It was a tense elimination series in the 2021 League of Legends European Championship summer split playoffs. With their LEC playoffs lives on the line, Vitality pushed Fnatic to a fifth game. Vitality were put on their back foot early in the game by Fnatic, and their scrappy playstyle couldn’t salvage it. With a sixth-place finish, the offseason started early for Vitality.
Change had to come.
Four months later, by December 2021, Europe had found its champions for the LEC’s 2022 season — at least if you ask Team Vitality. Their new roster is forged from some of the greatest players Europe has seen in recent years and the community baptized the star-studded roster as the LEC’s new “superteam.”
At the center of Vitality’s squad, both on the Rift as mid laner and as team captain, stands Luka “Perkz” Perković. He is the most successful player ever from the West, with nine regional titles across two regions and a Mid-Season Invitational trophy under his belt.
With him are Barney “Alphari” Morris and back-to-back LEC champion Matyáš “Carzzy” Orság, who came over from Team Liquid and MAD Lions respectively. The trio complements a two-man core of Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek and Labros “Labrov” Papoutsakis, who played under the Vitality banner in 2021.
But while the lineup looks impressive, the process of assembling the puzzle pieces was almost equally so. Vitality endured many months of doubts and uncertainties in an effort to challenge the LEC for supremacy.
Leaving old homes
The first sparks of what would eventually be Vitality’s superteam were ignited at the end of May 2021. Cloud9 unexpectedly benched bot laner Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen ahead of the League Championship Series summer split. This birthed the first doubts in Perkz about his future on Cloud9.
“It felt like I came into a broken team, and I don’t like that,” Perkz said. “It is much harder to fix something that’s broken than to build something yourself.”
Contractually, Perkz was signed to Cloud9 until 2023. The organization had reportedly paid $5 million for his buyout from G2 Esports and put him on a salary of $2.7 million. Realizing how few teams could afford to buy him out from Cloud9, Perkz stopped thinking about leaving Cloud9. But then, help arrived from Europe.
“I heard that European teams were interested in me — Vitality and Fnatic,” Perkz said. “I felt very appreciated because the good EU teams had already shown interest before I even knew I would be on the market.”
being pushed out of my region last year didn't really feel good
now I'm back and I'm back for good and that feels good 😎
— Luka (@Perkz) December 8, 2021
After a full summer split spent considering his options, Perkz told Cloud9 CEO Jack Etienne about his desire to return to Europe. He then told his teammates of his upcoming departure after Cloud9 made a spectacular escape from the Group Stage at the 2021 World Championship.
“I didn’t want them to find out from somebody else than me,” Perkz said. “Everything went super smooth. I’m grateful that I didn’t have many struggles.”
Carzzy didn’t face the same contract hurdle as Perkz; he became a free agent on Nov. 15. MAD Lions reportedly tried to renew his contract, but the young Czech had his doubts about the team. While he had won historic back-to-back titles in the LEC with the organization, Carzzy said he was unsure if he’d be able to lift the trophy again with the same squad.
“At Worlds, we had struggles as a team, which I don’t think we would be able to improve if I stayed,” Carzzy said.
Coming off such an exhaustingly long year didn’t help MAD Lions’ chances of retaining Carzzy, either.
“If I stayed, I wouldn’t be as motivated to improve again in the same environment,” Carzzy said. “I thought that, if I would stay in MAD Lions, we wouldn’t win the title again.”
Teaming up in search of something new
As Perkz and Carzzy started to detach from their previous teams, they began looking for players worth teaming up with for 2022. It’s not often players have the luxury of picking according to their tier list, but the best have more leverage.
“Good players stick around. They stick together,” Vitality head coach Louis-Victor “Mephisto” Legendre said. He highlighted Perkz as an exceptional case. “This guy just gathers good players around him. People want to play with him.”
Perkz, in the meantime, had started fantasizing about his potential next project. He echoed Mephisto’s assessment, explaining that he just wants to play with people who possess the raw talent, the innate skill to elevate the gameplay. That is what drew him to players like Rasmus “Caps” Winther while he was at G2, but Alphari had topped his list this time around.
The top laner was contracted with Team Liquid, but Perkz had heard that he wasn’t happy there anymore. Perkz assumed Alphari wanted to go back to Europe, and Perkz made it a priority to recruit him.
“I feel top lane is the weakest role in the West, and I think he is the best top laner,” Perkz said. “On top of that, I’ve known him for five years now. I get along with him on a personal level, so it just feels natural.”
He expressed similar respect for Selfmade, who he says has been the most talented jungler in Europe since 2020.
Perkz and Carzzy, meanwhile, bantered a lot during 2021. However, for all the jokes Perkz sent Carzzy’s way, he still respected his approach to League of Legends.
“He reminds me of how I played when I was playing AD carry,” Perkz said, thinking back to his three-split role swap on G2 Esports.
Perkz didn’t know much about Labrov, but said he trusted the opinion of his peers. Carzzy, for example, already had an established, tight connection with Labrov. The two first played for KIYF eSports Club in 2018 and reunited on Berlin International Gaming, where they flourished and piqued the interest of LEC teams. A second reunion was a dream come true for Labrov.
