The two most dominant teams in European League of Legends history face unprecedented challenges in the 2021 Spring Split Playoff tournament.
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This past weekend saw players from the European LEC League of Legends esports championships return in-person to the studio in Berlin, playing live on stage for the first time since Covid-19 precautions moved play online and teams to their respective team houses in early 2020. Though still playing to an empty room the return to offline, on-stage play has had some interesting effects on the spring split playoff tournament so far.
Though they were able to see off SK Gaming in the first best of 5 match of playoffs 3-1, Fnatic have since been eliminated from the tournament, going down 0-3 to Schalke 04 in a stunning upset this past weekend. Since eliminated themselves, Schalke 04 put in a strong performance in the latter part of the year that may allay fears that their parent organisation, the German soccer team for who they are named, may be forced into the sale of their League of Legends franchise for financial reasons.
The loss means for the first time since 2016 Fnatic finish outside the top 4 teams in European competitive play.
For a team used to winning multiple European League of Legends titles, frequently representing Europe at the World’s Championship, and even taking home the inaugural world title in 2011 (they remain the only European outfit to so so), the early elimination and the decisive manner in which they were shut out must be difficult to accept.
That difficulty might be tempered by some schadenfreude at seeing their rivals and successors for most-dominant EU League team, G2 Esports, face their own playoff difficulties despite having recently deprived Fnatic of some of their own top talent.
The last two years of pro play have seen G2 poach both prodigious young midlaner Rasmus ‘Caps’ Winther and longtime Fnatic stalwart and legendary ADC Martin ‘Rekkles’ Larsson from Fnatic in an attempt to consolidate their power and hope to challenge the dominance of the Chinese LPL and Korean LCK teams at World’s.
It may not be a winning strategy for them, as following dominance during the regular season they have only managed to scrape past Schalke 04 3-2 and lose to a resurgent MAD Lions 1-3 in post-season play to date. The double-elimination nature of the tournament bracket and G2’s high seeding following their excellent run in in-season play means they are not out, but now have to face a dangerous Rogue team before they would then once again match up with a MAD Lions team making it to their first playoff finals and that has recently bested G2.
Rogue and MAD have both emerged in just the last few seasons of play as legitimate heirs to the throne in EU League of Legends. Though both have a long way to go in terms of European titles and international accomplishments, with one of the ‘Kings of Europe’ out and another struggling, it may be time for a changing of the guard in the LEC.