The LEC's dominance over the LCS at Rift Rivals 2019: NA vs. EU was characterized by the importance of flexibility in both drafting and composition. However, no one sent opponents into a tailspin quite like Yasuo.
The Unforgiven appeared three times during Rift Rivals 2019: NA vs. EU, securing wins in all three games as a pivotal factor in each victory. The high impact ultimate Last Breath, especially when paired with the knockup-heavy Gragas in the Jungle, turned several teamfights for teams drafting the wind-wielding swordsman. Yasuo provided several versatile strengths for teams who drafted him, each time in an entirely different way.
Game 1: G2 Esports vs. Cloud9
Yasuo wasted no time showing up at Rift Rivals. In the very first (non-showmatch) game of the event, G2 Esports drafted Yasuo for Bot Laner Luka "Perkz" Perković against Cloud9. However, G2 flexed a step further, assigning Martin "Wunder" Hansen's Neeko to Bot Lane with Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle's Gragas. Perkz went to the Top Lane to hard counter the Gnar of C9 Top Laner Eric "Licorice" Richie.
G2's gambit paid off in spades. Superior 2v2 play from Mid Laner Rasmus "Caps" Winther and Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski secured the early game pressure for G2, allowing Perkz to remain isolated in his heavily favored matchup. The swap also gave G2 a one-shot combo of Neeko/Gragas in the Bot Lane to burst out C9 Bot Laner Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi's Sona.
Perkz dwarfed Licorice's CS, drawing tons of pressure from the C9 side through total control of the side lane power of G2's 4-1 composition. By 23 minutes, Perkz had Flame Horizon'd Cloud9's star Top Laner, and G2 won the game two minutes later to give secure the LEC's first win of Rift Rivals 2019.
"All of our solo laners are super talented," Jankos told Inven Global's Nick Geracie in a post-game interview. Jankos paused before clarifying, "...I consider Perkz a solo laner!"
Game 2: Origen vs. TSM
In the third game of day one, Origen bested TSM with yet another Yasuo/Neeko lane swap. This time around, OG Bot Laner Patrik "Patrik" Jírů took the Curious Chameleon to the Mid Lane to bully the Akali of TSM's Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg.
Origen Mid Laner Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm took Yasuo to the bottom side of the map to lane with the Pyke of Alfonso "Mithy" Aguirre Rodríguez. The pair showed that their innate synergy from the LemonDogs days of 2013 was still very much alive, and took TSM's Bot Lane to the cleaners several times over.
Origen showed superior macro play around its Bot Lane in defeating TSM, setting up multiple plays a step ahead of their respective laning opponents for Nukeduck and Mithy to capitalize upon. The LEC had now won all three of the first games of Rift Rivals 2019: NA vs. EU.
Game 3: Team Liquid vs. G2 Esports
With the LCS down 2-0 in the Relay Race Final, G2 Esports looked poised to defeat Team Liquid and sweep the series for EU. Fortunately for NA, Team Liquid had other plans. The pride of the LCS had already defeated G2 the day before in the Group Stage, and it was able to do so once again to give NA a fighting chance.
Team Liquid prioritized the Yasuo/Gragas combo in the draft phase, selecting the pair with the first two Red Side picks. While Mid Laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen's Yasuo fell behind initially against Caps' LeBlanc, some impressive mechanical outplays and excellent counter-ganks by TL Jungler Jake "Xmithie" Puchero on Gragas.
The Mid/Jungle one-two punch, along with an excellent Gangplank performance by Top Laner Jeong "Impact" Eon-yeong, secured the first victory of the series for the LCS. Unfortunately, TSM did not fair as well against Fnatic in game 4, and NA dropped the series to EU 3-1. Still, while the LEC may have won the day and the tournament, Team Liquid utilized Yasuo to prove that gods can bleed.
After defeating OpTic Gaming in week 3 of the 2019 LCS Summer Split, Cloud9 Jungler Robert "Blaber" Huang predicted the rise to power of Yasuo due to its combination potential with meta junglers, specifically Gragas.
"To be honest, Gragas/Yasuo is really strong. People aren't respecting it enough," said Blaber. The young C9 Jungler, along with Mid Laner Yasin "Nisqy" Dincer, had just utilized the JG/MID pairing to defeat OpTic.
Yasuo's immense carry potential, as well as his proven tri-lane flexibility make him a strong individual pick in the current snowball-focused meta. However, increased flexibility in other roles, especially the Bot Lane, has widened his viability window to far more scenarios than before. Mages are now playable in the Bot Lane, which frees up compositions that feature a Bot Lane Mage to select Mid Laners that deal physical damage without risking a poor damage spread.
Yasuo was showcased in great flexibility by both G2 and Origen, and the LEC's willingness to experiment is what currently makes them the superior region. However, by the end of the event, Team Liquid was able to utilize the combination — albeit far more conventionally — to great effect.
North American fans can look towards Team Liquid's adjustment before its Finals Match as a reason to hope that the LCS teams learned something from their defeat at the hands of the LEC.