“I really wanted to play with Carzzy,” Labrov said. “I know him as a person and as a player, and he was definitely my top choice.”
Wanting to play with each other is all well and good, but it guarantees nothing. As Mephisto pointed out, “In the offseason, things can switch 180 degrees, twice, within thirty minutes.”
Soon after the LEC 2021 season concluded, reports surfaced about G2’s interest in Carzzy and Labrov as their new bot lane duo. Both said they entertained the idea since it would have let them play together again. However, Carzzy said he wasn’t comfortable with the organization’s selection procedure through tryouts.
“It was finally my offseason after two really long splits where I had almost no break,” Carzzy said. “They saw me play a lot in the LEC. I understand that it’s good to see team synergy, but I personally know how I would fit into the team.”
Interest in Perkz was widespread, but he narrowed down his own options.
“It needed to be a very good team,” Perkz said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t go back, you know? Not for, like, Astralis. No offense to Astralis.”
Laughing, he added, “but some offense to Astralis.”
Though Fnatic were high on Perkz’s list, he was contractually prohibited from joining the team. When G2 sold Perkz to Cloud9, G2 included a clause that prevented Cloud9 from selling Perkz to Fnatic, G2’s largest rival in the LEC.
Although it sparked a large controversy within the League of Legends community, Riot Games found that the clause did not violate any existing rules. However, Riot immediately made clear that such clauses would not be permitted going forward.
— LoL Esports (@lolesports) November 11, 2021
Finally, Mephisto had been offered a promotion from assistant coach to head coach, but he didn’t accept Vitality’s offer straight away. He had been in talks with an LCS team that looked to build a powerhouse of its own. It was an appealing offer, but Vitality’s goals were higher, Mephisto said.
The superteam’s formation took its next step at the start of November. Perkz, Labrov and Mephisto all said they felt confident in Vitality’s plans approximately two weeks before the free agency period started.
Labrov had spoken with Vitality’s management soon after the team’s elimination from the LEC summer playoffs and had felt confident in their ambitions. But when co-owner of Vitality Fabien “Neo” Devide called him with concrete plans, it was sealed.
“He asked my opinion, whether I liked it or not,” Labrov said. “Obviously, I said that I liked it.”
When Perkz agreed to join Vitality, the dominoes started falling into place.
“I was 100% sure of everything,” Perkz said. He added that, to his knowledge, Vitality were the only team able to afford the lineup he had in mind.
“The buyout, the vibe, it was all set,” Perkz said. “At that point, if I had tried to go for something else, it would be stupid.”
Vitality locking in Perkz gave Mephisto and Carzzy the final push.
“I don’t know if I would have joined if he didn’t,” Carzzy said of Perkz. “Having him in the team is a big plus.”
Nothing but the highest expectations
The superteam was a done deal: Alphari, Selfmade, Perkz, Carzzy and Labrov. However, when the final reports of Vitality’s roster started appearing, critical voices spoke out against the concept. For instance, Cloud9 head coach Nick “LS” De Cesare said the team would “absolutely f***ng implode.”
Europe has had a poor track record with creating superteams. For example, teams such as Misfits Gaming have tried to find some of the best players at each position position and cram them into a roster only for the attempt to to fall flat on its face.
Vitality’s LEC roster for 2022 is also known to be outspoken, confident and direct. Could Vitality collapse under the weight of their players’ big personalities?
Mephisto dismissed the criticism and put his faith in Perkz once again.
“Teams with Perkz don’t explode,” he stated. “ People have this weird notion of [Selfmade], that he can implode or whatever. But no. He just says what he thinks at the moment, and he holds no grudges.”
He continued by putting Carzzy and Labrov on the other end of the spectrum, calling them “big glue” to the team because of their calmer natures. Mephisto also said he thinks Vitality’s new performance coach, Ismael Pedraza-Ramirez, will significantly help the team.
“There are definitely times where the pressure comes to people. Then, stuff can not go as planned,” Labrov said. “But I’m very confident in my teammates and staff. They will help us with this very easily.”
Carzzy shared a slightly different view.
“I actually think we are gonna have a really good team morale and mentality,” he said. “In the beginning, learning how to play the game together as a team might be rough. It might take us a month. But I think we are gonna bounce back.”
Ready to lead the team he envisioned, Perkz spoke with characteristic, unwavering confidence when he said this Team Vitality would be the best team in the LEC in 2022 and beyond. When asked if he could equal and perhaps even surpass G2’s lineup in 2019, on which Perkz played a vital role, he made it clear he had both feet on the ground.
“I think we can actually become as good or better than the 2019 G2, but I know how hard it is to beat Asian teams,” Perkz said. “Seeing Worlds last year, it is very hard to be super confident or enthusiastic about ‘We’re gonna win Worlds.’ It’s definitely a goal. I want to do that. This is a team where I can wake up and I can actually say to myself that it’s possible to win Worlds. That’s all I ever wanted.”