G2 esports' location at the top of the rankings in the 2016 League Championship Series Summer Split is hardly surprising. It's perhaps the most predictable aspect of the European LCS nowadays. Some may love the team for its crisp play, and others may hate it for its transgressions online.
One thing is certain: the team is here to stay, and it will ensure that one game at a time, perhaps in a similar fashion to Team SoloMid in North America. But unlike its North American counterpart, the team's star player, Luka "PerkZ" Perkovic's expressiveness would go no further than a smile after a quadra-kill.
Such is the way PerkZ approaches the match ups, with serenity and confidence. It's hard to believe that he is one split removed from his rookie season, where he almost claimed Player of the Split.
G2's head coach, Joey "YoungBuck" Steltenpool, knew his mid laner (mainly because of his reputation) before coaching him. "I just noticed he was really good," he explained. "I didn't really know anything about him before I started coaching G2. I didn't expect him to be that good. I thought he was just going to be a decent mid laner, and then he just turns out to be a superstar."
Not surprising, considering PerkZ's mindset going into his endeavors. By age 15, he was pursuing four avenues at once: musical school as a guitarist, wrestling as a sports activity, academics and League of Legends. But after an injury sidelined him indefinitely from practicing sports, and as musical school came to an end, he focused on the remaining two.
"I just liked competition in anything I did," Perkz explained. "No matter what I did -- school, sports, music, whatever -- [I wanted] to be the best at what I did."
For many, the drive to be the best eventually dissipates, leaving room for "good enough" to settle in. But PerkZ is not the type to do so, and YoungBuck recognizes that.
"He's a kid who's really motivated to get the best out of himself," YoungBuck said. "A lot of people say they want to be the best, but they don't put the actions behind their words. Luka is the kind of person who actually puts actions behind [his] words, and when he says he wants to be the best in the world, he actually wants it, and he's going to try everything he can to be that."
Of course, there is a price. PerkZ notes how he spent 15 hours a day from September 2015 to January 2016 to prepare for the split, how he needed to adapt to G2's roster changes, and how he needed to stay calm under pressure, the latter he confronted during his days playing the guitar.
PerkZ recalled those days nostalgically, "I was really nervous when I was playing guitar onstage. My palms were sweaty, and everything was so hard to focus. I was making a lot of mistakes onstage unless I was super-prepared for the piece I was playing. I played so much more League and I was so much more confident in my ability to play League. When I played [in] the LCS [for] the first time, I already knew how good I was, and I was just ready to win versus everyone."
And he found an ally in an unexpected South Korean import from CJ Entus, Kim "Trick" Gang-yun. The hire was a hit: YoungBuck and League of Legends analysts noticed how symbiotic their play was. But YoungBuck points out rather than have one player playing around the other, the mid-jungle pairing enhanced both players. "[They] played off of vision," he said. "Tried to enable each other -- push out mid lane and deep-ward -- or try to find picks. Or Trick would gank mid lane to help him or put vision so Luka could play very aggressive."
Trick also helped PerkZ evolve as a player. Whether it involved positional knowledge from South Korea or his opinion on certain champions, the jungler was ready to assist his mid laner. And it went both ways, as the mid laner conversed about possibly strong jungle picks in the meta. Just as importantly, he taught him how to stay focused.
Fast forward to the summer split, and G2 still leads the European standings, albeit one point ahead of a YellOwStaR-powered Fnatic. In between the spring and summer, the Mid-Season Invitational allowed PerkZ to move closer to achieving his goals: becoming the best mid laner. But it was also a botched event for G2 esports, who found itself eliminated after the group stage, drawing the ire of the most vocal parts of the European League of Legends fan base.
"I don't care about people praising me or berating me after MSI because MSI was just a really unlucky event," PerkZ said. "I don't care what happened there. I just want to go to Worlds and show people there."
He went on to describe his mid lane competition, "I thought [Xiaohu] was good but really overrated, playing aggressive. He was getting punished so much, even in games versus us. Against [Royal Never Give Up], we were ahead both games by 3,000 gold or something, and we were the worst team there, and we still almost won a game off RNG."
But one player impressed him, indeed. Let YoungBuck and PerkZ highlight how.
"[PerkZ's] opinion about certain matchups changed after playing against Faker," YoungBuck chimed in. "For example, he thought that Zed was really good against Azir until he played that matchup against Faker and realized how good Azir can actually be against Zed."
PerkZ added, "He's also super aggressive, but the way he plays was so good, so I learned a lot from scrimming [SK Telecom T1] and playing SKT onstage."
With low-mobility mid lane picks entering the meta, PerkZ's flashy displays are less frequent than they used to be.
"Right now, in the meta, when you play Viktor, Azir, Ryze, these kinds of champions [are] very static and don't have a lot of outplay potential, so [PerkZ] has to tone down the aggression a bit," YoungBuck explained. "He still sometimes wants to find that outplay, but usually it isn't there because of the champions that are in the meta."
All in the name of being the best, which may involve surpassing Faker, and sometimes neglecting a few not-so-minute details within the gaming house. As I ask the coach if he wants to tell his mid laner anything, he replies, with barely any hesitation, "Do the dishes. Don't leave the corn flakes on the table."