EU LCS playoff preview: G2 Esports, Fnatic square off for spot in the finals

G2 Esports earned a direct bid into the semifinals, but face an improving Fnatic. Which team will earn their place in the spring final? Courtesy of Riot Games

As time changes, so does everything else.

Fnatic once reached the 2015 World Championship semifinals, at a point when a barely fledging Gamers2 watched from the sidelines, fresh off its own qualification to the pro circuit at SK Gaming's expense.

As the season neared, and as the two squads counted marquee departures from their ranks, they had to change, and they had to adapt: first, internally, player by player; then, to a merciless competition; and last, to the changes Riot Games brings to League of Legends through patches.

Fnatic desperately clung to the playoffs and took the last qualifying spot, then adapted when it mattered most, dismantling Vitality's counter-oriented approach 3-1.

G2 Esports had adapted quickly to the rigors of the LCS and reaped seasonal awards: rookie of the split, player of the split and coach of the split. Exempt from participation in the quarterfinals, the squad attempts to succeed where Vitality failed: ending Fnatic's LCS finals participation streak at six.

How did we get here?

Some would call Fnatic's qualification a lucky break, but don't be misled; their understanding of the current meta showed against Vitality, to an extent where Fnatic ridiculed the notion of a Fnatic-less LCS semifinal with a 3-1.

As its players embraced the latest metagame trends, the squad abused map pressure via its Teleport-enhanced solo laners, Noh "Gamsu" Yeong-jin and Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten, and teleported behind enemy lines come teamfight time. Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon's risky gambles helped break formations and open gaps for Febiven to feast on, allowing Fnatic to tunnel on objectives safely and win the series.

The playoffs' biggest surprise so far is Johan "Klaj" Olsson's growth. He was more proactive during lane swaps and past the laning phase (50 percent First Blood involvement during the playoffs, to 20 percent during the season), was more instrumental during team fights (72.1 percent kill participation ratio to 66.4 percent), and played cleaner, getting caught far less often than during the season (1.75 deaths per game, to 3.5). Martin "Rekkles" Larsson could not have asked for a better timing as he was able to rely on his front line, dying only twice throughout the series.

Vitality's approach to the series helped Fnatic prevail. Rather than matching Fnatic's double Teleport, it attempted to stunt Febiven's growth and only adapted after two losses, effectively starting the series with a two-game deficit. Had it been more dutiful about ward clearing, it would have prevented its downfall in Game Four.

But G2 Esports is no Team Vitality.

Many observers (including head coach Joey "YoungBuck" Steltenpool) speculated that G2 would reach the playoffs, but the team far exceeded expectations despite roster losses that, in retrospect, allowed G2 to upgrade at key positions.

Some may not have expected the versatile Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek to make an impact in the top lane following a switch from the Jungle position, but few knew of his past as a top laner. His jungling stint allowed him to assert himself as an efficient communicator and to recognize the best course of action at specific points during games; as such, his Teleport play and front-line tanking (and damage) have allowed his teammates to approach teamfights serenely.

Perhaps the major roster upgrades lie in the jungle and AD Carry positions, as Kim "Trick" Gang-yun and Kim "Emperor" Jin-hyun take over vacancies left by Kikis' positional switch and Jesse "Jesse" Le's departure to Team Dignitas. Not only have they squashed doubts about their ability to communicate, they helped propel G2 to the top.

Trick and his roaming party (sometimes Emperor and Glenn "Hybrid" Doornenbal, sometimes Luka "PerkZ" Perkovic) routinely suffocated enemy junglers and, at worst, deprived them of resources (to the tune of razing 55 percent of the jungle camps Summoner's Rift has to offer). At best, Hybrid adds more assists to his counter (and tallies 187 assists in the spring split, 10 more than any other player in the European LCS).

G2 routinely subjects opponents to attrition through strong bottom lane play, heavy jungle pressure (on the lanes or on the opponent's jungle), and PerkZ's focus on trading blows in the mid lane.

As one of the best farmers in the EU LCS (nine minions killed per minute, the highest among players who have started 10 games or more), he is also one of the most oppressive (six minions ahead of his lane opponent, second in the EU LCS). But PerkZ scores such marks while roaming and contributing in team fights, the latter a specialty at which he displays more bravery -- in contrast with his calm and focused look during games.

Can Fnatic reach its seventh final in EU LCS history? The short answer is yes. Will Fnatic do so? That's a more complicated matter.

Unlike Vitality's unfamiliarity with Double Teleport strategies, G2 Esports is a formidable foe in such a meta. Fnatic's advantage, its comfort in the current meta, is nullified as G2 is also at ease playing lane swap roulette and top-lane bruiser wars.

Fnatic's jungle pick may give away its early game approach; if Spirit selects carry junglers that rely on the Devourer enchant, the team would be hard-pressed to swap lanes, opening the way for more serene jungle clearing (and on Kindred's case, passive scaling). With a Nidalee or Gragas pick (one of which has been Trick's signature pick in the spring split), all bets are off.

With a jungler of Trick's caliber, G2 would be wise to prevent lane swaps -- and to aggressively ward to that effect at level one. If G2 matches Fnatic's lanes, and if G2's match-ups are designed to survive in such occurrence, Trick may be able to spiral his bottom lane or middle lane out of control, which would lead to more roaming parties at Spirit's expense (and more Teleport plays from Kikis).

How can Fnatic avoid that, besides managing to prevent lane swap detection? The answer is Febiven. What Vitality could not do to Fnatic, Fnatic may be able to perform on G2; by hampering PerkZ's progress, Fnatic may prevent G2 from taking control from the early game, a phase G2 has been at its strongest in terms of objective takedowns (G2's gold lead and dragon takedowns afford it a staggering 64 Early-Game Rating).

In the end, the difference-making factor is teamfighting ability. This is where the Lissandra's, Azir's, Sivir's and Gangplank's shine, or where Kikis' Tahm Kench, Gamsu's Maokai, Klaj's Alistar and Hybrid's Braum could be major factors.

This is where PerkZ becomes the silent whisper of death for Fnatic's chances to advance further, and where his positioning may catch the likes of Spirit and Klaj, two players who may overextend more frequently than desirable, completely unaware.