SK Gaming did the unthinkable on the first day of the League of Legends European Championship: Beyond smashing the world championship finalists Fnatic twice, it displayed levels of poise one would normally see in a veteran team.
Mostly comprised of rookies, SK Gaming (1-1) controlled the pace of the first game and sought to put the nail on the coffin at the Berlin event. However, Fnatic invoked its right to a remake following a recurring in-game issue, and obtained it. As such, SK Gaming had to do it all over.
Leave it to the aptly named Oskar "Selfmade" Boderek to prove to Fnatic that his side was superior in Game 1, and that no remakes would save it. In fact, the circumstances barely fazed the rookie jungler.
"From my point of view, I wasn't really frustrated; I was actually kind of laughing," he said. "I was in a really good mood because it was my first match in the LEC. When we were about to close the game against the worlds finalists, they told us that we had to remake the game. I thought that it would be so funny if we actually won against them twice.
"We had the same mentality in the second game as the first one, and we decided to play our best, and we won."
Although SK Gaming wasn't nearly as effective in a 23-minute loss to Misfits on Saturday -- Selfmade posted a 1/2/0 KDA (kills/deaths/assists) as opposing jungler Nubar "Maxlore" Sarafian went deathless with seven assists and seven kills -- SK's potential showed this weekend.
Selfmade, 19, waited five years for this moment. Back then, at 14, he'd already made it into the top 50 of the European region's solo queue ladder, and he sought to become a professional at the game. A fourth-place finish at a tournament in his native Poland wasn't enough; he wanted more. But what he wanted was unavailable to him, as he did not meet age requirements for professional League of Legends teams.
ThunderX3 Baskonia's Spanish esports squad came knocking in 2017. There, Selfmade met his first coach, former SK Gaming jungler Alvar "Araneae" Martin Aleñar, and a teammate who would follow him to the LEC iteration of SK Gaming, Jorge "Werlyb" Casanovas. The trio first moved to MAD Lions, where they built a legacy on the Spanish circuit.
To call their collaboration successful would be an understatement. Together, they won eight tournaments out of a possible 11 on the Spanish scene as well as the 2018 European Masters summer tournament. The matter is quite noteworthy, as the Spanish scene alone rivaled North America's academy scene in 2018, and EU Masters featured a higher caliber of play. In fact, MAD Lions were beating LEC teams during scrimmages, and that made Selfmade confident about his professional prospects.
"When I was in MAD Lions and we started scrimming LEC teams for the first time, at the start, I was like, 'Finally, teams that are worth practicing, and I can learn from that,'" he said. "But when we started scrimming them, I saw that it was honestly nothing special. They were basically at the same level as we were. Since that time, I knew that I was going to be one of the best players in the LEC when I would join it."
Ultimately, SK Gaming reached out, and Selfmade obliged. However, that meant parting ways with his friend and head coach, Araneae.
"Working with Araneae was actually a pleasure for me," he said. "I think he's a really good coach and a really great person. He was more like a friend to me than a coach, and that's why we worked very well together."
Joining his coach's former team was a symbol in itself, but the circumstances differ. Before the LCS era, Araneae joined an existing lineup with current G2 Esports owner Carlos "ocelote" Rodriguez Santiago as his mid laner. On the other hand, Selfmade was the first player SK had approached.
Additionally, the organization valued his opinion on potential players.
Of the many options in the top and bot lane roles, his former teammates stood out as the best options available; in came Werlyb and Jus "Crownshot" Marusic.
"Even though there were a lot of old LEC names, I was sure that my teammates were better," Selfmade said before highlighting one teammate who didn't join them, mid laner Tim "Nemesis" Lipovšek. "They also contacted Nemesis, and he decided to go with Fnatic. I respect his decision. I think he made the correct call."
The team needed a support and mid laner to finalize its roster. When SK signed Han "Dreams" Min-kook, Selfmade was initially apprehensive based on his solo queue experience with Dreams. He laughed about those concerns in hindsight. As soon as they played together, Selfmade's opinion changed, and he found Dreams to be an essential asset for SK Gaming.
"I saw that I was really wrong," he said. "He is a really great person and player. I've never met someone like him. Basically, I feel like every day is an enjoyable day because he brings such a good atmosphere to the team."
In addition, the signing of Dreams gave SK Gaming an additional layer of flexibility as he was fluent in English. Considering the available players at the time, Choi "Pirean" Jun-sik was a solid option. SK Telecom T1's former substitute mid laner also spoke English, but shyness impeded that.
Even then, change came in January, in a way reminiscent of the way Yoo "Ryu" Sang-wook adapted with H2K Gaming.
"Starting this month, he improved a lot," Selfmade said. "Also, his communication today on-stage was something he never did on scrims. I'm really proud of him. I think he's a really great player, and I'm looking forward to playing with him for a longer time."
Alongside them in this journey came the Unicorns of Love's former head coach, Fabian "Sheepy" Mallant, who also played in the jungle during his competitive career. Selfmade couldn't help but notice how different their vision and approach to the game was. But one matter that didn't change is Selfmade's confrontational nature, as he feels the need for solid reasoning behind a change of approach.
Even Araneae, his friend, experienced that.
LEC offseason grades
The grades are in for the European side of League of Legends. Who made the right moves in the offseason?
"Sheepy and I sometimes argue, but that's just my character," Selfmade said. "Even when I worked with Araneae, I liked to argue with him. Even though I knew sometimes that I was wrong, I like to argue because that's who I am. But I feel that with each day, I am growing up as a person. I am arguing much less with [Sheepy]. I'm starting to take feedback positively, and my mentality is getting better each day, thanks to him."
And in the first day of the LEC, SK Gaming's synergy showed. So did its play, as it held Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau in check during Game 1 and shut down Fnatic's bot lane during the remake. In the process, SK Gaming proved it belonged in the LEC, if only for a night at worst, although its surprising synergy shows a different possibility.
Looking back, Selfmade said, the wait to make it to the LEC was worth it.
"When I was playing in the Spanish league, my dream was always to be in the LEC, and I'm really proud of myself that I made it," he said. "Also, I was really confident about myself, and I knew that I would make it sooner or later. And now I'm here. With each day, I want to become a better player since I'm playing the game. My goal is to become the best jungler in the world."