The Perkz of experience

Perkz at the 2017 EU LCS Spring final (lolesports)
Perkz at the 2017 EU LCS Spring final (lolesports)

Knowing their bottom duo would return to lane before Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez, North American League of Legends team Counter Logic Gaming sent Jake “Xmithie” Puchero to take control of the tribush. When CLG went for a dive that eliminated Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, G2’s mithy, Kim “Trick” Gangyun, and Luka “Perkz” Perković responded.

Perkz ventured down river on his own. Choi “HuHi” Jaehyun followed, flashing after Perkz in tribush to isolate him from his team. Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya’s Poppy Teleported in from top lane. He stunned Perkz against the red buff alcove, granting Xmithie the third kill of the 2016 World Championship. CLG chants rumbled through the San Francisco crowd.

“I would say I was actually just choking on stage,” Perkz said of his World Championship performance in an interview with Yahoo Esports. “It was a mix of bad mindset and bad eating habits and bad expectations and public backlash. A small mix of everything.”

On G2’s next play, Perkz missed a stun on the flank engage in mid lane. Trick rushed in for a follow up. With vision control of bottom river, Xmithie’s Olaf charged in to slash through Perkz’s health bar for his second death in under 12 minutes. Perkz ended the first match of Worlds with a score line of 0/3/0 in a 33 minute game.

From there, things got worse for Perkz. Poor mid lane dives. Questionable build decisions. Missed skillshots in trades. All of these peppered his play.

“It was my first year so I didn’t really know what to do or what to expect or how to work,” he said.

The offseason between 2015 and 2016 in the EU LCS gave rise to one of the largest shifts of power in the region’s history. Departures of key members of Fnatic and Origen’s slow start removed two of the top three teams from the scene. The sway of legacy names dipped away. A brand new team with a 17 year old rookie mid laner surged to take the first split of the year.

G2 Esports’ explosive jungle-mid play opened the opposite side of the map for Trick to take control. Perkz pressured his opponent, constantly playing with the edge of skirmishes and refusing to allow quarter. He brought the relentless pushing power of Corki to the stage for Europe’s mid lane.

Riot Games declared Trick the MVP of the split and Perkz the rookie of the split. A few pundits praised Perkz’s dominance of his opponents, his scintillating debut, and his confident play-making. Not everyone agreed Trick should have won the award and argued for the Croatian mid laner instead.

“I don’t think I was a good team player last season,” Perkz admitted. “I was a selfish individual player. I didn’t know how to lead the team or how to communicate in a team properly in a high level, you know?”

It’s possible to be the star of an entire league and still feel like an amateur.

“We just went luckily through EU LCS,” Perkz said, as if he still had difficulty believing it. “Trick and I were pretty good. Kikis kind of stepped it up in playoffs too… It’s kind of strange for me because I would never expect to win the Spring split.”

Trick, Perkz, and Zven at the 2017 EU LCS Spring final (loleposrts)
Trick, Perkz, and Zven at the 2017 EU LCS Spring final (loleposrts)

Perkz hesitated to judge his team as a whole from 2016, but he drew critical strokes when he discussed his own mentality and performance: his cocky analyst desk segments, and more damningly, his complacency. The 2016 Mid-Season Invitational was where Perkz got his first heavy taste of community disapproval.

“EU doesn’t really have any personalities that could stand out,” he said. “Maybe FORG1VEN and Jankos you could say that are standout personalities. I thought it was going to be pretty fun.”

In an interview with theScore esports, Perkz commented, “I don’t think Asian mid laners are better than European ones.” The line rocketed to the top of discussion forums on professional League of Legends internationally. Media groups like China’s 15w riffed on it to build hype for the event.

“I didn’t say they are overrated and everyone started hating me for the comment,” Perkz said incredulously. “Everyone told me I said that Asian mid laners are just trash even though I never said that, you know?”

Given the history of European mid lane talent in League of Legends, Perkz’s comment seems relatively benign in retrospect. Some of the game’s greatest like Henrik “Froggen” Hansen have hailed from Europe and bested international opponents. No genetic factors can theoretically prevent Europe’s best from competing.

