G2's victorious Season 9 LEC Spring title run at last saw Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski crowned a champion. Europe's prince of the jungle had for so many years been consistently top tier and in position to make a serious bid for team glory, only to again and again be denied. With so many eliminations in deciding games and semi-finals stages, some had wondered over the seasons if Jankos's chances to cement his legacy as one of the greats had passed him by.
Missing titles and, for many years, even finals appearances, Jankos lacked the team accomplishments to supplement his now half a decade of individual excellence. For a king there must be a crown and thus the heir to Diamondprox's legacy was always absent in the moments of true success that would have completed his trajectory as Europe's finest jungler.
Patently talented; uniquely attuned to the language of the gank; and always hungry to excel. Jankos has fast made up for lost time and now boasts a resume which not only sees him catch up to his peers, but ready to stake his claim as a contender for the best Jungler the West has produced.
The shadow of Diamondprox still eclipses the lineage of the jungle in European League of Legends, even though the Russian maestro has not played an LCS/LEC game in more than three years. Such was the magnitude of Diamond's impact upon the role, and so essential his position within one of Europe's greatest line-ups, that there has never been a true successor to his throne, until now.
Upon his appearance in the EU LCS in Season 4, Jankos quickly emerged as a potential heir to Diamondprox. Here was a Jungler made of the same qualities and drive. A powerful ganker, a play-maker and a duelist. Yet for their shared characteristics, the two would metaphorically part ways when it came to the nature of their performance under pressure and this would become one of the defining criticisms of Jankos's career.
Diamondprox was both infamous and beloved for his arrogance and aloof manner of approaching his peers, acting as if it was to be expected that he should dominate them and thus judging them weaker regardless of their actual skill-set profile. This made the Moscow Five man magnetic when he would, routinely, deliver his best performances in play-off circumstances and facing down the pressure of key marquee match-ups.
If Diamondprox was money in the bank, though, then Jankos was a cheque with a lot of zeroes but which bounced when you needed it most. Not that it was always his fault or within his control, but Jankos's legacy of repeatedly reaching the important stages of tournaments and then failing to progress further and actually win when it mattered most would not only define the first four years of his career, but also haunt his own expectations.
Others staked their claim as the next great LCS Jungler. Svenskeren, Shook and Amazing showed off strong mechanics and championship form. Cyanide and Trashy/kold were glue pieces on their teams, aiding their laners and patching together the team-play. Trick came in from outside and won an MVP and multiple titles. Yet none were the right kind of successor to the throne. That player who comes from nowhere, with a brash ganking style and takes over a game without hesitation.
Jankos lacked titles and clutch performances. Without both how could he ever hope to call himself Europe's best, now or over history? Diamondprox's crown continued to accumulate dust and fade out of memory.
A core similarity between Diamondprox and Jankos is their in-game intelligence. It is seemingly no exaggeration to describe them as "ganking geniuses". Yet where Diamondprox, as he showed over time with his improved English language skills, is the professor who understands the core principles at play behind his moves and can explain them to an intricate level of detail, Jankos has shown himself to be more intuitive in his nature.
Jankos appears to feel the game and from his imagination sense where gank opportunities will appear or can be forced. When at his most confident, Jankos has no conscience with his "go button" and will execute tricky ganks and create something from nothing with an uncanny regularity. Hence his well deserved moniker of "the first blood king". With Jankos in the server the possibility is always there to get an early lead, to snowball a lead and to battle back into a match.
While so many Junglers have built their legacies, won their championships and established their reputations thanks to their partnerships with strong Mid laners, especially in Europe, Jankos also mirrors Diamondprox in his tendency to play well to his Top laner, in some senses making him more of a throwback to an older era of Western LoL or a Western parallel to the Junglers of Korea's carry Top lineage.
Just as Diamondprox fed the mad Darien, getting that bizarre yet compelling figure ahead or even in games he had no business succeeding in, and later helped launch Cabochard, so Jankos has made his Top laners shine. Odoamne was at his career best in the H2k line-up of S6 where the two helped conspire to take the European organisation all the way to their first ever top four finish at the World Championship. In G2, both last year and this, Jankos has helped work around Wunder to bring the Danish former Splyce player to the peak of his strength and make him one of the best in the world at the role.
When the concept of an "evergreen player" is discussed - a figure who defies metas, specific team-mates and normal motivation levels and thus remains a quality player for many years - Jankos is a clear leading candidate out of the multitude of talents Europe has produced over the last decade. Even without the team accolades, Jankos has consistently established himself as, and remained one of, Europe's best Junglers for longer than many professional players even have a career of any sort.
A factor allowing Jankos to remain relevant and revitalised from season to season has been his passion for the game. Where so many others, including legends like sOAZ, have become burned out or jaded with the game itself or constant practice, Jankos has returned from his many heartaches and disappointments to again renew his drive to win and put in the hours necessary to claim elite status in a new split and season.
