November 8, 2019

G2 vs. SKT: Don’t call it a comeback

The year is 2017. Edward Gaming is up 10K gold over defending World Champions, SK Telecom and leads 9-0 in kills. On paper, the League of Legends game looks dead and buried, but EDG struggles to close. Then Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan’s Rakhan engages out of the Fog of War. Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s Shockwave hits four Chinese players and Bae “Bang” Jun-sik’s Twitch opens up from stealth to find an unanswered triple kill. SKT takes down four and only closes the gold gap by about 2K. But the momentum has turned 180 degrees and the Koreans go on to complete one of the most dramatic comebacks of all time.

This was neither the first time nor the last that SKT would turn a game on its head like this. In fact, they’ve made quite a habit of it over the years. It was fitting, then, that G2 Esports should cement their current superiority over SKT by winning three games from behind in their Worlds 2019 semifinal clash.

G2 has become so good at winning from behind that I find myself wondering if it’s part of their game plan. After all, this wasn’t a casual mid-season comeback against, say, Excel Esports. This was the semifinal of Worlds, against the most storied team in League of Legends. To win from behind against that caliber of opposition once might have been a fluke. But doing it three times in four games? Not likely. The fourth game ended with G2 still down in gold while the enemy nexus fell.

This all goes against conventional wisdom. Ever since the new “right way” of playing League became apparent last year, fans were told that games snowball out of control too quickly – that comebacks are nearly impossible. Playing safe and drafting to out-scale is no longer a valid option at the highest level, we were told, and the success of aggressive Chinese teams seemed to agree. Every analyst seemed to speak about game length as an approximation of strength. The faster the better.

The best teams, according to prevailing logic, take more calculated risks early and snowball early advantages into an unassailable lead. And it would work. The addition of turret plates in League’s season nine offered even more gold to teams who had figured out how to make early tower dives work.

G2, with their unique champion pool and confident way of playing, often used this to their advantage, but they took it to another level beyond simple aggression. G2 and the top Chinese teams now pounce on the smallest edges and trust individual mechanics at any given moment. That’s how you end up winning a game on the back of a team fight in your own base that started four versus five. In their semifinal, G2 saw that Faker had no Qiyana ultimate, saw that Park “Teddy” Jin-seong wasted his Varus ultimate, and with Luka “PerkZ” Perković respawning in a few seconds, they struck the killing blow.

The difference between SKT’s 2017 comeback against EDG and G2’s against SKT is that the former was largely about EDG floundering in the mid-game. SKT stalled and waited for their moment, waiting to scale. The latter, on the other hand, was all about G2 seizing an opportunity most other teams would never see.

Was falling behind part of their plan? Of course not. Nobody, not even G2, can rely on a chance like that. Even if you are handed an opportunity and see it, it won’t always come off. Imagine how that fateful team fight might have gone if Teddy’s ultimate landed in a better spot. Suddenly G2 would effectively be fighting two or three versus five and likely losing the game before Perkz respawned.

Originally, I was being somewhat facetious with this article’s title, but it is actually tough to call something so sudden a comeback. Traditionally, a comeback is something like Liverpool’s Champion’s League win over Barcelona last season in European football, turning around a 3-0 deficit over in 90 minutes.

G2 went from a deficit to an outright victory in the space of a minute. Sitting on a lead, choking opponents out, is not enough anymore. Teams like G2 won’t just die quietly. They will come at you. It’s going to be messy and if teams aren’t ready for it, they will win. With or without a gold lead.

Written by Michael Longsmith

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