By Petar Vukobrat
July 9, 2019
Rift Rivals is by no means an important tournament. Not only does it carry no significance in the grand scheme of things, but it’s also quite a nuisance. Teams have to play three or four weeks worth of games on home soil, then completely forget about the regular portion of the split and compete with another region for nothing more than regional pride. Sure, there’s some money on the line, but the prize pool is also fairly trivial. But even though the whole tournament is pointless, there are a couple of 2019 Rift Rivals lessons that we can glean from the aftermath.
Any time Europe and North America face each other there’s a reason to celebrate. We’re automatically blessed with a metric ton of new memes, narratives, but also a couple of engaging questions regarding both regions and their star players. Needless to say, North America was outclassed on all fronts this time around, and their resounding defeat got us thinking.
There are many 2019 Rift Rivals lessons, but not all of them stand out as much as the following three. We’re only going to focus on the ones that we deem are most important, and will have a long-lasting impact on the West as a whole.
Let’s take a closer look:
For the longest time, it felt like the West functioned as a unified whole. Two major regions, both of which were struggling to leave a mark on the international stage. They did sporadically attain some success, but those moments were too few and far between.
But as time went on, Europe started improving. And even though it was a rather negligible development at first, they slowly started picking up steam. Time went on, but their dedication never wavered. A couple of years later, Europe had two teams in the Top 4 at Worlds. That is no coincidence. Such a seismic achievement was attained through unyielding hard work and years of dedication.
But while Europe improved, North America didn’t. In fact, they didn’t improve at all. A lot of time passed and yet there isn’t a single thing to which you can point to and applaud them. Their drafts aren’t better, they’re still playing in the exact same way in-game, they are no more creative or flexible than in years past, and have shown nothing new on the Summoner’s Rift any time they stepped foot on stage.
The one successful team they currently have — Team Liquid — only has two native North American players. There’s a World Champion in the top lane, a World Champion in the support position, and an imported European prodigy in the mid lane. They played around the LCS residency rules and were able to pick and choose the players they wanted. And sure, it worked to a certain degree, but it still feels like they are perennially powerless when it comes to international competition. Their one recent triumph over Invictus Gaming was spectacular, but it was just a single instance and shouldn’t be regarded as anything more than that.
Liquid bought the best they could. Money was never an issue, and they were willing to throw sacks of cash at the problem (winning the LCS) until it was solved. But such an approach is only good in the short term. The problems that are plaguing North America aren’t superficial — they go all the way down to their core and are inherent to the region itself.
If Nothing else at least Liquid is putting their money and clout to good use
Most major regions have something unique. They are all characterized by a certain virtue or flaw, or both. The LCK is home to the cleanest and most insane macro; home to subdued calculated play. The LPL is known for its hyper-aggression and willingness to fight at any stage of the game. The LMS is like a mini LPL in that regard although they don’t have many capable contenders. Vietnam built a reputation over the last two years and are currently regarded as a crazy, unhinged region that’s always ready to experiment and fight for every inch of the Summoner’s Rift.
The LCS, on the other hand, never became known for anything more than stellar memes, fiestas, and marketing. It has more than just a few spectacular players, but as a region, overall, they didn’t do much, nor did they pioneer anything you see today. They’re just… acceptable. Across the board. Not too great, but definitely not abysmal either. Unfortunately, “acceptable” simply isn’t enough, and it never was. With franchising kicking in, everyone expected North America to step up when it came to international competitiveness, but that has so far failed to be the case.
Europe has leapfrogged them in every regard, and that one fact became staggeringly evident at the most recent 2019 Rift Rivals. The LEC was better in every single facet of play, and even though Europe is currently regarded as the best region in the world, most people expected at least something resembling a fight, rather than a blowout.
The West is no longer similar in strength. Not in the slightest. Some might say that this statement doesn’t make much sense seeing how North America finished second at the most recent Mid-Season Invitational, but that was just a single instance. We need a bigger sample size; we need consistency. North American teams will have to deliver on more than one occasion. Years of mediocrity cannot be forgotten overnight.
