Who could have imagined such a turnaround after a 0-4 start? And especially in the middle of Worlds, with so much pressure and stress? Fnatic, against all odds, pulled off an almost impossible comeback from their initial score of 0-4 to qualify for the quarterfinals of League of Legends World Championship 2017 from Group B.
Founded in 2011, Fnatic is one of the oldest professional LoL team that represents Europe with many achievements and records. At the same time, there were lots of changes within the team including the player roster, and the team even failed to qualify for Worlds last year as a result of an unexpected slump. Let’s take a look at how Fnatic came back after a long period of hardship.
■ “Odd-Numbered Years in Favor of Fnatic?” Not Sure about This Year...
Fnatic has shown exceptional performances every odd-numbered year. From winning the very first Worlds in 2011, the team had also managed to make it to semifinals for both 2013 and 2015. However, in 2012 and 2016 they did not qualify for Worlds and in 2014 they were eliminated during the group stage. Finally, in 2017, Fnatic let go of all Korean players and took themselves to EU LCS with an all-European roster.
The results were not so bad. They ranked 3rd place in both the spring and the summer splits of 2017 EU LCS and proceeded to regionals, in which they won 3-0 against H2k to qualify for Worlds play-in stage. While not as satisfying as the achievements made in 2013 and 2015 when they dominated EU LCS, the record was still a big accomplishment compared to the slump from last year.
Fnatic continued on their victorious journey in play-ins as well. Despite the loss against Young Generation from GPL, Fnatic managed to prove their strength with a 3-0 against HKA in the play-in elimination stage that followed.
Unfortunately, their slumped crept back up during group stage. As a part of Group B along with Longzhu Gaming, Immortals, and Gigabyte Marines, Fnatic failed to adapt to Gigabyte Marines’ unique strategy of early lane swaps and started the day with a shameful loss. On Day 2, Fnatic’s ADC Martin “Rekkles” Larsson mistakenly flashed forward right in the middle of a cutthroat team fight against Immortals and put the game to an end with a loss, followed by yet another loss from Day 3 - in which Longzhu Gaming dismantled the team in a quick 20-minute game.
■ The Start of a Miracle
Fnatic thus ended Week 1 of the group stage with a 0-3. Their chance of proceeding further seemed quite dim, and the community turned their focus towards the powerful performances of Longzhu Gaming and the shocking strategies of Gigabyte Marines.
On October 12th, the second week of the group stage for Group B began. The first matchup was between Immortals (2-1) and Gigabyte Marines (1-2). With Immortals’ advancement to quarterfinals assured with another win, Gigabyte Marines blocked their way by utilizing Urgot in top lane and winning the game. Longzhu vs. Fnatic matchup that followed ended with a much-expected victory on Longzhu’s side.
At this point, Fnatic was left with a 0-4, and there were only 4 more Group B games ahead. Because both Immortals and Gigabyte Marines had 2 wins, the only way for Fnatic to proceed to quarterfinals was for Longzhu and Fnatic to win every upcoming match. Such would put every team except for Longzhu at 2-4, and the three teams would proceed to tie-breakers – in which, if Fnatic wins every game, the team could earn a spot in quarterfinals. Any other outcome would mean that Fnatic would conclude their journey at Worlds in the group stage.
Against expectations, the very scenario began. After an arduous and intense game against Immortals in game 3, victory favored Fnatic this time. Although shaken a bit by Gigabyte Marines’ unusual playstyle, Longzhu managed to come back from the odds and win game 4. With Longzhu and Fnatic winning games 5 and 6, every team except for Longzhu were to proceed tie-breakers for a rematch.
■ The Long-Awaited Advancement to Quarterfinals
Although all eyes were already on the unbelievable comeback Fnatic had made this far, the team still have to win two more games in tie-breakers in order to put an end to this miraculous turnaround. The first matchup against Immortals was a leap in the dark, with nobody knowing how the result will turn out. Because they each took a victory and a loss during the last two games against each other, both teams played rather safely and carefully early game. However, around 19 minutes into the game Fnatic took down the bottom lane duo and picked up baron buff, taking down more objectives overtime and eventually winning the game.
Thus Fnatic was just one win away from quarterfinals. Gigabyte Marines abandoned their novel strategies after consecutive losses and followed the hard-engage tanker and ardent censer meta to confront Fnatic, but Fnatic was a cut above Marines when it came to face-to-face fights. Despite their domination over GPL, Gigabyte Marines could not quite withstand Fnatic – who had much more experience. Although Gigabyte Marines had a short lead halfway into the game, Fnatic managed to turn the tables and destroyed the enemy nexus.
