Walk into Perkz Perkovic's room on any given night in Berlin and you might find him plucking guitar strings to the tune of Isaac Albeniz's "Asturias." It is, he says, unlike what you might imagine when you think of guitars — that garage band style which dominates contemporary music. With classical guitar, you can hear every missing note reverberate.
And thus Perkz strives for perfection even there. "You have to push yourself to the limit like with League and sports and everything you do," he said.
Perkz loves learning – this is one of the many things he has learned about himself since becoming a pro. "A lot of things interest and intrigue me," he said. "Sometimes, I see something and say I'm going to read about this now. Or I ask people who know about that stuff. I like to learn from everyone. Before, in school, I liked to learn but I didn't like to study. I was skipping school a lot to play League of Legends. I didn't realize how much I loved learning until I started being a pro gamer."
League of Legends is an ever-evolving game. The map changes. The champions. The coaches and people around you. The ability to learn and adapt, then, is crucial. To love that process? That's how you turn a career into a lifestyle. Perkz now has a chance to prove that he did learn from last year's Worlds. G2 followed their 2016 MSI flame out with an equally embarrassing Worlds 2016 showing. They've since bounced back with a strong 2nd place finish at MSI 2017 only to disappear at Rift Rivals 2017.
"This time around, it's going to be different."
But the G2 mid laner has been one of the most dominant players in Europe since joining the EU LCS two years ago. With him at the helm, G2 has won four consecutive EU LCS titles en route to becoming the new "Kings of Europe." Domestic dominance isn't anything novel, though — not here at the World Championship. A handful of teams here have sustained even longer periods of dominance in their respective regions. And for all their domestic success, G2 has only had one good international showing (which sits wedged between some really bad ones).
It's not that they need to win the World Championship this year — by no stretch of the imagination are they the favorite. Even EU fans joke about G2's shots, especially at Best of 1s. But why play the game at all if your goal isn't to win?
I asked Perkz why a new League of Legends fan might choose to root for G2 over any other team, and he laughed before saying, "You should root for G2 because we are Europe's only hope." He later amended this answer to say he thinks Fnatic could have a shot, too, if they showed up.
It has been a tumultuous year for EU faithful. Their MSI high was quickly washed away by Rift Rivals, and the league lacks the same star power that litters its brilliant history. Say what you will about perceived strength, but Europe has consistently made the Worlds Semifinals at a pace that at least matches China and trails only South Korea. Perkz wishes more fans would give the EU teams and players their support.
"For me, if I set a goal for myself, I will for sure do that goal."
"I think every other player [in EU] is interesting," he said. Before the format changes, many of Europe's personalities and pro players gathered after the weekends at a local bar or restaurant to just hang out. It was a type of fraternity that hasn't existed, for example, in the NA LCS in years. "There are just some players who are really shy because of their culture or how they were raised or maybe they don't speak English very well — there could be a lot of reasons."
Many of the big personalities from the old days retired and stopped streaming. Some moved to NA. Some just streamed less. Whatever the case, to Perkz, the torch was never properly passed from old pros to new pros in EU. It's not like on TSM or CLG where you saw graceful retirements within team brands – think Dyrus or HotShotGG.
These days, many organizations in Europe are trying more and more to build content around their players. "But it also requires a lot of success," said Perkz. "Maybe if some EU teams show international success, it could be good [for the region]."
Perkz thinks G2 is EU's best hope this year. "I'm not sure, but I think we'll have a much better performance this time compared to any other tournament. This time around, it's going to be different," he said. He was always careful to end his grandiose claims with a quick joke, but it was clear he was confident in his team. He knows his words are a little hollow because G2 flopped so hard last year. All he has to ride on is a gut feeling.
And, perhaps, that's all anyone has. The beauty of Worlds is that last year doesn't mean anything. Not in a tangible competitive manner, anyway. SKT starts with 500 gold per champion just like everyone else. What Perkz and G2 do have, though, is a clear memory of the sting from last year.
"I don't think people could ever understand how much it takes for you to get along well and stay together and still love each other after such a disappointing loss," he said. There are a few rosters which returned to this Worlds with the same members (TSM, ahq, and SSG) as last year. This year's theme seems to be second chances. "We were really horrible [last year] but we all knew what we could do, so we got 2nd at MSI. We keep going together and growing and learning. That's why I have high hopes for us. I think we can do great things this Worlds."
He immediately caveated it with a joke — as I mentioned earlier — saying, "We can also just lose in Groups. We will see, you know?"
The jokes, I felt, were a good way to deflect some of the pressure. It is part of what he described as his maturation process. He said when he was a younger player – he caught himself and laughed when he realized it was only last year – he used to take a lot of the criticism personally. The jokes and the memes grated on him. But you have to learn to handle it in a professional manner.
All the jokes about how bad G2 is at Best of 1s don't escape them. They know better than anyone. "It's not a coincidence," he said regarding their struggles. "It's on us for preparing something and then doing something else or changing picks at the last second or not preparing for the meta or getting cheesed because we weren't innovative enough ourselves."
I think of all the times someone has been a backseat driver to me or has pointed out a very clear mistake I've made. I know before anyone else that I just did something stupid. And I think fans – I am guilty of this, too – often bash their heads at their screen wondering why a team might falter at the same thing over and over again. Of course they know. Sometimes you take a step with your right foot even though your brain chants left, left, left!
It is very clear, though, that G2 understands exactly where they have failed. Whether they can adjust or not, I do not know. I do know I want to believe in a player who can recognize his own faults. And beyond that move to change.
"I actually like the vacation memes and the poem memes now," he added. I convinced him to recite his own "You guess it right / It's G2 Perkz" poem should G2 win worlds. If you needed a reason to root for G2, then perhaps let this be it. China would be the perfect place to lay those memes into the grave. Shanghai, after all, was their birthplace.
A year and a half ago, Perkz picked his guitar back up as a way to relieve stress. Perhaps the demands of being a pro were straining. Perhaps it was the taunts of the fans. Maybe it was all of that. With the help of his sister – who he said is a guitar master – he learned how to play again (he studied for six years as a kid). These days he plays a lot. Not your typical rock band type of music. To him, that's just banging your guitar (even if it does sound good). What he's after is the classical styles – what he loves about guitar is the challenge.
"Everyone is unique in their own way," said Perkz. "For me, if I set a goal for myself, I will for sure do that goal. But when I was younger – say 7 or 8 years ago – I would set a goal for myself and never achieve it. I would go do this or that instead. Now I set plans for myself and live more by those plans. I feel more happy that way. League of Legends for sure did that for me."
His goal now is to win Worlds, and to accomplish that, he'll need to play a lot of League of Legends. If you haven't yet, listen to "Asturias." It's a wonderful song. Maybe it's the type of music we'll see Perkz orchestrate on the Rift. It is there, on this stage, where he will find his greatest challenge yet. And it is there that we will see whether his claim of hope is hollow or if those chords will ring true.