Luka "Perkz" Perkovic is already a first ballot hall of fame lock when it comes to Western League of Legends players. Despite only having competed at the LCS/LEC level for seven entire splits, the Croatian has been the defining player of his region and accomplished international success beyond anything seen since the days of Moscow Five and the open circuit of Season 2.
Yet G2's franchise player was not always hailed as a future "best Western player of all-time" candidate. Nay, he came under much scrutiny and was the victim of plenty of mockery in his rookie year.
Too good too quickly
Perkz arrived in the EU LCS, as it was then known, as a brash and cocky rookie with star potential. His talents were emphasised as his teams of mostly rookies finished first in the split and entered their first ever play-off run as favourites. Avoiding H2k, perceived by many to be their main rival, due to said team's inability to reach the final, G2 ended up playing the post-xPeke Origen line-up in the final and winning in four games, with Perkz racking up kills and flexing his carry power against some European legends, most of whom had played in the semi-finals of Worlds half a year or so prior.
Heading to MSI on his first attempt, Perkz would have the eyes of the world upon him as they attempted to gauge whether or not he would be another Froggen or xPeke, legendary Mid laners famed for not just dominant play domestically but ability to match up with the very best Eastern stars. A year prior, FNATIC's Febiven had displayed some impressive moments under similar circumstances, so such expectations did not seem unfair.
Die, die my darling
G2's underperformance lives in infamy, as Europe's representatives would win only two games out of 10 over the group stage, both coming against the wild card Turkish SuperMassive side. As well as spawning the "G2-8" meme, reflecting their score, this run would see many, notably North American fans enjoying the suffering of their European rivals, pointing to Perkz's own performance as poor. The G2 Mid laner had managed only 15 combined kills over those eight lost games, dying twice as many times in total.
Perkz also made the misstep of explaining away the team's early struggles at the tournament by explaining that they had taken a vacation, with their Korean players returning home, prior to the tournament. Not only was this also prime material for online banter, but it would be a narrative call-back which would haunt G2 until they could break their international drought.
Which champion's worse?
Back in the comfort of the EU LCS, Perkz and G2 levelled up their team with the addition of the former OG botlane of Zven and mithy, the acquisition of whom had been part of the reason for the bizarre "vacation" leading up to MSI. The team also removed Top laner Kikis and replaced him with Korean Expect. Again they topped the regular portion of the split and again the play-offs would see them winning without playing their perceived most dangerous challenger, as a revived H2k again fell in a fifth game semi-final and thus this time it was Denmark's Splyce facing G2 in a final they again won in four games.
Domestic success meant little to fans when considering international competition back then, in as much as the Western regions were considered inferior to Korea and thus many cared only about what a top player or team could accomplish upon the international stage. Perkz and G2 headed to their first World Championship together with plenty of pressure loaded up on their backs.
Recalling his MSI performance, fans were already mocking Perkz with a rhyme they had designed:
"My ryze is bad
My azir is worse
You guessed it right
I'm g2 perkz"
Another perceived interview misstep saw Perkz seemingly compare himself skill-wise favourably to Faker, history's greatest player. The statement only appeared controversial to those who read only the quoted headline or reacted to the opening part of the statement without factoring in his explanation that he was referring to his potential and emphasised that he was not that kind of player yet. Perkz would need a monster Worlds campaign, at the very least individually, to battle the stigma of his MSI underperformance and cut the legs out of the meme machine primed to make him the butt of many a joke.
"I think I have the same skillcap as [Faker & others] but i need time to grow it, i need to practice a lot more. Obviously right now they are better- Bjergsen is insanely good, and Faker has had rough times, but his team is also underperforming."
- Perkz to Red Bull, pre-Worlds (Sept 2016)
With OG's botlane both having had their only successful Worlds run the year prior, hitting top four and escaping the group of death along the way, and mithy being known as one of the most cerebral European players, it was easy to imagine G2 would perform much better this time around. Even moreso when their group was revealed. They had drawn ROX Tigers, the best team in the world, but that was the only bad news. Alongside the Korean titans they would face NA's CLG, who had been MSI finalists but had suffered a fall in level by the summer split of LCS and Albus NoX Luna (ANX), a wild card team from the Russian league. G2 were heavily favoured to progress to their first international play-off bracket.
Instead, more humiliation was on the menu. G2 would again lose their first four opening games, mirroring MSI, and even go further and make it 0:5 before they grabbed back a win. Again, the win came only against the wild card team and this time it would be the lone win of the phase for G2. Europe's two-time champions, with only two players remaining from the first title admittedly, would finish 1:5, losing both games against each CLG and ROX.
While ANX themselves were a revelation and went into the play-offs over CLG, to win your only game at Worlds against a wild card still stung for G2, their fans and the European region in general. G2 had flunked in a way exceeding the humiliation and horror of Alliance's famed blow-up exit from Worlds two years prior, upset by underdogs KaBuM.
