Going into Week Six of the LEC, a few things were known. MAD Lions and Rogue were at the top of the league, fan favorites Fnatic and G2 were barely holding onto playoff spots, and FC Schalke 04 had absolutely no chance at making playoffs. The German team ended Week Five with an abysmal 1-10 record, and with just seven games left to play, the team no longer could end their split in the positives. It seemed it would take a miracle for them to be anything other than an embarrassment. But a miracle was exactly what we got.
In Week Six, they defeated G2 and Misfits, putting their second and third wins on the board, over admittedly struggling teams. But in Week Seven the team, which is owned by the same organization as the German soccer team of the same name, added wins against Origen and Excel, both of whom were in playoff contention at the time. With their win streak extended to four games on the back of impressive play by jungler Erberk “Gilius” Demir and mid-laner Felix “Abbedagge” Braun, fans got behind the miracle run en masse.
Heading into this weekend’s Super Week, in which each team plays three games over three days rather than two games over two days, Schalke did not hold their fate in their own hands. Even if they won every game, other things would still have to go right for the little team that could. Fnatic or Excel, the teams that were also near the sixth place spot, would have to lose, and Schalke would have to win out. Even the most devoted fans thought that the odds of the team making a true run to playoffs was unlikely, if not impossible.
But Schalke won all three of their games, dominating Fnatic, Vitality, and the MAD Lions on their way to an 8-10 record. It might not be the best record in the history of the LEC, or even close, but for a team who lost their first eight games of the season, who won just one game going into the last three weeks of the regular season, 8-10 was better than anything they could’ve dreamed of. A win on Sunday by Misfits, and a loss in that game by Vitality, meant that all Schalke needed was Excel or Fnatic to lose in order to qualify.
G2, who had gone through their own meteoric rise in the second half of the split to end in third, brought it home for the mixed-European majority squad. G2’s dominant victory over Excel secured Schalke’s place in the playoff bracket, keeping both their miracle run and their chance at a world’s appearance alive and rounding off a playoff bracket as close as it’s ever been. Rogue ended up in first place and guaranteed their spot at Worlds, the first team to qualify, by edging out a victory over the MAD Lions, who claimed second. They were followed up by G2 and Fnatic, both of whom showed much more life in the second half of the season, and the always-reliable SK Gaming.
Going into playoffs, it truly feels as if there is no real metric to compare these teams. Rogue and MAD both began the split on a high but started to fall in the later weeks, while Schalke, G2, and Fnatic rose steadily but didn’t manage to make up for their earlier struggles. But as playoffs begin on Friday, none of that matters anymore. Records and win streaks don’t matter in a best of five, where the only thing that will get you to advance is winning three games before your opponent does. In a best of five, the best team in the world and a team of bronze players start in the same place, and all that matters after that, is who makes it up the mountain first.
Incredibly, Schalke is just two best-of-five victories from a Worlds appearance, as four of the six teams who made playoffs will be representing Europe at Worlds this year. Just a few series will decide what teams get their chance and what teams fall so painfully close to the finish line, and miss out on their shot to truly leave their mark on League history.
But no matter the results, no matter what team wins or loses, one has already left their mark on history with the most improbable comebacks in the history of European League of Legends. The Schalke Miracle Run is one of those improbable moments, like the Red Sox comeback against the Yankees in 2004, like the Miracle on Ice, like Leicester City’s impossible Premier League Title, that just forces fans to stop and enjoy the view. It’s a moment that will be remembered forever, even after the players are long gone.
Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.