Rift Rivals - Battle for the West: the NA and EU ultimate showdown

Jensen, pictured left, laughs as he lifts up a bottle of perfume after winning a game in the NA LCS. Provided by Riot Games

It's a question that has divided the League of Legends community for years: the League of Legends Championship Series -- North America or Europe? Even before then, when Fnatic won the first world championship over Against All Authority and the North American bannermen couldn't even break into the final, the banter has been thrown back and forth between the continental rivals each time one of the regions trips up on the international stage.

*Cue dramatic, crescendoing music*

This week in Berlin, Germany, the answer of which region is better will finally be decided once and for --

*Cue record scratch*

OK, so Rift Rivals, Riot Games' newest international competition, pitting the 13 professional regions across each other in five separate rivalry tournaments, won't tell us who truly is the best region. There are only three clubs participating from each LCS, the event is only four days long and the teams will only be playing in a double round-robin in the group stage, leading to the two best teams from each region playing in a best-of-five for the title.

But that doesn't mean the tournament is meaningless. Whichever region loses will be at the wrath of Twitch chat until the upcoming World Championships in October, and regardless of how flimsy the results might hold up, this is an international tournament pitting some of the best Western teams against each other with an actual best-of-five final. That almost never happens in League of Legends outside of Worlds and the Mid-Season Invitational, so beggars can't be choosers.

Team North America

Before the tournament even starts, let's start writing down the excuses on why NA didn't do well if it gets smashed in Berlin:

  • Jet lag! Whose smart idea was it for these teams to travel halfway across the world for a four-day tournament with no rest period between the strenuous LCS and this tournament? EU doesn't have to travel. This isn't fair.

  • Counter Logic Gaming and Immortals aren't here. Did you guys even look at the standings? CLG is 8-2 and Immortals is 7-3! This is ridiculous. This isn't fair.

  • Did I mention jet lag?

  • NA has to play in the EU LCS Studios. It's an unfair home-field advantage for the Europeans. They know the layout of the arena. They know the practice rooms. They know the good food spots around the corner. This isn't fair.

  • I'd give more reasons, but everyone on Team North America is jet-lagged.

Moving past the excuses, Team North America comes into the event with a bit more swagger than you might have thought a few weeks ago. Team SoloMid and Cloud9 have stabilized themselves following a slow start to the summer split, and Phoenix1, which looked dead in the water after the first few weeks, has come alive in the past two, anchored by rookie Michael "Mike Yeung" Yeung, who has exploded onto the professional scene with All-Star-worthy performances through his inaugural matches.

With the lack of international events in League of Legends, the only real information we have to go off between NA and Europe in the past year of competitive play was MSI, where G2 and TSM played twice. The first game went to TSM in a nail-biter, and the second went to G2 in an equally crazy game, wherein both TSM's early-game outshined the European champion and G2's late-game macro and playmaking hamstrung the North American representative. We can bring up past meetings between NA and European teams, even citing the Battle of the Atlantic tournament that was seemingly a beta version of Rift Rivals, but those aren't relevant.

In terms of the strength of the teams the NA LCS is sending, outside of maybe Immortals or CLG in the place of a work-in-progress P1, the region can't complain. TSM and Cloud9 have been the two rocks of the region alongside CLG for the past three years, and not having them represent the region wouldn't feel right. For P1, coming off its first 2-0 weekend of the split, it has the most to prove of the teams involved; TSM is TSM and will probably make its 10th straight league final, and C9 has made it to the past four World Championships. As a new organization in the grand scheme of things, this is its first chance to make a legacy on the international stage. No matter how important the tournament is or how jet-lagged the players are, how P1 does against the European trio will shape what fans think of the team moving forward.

Ask TSM, which has dominated the region throughout the LCS' existence but failed to deliver at MSI and the World Championships. At home is where you make a name for yourself. On the world stage, that's where you become a legend or a passerby.

Team Europe

On the home stage at the LCS Studios in Berlin, Team Europe is the favorite, with or without the excuses, entering the event. G2 Esports, as serendipitous as it might have been, made it to the MSI finals and took a game off the unchallenged best team in the world, SK Telecom T1, in the best-of-five series before losing in a valiant effort. And while G2 and TSM actually ended up with the same record in the MSI group stages and the North American champion could have eliminated G2 if not for a plethora of late-game follies, all that matters is who wins at the end of the day.

G2 won. TSM lost. Europe good. NA bad.

When diving into the European team's trio, it isn't that far different from NA's. While G2 Esports, the same exact team that went to the finals of MSI, has been struggling with an overall 3-3 record, the other two representatives, Fnatic and Unicorns of Love, are at or near the top of the table in the EU LCS. Fnatic, the equivalent of TSM for the European region, has gone through a quick rebuilding period following its failures in 2016. From it, the team has returned to prominence, with a mixture of veteran and youth talent powering what a consensus would call the current top team in the Western region at the moment heading into Worlds.

In the side lanes for Fnatic, the team is led by two players who have been fully tested on the international stage and succeeded, with top laner Paul "sOAZ" Boyer and Martin "Rekkles" Larsson at AD carry. Rekkles, an outskirts marksman who specializes in utility carries and methodical cleaning up of fights, has found a team that fits his style like a glove, complemented by the aggressive youngsters Rasmus "Caps" Winther and Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen. The two players open up team fights for Rekkles to do what he does best: navigate the chaos of large battles and find the openings to grab kills while keeping himself in relative safety.

As the "ace" of the team, Fnatic will be tasked with the responsibility of being the team called upon to perform even if G2 continues its slide and UoL's chaotic ways get the better of it on the international stage; though, if history does repeat itself, the Unicorns will be happy to see TSM, a team it has frequently shown up at international competitions, defeating them multiple times on American soil. This time, however, TSM will hope to replicate its last international tournament in Europe, where the North Americans won the IEM World Championship back in 2015, to this day NA's biggest international victory.

And that's how it will be at Rift Rivals. For all we can write about Rift Rivals and what it shouldn't mean due to the lack of preparation time and rushed schedule, it all doesn't really matter when the teams load up their first games. This is a tournament between NA and EU, sanctioned under Riot rules, where one team (and therefore the respective region) will be crowned champion, and that's all that counts at the end of the day to the fans watching.

You can bring up that NA as a whole had a better overall record than Europe at the last World Championships, but which region made it farther in the tournament? Europe with H2k-Gaming, which made it all the way to the semifinals while the rest of NA was already on plane trips home. Hence, Europe is king and NA, as it has been many times throughout its livelihood, the peasant.

All hail Rift Rivals, where the winner earns the pride for the region and league and the loser might not be allowed to return home.