By Petar Vukobrat
July 10, 2019
There’s a lot that can be learned in the 2019 Rift Rivals aftermath. People always say you learn the most from your own defeats. The many failures you endure throughout life end up defining you in ways you could never imagine. Sometimes it’s for worse, and sometimes it’s for the better. But you never really know how things are going to pan out until a certain amount of time passes.
Now, triumphs are defining moments in any human endeavor. They’re so impactful and resound across all facets of our lives — our careers included. You never know how something will resolve, and how big of an impact it will have. And athletes, in particular, have to live with this kind of uncertainty almost every single day. They have to embrace failure just as much as they have to embrace success. One is intrinsically tied to the other. They go hand-in-hand, regardless of the (e)sport an individual competes in.
A resounding success if often followed by a crushing defeat. Conversely, a tremendous failure can always be used to springboard a redemption story. There’s a certain ebb and flow to these things, and they’re archetypal in nature.
If you happened to miss the Rift Rivals action feel free to get caught up with our recap
The most recent 2019 Rift Rivals tournament gave us a look at the current status quo, as far as the West is concerned. It exemplified the faults and virtues of both regions, and distilled them down to just a couple of days’ worth of play. A tournament that will long be remembered as the time three European giants played with their food over in North America. A tournament that spelled out with brutal clarity just how inept and unprepared the LCS pantheon was at one point in time.
A depressing couple of days for some, and an endless source of inspiration (memeing) for others. Had you taken the name tags off, you couldn’t have guessed that this was a clash between two seemingly equal regions. Instead, it resembled a fight between a professional team and a bunch of solo queue players. One team had it all — mechanical prowess, cohesion, decisiveness, and a clear idea on what to do and when.
The other had nothing. Perhaps this sounds a bit too harsh, but North American teams really displayed nothing on the Summoner’s Rift. Some semblance of skill was expected. After all, these were the top three teams from a solid region — a region that had a team in the 2018 World Championship semifinals. We expected a bit of grit and determination. We expected them to put up a fight regardless of the final outcome. But no such fight occurred. What we saw, in the end, was a meek one-sided shellacking. A blowout of seismic proportions.
And even those who cheered for Europe couldn’t watch as much as they previously hoped. It was that painful.
To lose is one thing. It is forgivable. It happens to the best of us, and no one is exempt from having bad days. But to lose in such embarrassing fashion is a completely different matter. And these weren’t any losses either — these were as one-sided as humanly possible. If you assembled a five-man team and fought against the upper echelon of the LEC, you’d be crushed just as hard, but at least you’re not a professional. You’d have an excuse.
Some North American teams attained more success than others, but their performance was extremely underwhelming as a whole. Perhaps that’s even an understatement.
But there’s no use in crying over the proverbial spilled milk. Things happened in such a way, and that’s just a fact at this point. Looking ahead, what are the areas where North America can improve (as a region)? What are the changes that they have to make in order to be competitive on the international stage? Team Liquid has already proven their worth in the most recent Mid-Season Invitational, but even they aren’t as strong or capable as one might expect.
They are one of the strongest and most sound teams in the region, but they’re also incredibly one-dimensional. If they get going, there’s no stopping them, but they’re just not as quick to adapt to the ever-changing meta as a top-tier team should be.
All three of North America’s contenders were smacked around on the Summoner’s Rift, and it begs the question — how good are they really at this point in time? Let’s take a closer look at the 2019 Rift Rivals aftermath.
The 2019 meta favors one thing above all: flexibility. Now, that word by itself can mean a whole lot. It encompasses many facets of play, and is comprised of numerous smaller fragments. It starts off with the pick and ban phase. A team has to be willing to experiment from the moment they step foot on stage. No pick is taboo, and no strategy is outside the boundaries of reality.
But having such flexibility in the draft means a team has to have multiple versatile players in their line-up. G2 Esports recently became the first team that managed to win with Pyke in all five positions. This means all five of their players can lock in Pyke and still play him at a high enough level in order to be competitive.
Mihael “Mikyx” Mehle is one of the nastiest Gragas players in the world — and yet he’s a support. So if G2 Esports locks in Gragas in the pick and ban phase, that’s not necessarily a jungle pick. They can move him over to the bottom lane, or top for Martin “Wunder” Hansen. Heck, even Rasmus “Caps” Winther can probably play the champion at an insane level.
