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In case it wasn’t clear from G2’s triumphant stomp over TL at MSI this year, Europe is in fact better than North America. After convincingly beating NA in both the round robin and the relay race, the European representatives will return to a heated LEC race in what has proven to be their year thus far. With Worlds coming to EU in just a couple of months, it is looking like G2 isn’t far from being the only threat from the region.
After the matches, FNC jungler Broxah told Ovilee, “I’m not going to lie — it looked pretty easy to win this thing, but NA teams managed to step it up on the last couple of days. It’s pretty clear by now [though] that EU is better than NA.”
Alongside the other representatives, they seemed to be enjoying the banter between the two regions. While there isn’t much of the underlying hatred that can boil up on a soccer pitch or a baseball diamond, the players still feel quite a bit of pride in playing for the better team in what is quickly cementing itself as an elite region in the world.
Origen’s mid laner, Nukeduck, echoed a similar sentiment to me earlier in the week, saying, “I’m not really vocal on the rivalry. I don’t trash talk NA or anything because I don’t think it’s that classy to do, especially if they’re losing. But when you’re actually playing, you want to win. We’re practicing all the time, so we want to show that we’re better.”
A small trip like this might be routine for the likes of Fnatic and G2, but for Nukeduck, it’s his first international tournament since his days with the Lemondogs in 2013. He’s been regarded as one of the top mid laners in EU even since then, so it must be a little bittersweet for his return to the international stage to be mostly exhibition-level matches, but hopefully it has given him some perspective on what it could be like to play in a big international tournament again.
In addition to winning the games on the Summoner’s Rift, G2’s bot lane pair of Perkz and Mikyx also took home the 2v2 showcase to lay claim to the title of being the “best bot lane in the West.” G2 as a whole seemed more intent than anyone else to have some fun with this tournament — we saw flex picks like Perkz’s Zed in bot lane and Jankos locking in Pyke in the jungle.
Perhaps a more sombering take for NA faithful is that EU not only managed to match them with weird picks, they actually bested them more often than not. While picks and bans aren’t a surefire indicator on whether a team is “tryharding” or not, it definitely felt like NA teams were taking that aspect of the matches more seriously than their counterparts. They were just unfortunately outmatched.
The silver lining, though, is that Team Liquid still managed to finish 3-1 overall in the event, dropping only their first game to Fnatic. Origen’s jungler Kold even made sure to give them props after the event, stating that they were clearly a good team. G2 mid laner Caps agreed with that and suggested, “We can bring Liquid back to Europe.”
C9 and TSM were outpaced over the week, but C9 was playing mostly without Sneaky, who was out with an illness that also plagued the rest of the lineup in varying degrees. TSM has less excuses, but as I have said, this wasn’t a particularly important tournament for them when it came to winning or losing. They seem to be still trying to figure out a consistent identity between Akaadian and Grig in the jungle, and the level of competition here should prove to be valuable experience going forward.
As for the EU teams, all of them mentioned the great weather in Los Angeles and the good food, which makes Rift Rivals feel more like a vacation than a grind-it-out must-win event, but I think that’s not a particularly bad thing.
As Caps told me earlier this week, “Our approach to Rift Rivals is to get a more relaxed kind of environment because we didn’t have much breaks. Rift Rivals is a nice environment if you just cool down. We’re trying to take a break to reset so that hopefully when playoffs comes around we’ll be in our top form.“
It’s just a couple short months from now until we’ll lock in the Worlds teams from both regions. This was a small sampling of what the likely representatives will look like from both NA and EU, and whether your team still has some room to grow or whether they’ll need to continue maintaining their delicate balance at the top of the ladder, there’s no more breaks from here on out. The moment you stop playing from now is the moment you will have been eliminated from Worlds, or it is the moment you are lifting the Summoner’s Cup.