The past, present, and future of European League of Legends begins with the story of two young players
The question of legacy in esports has never really been a consideration until now. With the relative youth of the genre, there has been little opportunity for players and organisations to build the kind of brand identity that will remain for years after their exit from the scene - in fact, the sport is so young that even the idea of retirement has only really been a consideration in the past few years.
With the inaugural League of Legends World Championship taking place in 2011, this year marked the tenth anniversary of the game’s competitive history. In that time, it’s become one of the most successful esports titles of all time, with players like Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng becoming household names within the gaming world. With finals hosted in countries all over the world, and even domestic leagues bringing in millions of viewers week in, week out, it’s clear that League esports have cemented themselves in the upper echelons of a rapidly-developing competitive world.
One of the sport’s greatest stories begins, however, in a much more humble setting than the sold-out arenas and million-viewer Twitch streams of 2020’s League of Legends climate. A dynasty does not simply spring into being - it must be cultivated, grown from nothing. This is the case for the rivalry that has shaped and defined European League of Legends since 2015, and the two iconic players that immortalised it. Perkz and Rekkles. G2 and Fnatic. As inevitable as the passage of time, these two organisations have faced off time and time again, battling for a spot that only one of them can occupy.
2013-2016: A one-horse race
Early European League of Legends was simply a question of how convincingly Fnatic would take the title. Winning every split bar one for three years, they simply looked unbeatable. At the centre of it all was one seventeen-year-old boy, as of yet a relatively unknown name, with no idea of who he would become, or what his name would come to mean for Europe. Martin "Rekkles" Larsson began his competitive career with Fnatic on November 22, 2013, having been waiting in the wings since Fnatic scouted him the previous year, unable to play due to his age.
The story of Rekkles’, and by proxy Fnatic’s, rise to power, has by now been told so many times, and in so many different languages, that it scarcely needs retelling. Minus a single split away from the team for a failed endeavour on Elements; the two names became completely synonymous. Rekkles was Fnatic, and Fnatic was Rekkles, and that was the dichotomy that ruled over the European scene almost uninterrupted.
Despite the team’s domestic dominance, however, international success was well out of their grasp. The introduction of Korea as an official region at the World Championship had all but ruled out any chances of European victory - and 2015 saw the beginning of another dynasty, far across the globe, with which Fnatic could never hope to compete. The roster had to be content with their home victories, and could only watch on as time and time again Worlds was won by representatives of the LCK - the newly formed Korean league that seemed, for all intents and purposes, unbeatable.
2016-2018: A new challenger approaches
As with all things, Fnatic’s reign of dominance would, at some point, have to come to an end. That moment arrived in 2016, when G2 esports joined the EU LCS after promoting from the European Challenger Series. On their roster was yet another young gun - 17-year-old mid-laner Luka "Perkz" PerkoviÄ, only recently eligible to play in the LCS after having bounced around various challenger teams in the lower-tier European scene.
He quickly became the EU LCS’s golden boy, taking over a spot that Rekkles had occupied uninterruptedly for the past three years. His mechanical prowess was unmatched, and it seemed as though G2’s reign of dominance had truly begun. However, once again, the team could not break the international barrier, becoming famous for choking at international events despite their ridiculous dominance domestically.
It seemed as though, regardless of what Europe did, regardless of how many young, iconic players they nurtured, international victory was just out of their reach.
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Well, what now?
The more recent history of these team’s legacies scarcely needs repeating here - as both Perkz and Rekkles suddenly became overshadowed by a player who would change the face of Europe’s international performance forever. Rasmus "Caps" Winther joined Fnatic in 2018 as a replacement for previous mid-laner Fabian "FEBIVEN" Diepstraten, and took Europe to their first World Championship final since Season 1. The Championship title that Rekkles had been searching for since the first moments of his career was finally within his grasp - only to be mercilessly ripped away in one of the most one-sided international finals of all time.
What happened next is, again, a moment that scarce needs repeating. Caps’ subsequent move to G2, and Perkz’s role swap to the AD Carry position, sent shockwaves throughout the international League community. Once again, Europe found themselves in the World Finals after G2 won every single event they participated in throughout 2019 - and once again, victory was ripped away from them by the very same region that had bested Fnatic the year before.
A new piece had been added to the chess game that was G2 and Fnatic - but in the end, it came down to Perkz and Rekkles. It always had. These two players were the pillars of organisations that shaped European League of Legends to one of the greatest esports in the world, and these two players were those who had been denied the title they had spent the length and breadth of their storied careers working to obtain. Europe was defined by a rivalry spanning years, and that rivalry was defined by two players who would stop short of nothing for the ultimate victory. A world without Fnatic versus G2, a world without Perkz and Rekkles, seemed unimaginable.
The Changing of the Guard
Yet that world has now come to pass. In perhaps the most turbulent offseason Europe has ever seen, both Perkz and Rekkles have announced what many fans had deemed unthinkable - for the first time in their careers, they will no longer play for the teams that shaped them. Not only that, but rumours of Perkz moving to North America’s Cloud 9 to play in the LCS mean that the binary star system that was the core of Europe’s identity has been broken. The fire has gone out. The last petal has fallen. Europe has been fundamentally changed with the signing of two contracts, and it’s a change that can never be reversed.
For these two players, victory has always been the motivator. After so long chasing at the heels of glory, their loyalty to the dynasties they created cannot overcome that desperate yearning for a taste of victory. With the number of domestic titles they have each collected, lifting the LEC trophy has become little more than a consolation prize - a World Championship title rests just above the reach of both, and in an attempt to reach it they have broken down the barriers of tradition, expectation, safety, and loyalty. The drive for victory that defined the LEC’s most iconic legacy has now shattered that selfsame legacy into a thousand pieces.
It’s undeniable that Europe’s competitive climate has changed forever. With Rekkles joining G2, taking over Perkz’s role as AD Carry, Rekkles and Caps are reunited in the closest thing to a superteam Europe has ever seen. Perkz’s journey to North America leaves a gaping hole in the European scene - but with the breadth of Europe’s Emerging Region Leagues, that hole offers an opportunity for a new generation of rookie talent. Perkz’s last gift to the region that shaped him was the opportunity for a new player to fill his shoes, and Rekkles’s last gift to the team that watched him grow was the chance to do the same. Although whoever is next on Fnatic’s roster will have some pretty sizeable shoes to fill, there is no region better equipped to promote a talented rookie than Europe.
Once one door closes, another opens. Once one legacy is put to rest, another is ready to step up and take its place. Through storied careers of dedication and perseverance, both Rekkles and Perkz have left an indelible mark on the hearts of League of Legends fans across the globe.
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