Fnatic is sitting on roses. After finishing second in the regular Spring Split of the League of Legends European Championship, the team reached the finals of the season half with relative ease. Both MAD Lions, who had knocked Fnatic's arch-nemesis G2 down to the lower bracket, and Origen were disposed of with clean victories. With only the grand final remaining, we sat down with Fnatic's Top Laner Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau. He evaluated his team's strength, and explained why the LEC Spring Playoffs being played in an online format influences matches, benefitting teams like MAD Lions.
The first question I have to ask you after your performance against MAD Lions, but also considering your competitors' performances: Is Fnatic the undisputed best team in the LEC right now?
Uhm, I wouldn't say undisputed. Not yet. We didn't play a best of five against G2, but we did make a case for us being a very strong team. We still have to take the trophy. If we do take the trophy, then yes. I think G2 is a team that can bounce back from some pretty dark corners. It's hard to say how strong they are exactly—they're a team that thrives off momentum. G2 forces you to be on your toes all the time, and they take team fights that are "out there", you know? When those fights fail, that's when G2 starts to struggle a bit. They had a lot of that against MAD Lions. So either they tone that down and they're a really good macro team, or those fights go in their favor and they look a lot stronger all of a sudden.
"All our players, in every position, have the potential to carry a game. I think that's super scary about our team."
Let's talk a bit more about Fnatic itself. Earlier this Split you told us that you guys were still getting everyone on the same page. How is that going currently?
I wouldn't say it's perfect yet, but we're definitely going in the right direction. We're looking like we're a strong team. Our biggest strength is that all our players, in every position, have the potential to carry a game. I think that's super scary about our team. Hylissang can pop off, Rekkles obviously is known to pop off, Nemesis has his games, I have my games, and Selfmade has his games. During the game, anyone can take over. That's what makes us so strong as a team right now.
I feel that, in the current meta, every role can play a supportive role in the team and every role can play an offensive role in the team, a carry role. I think that's very good for us. If you can remember, in Spring 2019 Selfmade was playing Sejuani and he did well on it, but now he can bust out the Gragas and get ten kills per game. You get the idea. Everyone can play what they want to play in this meta and show up as long as we support each other.
If you say "we're going in the right direction", what do you still have to iron out?
Drafting is something we can always improve on. I think every single team in the world can improve on drafting. Being willing to play certain champions, leave others open, that kind of stuff. For example, we are perma-banning Kalista ever since she showed up. That's no secret to anyone. It's a very simple thing to improve on. Imagine if we were also a team that would play Kalista, where we could put her top or bot, and just break open the lane. That would make us even scarier. That's a very obvious example of where we can improve in the draft phase.
Yet, you guys have pulled out some fun and unexpected champions in the draft phase. I still remember the first Zac pick, and this weekend you pulled out Malphite. Where did that come from?
It's just one of those champions that's on the edge of being meta. He has clear weaknesses, obviously. If you Flash out of his ultimate, he's not a great champion. But all in all, you know what to expect from him. He fulfills his role as a frontline, weak side top laner very well. He's like Maokai, in a way. Malphite just has niches in other areas. He's way better into full AD compositions. When we saw that MAD Lions composition, I was already rubbing my hands. I think I didn't play super well in every game, but thankfully my team carried.
It's also a champion that provides a lot of burst damage. If you don't just need CC, but also need burst damage to access the backline, I think Malphite is a very strong champion overall. It's a champion of which I think it's been undervalued. In China they played him a bit, I think. The LPL picked up a Malphite game. That's just to give you an idea, right? People across the world recognize that a champion can be strong. I felt like it was worth playing, so I busted him out. He's just a solid laner, who does his job. It's just a rock.
A mountain, right? "He doesn't do anything!" *laughs*
*laughs* Well, I didn't buy a Sheen! I'm not going that far...yet. But I was thinking about it!
Let's talk a bit about MAD Lions. In your match against them, you defeated them without breaking too much of a sweat. Game two was scary for a bit, but you guys turned it around perfectly. What were your expectations heading into the series?
All in all, I think Orome played very well. He actually played much better than I expected him to, which also could be because I made some mistakes. I didn't play that great of a series. In general, I was picking matchups that were considered 'weak', which was part of our strategy. I had to pick champions that would scale well, so I could provide more for my team later.
Overall, I think MAD Lions played well. They had the second game in the bag, right? I don't know how much gold they were ahead of us, but it must've been quite a lot. But then we got a clutch fight, ended up killing three of their players, and all of a sudden we were back in it. Then all of a sudden the game became unplayable for them. The best thing their Aphelios could do was chuck his ultimate from maximum range which will hurt for sure, but it's not enough.