■ “Fortune Favors the Prepared Mind”
Was Fnatic’s advancement to quarterfinals really a miracle? Let's think their 4 losses over. The first three losses were: an unexpected loss Gigabyte Marines’ rather “weird” plays, a close loss to Immortals after an intense wrestle, and a loss to Longzhu – the team most predicted to win Worlds. The fourth loss was a game against Longzhu as well.
Fnatic did not go 0-4 because they were a weak team. Starting with the matchup against Immortals after the 4th loss, they put themselves back on track and won themselves 4 consecutive victories. Coming to Worlds as a 3rd seed out of 5 major regions in LoL is not a luck or a miracle, but their pure capability. Fnatic indeed is a team that deserves and suits their spot in quarterfinals.
A major strength that Fnatic has after their rebuilding in 2017 is that every player is a strong individual; all lanes are known for their safe and stable laning phase. While they cannot set up a snowball so early in the game, they don't let the enemy build one either. With no international player in the roaster, they are quick to make and follow decisions as well as to cooperate in team fights. Ganking, pushing lanes, getting objectives, bursting Baron – every play they do they are bold and determined.
Let’s learn about each player of Fnatic in more detail. As for Paul “sOAZ” Boyer, who has returned to Fnatic after 3 years in another European team Origen, his inconsistent performance is said to be his greatest strength and greatest weakness. The inconsistency showed as a weakness over the first five games Fnatic played in the group stage. However, the incredible performances that he showed in the last couple of games were more than enough to erase the weakness from people’s memories and take the team to the next stage.
sOAZ shows high proficiency and skills in many different champions. His Cho’gath stood enormous and powerful during the whole game against Gigabyte Marines and was able to eat up Cody Sun’s Twitch with clever plays and contributed greatly to the victory. While the last match on the way to quarterfinals did not start off well as his Gnar was killed twice in the early-game, he later made a comeback and played a critical role in every team fight.
Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen, the jungler, and Rasmus “Caps” Winther, the mid laner, are two rookies with less than 5 years of experience combined, and this is their first time coming to Worlds. Broxah, a monster rookie who graduated Fnatic Academy in just 3 months to join the official Fnatic roster for EU LCS, prefers carry junglers over tanks. Caps came to Fnatic after spending 2016 in Dark Passage, one of the Turkish LoL teams, and led the team to victory in the 2017 TCL summer split.
These two prospects of EU LCS showed off their amazing performances even in Worlds. Their stable plays were comparable to those of old veterans in the league, and they made nothing but tiny mistakes overall. While many mid laners fail to show their full potential the first time they play at Worlds, Caps secured Fnatic’s mid lane strong and sound. Broxah too, with Rek’Sai as his most played champion along with other carry junglers, posed a big threat to the enemies.
As for how powerful the bottom lane duos are – no words needed. The combination of the best ADC in Europe Rekkles and an experienced, multi-lane-capable veteran Jesiz would not be an easy enemy against any other bottom lane duo.
And it was the same case during Worlds. Rekkles was able to farm and get big under Jesiz’s protection in most games. Although his rather careless forward-flash during a game against Immortals led to a defeat, he was able to pick himself up and show stable performance during the rest of Fnatic’s games.
Fnatic’s qualification to quarterfinals may have been a miracle, but it was a miracle that they were very well prepared for. At the same time, without all the dramatic outcomes on week 2 of the group stage (Gigabyte Marines’ win against Immortals, Longzhu’s turnaround after a 1k disadvantage, etc.) their dream of advancing to quarterfinals would have been long crushed. Could it really be that the odd-numbered years are in favor of Fnatic? Such a comeback seems like a once in a lifetime experience.
■ In Preparation for Quarterfinals against RNG
Coming up for Fnatic is a quarterfinals matchup against RNG of LPL. Unlike previous games, which were run in a single-elimination system, the knock out stage operates in a best-of-five system with the first to win 3 out of 5 games proceeding to the next stage. Such system requires not only skills but also concentration, which would put more weight on the players of Fnatic. Worlds newbies like Broxah and Caps may lose focus rather easily from lack of experience. It is critical for Fnatic to stay focused and not lose track during the long series of games.
Because RNG is on a winning streak with the score of 5-1, Fnatic surely has a rough way to the semifinals in front of them. However, it is not impossible for another miracle to take place. As Fnatic grew as a team tremendously as Worlds go, the community looks forward to seeing Fnatic show even more improved performance in their upcoming matches.