Europe is at the top of competitive League right now. There’s just no other way to put it. While other teams and regions might be struggling to find a coherent identity and stick to a solid gameplan, it feels like Europe is head and shoulders above the competition. It is as if European teams have a picture-perfect read of the meta and just how much they can get away with. What they decide to draft and play might seem like absolute insanity to us, but to them there’s no confusion. They revel in the chaos, and know their way around a hectic game of League of Legends.
European teams were the first ones to realize just how flexible the current meta really is, and as a result they were also the first region that was fully prepared for such a state of affairs. They’ve been pioneering picks and playing off-meta strategies for years (the legendary Moscow5 instantly comes to mind), but seeing how such an approach failed to become viable in the past, these pioneering teams were unable to attain much success.
Fortunately, this willingness to experiment and to leave it all on the line never left the region. It is intrinsically tied to Europe’s DNA, and now it’s paying dividends tenfold. No other region was as prepared for such a meta as much as Europe. China came close, but they’re more aggressive than flexible. As far as Europe is concerned, any pick is perfectly viable in any lane. How does one prepare for such a thing? There’s no amount of VOD review that will help, and it’s not like other teams can replicate this playstyle in a scrim setting.
That doesn’t mean Europe is infallible. For all intents and purposes, G2 Esports could have lost against SKT T1 back in May — but they didn’t. They could have lost to Royal Never Give Up last Worlds — but they didn’t. When it mattered the most, they had the strength to persevere, endure the onslaught and deliver the final, deciding blow. They’re perfectly willing to go for a marathon, but are more than prepared for a quick sprint if the need arises.
They’re perfectly capable and are more than willing to adapt to the state of the game. And their opponents are never “safe” either. A gold lead means nothing in the grand scheme of things because Europe is always prepared to throw a curveball and turn things upside down. They have an advantage any time their opponents are taken off-guard. They might not make it work every single time, but the element of surprise aids them tremendously.
But what makes Europe so darn good right now?
There has never been a time in competitive League’s history that was as exciting as the one we are currently witnessing.
Excuse the dramatic phrasing, but Europe is currently fostering a completely different, highly idiosyncratic style of play. We are seeing League of Legends played in new and exciting ways, and European teams (G2 Esports and Fnatic, in particular) are spearheading the change. They are staggeringly flexible and play like there’s no tomorrow.
League of Legends is a game that is defined by rules. It is somewhat binary in nature. But when you watch a team like G2 Esports style on their opponents in such spectacular fashion, it’s hard not to be in awe. They are actively bending the rules to their favor, and they’re succeeding not only because they’re fearless but because they have mechanical prowess for days. They are unrelenting and lionhearted. They’re all on the same page and are always following each other’s calls, no matter how outrageous or crazy they might seem.
Whenever G2 Esports steps foot on stage, the rules simply don’t apply.
Also you can hear from their comms, G2 had nothing but confidence going into Rift Rivals
Watching them play is an absolute must, especially if you want to see the meta get rewritten and altered in real time. How high they will eventually go still remains to be seen, but if their recent Mid-Season Invitational triumph is any indication, winning the World Championship is well within the realm of possibility.
How other regions will react and develop up to that point is also unknown, and it makes the upcoming couple of months that much more exciting. We are witnessing brand-new narratives spring to life almost non-stop. Competitive League of Legends has never been this exciting, and Europe is at the forefront — right now. Maybe they’ll go on and win Worlds. Maybe they’ll implode along the way. Maybe the meta will shift for 180 degrees and hinder Europe’s chances at attaining success.
No one knows at this point in time, but we’re all dying to find out. There are many 2019 Rift Rivals lessons, but this might be the most important one. The fact that we’re witnessing competitive League morph into something new (and fortunately more exciting) is more than enough reason to tune in every single week and (potentially) witness history get made.