But yeah, I think they played well. They showed their weakness when they started falling behind in game three. The only thing they could do was hard commit to trading sides. Renekton was dropping wave after wave and ended up being two levels down. The Syndra was dropping waves too. What ends up happening is that the person you're playing for is getting ahead, but the four other players are suffering because of it. I think that's one of the weaknesses MAD Lions showed, and we were able to capitalize well. Thank god my team carried me in that game.
When I spoke to Guilhoto earlier, he said that every team in the top four could beat any of the other teams. Do you agree with that statement?
I think every team could beat each other online.
"It's such a big difference when you play on a large stage. You feel that every decision you make will be judged. (...) It's a different way of playing the game."
Yeah, specifically. It's such a big difference when you play on a large stage. You feel that every decision you make will be judged. It's a completely different atmosphere, it's a different way of playing the game. It's very, very different in my experience. So far, at least. I've played two best of fives now, and they've been a very different experience for me.
It's hard for non-players to fully understand how playing matches online versus playing matches offline affects players. They may think that, in the end, you're still just sitting down behind a PC. Walk me through how the experience is different for you.
It's all about the hype that surrounds the game. You have an opening ceremony. You're walking out on the stage. Your name is being announced. You have adrenaline pumping 24/7. You're like "Oh f***, this is it." That's a feeling you will never get elsewhere. We're gamers! We sit inside, we chill, we play games. Then all of a sudden you're being placed in a situation where all the attention is on you. Throughout the whole series, whenever something happens, the floor is literally shaking. It becomes so real then.
But now, when we're playing online, there's nothing like that. We go to the office and we sit down in the chair we're always sitting down in. You just play another set of games, you know? It still means a lot and it is a big deal, but there just isn't this entire build-up. When you play on a stage, as soon as you enter the arena you just think "holy sh*t". You do rehearsals, you see the opening ceremony and think "Wooo that looks preeetty good!" It's all just hype as f***! It's always the crowd that makes the difference. The thought of the crowd, the fact that it's going to be there, cheering...it's hard to ignore.
The best example I can give you is of my own best of fives of previous years, which I played in the LEC studio. Those were much more similar to this. But the big ones, the actual big big ones, are completely different. All the hype you feel has little to do with the game itself. It's that you're being buttered up for a performance. Everything is going crazy in your head. You're thinking about how cool it would be if you win. Now, online, we just focus on the games. It's just like any other day.
When we're then looking at the top teams of the LEC, I would imagine that having big stage experience would give you guys a large edge over less experienced players.
Not every player can just go on a stage with so much tension and just play their own game. It's much harder than when you're sitting at home or in the LEC studio. You do that every week. You get used to that.
I think the online environment gives MAD Lions an advantage because they don't have to overcome that extra hurdle. That pressure from the crowd, that feeling you get, takes the focus away from the game. Seasoned players are more used to just playing their own game. They've done it a million times. But when you're in your first Split it's different. Let's say you lose your first game of a best of five, your confidence can drop very quickly. These factors, on top of the fact that you're playing in front of such a big crowd, will always influence rookies.
That's not to say that they can't win. It's just that it will always play in favor of the people that have experience. It's very rare that a rookie just walks onto the stage and just pops off. Even if they play well, they're not going to be insane getting pentakills left and right. They're not going to carry as often. It has probably happened before, and props to the ones who do it. But most of the time, rookies are definitely affected by an arena full of people.
Lastly, let's talk about the Top Laners in the LEC. Alphari said that you, him, and Wunder are the top three Top Laners in the LEC. Do you agree? And second, what do you think of him making it to the All-Star roster?
I agree one hundred percent with what he said. It's not even close. Alphari played a good Split, I played a good Split. Props to him, definitely. I would've liked to be in the All-Star roster, and I would've liked to be the MVP. Based on what I've seen from the votes I probably won't be MVP, but if they voted for Alphari in the Top Lane of the All-Star roster that probably means they won't vote for me as MVP of the Split.
Alphari is a very solid player. He always makes sure that he's good in the game, and he will make sure that he gets matchups that are good in the game. I feel like he's a Top Laner that any coach has an easy time working with. He does his own thing and knows what he's doing. He'll just take care of it. There is no one who can disagree with the decisions Alphari makes. It's always a very solid decision. He never takes unnecessary risks. When he does go for what seems to be a risky play, it always works out in his favor. He just makes good decisions. That's what defines Alphari the most and that's what makes it so tough to play against him.
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.