Perkz’s comment ultimately wouldn’t have had that great of an impact if his MSI and World Championship play hadn’t been so utterly embarrassing. A paltry 1.48 KDA and the rise of a jingle that may likely persist for the rest of Perkz’s career followed him out of the tournament in Shanghai.

“It was fun to the point where everyone turned it around against me,” Perkz admitted about his cocky persona. “That’s when it stopped being fun.”

While lamenting how hard he took the backlash, Perkz remained realistic about G2’s 2-8 run at their first international event on its one-year anniversary.

“Even though people were hyping us to do good, I think we were insanely trash,” Perkz said. “I was playing super stupid champs like Zed and Leblanc vs tank meta and stuff, like in EU LCS it was working … I think it was really expected of us to lose.”

His newness to the EU LCS made Perkz take the fall harder. But it required more than MSI for him to make what he now considers a fundamental change to his mentality.

Perkz and Exileh faced off in the 2017 EU LCS Spring final (lolesports)
Perkz and Exileh faced off in the 2017 EU LCS Spring final (lolesports)

“I don’t know how to explain it,” he said regretfully, “I was just — I was so stupid, you know? My role was to be consistent, and I wanted to make flashy plays, you know. I was always trying to outplay.”

The EU LCS Summer told a different story than Spring, or even G2’s MSI flop. Perkz’s performance lagged far behind that of his earlier offering. He played over the line in teamfights on more stable mages without escape opportunities. Though G2 remained undefeated in series in EU LCS, Perkz’s own contribution oscillated between flashy and crippling as he got caught out more often. A lot more attention went to G2’s bottom lane, and his synergy with Trick appeared less pronounced.

Perkz also adamantly resisted the heavy roaming meta. Taliyah started as a niche pick before booming into high priority after several buffs. “I just didn’t like the play style, you know? Like push and roam, push and roam, can’t win lane or can’t lose lane. It was just a really boring champion.” Perkz laughed. “I just refuse to see this champion in my game.”

But he used Taliyah and a similar champion Aurelion Sol as examples of how his mentality changed between splits. “Right now it just is different because right now I look whether champions are good like maybe if I have a winning side lane or a winning jungler so I can do enemy camps, etc, etc, so there are winning conditions to every champion in the game.”

Perkz has focused much more on stability and team play in the 2017 season, and his name arose again in the MVP debate. While the opening match of 2016’s World Championship featured disconnected Syndra roams and fumbled stuns, one of G2’s most key comeback games against Fnatic in the regular season highlighted Perkz’s setups around the red buff behind Baron.

Instead of parroting “You guessed it right, I’m G2 Perkz,” post-match threads have dubbed Perkz as “underrated” and pegged him well above the rest of EU’s mid competition. G2 have worked much more on setting up pushing lanes to facilitate Trick’s creative pathing and looking for pressure to set up plays. If it’s necessary to give up CS to keep the minions positioned to crash into the opposing turret, Perkz doesn’t mind missing a few creeps.

“I actually think now that Asian mid laners are better,” Perkz has concluded.

“It’s not like they’re better individually — before I was judging on mechanics too much, you know, they’re just better by playing with pressure, playing with team – playing the game correctly rather than trying to outplay.”

To make this distinction and truly highlight how his approach to the game has changed, G2’s first series of the split against rival team Fnatic entered the discussion. In perhaps Perkz’s worst individual performance of the split, he and Fnatic’s Rasmus “Caps” Winther traded aggressively until Perkz could zone him from the wave at level 3.

Perkz stunned Caps with a Scatter the Weak, but made the mistake of entering turret range. Before Force of Will could land, Caps flashed at Perkz and rooted him in place with Rune Prison for the kill.

“I wasn’t tilted, I was just shocked, you know?” Perkz laughed when he talked about the play.

Caps in general had left a deep impression on Perkz from solo queue and scrims even before he played him in LCS, adding to his overall nerves. “He was insanely good,” Perkz admitted. “He was legit — I thought he was the best player I’d played against, I couldn’t believe it. And I had a break you know, so I wasn’t really a good level myself too. So it was a mix of me being bad and him being good that made me have a really scary picture of him.”

