Two weeks into the 2019 League of Legends European Championship, the league has started dividing itself into two categories: teams vying for supremacy off the bat, and struggling squads seeking ways to salvage their season.
Firmly in the middle, the ambitious SK Gaming squad seeks to make a statement against G2 Esports in their Week 3 match-up and knock them down a peg, much as G2 did in the past. Indeed, SK Gaming was among the European elite, before they fell from the EU LCS at G2 Esports’ hands in 2016.
The past: Ocelote in the middle
But let’s jump back first, way back. From 2011 to 2013, SK Gaming was one of the top squads in the European circuit. At the time, they routinely clashed against Fnatic, Moscow Five, Counter Logic Gaming Europe and many others. In fact, some of those clashes have become memorable. And at the center of them lied one man: Carlos “ocelote” Rodriguez Santiago.
With him on the lineup, SK Gaming was one of the most recognizable names in the competitive circuit. The team suffered a few unfortunate backdoors at the 2012 World Championship and before the start of the 2013 EU LCS Spring Split, but their presence remained strong as ocelote’s brand as a player was at its most recognizable. However, he and SK Gaming parted ways after a disappointing 2013 summer campaign.
From there, SK Gaming experienced decent highs, as they returned to the World Championship in 2014 and reached the EU LCS playoffs for three splits in a row. In the meantime, ocelote created his own organization, Gamers2, and was unable to reach the LCS promotion qualifier. Then, he retired, and built a roster with then up-and-coming mid laner Luka “PerkZ” Perkovic as his greatest asset.
It took one split for PerkZ to adjust to the rigours of professional League of Legends, but he did just in time for the 2015 Summer Split. From there, Gamers2 reached the qualifier that had eluded them. Meanwhile, SK Gaming experienced the most unsuccessful split of their existence to date. Suddenly, the two teams faced off: ocelote’s old home, and the house that he built. In the end, G2 emerged victorious.
From there, G2 became one of the strongest European organizations in League of Legends. With PerkZ as the sole remaining member from their Challenger era, they won four LEC titles, reached the World Championship three times and the semifinals once. By that time, SK Gaming were making waves in the Challenger circuit, but not much else – until their return to the LEC as a franchising partner this split.
The present: Dominant G2, promising SK
G2 Esports have stretched the meta to its limits in Patch 9.1 with original team compositions to solve their opponents’ approaches. In the process, they have asserted themselves as the strongest team in Europe during Patch 9.1.
Against engage-centric compositions, they deployed a siege-centered draft with Jayce and Zoe at the core and annihilated champions as fast as they destroyed turrets. Against team fighting compositions with strong front lines, they unleashed the likes of Kleptomancy Karma and Ivern to amplify their carries’ power. Through it all, their focus on objectives has been nearly exemplary – nexus tower dives not included.
There is no limit to what G2’s current lineup can do, as they can draft flex picks across three (sometimes four) positions. In that setting, drafting against G2 Esports is akin to picking your poison, and hoping that it does not kill you before you can find its antidote. So far, Excel Esports were the only team to manage the feat as they read and systematically contested G2’s movements.
SK Gaming’s best shot at beating G2 would be to reproduce what Excel did and/or dial it up a notch. Excel’s game plan revolved around reacting to G2’s movements and contesting them when they approached an objective (such as the Rift Herald in the early game). To that effect, they used solid crowd control champions and, at times, flanked G2’s back line.
However, at its best, the team is more proactive in nature as Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek steers the lanes to safe harbour, focusing his efforts primarily around Jorge “Werlyb” Casanovas’s top lane. In addition, SK are more successful when they involve Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik in team fights on Lissandra. In the meantime, Jus “Crownshot” Marusic would be free to hit targets without worry.
Ultimately, SK’s game plan boils down to limiting G2’s options as much as possible, essentially securing a superior team fighting composition. G2 understand how to play against poke compositions (considering that they have done so themselves), whereas SK’s ability to deny opponents strong initiators undid them in their poke composition attempt against FC Schalke 04 Esports.
On the surface, SK Gaming has options to prevent G2’s lanes from taking over. However, they would be wise to attack the side lanes (especially top) if they want to win. Should they pick a favourable matchup for Werlyb, and should he secure Teleport advantage, SK could then use that to take over other lanes and surprise G2. However, Martin “Wunder” Hansen is no easy prey.
The X Factor: Patch 9.2
Patch 9.2 brings more volatility to the table, especially in the jungle as jungle monsters yield less experience per level. The changes emphasize evaluating risk versus reward in picking gank-centric junglers as the changes affect them. On the other hand, farming junglers such as Karthus may become the most prominent picks.
Selfmade has shown creative pathing, and so did Jankos. However, they may be staring at one another from afar. Whichever team selects Karthus or figures out optimal pathing (and picks according to pathing) will secure a huge advantage.