How have some of the top EU teams evolved since their loss to NA at Rift Rivals? What kind of tournament could best bring international talent together? Blitz Esports sat down with shoutcaster and analyst Martin "Deficio" Lynge to pick his brain on all things EU.
At Rift Rivals, we saw a quite some lack of mid priority from EU and in general, lack of winning lanes. EU didn’t pick Ashe at all, Jarvan top basically only showed up on NA’s side while EU would pick Gragas, Shen, and Galio, the last one being a pick NA was placing in mid to shove lanes and force side lane dives.
In general it just felt like EU was super behind the meta. Looking back from Rift Rivals to now, do you think EU’s top teams have moved on from those issues?
Deficio: I think while Rift Rivals was a wake up call for a lot of the teams who went there, not necessarily too many things changed because of it, for Fnatic and Unicorns specifically. Because while Fnatic did change up the AD Carry picks, they still never really had a play style where they focused on Caps. There were individual games where they did it, and funnily enough, I actually think those were some of the games where they looked really good, early on with getting Caps ahead. We saw here in playoffs that they would still only very rarely actually focus mid lane very specifically. They never really played Galio mid either, which could have been one of the picks they could have picked up from Rift Rivals to get mid ahead early and use him to go snowball sides. So I wouldn't necessarily say that Fnatic adopted a new playstyle based on Rift Rivals.
They just mainly changed up the AD Carry picks and then sOAZ started also playing a bit more Gnar, a bit more Jarvan, but he was already playing those champions when the main tanks like Shen and Galio were gone, so it's not like he never played them before. So I think generally, Rift Rivals was good for Europe because there was confirmation that "Hey, this play style Fnatic is playing can be exposed."
With Unicorns of Love, funnily enough, everything that was already getting exposed in Europe, got exposed again at Rift Rivals. Weak early game -- If you have a better late game team fight then you would win. That already happened in Europe.
I was actually really annoyed that no one seemed to focus on that because... EU teams had already beaten Unicorns of Love before Rift Rivals. That's why we had really low expectations for Unicorns specifically, because we were like, "They don't look very strong at the moment." I think after Rift Rivals, they just got confirmation that they need to play better in the early game, but they never really invested heavily into practicing it. We had Sheepy on the analyst desk talk about how they pick their champions based on comfort a lot, and then if that means they have a good early game because of it, great. If not? Well, that's what it is, they just play for late game then. And that's just a difference in philosophy, they had a few good early games but generally they were still weak early on. We saw it against Misfits in playoffs, we saw it in the regular season, so that never changed after Rift Rivals.
Deficio: G2 is the team where I feel like it was always going to be a matter of time before G2 would be really good. Unluckily for them, Rift Rivals was in the first half of the split. If Rift Rivals was now, I think G2 would look way better and be guaranteed to make the final to represent Europe, because they just played during Rift Rivals and learned more about mid priority. I think it was especially a wake up call for like Trick and Perkz in terms of their synergy, because they actually didn't have great synergy before Rift Rivals, but after realized they need to play around mid with the jungler. And they're still doing that now. Trick spends a lot of time covering for Perkz, making sure Perkz is feeling safe, making sure Perkz can play aggressive.
So that was definitely something I think they already knew, but it was a good "hey, time to do it." But the main reason G2 lost at Rift Rivals is because, individually, they were sloppy. They were not in form. It wasn't even because they didn't understand the meta. They just played super poorly mechanically.
What would you like to see in terms of bringing more international faceoffs to leagues around the world? Another Rift Rivals? A different format? What do you think would allow regions to learn from each other?
Deficio: I've always really wanted to see an international tournament just around the time when LCS starts, a few weeks before that.
So right after preseason, for example. Christmas is over, everyone comes back, and they start playing and one or two weeks before LCS actually starts, there's an international tournament. Of course, it will be a tournament where teams are not 100% in shape, but most rosters are locked in by then. And it would be perfect as a way to kind of get practice coming into the season for some of the best teams.
Imagine. You build a new roster with Fnatic and you get to play against the new KT roster coming into the season, and you might actually learn something very quickly about certain things you need to work on, things you actually want to do, and maybe something about which picks are good coming into the season.
I think also just for story lines, it creates so much hype being like, "oh shit, this new Fnatic lineup; we've never really seen them play together, go to this tournament, beat some of the international teams, and look really good like. I'm so excited to watch Fnatic in week one of LCS now because of it." So I think it could benefit the teams in terms of practice and preparation.
I think it would be super hype for viewers with just a tournament just there close to when the season starts, and not like the old IEMs, which was just when the season ended and every roster was kind of splitting up, and that tournament never really found success.