The need for a villain: mithy and the elevation of G2's macro game

by theScore Staff Sep 23 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of EU LCS / lolesports flickr

G2 Esports have been cast as Europe’s bad boys, with two members, Kim "Trick" Gangyun and Luka "Perkz" Perkovic leading the team during Europe’s dismal Mid-Season Invitational disaster, placing bottom two and losing a Pool 1 spot for the region at the World Championship. Another two members, Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez, were charged by the fanbase of one of Europe’s most popular teams for the abandonment of Origen. Before the split even began, G2 faced the butt of public opinion. They had no choice but to embrace the hand they had been dealt and become "the villains of the EU LCS."

But Europe wouldn’t even need a villain if there weren’t a deeper problem. From the dizzying heights of the semifinals of the 2015 World Championship, placing fifth at MSI wasn’t the real conflict that faced Europe at the start of the summer. When massive roster changes struck, and a new patch interrupted the strategic foundation of how the game should be played, the average level of play exhibited in the first week of the EU LCS didn’t meet the expected standard.

EU LCS teams were bad — even compared to their North American competitors. Fans wanted someone to blame.

"Since EU didn’t have old school teams that went to Worlds," G2’s support, mithy said, "and other regions did, when you’re a veteran team, you play more together … Veteran teams or teams that have been playing together for long have experienced playing good teams and seeing what really good teams do in the game."

Internationally, more experienced teams and players struggled to find footing earlier this year, but Europe had the unique distinction among the five major regions of sending a team of five players to the Mid-Season Invitational who had never been to a World Championship. While G2 certainly couldn’t be called a team of only rookies, two of their three experienced players didn’t have the language base initially to communicate. More importantly, however, Fnatic and Origen, the flagship teams that should have lead EU in team play on new patches, struggled to piece together rosters and never fully recovered.

"Fnatic and Origen were kind of not the same team," mithy said, speaking as a previous member of Origen. "Playing with PowerOfEvil was a different thing than playing with Peke … We had to fix our own issues and — just like every other team, adapt to the meta ourselves, and at the same time we had to fix issues with our mid laner, things that just clicked for us before. That’s really the reason we subbed in Peke sometimes. We really just needed things to just click."

As organizations with experienced players recovered in the summer split globally, Fnatic and Origen’s persistent inability to click meant that they never got to a point where they could begin tweaking team play. Even H2K, the third team to attend Worlds, struggled with a lack of roster synergy in the summer split that brought the team down. Instead of pioneering how to play on new patches, they seemed to focus mainly on the basics of making the roster work.

Photo credit: lolesports flickr

This opened the door for younger teams like G2 and Splyce to scale to the top of the standings. As the heroes Europe expected fell, a villain rose in their place. With the combination of the core jungle and mid lane duo in Perkz and Trick as well as Origen’s bottom lane, G2 were even more equipped than they were in the spring split to run through games by pressuring the lanes themselves.

Comparing the approach to the game between Origen and G2 Esports, at least when mithy initially joined G2 at the start of the summer, mithy spoke very highly of the macro ingenuity of the OG roster. "The main problem is that [G2’s] macro game in that regard, [when] we group together and everything — Origen was the best macro team in EU, by a large margin. Even if you look at Origen this split, even though they made it to relegations, every game they had a lane swap — at least 70 percent of games — I’m just inventing a percentage here, but I’m pretty sure they were extremely ahead most of the games during lane swaps because they are just really smart players."

The numbers backed up mithy’s claim. Even though Origen sat in the relegation zone of the EU LCS, they averaged gold leads at six and ten minutes in lane swap games. Interestingly, however, G2 also averaged more of a lead in lane swaps scenarios, despite the community’s frequent criticism of G2’s macro game. mithy maintains that this is something he and Zven transmitted to G2 over time, borrowing from the creative mentality on Origen.

"I’m really open-minded," mithy said, "so I really enjoyed the lane swap meta. I wasn’t really stuck with, 'Okay, this is what we do in lane swaps, this is what we have to do. If this situation, this, then this does this.' I wasn’t following a plan, I was creating a plan on my own every single game."

Rejecting the notion of formulaic lane swaps reflects a lot of the approach mithy and the rest of G2 began developing over time. The marriage of Origen’s bottom lane and G2’s core carries from spring wasn’t just about leveling up the raw talent of the team, but a slowly building union of ideologies. They aren’t a team that is content with a brute force label.

G2 has started to transform from a team whose playstyle, according to Coach Joey "Youngbuck" Steltenpool, just "came really naturally to them" in Spring to a team that looks to refine, and mithy has been a major part of that. "I just try to tell everyone what we should do and how we should play, and everyone tends to agree," mithy said. "I’m obviously willing to have someone disagree and have a discussion where we can both learn. Usually it ends up with most of the team agreeing to something, and we’re just working on it."

mithy described G2’s current system as a setup where the team comes to a consensus on an approach beforehand. "I think everyone knows what the plan is. I think it’s just me just saying it out loud for everyone to be reminded of it. Most of our work comes from scrims themselves. How we analyze our replays and talk about what we should have done and how we want to play for a specific tower."

Sharing these kinds of ideas across the team became more seamless as the group worked on them together, but it wasn’t easy initially. "It was very basic at first, things that were not really perfect in the way we were moving around the map. Just like... things get worked on step by step, and we had to work through some of the very basic steps before going to larger steps. The larger steps were really forgiven in Europe … At Worlds, we’re going to see a lot of teams being very coordinated and working together."

