Every year from 2016 until 2021, Luka ‘Perkz’ Perkovic has graced the League of Legends World Championship stage with his presence. The superstar midlaner – regarded as one of the crown jewels of the LEC – is, evidently, used to tangoing with the best of the best. However, in 2022 things took a turn for the worse, and when LoL Worlds rolled around the man considered the ‘western GOAT’ by many was nowhere to be found as Team Vitality became the latest ‘superteam’ to fail to make the cut.
2022’s initial roster – a star-studded cast which lined Perkz up alongside Barney ‘Alphari’ Morris, Oskar ‘Selfmade’ Bogdan, Matyáš ‘Carzzy’ Orság, and Labros ‘Labrov’ Papoutsakis – came into the LEC with hefty expectations on its shoulders. But, as we all know at this point, a team of super players a superteam does not make, and Vitality struggled to find its identity for much of the year. The result? Two 9-9 Regular Split records, and a fifth place finish in the Spring Playoffs.
As Perkz tells The Loadout, “failing was very embarrassing” and “ego-hitting”, moreso because he feels neither the iteration of Vitality we saw in Spring with Selfmade, nor the revision with the addition of Kang ‘Haru’ Min-seung in the Summer, ever got to play to their full potential.
However, Perkz is not the kind of player to dwell on his failings. The life of an esports athlete is fleeting, and if history – which the Croatian points towards – is anything to go by, the best of the best sometimes have to take a step back to make a quantum leap forward. “Rookie missed Worlds for a couple years, came back, won Worlds. Faker missed Worlds, came back, got Finals.”
Of course, returning to the Worlds stage requires much more than a reliance on trends and the benediction of the fates. While the LoL Worlds participants were duking it out on the Rift for the Summoner’s Cup, Perkz and Vitality’s coaching staff – most notably co-owner Fabien ‘Neo’ Devide and new head coach Alexander ‘Carter’ Cartwright – were busy making use of the extra offseason time to begin planning their charge for 2023.
Whereas 2022’s roster was the result of pulling together the biggest available names at the time, this new-look squad would be built on patience and careful planning. There were fiscal factors the trio had to be aware of, too – Perkz says that the 2023 budget was “really low” relative to 2022’s. As the world teeters precariously on an economic tightrope, we have seen numerous organisations across the globe scale back their spending – even the more affluent orgs are beholden to these circumstances.
Conversely, with hardship comes opportunity, as well as the knowledge that any who don the Vitality jersey will do so because they want to play for the badge, and not for the paycheck.
“It was made clear to everyone at the beginning that this is not going to be about the money […] we’re going to build a team, and it’s hopefully going to be successful.”
As dedication to the team was one of Perkz’s non-negotiables, bringing in players who are motivated to “spam the game” was another. On top of all of this was a desire to mix young guns with seasoned stars.
“Having people who have less experience is good because it gives you more variety,” Perkz states. “You can always learn something from the youngsters, [and] they can learn a lot from the people who have been through a lot.”
The result of this process is a brand new squad with Perkz as its core pillar. On the Rift in 2023 he will be joined by highly-rated prospects Kyeong ‘Photon’ Gyu-tae and Zhou ‘Bo’ Yang-Bo, as well as LEC veterans Matúš ‘Neon’ Jakubčík and Norman ‘Kaiser’ Kaiser.
For Perkz, being surrounded by fresh faces is “refreshing”, and the shift in personnel aligns with his own philosophy that was shaped largely by his five-year stint at G2 Esports. “I think you should make at least one change every year, no matter if you’re a successful team or not”, he says. “I would maybe go as far as saying two, minimum, though it depends.”
Of course, Perkz is hoping that minimal changes to Vitality’s roster will have to be made long-term, though he is well-versed in esports’ breakneck pace, and its penchant for disfiguring and dismantling teams due to the intensity of its environments – like an all-consuming black hole warping light.
“There’s been very few rosters that have stayed the same for two years”, he notes. “The normal trajectory of esports is spending ten hours a day with other people, and you experience a lot of ups and downs. So that’s either gonna make you closer, or make you want to go separate ways.”
Another major benefit of Vitality’s more measured approach to roster building this time around is that, Perkz confidently asserts, the team has been built with a firm identity in mind, rather than leaving its players to fumble around in the dark and hope for the best as is often the case.