They can go for any strategy and any draft. The reason why they can be so crazy from the very get-go is because they have the skill to match their unhinged style of play. With ample mechanical prowess and in-game knowledge, there are no inherent limitations.
Just by listening to comms you can feel how much more flexibility some EU teams have
Conversely, North American teams rarely experiment. Every player has a set champion pool and is often unwilling to risk things. After all, there’s so much on the line every time they spawn on the Rift. But such a mentality is exactly what’s restricting their play.
There is no room for fear at the highest level of play. Not right now, at least. The team that is willing to risk it all on a coin toss, is the team that will come out on top. The crazier the notion or strategy, the better the odds.
North American teams never had to play or think outside of the box. They were always the ones who were following trends, instead of dictating them. They were always late to the party. By the time they caught up, every other major region was already off to the next big, elaborate thing. They always played second fiddle, and it hindered their chance of attaining success.
But the pick and ban phase is just one part of the equation. The things they do in-game are even more important. Unfortunately, this is yet another key pitfall for the many North American contenders. They are meek and subdued when they should be the ones dictating the pace of the game; they are scared when they should be confident and proactive, and they are out of sync when they have to step up and play as a five-man unit.
Overall, there wasn’t much to see whenever a North American team had to play. But they weren’t just bad by themselves — they were forced to make mistakes by their European adversaries. They were forced to catch up in a game of inches. They had to follow a hectic pace that simply didn’t come naturally to them. And when you have to react faster than what you’re used to, when you have to make split-second decisions that heavily impact the course of the game, then you’re bound to make mistakes.
And right now, at this point in time, there’s no other region in the world that pushes you to such extremes as Europe does, and G2 Esports in particular. One small mistake can turn the game on its head; one bad call can become the determining factor. When you’re up against five carnivorous mechanical deities, the margin for error is non-existent.
So if you’re outmatched across the board, if you’re fighting an uphill battle against a seemingly undefeatable Goliath, why not take a risk? Why not think outside the box, and throw a couple of curveballs?
The problem is, North America never came up with an identity for itself. There is but a single word that fans across the globe use to describe the region: fiesta. And even though it’s often used in disparaging context, it’s not far from the truth. There’s very little rhyme or reason to how North American teams play the game. For years they tried to imitate the Korean style of play — but they could never beat Korea at their own game, no matter how hard they tried.
Meanwhile, European teams iterated on their own playstyle, and it took them a while before they actually saw results. Fnatic and Origen in 2015 arguably jump-started the era of Europe’s international success. H2K was quick to follow in 2016, with Fnatic and Misfits Gaming reaching Top 8 in 2017. And of course, who could forget Europe’s seismic achievement in 2018 — two teams in the Top 4. While there were noticeable ups and downs over the years, Europe never stopped experimenting. They knew they had to focus on what made them unique, rather than imitate what had already been done.
They knew the solution lay within them, and they took the right steps in order to realize their full potential. So while Europe’s recent success might seem unexpected, it was long in the making.
The proverb “as you sow, so shall you reap” instantly comes to mind.
The 2019 Rift Rivals aftermath made us understand one thing: North America has yet to make such a step. They still don’t have the confidence to stand behind their own calls and to innovate. The only team that has ever done so also happens to be the only North American representative that attained success on the international stage — Cloud9.
That is no coincidence.
They are the only ones who focused on their own strengths and played their own game year after year. They didn’t always find success, but their approach and creativity were always commendable. North America can have all the talent in the world, but unless they develop it in the right way, and unless they adapt and play the game how it’s meant to be played, then they’re sentenced to perpetual failure.
Their recent one-sided beatdown should be considered as a wake-up call. North American teams should realize that their biggest problems aren’t of the surface-level variety. Immense change will have to happen, and it’s better to lose in such fashion today and then learn a valuable lesson without any consequences, than to get demolished once the World Championship comes around.
The stage has been set. Their biggest flaws have been examined, exposed, and magnified for the whole world to see, and there is very little to be proud of at this point.
There are many questions that are currently lingering in the air, but none of them are as important and consequential as the following: will North America step up?