published at 00:49 CEST, Wednesday July 12 2017

Zechs Files: What went wrong at Rift Rivals?

Rift Rivals was a train wreck for European fans. This week, Zechs Files investigates what caused the European hype train to de-rail so catastrophically.

Last week was a rough time to be European League fan.

Rift Rivals was a disaster for European teams. Where do you even start to talk about what went wrong? Europe’s most successful team had the same record in groups as America’s worst team: 3-3. G2 esports, runners up at the Midseason Invitational won just a single game. The continent’s in form team, Fnatic, went 2-4. The best team in the European LCS were only able to take two games out of six against American opposition. Yes, H2K were absent, but do you really think they would have fared better?

On the other side of the coin, Phoenix 1 went 4-2. They are currently tied for eighth place out of 10 teams with a 3-7 record in the LCS. They had a positive win ratio against some of the best teams that Europe has to offer. It’s fair to say that America didn’t even send its three best teams. Both CLG and Immortals are above TSM and Cloud 9. It’s not always as straightforward as saying CLG would have had a similar or better record - some teams are better suited to international competition, for example - but do you really think they would have done much worse?

So what the hell happened? Not that long ago I was writing about how American teams struggled in the shadow of TSM. And yes, Bjergsen and co did win the tournament in convincing fashion, but the other American teams didn’t struggle as expected. Far from it.

So what did happen? Most analysts expected Europe to dominate Rift Rivals. I know I did. An interesting infographic showed us some statistics about America’s dominance: highest KDA, highest kill total, most assists etc. All of the good ones except wards per minute were held by players from the American LCS. Xpecial had two of them for himself, which at least goes some way to explaining P1’s resurgence (also, Mikeyeung is a beast), but the stats really just showed us how badly American dominated, not why. Samux only buying nine control wards in nine games might have had something to do with it, though.

Such an all-encompassing failure on the part of European teams is really difficult to narrow down. Even Ryu, speaking in a recent interview, was unable to really explain it too clearly.  “I think NA’s meta is currently better,” he said, vaguely. “I don’t know why in particular, but they seem like they aren’t performing at their best in terms of macro.” No help there then.

Fnatic players have spoken about their team’s playstyle evolving ahead of the event. That is our first potential clue. If Fnatic were trying out new things, it is plausible that those things didn’t work or that the team just hadn’t gotten comfortable yet. Certainly, the standard, albeit unique Fnatic style has been figured out at this point and, as Kha’Zix would put it, change is good. Sadly for European fans, though, change also takes time and clearly Fnatic needed more of it.

Speaking of unique playstyles, Unicorns of Love may have reached the final but they only did it with a 3-3 record and in the final itself they were utterly destroyed. As Chhopsky put it on Twitter, TSM gave UOL a crash course in playing from behind. In another interview with Slingshot, Exileh spoke about how his team bucks the generally accepted trend of playing for the early game. In the EU LCS this seems to work fairly well - UOL is currently top of its group - but at Rift Rivals it seemed to have been figured out.

Then there was G2. Oh, boy. During MSI, everything was looking so good, but how the mighty have fallen. Third in their LCS group, G2 have struggled to a 3-3 record domestically. Their capitulation at Rift Rivals was probably the most predictable and after such a poor run of form you have to think that confidence is a big issue.

It’s not all doom and gloom for Europe, however. There are still a couple of months till Worlds. There are patches due in that time, tweaks to be made and metagames to be shifted. Sometimes the best lesson is the harshest one, and Rift Rivals was exactly that. Confidence can be restored and play styles can be adapted.

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Michael “Zechs_” Radford

Michael "Zechs" Radford is an esports veteran and has been writing about professional gaming for longer than he cares to remember. He currently lives in Leeds and is hoping his upcoming offspring will be talented enough to play esports professionally rather than just write about other people doing it.