This can be seen not just by Jankos's consistent play-off appearances and relatively deep runs, but even in his champion pool over the years. In each year the former ROCCAT player has been able to not only establish strong comfort picks, but continually update his skill-set to be applicable to the new breed of carry jungle picks and play-makers.
The man initially known for his Elise and Lee Sin, hence sparking the initial Diamondprox comparisons; would later show aptitude on on Graves, Gragas and Rek'Sai; continuing through to the Kindred days and later on to the puzzling Nidalee and Taliyah times. Certainly being on a winning team, as has often been the case in his career, will boost champion win-rates, but a look over Jankos's career history shows an impressive amount of champions with both a solid sample size of games and positive win-rates on them.
Jankos is a player whose destiny seemed to be absorbed by the narratives surrounding his career and mental frame. Already within a few years of competing in the LCS murmurings had begun regarding the Pole failing in semi-finals and final games of series. That these narratives would continue to be relevant and seemingly apt for years to come only further increased the scrutiny upon the now G2 Jungler. Whether they were his fault or not, failures in the semi-finals and final games of series would haunt Jankos and his attempts to break through and taste championship glory.
In 11 splits of LCS/LEC play, Jankos reached the play-offs on all but one occasion, his first infamous split with the nukeduck-era ROCCAT in Season 5. Of those 10 play-off appearances, telling consistency in itself, Jankos's teams played in the semi-finals on seven occasions. They would lose his first five semi-finals, though. Moving on to the final games of series, one finds that Jankos has played in the final game of a series, Bo3 or Bo5, on 16 occasions, from LCS to IEM to Worlds. The former ROCCAT player lost 12 of his first 13 such final games, the lone win being in a historically irrelevant quarter-final match against Cloud9 at IEM X Cologne in 2015.
Certainly, these failures are not all to be placed upon Jankos's shoulders. Firstly, his team strength increased seemingly year on year, by and large. S4 ROCCAT was the weakest, in terms of quality of team-mates, and even reaching semi-finals and deciding games was a powerful statement in its own right, with no reasonable expectation being that Jankos should win these matches. In Season 5, there had been excitement surrounding him being partnered with nukeduck, but that parternship did not prove fruitful in terms of in-game chemistry between the two nor any kind of team success at the time.
Season 6's H2k line-up was a notable deviation from this trend, as Jankos found himself on a team featuring many players who also shared the career narrative of clearly talented and yet uncrowned. Playing with such a collection of strong players, H2k were a contender for the LCS titles, yet could not move through to a final or win a big Bo5 against a top ranked team. Where they seemingly should have been battling G2 for the crown each split, they instead fell to inspired play-off runs by veterans OG and upstarts Splyce.
Season 7 is eminently more forgivable, as H2k made some questionable recruitment decisions and were patently flawed enough that to expect a finals appearance or championships seems quite unreasonable.
By 2016, Jankos's story had already begun to subtly alter, building towards the successes of recent which have started to shed his reputation as a choker or incomplete great. After reuniting with FORG1VEN and making it to his first World Championship, Jankos was a key factor in helping his team not only win their group - a rarity for a Western team at that level of competition; but also defeat the LPL champions EDG and make a run all the way to top four on the world's biggest stage. Sure, it was another semi-finals elimination - not even a particularly close one at that - but Worlds was an entirely larger order of magnitude of competition than the EU LCS.
Fast-forwarding to Jankos joining G2, in the off-season of 2017, we find a player reaching his first LCS/LEC final in his first split with his new team. Despite losing convincingly to FNATIC there, this moment was significant as a breakthrough for Jankos. Now, at least, he had been the championship and tasted the moment. Before he could finally savour victory, he would return to the World Championship.
G2's run at S8 Worlds had them coming from the play-in, having qualified as Europe's third seed; narrowly escaping their group and then achieving a flashpoint of immortality with their shocking upset of Royal Never Give Up. The Chinese powerhouse had won everything that year, both LPL splits and MSI, and came into the tournament as the consensus world number one ranked team. G2 shocked the audience with a stunning upset in five games, helping on a grand stage slay another of Jankos's demons.
Last week, an even more powerful G2 line-up, even stronger than his H2k of 2016, stormed through the split with the best record. Stomping two Bo5 series against Origen, the second best team in the region, G2 would help Jankos win his first LEC title in the fastest final ever played.
An update on the stats regarding the stigmas surrounding Jankos's career show how his story has turned a page to a new chapter. Where he lost in his first five LCS/LEC semi-finals, he has won his last two. After losing 12 of the first 13 final games of series he played in, Jankos has won his last three in a row, including the aforementioned monster upset of RNG at Worlds.
At last, Europe has its heir to the throne of Diamondprox. The requisite skill-set and the resume to ratify his royal blood. Jankos now has his LEC title, his two finals appearances, his many semi-final runs and two Worlds top four finishes. How many Western Junglers can put their resume next to his and compare favourably? Even those with more domestic championships will struggle to match his international highs.
After so many years and such struggles, small and large, Europe's prince of the jungle has seen his coronation day arrive after all and now will enter MSI, the first of his career, as Europe's Jungle king.