Four Titans, Three Worlds Tickets: The LEC Summer Playoffs
The LEC was bailed out in 2020. With MSI being canceled and with the Vietnamese teams being unable to attend the 2020 World Championship, Europe was given one extra ticket. It meant that G2 Esports, Fnatic, Rogue, and MAD Lions all qualified. This year, however, there is no bailout. There are only three tickets to Worlds. At least one of the four titans, old or new, will see their competitive year come to a brutal end without an essential appearance on the international stage.
To get it out of the way, yes, there are two other teams competing in the LEC Summer Split Playoffs. Misfits Gaming made it to the upper bracket of the Playoffs and are in a much better starting position than Fnatic. Vitality heads into the Playoffs on even footing with Fnatic as the two battle it out immediately in the lower bracket, grasping at their final straws of survival.
Yet, there is much, much more on the line for G2, Fnatic, Rogue, and MAD Lions than just a ticket to the World Championship. Pride is on the line. Each of these teams have built a reputation in European League of Legends through different means. So, before the mayhem that is bound to unfold in the LEC Playoffs, let’s set the stakes for each of them.
MAD Lions, the reigning champions
In one year, MAD Lions grew from a bold rookie squad to LEC champions. Though the regular Spring Split games left much to be desired, the team popped off in the Playoffs and dominantly made it to the grand finals where they reverse-swept Rogue to claim the title. MAD Lions’ saga didn’t end there. At the Mid-Season Invitational in Iceland, they took reigning world champions Damwon KIA to five games in the semi-finals before being eliminated.
But back in Europe, MAD Lions faced a mountain to climb. The squad had only two weeks of ‘rest’ after MSI until the LEC Summer Split commenced. For the vast majority of their break and the start of the Summer Split, MAD Lions was quarantined after someone tested positive for the coronavirus. Staff and players didn’t hide that they were suffering from fatigue. Especially in the early weeks, it was mid laner Marek “Humanoid” Brázda who had to drag his team across the finish line. MAD Lions finished the regular Split in shared second place with a respectable 12-6 record. Still, they’re far from the shape they were in when they claimed the title. To give an extra boost to top laner İrfan Berk “Armut” Tükek, whose Split has been particularly rough, MAD Lions brought veteran Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás on board as top lane coach.
Placed in the Playoffs as the second seed, MAD Lions faces off against G2 Esports. In theory, they’re just one win away from Worlds. But LEC Summer Playoffs have bitten MAD Lions before. Has MAD Lions rested enough to pop off once again in the best-of-fives? If they don’t make it, it would be the first time in European history that a team that won the Spring title misses out on playing at the World Championship. And that’s a cross no one wants to bear.
Rogue, the kings of consistency
There is no team more consistent in the LEC than Rogue. Starting from last year’s Summer Split, Rogue has finished each regular Split at the top of the standings. Chronologically, Rogue finished first, shared first, and first in the past three regular Splits. Their Playoffs performances have been improving too: In the Summer Playoffs last year they finished third, and this year they were just one win away from winning it all in the Spring Split finals. At the dawn of another LEC Playoffs, placing as the first seed, Rogue should be the favorite to win it all.
That ‘should’ comes with a big caveat though. Rogue chokes at inexplicable moments, no matter the shape they’re in. They have lost every single best-of-one they’ve played against G2 Esports. Last Spring Split they didn’t just throw away a 2-0 lead in the grand finals against MAD Lions, they did so by losing the fifth game in spite of a massive gold lead. This Summer Split, Rogue has been able to acquire massive gold leads in the early game. They are in first place with an average Gold Difference @ 15 minutes of +2674. To illustrate how huge that lead is: Fnatic is in second place with +1676. Yet often when the mid-game arrived, Rogue kept losing a huge chunk of their lead and had to give it all in order to walk away victorious.
Rogue didn’t face many struggles in the Summer Split besides a slump of mid laner Emil “Larssen” Larsson, a kink that has been more than ironed out. They got to hand-pick their opponent, Misfits Gaming. We have seen Rogue’s consistency at a high level, but can they exceed that and peak at the top levels we’ve seen from G2 and MAD Lions? They are merely one best-of-five away from making it to Worlds again. For the kings of consistency, it would be all the more bitter if they missed out.
G2 Esports, the rebuilt powerhouse
Without question, G2 Esports is the largest, most popular European team. Off the back of many championship titles—more than any other European team—and top finishes internationally, they built one of the biggest brands in League of Legends globally. But when Luka “Perkz” Perković, the face of the team, left, the team had a massive hole to fill. Acquiring Martin “Rekkles” Larsson seemed like the best move possible, but despite his great performance in the Spring Split, G2 as a team was lacking. Without someone picking up the leadership role Perkz had left behind, G2 lacked the same punch it had before in spite of copious amounts of talent on the roster.
It was clear that something needed to change within G2 in order to get back on the championship track. That change came in the form of Sng “Nelson” Yi-Wei. Formerly an LPL coach, Nelson’s task at G2 was to rebuild each player’s foundations. Though G2’s players were by no means bad or dumb, they were playing based on slightly suboptimal instincts they built during many years of playing at the top. In one-on-one coaching sessions, Nelson taught the players exactly where they needed to be at which second and why they needed to be there.
The emergency rebuild, crammed into one Split, came with visible struggles for G2. As old habits and new teachings clashed within the players’ minds, G2 played some of its sloppiest games early on. As jungler Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski put it: “It isn’t good when players have to think.” Their fundamentals must be automated. It wouldn’t be until the end of the fourth week that the ‘old G2’ showed signs of life. At the end of the Summer Split, G2 looked truly fearsome once again. Still, they’re only the third seed in the LEC Summer Playoffs. If they lose to MAD Lions and Rogue loses to Misfits, G2 will need to win two best-of-fives in order to make it to Worlds. Should G2 miss out, the most-decorated team in Europe would be absent for the first time in six years.
Fnatic, the old guard in freefall
Fnatic has lost a lot in recent years, and that’s not referring to games played. First, they were dethroned in 2016 by an explosive new team called G2 Esports, losing the LEC crown. Then they lost the title of being the most-decorated European team, also to G2. And last year Fnatic lost its flagship player Rekkles to… G2.
In 2021 Fnatic brought Elias “Upset” Lipp on board, who fit into the team like a glove and performed well instantly. But as a team, Fnatic floundered. The dissonance between most notably top laner Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau and jungler Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek led to inconsistent performances. Fnatic finished the Spring Split in fifth place.
Similar to G2, Fnatic reached for an emergency handle, albeit a different one. Selfmade was transferred to Vitality. Bwipo switched to the jungle role, and French prodigy Adam “Adam” Maanane was bought from Karmine Corp to fill Bwipo’s shoes. The team quickly overcame a disappointing 1-2 start to the Summer Split and started raking in win after win. With their skirmish-heavy style, Fnatic rushed down opponents. But as the weeks progressed, the victories became increasingly difficult to bring home. Other teams caught up with Fnatic’s fairly monotonous approach and started exposing its flaws. In the final weeks of the regular Split, they tumbled from first place to fifth place.
Fnatic is in freefall. The team, once the pride of Europe, is desperately looking for stability. Fnatic has missed out on Worlds only once. In previous years they managed to get a hold of themselves in the most desperate situations. But the hill to climb is steep this year. They need to win three best-of-fives in the LEC Summer Split Playoffs in order to make it. As the light of Fnatic dwindles, a sudden reignition is much-needed.
The LEC Summer Playoffs begin on Friday, August 13, at 6 PM CEST. You can watch the games live on the official LoL Esports site.