Worse still, would-be domestic rivals H2k, who had failed to even reach a final and face G2 that year, had managed an inspired run which had seen them winning their group, beating LPL champions EDG en route, and eventually finishing top four, benefiting from playing the very same ANX wild card team who had taken a play-off spot seemingly destined for G2. G2's circumstances had hit rock bottom internationally.
A week after Worlds had concluded, Perkz made a statement on reddit, introducing himself as "Your favorite/most hated (choose one) EU villain", no less; and attempted to explain himself and his team's circumstances which had led to such failure.
"It's very hard to self-reflect and realize everything you've done wrong during the year, but now that I've had a month off I can see everything so much clearer and I'm all for those great learning experiences. I feel like what I've learned this year about myself and the whole eSports scene is something people get to learn over multiple years so I will try to use everything I learned and I will keep learning towards actually becoming the best player and person I can be."
- Perkz on reddit, post-Worlds (November 2016)
Revenge of the Mid
As tough as acclimatising to international play had proven, Perkz continued to display the performance level of a prodigy within his native region. During the spring split, G2 would participate in the IEM XI World Championship, affording an opportunity to compete against some international competition but in a non-Riot circuit tournament. This time around, there were no elite Korean or Chinese teams, as there had been in past years of IEM, and G2's runners-up finish was decent, but saw them losing three games to LMS' Flash Wolves. Would Perkz ever have his moment of international glory or was he doomed to the then fate of a Doublelift, champion on domestic shores but irrelevant outside of them?
After going 12:1 in regular split EU LCS play, G2 flew through the play-offs and to a third consecutive title for the Croatian wonderkid. Again, no team had even pushed Perkz and company to a fifth game before they could lift the trophy. That victory earned another MSI slot and another chance to sink or swim.
Unlike previous international competitions, Perkz and G2 were far sturdier this time around. A back-and-forth group stage saw them get their revenge on FW, tie games with TSM and Vietnam's GAM and lose the series to SKT and the LPL's WE. Making the play-offs with the third seed, few expected G2 to progress any further, as they were draw against a WE who had just made their return to elite status domestically, winning the LPL split, and had yet to suffer a loss to G2 in the tournament.
The game even contained a historical detail of note to be called back upon, as WE Mid laner xiye had been the topic of a twitter clap-back from then-Challenger-player Perkz to your entirely-unhumble author when I said the Chinese player had been a prime mover in the WE who had shocked GE Tigers at the IEM IX World Championship and reached the final. Now Perkz would face off against the very same xiye he had deemed not a star.
Perkz took his first step to rewriting his career narrative, show-casing a super-star performance and helping G2 win the series 3:1. Over the series, Perkz went 24/10/21 and there was little xiye could do about it. Perkz had reached the MSI final, mirroring NA's best ever international accomplishment, coming the year prior. In the final, G2 would be defeated by SK Telecom, but Perkz again displayed a new level of comfort on the international stage, laning very well against Faker and losing largely due to being part of an inferior line-up and not, in the context of the game, due to being a notably inferior player to Faker, the very player he had name-checked to compare his skill to eight months prior.
The one that got away
G2's European fortunes were far from precariously balanced for Perkz's fourth EU LCS split. Going for a four-peat, G2 had a much tougher time than in splits gone by, lagging far behind FNATIC in the regular portion of the split. Perkz and the gang came alive for the play-offs, edging out a tight five game quarter-final series against Splyce and then rolling over a H2k line-up in the semi-finals who were missing the botlane which had been the topic of much discussion in 2016. In the final, G2 would again miss facing their most obvious rival, as this time FNATIC had been upset in the other semi-final, losing out to Misfits. G2's struggles were non-existent in the final, sweeping MSF to claim yet another golden trophy.
Going into the S7 World Championship, the memes had quietened around Perkz and G2, thanks to their successful MSI run and play. Disaster struck, though, as they drew a troublesome group. As pool one seeds, G2 drew the LPL's RNG, LCK's Samsung Galaxy and Turkey's 1907 Fenerbahçe. RNG were one of the strongest teams in the tournament in terms of roster strength and Samsung had been Worlds finalists in 2016, but only two teams could progress from the group to play-offs. In a group which instead could have featured the likes of GAM, ahq and IMT, G2 had drawn two of the strongest opponents.
G2 performed to a level significantly above their previous Worlds campaign, but would not be able to secure the necessary win to escape the group. Despite defeating RNG in a game, the Chinese team topped the group and Samsung came alive to edge G2 in a key game and build into a team not only set for the play-offs but who would eventually win the title itself. G2 had accounted for themselves well and even come close to altering who would end up winning the tournament, but were forced to again swallow a group stage exit.
