G2 Esports' Luka "PerkZ" Perković debuted this year in similar fashion to Fnatic's Fabien "Febiven" Diepstraten a year ago: they both became instant candidates for the title of best mid laner in Europe, despite steep competition in a region long known for quality mids. One major difference between them, however, is that one comes attached to his jungler, and the other does not.
PerkZ and Kim "Trick" Gangyun likely have the best synergy of any jungler-mid combo in the EU LCS. Reading that, you might assume Trick camps PerkZ's lane, as is often the case with jungle-mid duos. But for G2, it's the opposite. PerkZ pushes out so that Trick can easily invade the enemy jungle around mid. Once they have a heavy enough advantage, the duo become a roaming battering ram, working together to secure deep vision and pressure lanes from behind their Tier 1 turrets. When they invade alongside Glenn "Hybrid" Doornenbal, opponents are brushed aside.
Febiven and Lee "Spirit" Dayoon don't have as close of an in-game relationship. Despite charming gifs and video footage of the two dancing together, they're seldom seen in the same place on the map. Febiven to occasionally roams on his own once he's scaled sufficiently, which frees up Spirit to pressure the enemy side lanes. Yet Fnatic average the lowest First Blood rate of any team in EU, which says a lot about how well their mid laner and jungler work together. Spirit's attempts at successful ganks often backfire, or he's called to top to guard Noh "Gamsu" Yeongjin inefficiently. Fnatic’s weak lane picks can also lead to him falling behind if the enemy invades his jungle when the team has less overall early map control.
Despite these fumbles, through the regular season Fnatic generally held it together enough to scale up for the late game. In the wake of the Intel Extreme Masters Championship at Katowice in early March, they put more emphasis on aggressive picks for Spirit so he could take advantage of teams with equally poor early game. Come their Quarterfinal against Vitality last week, Spirit played Kindred, a champ with the tools to deal out early lane pressure and punish over-extension, a trademark of Vitality's Lucas "Cabochard" Simon-Meslet. Spirit's deadly Kindred earned the champion a ban by Game 3 of the series.
Febiven — who has always had a somewhat weak laning phase, with a virtually flat average of -.3 CS difference at ten minutes this season — started roaming more frequently after IEM. Though not usually in tandem with Spirit's gank attempts, his roams were often more efficient; with Corki, Febiven could dive deep, securing sudden kills where Spirit failed. That meant Spirit could limit his less successful aggression and focus instead on tying down a swinging top lane.
Both players' performances have improved as they've better understood the requirements of their team. Yet Spirit and Febiven still don't feel like a unit, the way Trick and PerkZ do.
G2's odd man out is AD carry Kim "Emperor" Jinhyun. While Trick and PerkZ are off roaming, Emperor is left alone in lane swap scenarios to push a side wave by himself, occasionally serving as an easy target for pickoffs. G2 hasn't integrated him nearly as well as Fnatic has Martin "Rekkles" Larsson, who's become their late game trump card. If G2's deadly jungle/mid/support trio invade to drive out Spirit, Spirit and Febiven can still find a way to make up the difference by targeting Emperor.
Over the latter half of the split, it's been fascinating to watch Fnatic shift their focus to building up Rekkles by pulling Spirit and Febiven to roam on opposite sides of the map. This unique style could have a definite impact against G2, even without Spirit and Febiven acting with the fullest coordination. If Fnatic can get a better lane assignment for their AD carry than their opponents, they can create enough pressure to take turrets and snowball. They just have to avoid the temptation of a late-scaling composition, and go for more catch-driven picks. If Fnatic attempt to draft the kind of composition they did in Game 1 against Vitality, relying on an easy early game to scale, PerkZ and Trick would be happy to punish them.
That leaves the top lane. Fnatic's Noh "Gamsu" Yeongjin hasn't been able to get much accomplished, even with near-constant pressure form Spirit. By contrast, the value of G2's Mateusz "Kikis" Szkudlarek is low-cost pressure. With smart Teleports, Kikis is able to take advantage of G2's early deep wards, while Gamsu generally can't find a way to create pressure until mid-to-late game teamfights.
Ultimately, the game may be decided by whether G2 keep steady in the late game. G2's early invades and deep ward placement can make them look like they have the strongest vision control in the EU LCS — but then they forget to buy pink wards on backs in the mid-to-late game. This is where Fnatic struck them the last time they faced one another, but Fnatic won't have a late game pick as devastating as patch 6.3 Kog'Maw this time.
G2 still feels like they understand who they are a little better. Fnatic might find success in rotating Rekkles to the mid lane earlier, with either Klaj or Gamsu, to try to pin down PerkZ, but G2 excel at quick reactions. Once they secure vision in the enemy jungle, usually in the first three minutes, it becomes too hard to contest their early invades — at which point Fantic will need G2 to make a mistake. To prevent that scenario, Fnatic should look to draft not just a strong early game jungler, but strong early game lanes that are bold enough to hit back against G2's inevitable aggression.
This semifinal is the closer of the two in the EU LCS. Both teams rely on confrontation, but the pace at which they want to take the game seems different. Fnatic and G2 rely on their mid laner and jungler, but how they work together differs. Victory may slip into G2's hands simply because PerkZ and Trick ride tandem, while Fnatic's Febiven and Spirit are just now getting their unicycles to work as one.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.