World title or not, Caps and Perkz still the best Western duo in League of Legends

Members of G2 Esports acknowledge the crowd at the League of Legends World Championship final following their 3-0 loss to FunPlus Phoenix in the title game Sunday at AccorHotels Arena in Paris. Adela Sznajder/ESPAT Media

PARIS -- Rasmus "Caps" Winther and Luka "Perkz" Perković are the best League of Legends players the Western hemisphere has ever produced, period.

I thought I'd be writing this opening sentence following their coronation on Sunday in Paris, their team, G2 Esports, upending China's FunPlus Phoenix to win the League of Legends World Championship complete the grand slam. I expected G2 Esports, along with their star mid laner in Caps and AD carry in Perkz, to become the first-ever team win both domestic titles, the Mid-Season Invitational and world championship in the same calendar year.

Obviously, that didn't happen. G2 lost a close first game and never recovered, getting swept in front of their own hometown fans in France and watching their opponents celebrate as they gave a final bow to the crowd before descending into the arena tunnel. It was a punch to the gut after being so close to a fairytale ending for an unforgettable year.

Perkz was absent from the postgame press conference; he felt ill, according to G2 staff, and the team did not want to force him to participate. Caps, his usual plastered-on smile nowhere to be found, was forlorn, talking about how all he wanted to do was return to his hotel with his family and recharge for the upcoming season.

It wasn't the picture I wanted to paint for the pair I consider to be the best Europe and North America have ever produced, but that's reality. On the day, FunPlus were the far superior team. They pinched G2's champion picks and forced the Europeans to either adapt or fail. Perkz, who was dazzling on Xayah throughout the tournament, was denied his best champion and didn't have his go-to mages to fall back on.

For the first time this year, he resembled what he actually was: a natural mid laner with only a year's worth of professional AD carry experience.

That one loss, though, doesn't take away from the year that Caps and Perkz, along with the rest of G2 Esports, had. One flat night in Paris doesn't equal a tarnished legacy. As Caps and Perkz exited the team bus to head into AccorHotels Arena on Sunday, they were the best Western players of all-time.

That fact didn't change when they exited, hours later, as runners-up for the world championship.

Caps was almost tossed out of the premier League of Legends scene before he could even begin came into the scene. He was signed to Fnatic in December 2016 and instantly became a beacon of hate for social media and online League of Legends fan circles, his pompous attitude and attacks on players in solo queue plastered all over the internet.

The then-16-year-old apologized, kept his head down and trudged forward. When he lost in the playoffs of the 2017 world championship in Guangzhou, China, and was criticized as the team's weak link in the final games, he believed in his eccentric, all-in way of playing and marched ahead.

Look at Caps now.

The 19-year-old became a veteran, having played in two world finals and won an international trophy at MSI. Whenever his accolades are be brought up, those two 3-0 losses in world finals will be brought up, but instead of shame, he should feel pride. Four years ago, if someone theorized a Western player would make it to three straight international finals, that person would be ridiculed. Only a team from South Korea, or maybe a generational Chinese team, could do that. No way a player from North America or Europe, which haven't won anything relevant since 2012, could do it.

Caps did that. He's done what was thought as unfathomable and is just entering his prime as a professional gamer.

Perkz had a different journey. He had the cockiness and swagger along with the domestic glory, but it was the failures internationally that clung to his legacy like an unremovable stain. As the franchise player of G2, he shouldered much of the blame for the team's slipups on the world stage. When his team went an inexcusable 2-8 during the MSI in 2016, he was right in the middle of the criticism; the team didn't do much better later in the year at the world championship, too.

That didn't stop Perkz. He continued developing as a mid laner and had his breakout moment at the 2018 world championship when G2 created the biggest upset in worlds playoff history at the time by eliminating tournament favorite Royal Never Give Up in a five-game thriller. Through all the rocky rosters, he stayed as G2's captain and lifeblood.

And months removed from his upset over RNG, Perkz showcased the selfless side of his captaincy and moved to the AD carry role so G2 could add Caps in hopes of creating a side strong enough to win worlds.

A year since Perkz's polarizing decision, and the reality of that choice is clear: G2 are now strong enough to win worlds. They didn't do it this year, but that doesn't mean they can't and won't. Samsung Galaxy lost a heartbreaker world final to SK Telecom T1 in 2016 before getting a rematch in next year's final in front of 45,000 fans in Beijing; the same Samsung lineup from the year prior swept SKT to claim revenge and the title.

The cockiness of G2 and their smiles as they watched their Nexus blow up in Game 2 of the finals will be a point of discussion throughout the offseason and into the 2020 calendar. Were they too carefree? Did their bravado come back to bite them? Should they stop having fun, buckle down and become serious?

No. That's not G2. That will never be G2. Perkz without that trademark smug look on his face isn't Perkz, and a Caps who isn't cackling during matches isn't the same Caps. G2 got so far this year because of the lighthearted personalities of their superstar players, and if they want to get back to this point at the 2020 world championship in China, they can't change their identity.

This wasn't the year the West took home the Summoner's Cup, but G2 gave fans hope that day will come. And if it does, I still have my money on Caps and Perkz being the ones to do it.

Where they go, success, and laughter, follow.