The ascension of G2 Esports to the top of the European League of Legends Championship Series spring playoff finals was inevitable. Fans and pundits alike made that realization as soon as the squad ended its split with a 12W-1L series record, and 25W-8L overall.
"Our old playstyle was that if we fell behind, we were trying to either come back really fast, or get snowballed on," said coach Joey "YoungBuck" Steltenpool. "However, this split we've been working on still being proactive, but also giving our opponents the opportunity to make the mistake. Once they step out of line, we'll just grab them."
That approach had allowed it to recover from series deficits against Misfits, H2k-Gaming, Splyce, ROX Tigers, Kongdoo Monster and, most notably, Fnatic, twice during the season, and once during the playoffs. But it didn't work against Team ROCCAT. Or the Flash Wolves at the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice.
At that point, the squad simply "loses gracefully." But that's only if there's no advantageous power spike (some champion picks require a lengthier ramp-up time) or if there's no possible recovery path available.
"Usually, the mistake does happen, and usually there is a point where you say 'we can fight in 10 minutes' or 'we cannot afford to drop our mid lane tower' or 'we can fight for this inhibitor' or 'we're going to fight for the Baron,'" YoungBuck added. "So you do set up something that you're going to fight over, regardless of the gold difference. However, if they're not contesting that, just give them a few extra minions, a few jungle camps. If you really have to drop a tower that isn't important for the game, then just let it happen."
Despite claims that G2 was inconsistent in the early game, the team worked on its weakness to prevent exploitation on the world stage.
"We have a different theme each week on what we want to improve on," YoungBuck said. "Usually, the theme is decided based on LCS performances or training in general. We've had our fair share of practice on mid game and late game, and [near the end of the split] we've found that our early game is lacking a bit. So we have training goals that are in regards to the early game."
Similar to fellow finalist Unicorns of Love, G2 Esports benefitted from its IEM excursion as the Flash Wolves picked apart the team's flaws and showcased a more optimal way of playing the game at the highest level. One such discovery involved the Flash Wolves's usage of top laner Yu "MMD" Li-Hung.
"What we had to do after we watched our Flash Wolves games is that we needed to involve our top laner a lot more in setting up vision," YoungBuck said. "Flash Wolves were doing it brilliantly, and we were not doing that as much. [They] allowed him to push in his wave, then group up with five people and have him around the team even if he has teleport, just to get vision, so that other people cannot contest it. And they have to give up an entire side of the map, then let him catch the wave at our Tier 2 tower, or whenever the waves hits our Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 tower."
But that was only one discovery among many that G2 made since its arrival in the LCS. During the 2016 World Championships, the squad discovered it could not rely on individual strength to take on the best in the world.
"Even if we weren't consciously relying on it, we didn't improve enough as a team. [We] didn't focus enough on macro," YoungBuck said.
The squad's early elimination was an electroshock that gave players and coaches the revelation that they needed change.
"That was a big learning moment because after that, everyone said we want the next split to be different," he added. "We have to do things differently. Everyone was clear on what they wanted to have differently in regards to how we wanted to scrim. Do we want to wake up? Do we want to have more meetings? Do we want to give more feedback to each other?"
As G2 answered those questions internally, it had developed throughout the split into a force to be reckoned with. More importantly, it remained decisive, in victories spearheaded by Ki "Expect" Dae-han, Luka "PerkZ" Perkovic, Kim "Trick" Gang-yun, Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen and Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez. Or in defeats, where no stone was left unturned. The squad grew past its reliance on only some of its elements.
"Pulling the trigger for your team can be really difficult if you don't have confidence in yourself or your teammates," YoungBuck said. "In G2, I think we have five people who are willing to pull the trigger. If they lose the game, they know they have four people next to them who maybe [will] flame them for five seconds, and then go 'everything is good, let's just go on to the next game.'"
"Everyone [on G2] is willing to sacrifice themselves for the team," he added. "Everyone is willing to say 'if you pick me this champ, I will have a lot of impact on the game' and put themselves in a position where they have to perform. That's really great, because if you have that in five positions, you can be really flexible in your drafts and in your strategy."
Resilience, adaptability, decisiveness and flexibility have carried G2 Esports to the finals, as it's a best of 5 away from returning to the international stage at the Mid-Season Invitational. The Unicorns of Love represent the ultimate test in Europe -- a test that G2 has passed twice during the 2017 regular season and at IEM Katowice -- a test it faces once again, a trial among trials.