This awe of Caps accompanied Perkz into the LCS from solo queue and scrims, but it evaporated under the LCS spotlight with Caps’ inconsistent stage performances. Caps went for matchups with narrow windows to take control of the lane, constantly pushed up, and tried to use summoner spells aggressively without regard for the position of the enemy jungler. He either carried or he fell on his face.

It’s easy to start to draw a comparison between Caps in his first split of EU LCS and Perkz in 2016.

“He plays to outplay,” Perkz explained. “If I play to not let him outplay, and just play my lane and not give him a chance to outplay, then I will win 9/10 times, but if I try to outplay him, I will lose 9/10 times. I figured out the best way to play against him is to just play smart, and yeah, I guess that’s why I also improved. He showed me I don’t need to outplay to win my lane and win the game.”

The contrast between 2016 Spring G2 and 2017 Spring comes out in the narrative. G2 in 2016 all-ined on skirmishes and played the map correctly in an almost unintentional way. Jungle and mid had priority because Perkz looked to trade aggressively and kept the wave pushed as a result, favoring champions like Corki that cleared easily with high maneuverability.

This split, G2 have more control across multiple lanes at once. They set up plays much more around pressure and vision, push out side waves, and look much more like the best macro-oriented team in the LCS.

“Right now us going into MSI,” Perkz said, “we will perform because we don’t play by our feelings, we play by plans.”

For the third consecutive split in a row, G2 Esports climbed the final stage in EU LCS. They faced Unicorns of Love, a team whose fan base has flocked to their image of a family-run team and cheered them on for unconventional branding. Perkz wowed the crowd with Leblanc, giving echoes of last year’s intrepid, cocky Perkz as he punished German mid laner Fabian “Exileh” Schubert for nearly every push.

Because there’s a balance between playing for safety and opening opportunities for the team. There’s an importance and a place for crushing the enemy laner and keeping the wave crashing to open the map.

G2 Esports celebrate their third consecutive EU LCS victory (lolesports)
G2 Esports celebrate their third consecutive EU LCS victory (lolesports)

“I learned from Maple at IEM how important is a counter pick and push lane, etc,” Perkz said. “In EU, I could get away with picking Jayce into Syndra. I would just win my lane. But this guy was just playing to push mid, so there was a new light to my eyes.”

In a 3-1 series where G2 pushed Unicorns back with better side lane response and an ability to thwart Unicorns of Love’s grouping, the villains of the EU LCS emerged victorious again. They’re only two titles away from matching Europe’s most lofty LoL heroes, Fnatic, in LCS wins, but as a result of their international flops, they don’t have anywhere near the amount of clout.

“If I play in EU LCS,” Perkz said, “I can’t lose. I can’t afford myself to lose. So if I win in LCS, I’m barely ever happy if I win, I’m just relieved.”

A part of the European fan base still believes that no matter how many times G2 win LCS, they’ll continue to fall internationally. The LCS wins G2 have collected aren’t a reason to cheer for Europe’s best team, but a reason to condemn an entire region, and at last year’s World Championship, Perkz took the brunt of the blame.

“For this season MSI, motivation is really high because I have yet to grab a win internationally on a Riot event vs a non-Wildcard team, so I’m just insanely motivated, and I’m sure we’re going to do good.”

If Perkz wants to prove the change in his mentality holds, G2 will have to finally impress at a Riot event. He can’t unravel if the pressure gets too steep or if he gets caught out roaming or mistimes a trade.

“The experience I got from last year is — even though I only played one year in pro — I feel like I played at least two or three because I was nonstop from home. Like for 11 months in a row. I’ve been experiencing wins and losses, so I’ve been tripled in one year.”

Experience for Perkz means playing more as a team. If he pulls it off in Brazil, we may see more of Perkz the individual: the cocky personality that stirred the analyst desk in 2016 Spring.
This time, he will have earned it.

You can follow Kelsey Moser on Twitter @karonmoser.