Even worse, this Worlds would again see a strong run from a fellow European side, in fact two. FNATIC came through their easier group and took the aforementioned RNG to four games and Misfits famously pushed SKT all the way to five games and near elimination in another quarter-final. With both teams who had been unable to prevent G2 being crowned back in Europe, Perkz might have wondered if he was just cursed when it came to Worlds.
The slow-burner and the pay-off
Season 8 for Perkz was a time of change all around. He lost his botlane to the LCS' TSM and his MVP winning jungler. As the only remaining player in the line-up, he was able to gather Top lane talent Wunder, formerly of Splyce, and Jungler Jankos, long time would-be European king of the Jungle but who had never lifted a title. In the botlane veteran LCS player Hjarnan and Wadid were rounding out the roster.
Perkz's G2 would no longer be the dominant force on European soil, forced to watch as FNATIC's roster, one player changed from the previous year, blossomed into champions and would go on to accomplish feats drawing them praise as potentially the best Western team in history. Perkz made the final of the spring split, extending his finals appearances to five in a row but failing to match as many championships won. FNATIC would deny him a third consecutive MSI appearance.
The summer was mired in the funnel meta and messy drafts, but Perkz's own individual excellence was overshadowed by G2's inability to again climb to the top. This play-offs ended in the first round of the play-offs, as Perkz's G2 fell in a sweep at the hands of Misfits, gaining back a little revenge for the previous year's final. G2 were forced to battle through the gauntlet to earn a Worlds spot, a feat they successfully completed.
At Worlds, few had high expectations for G2, though the group they had drawn was not easy but also not the hardest. LCK's Afreeca Freecs were a dangerous opponent and LMS' Flash Wolves would go on to perform well early. Joining those teams was Vietnam's Phong Vu Buffalo, who were heavily slept on. Despite splitting games with all three of their group stage opponents, G2 were able to progress to the play-offs thanks to winning a tie-breaker against Flash Wolves.
In the Worlds quarter-finals, G2 were heavily out-matched and out-classed going into the match. RNG were not just China's number one seed this time around, but were the consensus best team in the world. They had won both LPL splits, back-to-back and MSI. What's more they had not only played a key part in defeating LCK at Rift Rivals, but a composite team of mostly RNG players had been the Chinese national team defeating Korea at the Asian Games. Worlds was RNG's to lose, as many saw it. Even a shaky run through the group stage had been pushed aside as a result of Bo1s and unusual play from Vitality and Cloud9.
After going down 1:2 over the first three games, G2 battled back and extended the series to a full five games, winning the decider and besting the world's number one team. Perkz's 11/0/4 LeBlanc fifth game was a performance worthy of commemoration in European League of Legends history. With a deep MSI finish on his resume, Perkz had now added a top four finish at Worlds, then the best any Western team in history had managed since Riot had renamed their end-of-season champions to the World Championship.
FNATIC would not let that tie last long, eventually reaching the final on the other side of the bracket, and Perkz would be slain by Rookie and his iG squad, who went on to the title itself, but at last Perkz had the strong Worlds finish and performance his talent suggested possible and his self-belief had told him was the case. Few dissenters were laughing any more.
A bold new chapter
Recruiting Caps, considered the best Western player and star of FNATIC, to replace him as Mid laner of G2, Perkz shocked many in the off-season by role-swapping to ADC and forming a new parternship with ex-Misfits Support MikyX there. Going from being one of the best Mid laners in the world, including arguably the best Western Mid at Worlds, to playing in a different lane was a risk and challenge the likes of which few have ever attempted, especially with the stakes of playing for a top team and deep into the modern era of LoL.
Perkz's G2 were ranked first in the regular portion of the split and swept both play-off series against Origen to win Perkz's fifth LEC title, tying the most in history. At MSI, Perkz was able to go one step further than his previous best, winning the championship in one of the most epic moments in European LoL history.
Role-swapped and surrounded by Europe's best players, some could have argued that Perkz was less of a deciding factor than during his days as a carry Mid laner, but his versatility had proven an under-rated factor for G2. During the split he had played 13 different champions and his team had managed wins on 11 of them. At MSI, he had show-cased similar depth few other ADCs, including veterans like Doublelift, could hope to match, playing nine different champions and seeing G2 find wins on six of them.
Perkz's last laugh
Where Perkz was once upon a time taunted for his poor performances and reviled for his seemingly arrogant demeanour, now he is rightfully seen as the king of LEC and one of Europe's greatest ever players. He is an MSI champion and twice a finalist. He has finished in the top four at Worlds and bested the number one team in the world in a full Bo5 series to accomplish as much. At said Worlds, he was arguably the second best Mid laner in the tournament after champion Rookie and had previously held up remarkably well against the mighty Faker. Domestically he has been crowned five times, including four in a row, and won a championship from two different roles.
Who's laughing now?