BERLIN -- Splyce jungler Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir answered the question of whether Europe is the strongest region in League of Legends without hesitation. His one-word response conveyed the confidence he had in his team alongside first and second seeds G2 Esports and Fnatic: "Yes."
It's only the first day of the play-in stage, but after two fairly convincing victories over Japan's Detonation FocusMe and Latin America's Isurus Gaming, Xerxe and Splyce have every reason to be confident.
"The first game was pretty good," Xerxe said. "In the second game I felt like there were a bit of nerves for some reason and I don't feel like we were as coordinated as we usually are, so we got caught a little bit. But other than that, I still think we played pretty decent and now that we know what these teams are capable of, we'll feel more comfortable going into the next series."
Despite these hiccups against Isurus, Splyce still looked like the strongest team of all play-in lineups on worlds opening day by a significant margin. It's a potential harbinger of what may be to come from the tournament itself and all three European teams.
Last year's world championship began with legendary South Korean Jeon Yong-jun (known affectionately by audiences as "Caster Jun" or "Korean Hype Man") introducing audiences live and on stream to the brand-new LoL Park Arena in Jonggak, Seoul. There was a flicker of doubt in South Korea, expressed by Jun himself in Riot Games' introductory video, due to a loss at the Mid-Season Invitational, but hopes for South Korean teams were high, especially on their home soil. Instead, last year's worlds marked the first time that a South Korean organization hadn't taken home the Summoner's Cup since the Taipei Assassins' victory in 2012.
This year, the host teams are different.
The LEC Studio in Adlerschof, Berlin, home of the play-in stage, is unassuming. Unlike LoL Park in the Gran Seoul building, you could easily walk past the studio itself were it not for the slightly weathered LEC banner out front. The building is set off of the main road, surrounded by other similar structures. Next door is "The Voice: Germany" film studio. The LEC Studio received a sprucing-up prior to the a rebranding and franchise league debut, but is generally the same place.
"It's not too weird," Xerxe said of starting his worlds journey in the LEC venue. "It's a comfortable feeling knowing that you're playing in the same studio that you've been playing in for years," Xerxe said. "We are not too stressed about that. For me, it gives me even more motivation to perform [well]."
The venue seats few people and the stage itself is intimate, especially when compared to arenas in Santa Monica, California, Seoul, and the georelocated home bases of China's LoL Pro League teams. In a way, this reflects the region itself: a bit smaller in terms of monetary investment but proud, fierce, and now favored to win the championship. League of Legends has shifted from years of South Korean dominance, to China taking all available international titles last year, to G2 being the analyst's pick going into worlds.
For Splyce, this is still a proving ground. The way fans and analysts talk about Europe is by mentioning G2 first, Fnatic second, and Splyce somewhere at the end of the discussion for five quick minutes after spending hours on the other two teams. Splyce have been called the "late-game team" and "boring" due to their game-stalling prowess and mid-game mistakes. Their execution may not be as pretty as their LEC counterparts, but today, Splyce reminded the LEC faithful why EU is the favored region, not only G2.
"[Our mid game] is something we've been working on since the gauntlet run," Xerxe said of their improvement since Splyce's qualification. "Obviously against Origen our mid game was good but our early game sucked. That's how we were able to win against them, they had no idea what to do mid and late game. Against Schalke we just demolished them early game so I think we are a pretty complete team now."
Splyce have also embraced their identity. Xerxe even cited it as a strength that sets them apart from Fnatic and G2.
"I think what makes us a bit more special is that even if we are 10K gold behind, we know how to stall that mid game and make it so freaking annoying for our enemy to end the game," Xerxe said. "Will we know where to be, we will know where to put our vision, we will know how to play around their baron and sometimes it does work."
"Wide open" has been the most common turn-of-phrase in describing the teams at the top which, include but are not limited to G2 Esports, Fnatic, FunPlus Phoenix, SK Telecom T1, Royal Never Give Up, and even extends to fellow play-in team Damwon Gaming. Worlds has never felt so undecided, even with Europe having the most-favored team to win it all. On Wednesday, Splyce represented Europe in the best way they could: by looking better than everyone else.
"I know some people aren't too happy with us being in third place and obviously when you have Fnatic and G2 who are insane teams, nobody really cares about third place," Xerxe said. "But honestly, I just want to make Europe proud and show that we actually have a shot of getting pretty far at worlds. I will give my best to not let Europe down."