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Text by: Adel Chouadria
Special to VPEsports

On Friday, Jun. 7, the League of Legends European Championship is set to resume where it left off. The last time two European teams faced one another, G2 Esports played Origen in the LEC finals.

In the eve of that final, Martin “Wunder” Hansen and Mihael “mikyx” Mehle were considered among the best at their roles, but they lacked the titles to show for it. The two players were teammates in 2016 and 2017 on Splyce and reached the World Championship in 2016, before they went their separate ways. They hadn’t won a single title before, and neither had jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski.

On the other hand, Luka “PerkZ” Perkovic and Rasmus “Caps” Winther were part of dominant teams in the past: PerkZ’s 2016-2017 G2 Esports, and Caps’ 2018 Fnatic. They had lifted a trophy in Europe before, but never on the international stage. They both came close in 2018 but both hit a snag against Invictus Gaming in the World Championship — PerkZ in the semifinals and Caps in the finals.

For them to perform at an international event, they had to qualify to the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational. The tune of a 3:0 rout over Origen — the most lopsided best-of-five series in European history — sent them flying to Taiwan.

Fast forward to May 19, 2019, and they have done more than just “perform”: they are the first western international champions on the back of a 3-0, which was even faster than the sweep over Origen.

For Wunder and Mikyx, the international victory confirmed what they already knew: that they had what it took to perform internationally be the best.

In Mikyx’s case, he had to traverse a complicated 2018 campaign as a member of Misfits Gaming. Although the roster was strong on paper, they were unable to click on Summoners’ Rift. “We didn’t really feel like a team,” he said.

By the time he reached MSI in 2019, his wrists had flared as an injury took root. For a while, his participation in the event was questionable, and Hampus “promisq” Abrahamsson filled the role in scrimmage sessions when Mikyx couldn’t. Not only are his wrists doing better nowadays, but he has two titles to show for his persistence.

I felt like, already last year, I was good enough to do well internationally, but we never really made it,” he said. “This time, I knew that we’d go the furthest that I could. I’m just really happy that everything worked out, even though it didn’t look that it would with my wrist issues. But honestly, it’s looking very bright right now, so I’m just very happy.”

Wunder also shared that sentiment, but he also highlighted why he joined G2 in 2018, one year before reuniting with mikyx: Splyce had stagnated. A tough campaign with G2 ensued, and although they had to run the regional qualifier gauntlet, they ended the season on a relatively positive note: a semifinal finish at Worlds, with a 3:2 victory against Royal Never Give Up to boot.

“I felt like I was good, and I could perform well within Europe on Splyce, but I didn’t feel I could get anywhere else,” Wunder said. “That’s why I joined G2 in the first place, and also to build a legacy for myself.”

“Back then, maybe I wouldn’t have known that I would end up winning MSI and all that, but I knew that I would at least make it to international events, [that] I would win my first title, and we would be able to at least perform against other Eastern teams that were really hard to beat in the past.”

At the same time, in a different corner of the G2 household, Caps and PerkZ were on a quest for greatness.

On one hand, Caps has set his eyes on becoming a legend in the eyes of competitive League of Legends fans. After two years spent in Fnatic, he took his talents to G2 in the mid lane, prompting PerkZ to swap to the AD carry role. So far, so good: despite being a new team, they swept two finals in a row. More significantly, they overcame SK Telecom T1 and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok in a tense 3:2 on the way to lifting the MSI trophy.

But Caps won’t rest on his laurels; “I think I still have a long way [to becoming a legend,]” he said. “That’s why I chose the word legend instead of champion. Now, we’re champions of MSI, and it’s up to us to stay at our level. A lot of teams win one tournament, and then you don’t hear about them anymore. That’s not who we want to be.”

The title still felt good to lift. If you looked at the players after their semifinals win against SKT T1, then during the press conference following their title, you could tell that a weight was lifted off their shoulders.

This was especially true for PerkZ, who was a mid laner until 2019. In 2016, he was part of a squad that notoriously flopped at MSI and Worlds. His 2017 campaign was much better, but he was unable to proceed past the group stage at Worlds, falling to eventual semifinalists RNG and champions Samsung Galaxy. And in 2018, he conceded dominion over the European circuit following G2’s rebuilding effort, to a Fnatic squad led by Caps.

“It feels good!” he said regarding the MSI victory. “I never thought that my first international tournament win would be playing AD carry. I did not even think I would be playing AD carry, so just the trajectory of life and how it goes. It feels like I’m put on a path and I just followed it. It seems like it was just meant to be, that we were going to win this tournament.”

“I always wanted to be the best mid laner in the world, or the best player in the world, but now I get to win and I’m fine with that. I probably wouldn’t have won it if Caps didn’t join. It’s meant to be.”

But G2’s victory left them wanting for more. Although they have shaken off Europe’s drought in terms of international titles, they had one loose end left to tie.

“It also feels a bit incomplete, just because in every international tournament I’ve been to, I’ve always lost to China,” Caps said. “This time, we didn’t even play China. I didn’t really feel like I got the revenge that I really wanted to get, so I’m hoping for that at Worlds!”

Indeed, Invictus Gaming spectacularly flopped in the semifinals in a 3:1 defeat against North America’s Team Liquid. The defeat was unexpected considering their 9:1 record during the group stage. In truth, although G2 won the title, they did so without fending them off. As such, any talk of a closing gap has to be put on hold.

“Even though we had a good result, we can’t for sure say that the gap has closed enough,” G2’s coach, Fabian “GrabbZ” Lohmann, cautions. “We haven’t faced iG even: we went 0-2 in the group stage, so it doesn’t feel complete yet. So we’d have to wait for Worlds to see if the gap is actually closed or not.”

However, the fact still remains: G2 Esports are the Mid-Season Invitational champions and are on a quest few teams had taken before them. Some would call it completing a grand slam, others would call it paving the golden road, but the stakes are the same: winning every tournament in which they participate. They have already won the LEC spring split and MSI, but the summer split and Worlds are still on the horizon.

The 2018 Royal Never Give Up came the closest to completing it, until their demise in the Worlds quarterfinals at G2’s hands. Another team that nearly performed the feat, the 2015 SK Telecom T1 squad, faltered at the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational.

In a way, the pressure is on; G2 are treading a path where many have failed, and Invictus Gaming will be waiting.

“We’ve only played for one split, so I believe we can get a lot better and we can stay that way,” Caps said. “That’s my dream: to keep winning. Maybe in a few years, we’ll see how well we have done.”

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