That is one of the team’s major strengths and one that the other LEC teams learned about very quickly. In the roster’s first-ever game on stage as a five-man unit, G2 showed off just one of the many tricks the players had hidden up their sleeves with a poke comp that worked to devastating effect. Caps took Jayce into the mid lane while Perkz flexed Zoe to the bot lane and Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski was placed on Karthus jungler duties to finish off any unsuspecting Origen members who had been lucky enough to survive.
And it was Origen who were on the wrong end of another yet unorthodox G2 strategy later in the season during a much more important game, the Spring Split finals. The fact that Origen, the team of ocelote’s great rival Xpeke, were the victims was likely just a coincidence.
At the time, the flavour of the month was a bot lane combination of Sona and Taric which Origen had shown clear mastery of in the semifinal against Fnatic, leaving the pressure on G2 to find a way to handle the duo. Little did Origen know, G2 had prepared one of the most surprising counters the game has ever seen.
G2 baited Origen into taking Sona Taric in the second game of the series and then answered the combo with an ingenious funnelling strategy. Funnelling, the idea of pushing as much income onto one player as possible, had been a strong tactic in 2018 and one that had been expertly used by an old iteration of G2. Funnelling hadn’t really been seen in over six months but it perfectly took advantage of Sona and Taric’s passive laning. Perkz went mid lane as Xayah and took as many resources as he could while Martin “Wunder” Hansen held top as Ryze and Jankos held off the bot lane two vs one on Morganna which then allowed Caps and Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle to roam freely as Pyke and Rakan.
By now, everyone is aware of G2’s shenanigans but that can only prepare them so much. Especially as G2 will seemingly add another spanner to the works as the organisation has teased that Perkz will be returning to the mid lane and Caps will play ADC in 2020 instead.
Nothing has been confirmed as of yet but if the idea is that Perkz and Caps will be able to swap positions interchangeably, the reigning European champions will have an even stronger mental edge over their opponents; especially in a best-of-five which would help the team’s ultimate goal of being crowned world champions.
Mind the gap
For years, European fans could do nothing but talk about the metaphorical gap. Every year the world championships would come along and every year it would feel like European teams were strong but couldn’t catch up to the squads of South Korea as the LCK dominated the biggest LoL tournament for five years straight.
So it felt appropriate that G2’s previous year was, realistically, defined by two best-of-five semifinals against the Korean behemoths, SK Telecom T1, one at the Mid Season Invitational and another a Worlds. In a tremendous triumph, G2 came out on top on both occasions and at MSI they brought the MSI title to Europe for the first time ever; defeating North America’s Team Liquid in one of the fastest international best-of-fives ever.
But at Worlds, G2 couldn’t take that final step. The difference being, they were against LPL opposition. While Europe was busy trying to catch up to the LCK, teams from China have managed to surge forward and overtake both. In the last two years, an LPL team has been crowned world champion and has done so by defeating a European team, as well as Caps, in the final.
Even when G2 won at MSI, they didn’t manage to defeat then LPL champions and former world champions Invictus Gaming. G2 lost both games to their Chinese opposition in the group stages and avoided a best-of-five with IG thanks to Team Liquid who pulled off a miraculous upset in their own semifinal.
Moving into next season, G2 will be proud of their accomplishments in 2019 but will yearn for the one trophy missing from their collection after falling to FunPlus Phoenix in Paris. Taking down the teams from the LPL gives G2 a clear target to aim for but that will be a few months away. First, G2’s squad will have to maintain focus and defeat the teams in Europe; the rest of the LEC’s teams should not be underestimated and if G2 aren’t careful, their LEC title could slip.
Following on from last season feels like an almost impossible task but G2’s players aren’t ones to shy away from a challenge. It will be a long journey filled with twists and turns which is exactly why you can never take your eyes off this team.