“People in esports, for a long time now, have been too shy to build an identity into the team”, Perkz believes. “At the end of the year(s), you can always see the team has an identity, it just takes them a long time to build it. So we’re hoping to surpass our opposition in that sense as well – knowing who we are, before the others know who they are.”
So what will Vitality’s brand of League of Legends look like? The core tenets, Perkz divulges, are being “flexible in draft”, and to “be able to play a similar style, but with many different champions.” But, above all else, the midlaner draws attention to the narrowing individual skill gaps between players over recent years, and stresses the importance of ensuring everyone is on the same page.
“Four or five years ago it was quite easy. Me and Rasmus ‘caPs’ Winther were by far the best midlaners in the league, but now we can’t see there is one midlaner who is strictly much better than the others.”
Before I can draw comparison to what we saw with DRX’s underdog run as an example of the philosophy of collective unity, Perkz does make one incisive interjection: “Bo, though. I think Bo is different.”
The Bo-sen One
While Perkz (24) may be the oldest member of the team and its central pillar, Vitality’s real firepower, he says, will be coming from its youngest and brightest spark in 20-year-old Bo. Having served a four-month suspension for match fixing while playing in the LPL in 2021, Bo’s prospects back home were not looking too hot. In June, Vitality took him on as a sub, and the immensely talented jungler quickly built a fanbase in EU from his on-stream exploits.
“I think he’s the one in a generation that somehow just breaks the game”, Perkz says. “Obviously it’s a little bit of speculation as well, but I’ve seen enough of him to be able to say that I think he’s ‘the guy’. He’s the chosen one – like Neo in The Matrix.”
Naturally, I queried what Perkz’s Morpheus-esque perception revealed to him that would make him put Bo up on such a pedestal.
“It’s just his raw talent”, Perkz begins. “The way he plays situations out better [than other players], when he plays off-role he plays the champions better than most people in their main roles. It’s very simple for him, it’s very natural for him to do what he does.”
It may be easy to meet this almost Lionel Messi-like description with a wary pessimism, but Perkz is deadly serious. In fact, mechanically, he believes Bo is “a different breed” to himself and caPs when they made their competitive debuts as hot prospects back in the day.
Of course, Bo is still very much a rookie, and Perkz says he has yet to see if the starlet has the brain and attitude to make it as a pro. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to get swept up in the buzz surrounding the fledgling bee. This of course builds pressure for the player, though Perkz believes there’s “nothing wrong with putting a little bit of pressure on somebody to perform.” After all, if Bo can’t hack it in the LEC, how is he going to be able to do it on the Worlds stage?
2023: The Year of the Bee
So with a roster which, at least on paper, does everything right as far as good teamcraft is concerned, how far does Perkz realistically think Vitality can go? Lifting the Summoner’s Cup may be the instant answer for many, but the Croatian says that he at least wants to reach international tournaments, and scratch the itch that can only be remedied through taking on the best of the best.
“[At international events] you get a chance to really unleash yourself. When you play on your home field everything is similar. But when you’re put somewhere else, and you have to face all the other players, your hormones just go crazy. You think differently, you expand your views, and you learn faster.”
To make it to London for the Mid-Season Invitational, then onto South Korea for Worlds, Vitality will more than likely need to pick up some domestic silverware en route in Berlin. Sporting three splits (Winter, Spring, and Summer), broken down into best-of-one, best-of-three, and best-of-five stages, the new LEC format, Perkz reckons, will push the level of competition, and provide ‘higher stakes games’. It also provides three opportunities to hoist the LEC trophy – something Perkz is very much hungry to achieve.
“Since there are more of them [trophy chances] now, yeah it won’t mean as much, but to me I would still feel good to lift the first ever Winter LEC trophy – give it to me. Give me the Spring cup, it’s fine. I’ll be happy if I just win something this year, and I have many chances now.” Winning anything may be good for Perkz, but winning everything the LEC has to offer would, of course, be “ideal”.
However, the other LEC sides will naturally have something to say about this. Perkz tells me that “all the rosters are very close in strength” going into the season, though he does believe that, by Summer, “the top three teams are really gonna stand out.” Hopefully, for him, Vitality will be among them.
2022 may have been a chaotic year for Perkz, but heartache gave way to an opportunity to rebuild from the ground up. Now standing shoulder to shoulder with teammates meticulously chosen to form a cohesive whole with a clear identity, the 2023 iteration of Vitality looks to be a fundamentally different beast.