In Europe, League of Legends is a simple game: A team of five players attempts to destroy the other team's Nexus, and in the end, G2 Esports wins the region's playoff finals.
G2 has performed consistently since its promotion to the LCS in 2016 and is going to represent Europe as the first seed at the World Championship for the second time in a row. Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez, the squad's support, has reached the event for the third time in a row (and four times total, when we count the ephemeral Lemondogs in Season 3), but it still feels special -- especially after the showing G2 Esports had in 2016.
Without opportunities to locate flaws in its game plan because of too poor competition in Europe, G2 has collapsed on the world stage. The squads that had thrived in 2015 -- Martin "Rekkles" Larsson's Fnatic and Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martinez's Origen -- had experienced monumental roster changes in that year. If not for H2K Gaming's heroics and eventual semifinal finish at Worlds that year, Europe would've been but a footnote on the League of Legends scene a year ago.
"We couldn't really improve as much as we would have wished," mithy said, "and then with us having less than six months together -- the split was two months, and Worlds one month -- we just failed completely. Our style didn't work internationally. We weren't able to win the lanes that we were able to win, and we would just not faceroll teams like we did in EU. It just hurt us in the long run."
In fact, G2 finished last in Group A, behind favorites ROX Tigers, the unexpected Albus NoX Luna, and North America's Counter Logic Gaming. Despite the face-plant on an international stage, the squad stuck together, including top laner Ki "Expect" Dae-han, who was brought in during the summer and kept following his performance during scrimmages and pro competitions.
"Our decision was, we're in this boat together and there's no jumping off; just stick to it until the end, and try to work things out," mithy said. "Every single time we had a team talk, we have been open about our feelings, and not being too judgmental, and criticized each other [in] what makes us not feel good about each other and so on.
"Everyone has been working on their flaws individually, and we have been working on our flaws as a team. I think we have been able to come back stronger with every team talk we had."
Despite a notable increase in the level of competition in the European LCS, G2 Esports secured its place at the top spot in the 2017 Spring Split. The squad's emphasis on macro play and the lessons it drew from Intel Extreme Masters Katowice helped the team at the Mid-Season Invitational, where it shined despite a 3-1 loss against SK Telecom T1.
The difference between 2016 and now, mithy said, is a team-first mindset not just for one player but for all five.
"We move together as a unit," the support said. "If someone gets pressured on one side, and someone has pressure on the other side, then this one person will help this person, and then this person will help the other person. We try to be more unified."
Although the results were impressive, G2's busy schedule took a toll on its players. The organization decided to take a break to recharge following MSI, which some have pointed to as the reason for G2's slow start to the Summer Split.
"My wrist was a little bit screwed, so was Dae-han's, but that was not really the reason. ... We just decided that it was time to take a break," mithy said. "Sometimes you get sucked in so deep into the world of competition, playing and routine, that if you don't step out of it for a little bit, you don't get to appreciate how lucky you are to be where you are, and how much more you can enjoy what you're doing, live better through what you're doing."
And even though it was second place in its group in EU LCS, lost to North America's delegation at Rift Rivals and had a close call against Splyce in the Summer Split quarterfinals, G2 Esports still got its playoff title. The slipups along the way might serve as learning experiences for a team that didn't have much time to learn before its 2016 group stage losses.
"This Worlds is going to be where you can actually judge G2," mithy said. "If we fail to perform now, which might happen, then we were not good enough as a team; we were just not good enough as a region. Now, you can judge us. Now, we had the time. Now, we have been molded into what we hope to be the best version of G2 we can be, and I just hope we do well, you know?
"If we don't, it sucks, but I'm sure I have given it my hardest, and I'm sure I have given it my hardest to make everyone else to give it their hardest and to help everyone in whatever way I could possibly help."