Following a very weak international showing in 2016, the European region headed into 2017 with something to prove.
The 2016 international circuit started in May, with the Mid-Season Invitational. After an overwhelmingly dominant spring split G2 eSports moved to represent Europe and compete against the best regional teams in the world.
The tournament proved to be an embarrassment for the EU LCS champions and the region as a whole, finishing with an abysmal 2-8 record after only picking up wins against the wildcard team SuperMassive eSports.
Naturally, G2 failed to make it out of groups, conceding Europe’s pool 1 seed at the World Championships later that year. In a subsequent interview with G2 eSports’ Luka “PerkZ” Perković, the mid-laner explained that the team decided a better use of their time in China would be to use it as a vacation.
It seemed that the European region had slumped to its lowest point.
Yet the following World Championship was no better. Of the three European teams sent by the proud region, only one managed to escape groups, H2K-Gaming defeated the LPL’s Edward Gaming to finish with a 5-2 record.
With more than a hint of good fortune, H2K would draw Albus Nox Luna in their quarter-final tie, a wildcard team from the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Although Albus Nox had a great showing in best of ones, it was clear their strength left them when it came to a best-of-five series. What many people considered to be the first real test for the only remaining European team would be the semi-final against Samsung Galaxy from the LCK; H2K was swiftly defeated in a 3-0 stomp.
Despite the embarrassment of the 2016 international year for Europe, teams headed into 2017 with a fresh attitude and a revived spirit for competition. The first test for the region would be a return to MSI, where once again European champions G2 were sent to represent the region.
Although many had already written off the European team due to their performances in the previous year, G2 had something more to prove this time, with the weight of redemption on their shoulders.
After a very close group stage, finishing 4-6 along with 2 other teams, Flash Wolves and Team SoloMid, G2 managed to win over their North American rivals and surpass the group stages, already an upgrade on the previous year.
Though it was in the knockout stages is where the ‘Kings of Europe’ truly redeemed themselves. First taking on Chinese powerhouse Team WE, G2 stuck their redemption script and took the series 3-1 to advance to the finals.
The Europeans then went toe-to-toe with reigning World Champions SK Telecom T1 in the final. Although many assumed the series would be a one-sided stomp in favour of the Koreans, G2 wounded the gods, stealing a game away. Although there was still work to be done in Europe, G2’s showing at MSI 2017 set in motion the regional redemption.
No story is without the dramatic twist however and for EU, those issues came in the form of the inaugural Rift Rivals event during the summer of 2017.
A competition that was devised to set in stone which region was superior between EU and NA, resulted in yet another embarrassment for the European region.
Ahead of the competition, many analysts predicted Europe to be sending significantly stronger teams, each representative appeared to be far behind the pace set by the American teams.
The EU LCS’ best team after the group stages was the Unicorns of Love, who exited the groups with a 3-3 record. The final match-up would face them against Team SoloMid, who had finished groups with a far more impressive 5-1 record, the winner would take home the trophy and bragging rights for their region.
Although EU fans prayed for a dramatic comeback, the final was a sweep in favour of the Americans.
As a consequence, Europe headed into the 2017 World Championship in China with tempered expectations, with North American organisations expected to fly the flag for the Western scene.
EU came out of the blocks slowly, with Fnatic notably lagging behind their counterparts in Group B; few could have anticipated that by the end of the tournament, every European outfit would return with their heads held high.
Misfits perhaps best encaptured the European spirit with their incredible series against SK Telecom T1, going one step further than G2’s previous bout with the World Champions, taking Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and co. to a full five games and coming incredibly close to winning it at many points.
Fnatic’s heroics to make it to the quarter-finals after falling to 0-4, coupled with G2’s admirable showing in a group containing the two teams dubbed as favourites to reach the final, Europe’s redemption story was finally complete.
After a year in which the future of the EU LCS has so frequently been cast into doubt, to see that the European region is still capable of producing top-tier teams should at least serve as some solace.
Europe’s future now appears far less bleak after a turbulent 2017.