The removal of lane swaps doesn’t devalue the kind of creativity that mithy has focused on or valued from his time on Origen. Rather, some of the more important things as Worlds draws nearer will come in playing around the jungler as a team. In G2’s most recent form in the playoffs, there was more of a disconnect between Trick and mithy than one might expect from the jungle and support duo of a jungle-centric team.

mithy explained that, especially after the patch change, there were significantly fewer opportunities to meet up with the jungler. He described a scenario where he would base, purchase his Sightstone, and Trick would tell him he wanted to clear jungle camps on the top side of the map. Not wanting to stray too far from his duo lane, mithy would just ward river and return to the bottom side of the map in those instances.

While in Korea, playing against more international teams, however, mithy noticed larger problems with that strategy. Heavyweights were punishing G2 more for not coordinating as much with their jungler. "In EU," mithy said, "you get away with not playing a lot more towards your jungle. There’s a lot more trading and just lane phase in general. It’s hard to say, I think as a team, if you are a good team, you play more with your jungler, and if you are a bad team, in terms of like how you want to play the game, you play less with your jungler."

Now that G2 have had a full split with their new roster, and been able to refine the basics, the Korean bootcamp has so far helped them learn more quickly. "We’re playing a lot more towards pressure and our jungler," mithy said, "and playing the game how it’s supposed to be played, and a lot less doing random stuff … Lanes are moving together now and making plays together."

With almost every answer, mithy emphasized the importance of coordination, of having players with a similar approach to not just playing the game but how they want to play for progress to be had. The baseline is in getting to a point where your team understands each other. "It’s not easy," mithy explained. "It requires a team to be really good together. It’s not something you can just have."

But a team that works together, that really understands their own roles, is a team that can begin testing and tweaking the details. Rather than just accepting the game as it has been presented, mithy prides himself in adapting and testing assumptions he’s already made, altering how he plays a champion in a matchup over time.

"Bard against Trundle is a matchup that, at first I thought, Bard can win because he’s ranged, and Trundle is not. But then I played against a Trundle, and I was using my usual skill order which is Q and then W, and then I put my W’s down, I put three packs, and I keep harassing the lane. Then the Trundle, basically at any point level 2 or 3 or even 4 just, even if I have portal, he would just pillar me, and as long as he didn’t get stunned, he would pretty much win the trade every time, or basically make me be not able to abuse him by walking up and auto attacking him. Which made me think the matchup was good for Trundle.

"Then one day I was playing Bard again after playing Trundle for a bit. And I was like … 'What if I started Portal level 2 and just hugged the wall?' Since level 2 onwards, instead of being in the brush where I normally stand, I go to the other side of the lane and I stand next to the wall, and I skill Portal level 2, and I did that, and it turned out that I would basically be able to play in his face and never get punished for it because I could portal out of his pillar. It became an actually decent matchup for Bard."

In a game that can range from a spectrum of simple to complex as widely as League of Legends, it’s hard to capture a player’s approach, but mithy’s description of how he altered his play in the Bard and Trundle lane matchup over time gave a brief glimpse of a player who isn’t content with the status quo in front of him. It’s a mentality that has slowly expressed itself in the small ways G2 improved in team play and macro coordination throughout the summer: the lane swaps, playing around side lane baits when opponent top laners would over-extend, the evolution of Perkz’s play, etc. Yet it’s also something we haven’t seen expressed as strongly as it could have been.

In their assessments of teams going into Worlds, analysts picked top teams from China, Korea, and North America, but G2, Europe’s first place squad, was often kept in the second tier. The "shouldn’t be underestimated, but not quite elite" tier.

But that’s only G2 as we last saw them. Last year, even though Fnatic and Origen looked impressive in the EU LCS final, the amount they gained from the Korean bootcamp was large. There’s a case to be made for Origen and Fnatic benefiting more from the bootcamp period than any other team at the tournament. Origen in particular wowed the group stage with their ability to out-rotate their opponents with mid lane Teleport.

This time around, though he wasn’t able to reveal specifics, mithy hinted that another vastly improved European team could hit the San Francisco Group Stages. "We’re really working hard on our macro game this Worlds," he said. "G2, if it shows up, it should be a more refined G2 that plays a more consistent and better macro game, and gets caught a bit less, and plays more towards waves and pressure. Hopefully we see that G2."

EU LCS fans might call G2 bad boys, they might call them villains, but the union of G2’s aggressive, lane-driven style with the creative approach of Origen’s former bottom lane is the most potent concoction Europe is sending to the World Championship this year. G2 aren’t just this year’s villains, they’re a new wave of European team, and with two consecutive EU LCS titles under the G2 banner, they have the makings of a new kingdom.

"You’re getting bullied," mithy said, "instead of being sad about it, joke it off, try to not get too affected by it … Acknowledge whatever you have to acknowledge. Accept the things you have to accept. The only bully there is is yourself."

G2’s short marketing videos showed the team acknowledging the role their fans had cast them in. These shorts helped them brave the storm and move on because, all the while, they were focused on the game in front of them. Just like a matchup, just like a lane swap, G2 may be villains for now, but they know the narrative is ever-changing as long as they can find a new way to frame it.

A win over a major contender at the biggest event of the year could go a long way toward making them heroes.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.