Last season ended in bitter disappointment for Fnatic as the squad’s astonishing escape from the group stages merely resulted in a quarterfinal exit. However, had the team not been drawn against eventual champions FunPlus Phoenix, it could have been a second consecutive Worlds final for the team in orange and black.
It feels like a long time ago now but back in 2018, Fnatic ignited a fire within Europe and helped the entire region truly believe the continent could birth world champions in League of Legends once again.
Fnatic had dominated Europe that year and continued its fine form into Worlds as the squad became the first European team to reach a Worlds final since themselves all the way back in 2011 (which Fnatic won).
Everything clicked for Fnatic that year. Rasmus “Caps” Winther had finally started to hone his overwhelming potential and was beginning to look like one of the world’s best players. Martin “Rekkles” Larsson had figured out a way to make his calculated play fit in with Zdravets "Hylissang" Galabov’s aggressive playmaking. Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau continued to surprise with impressive performances, knowing that any slip-ups would hand his starting spot back to one of Europe’s most decorated players Paul “sOAZ” Boyer. And then there was Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen who had the tournament of his life with repeated Baron steals and breathtaking performances on his signature champion, Lee Sin.
Fnatic was perfectly set-up to lift the Summoner’s Cup but the team fell apart at the final hurdle. Exhausted, they were obliterated by Invictus Gaming in a performance that will still pain fans to this day.
It will certainly be in the players’ minds too, especially the three who remain with the organisation after an even tougher season last year. With 2020 comes a new line-up, a new season and a new decade. This is a fresh start for Fnatic as the team looks to recapture the magic from 2018 and take it even further.
Setting the foundation
Following Worlds 2018, the loss of sOAZ and Caps had a bigger impact than many expected. Fnatic began to rebuild with Bwipo becoming the sole owner of top lane spot and young Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek taking his first steps as a pro player.
It would be an understatement to say there were growing pains. Fnatic failed to win any of their matches in the first two weeks of the Spring Split and the organisation just barely scraped into the Playoffs only to be embarrassed onstage in the semifinals by long-term rivals Origen.
However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel as Fnatic, slowly but surely, began to gather momentum. The Summer Split wasn’t perfect but Fnatic managed to reach the Playoffs final this time and showcased the true potential of the squad in what many will remember as one of the greatest finals in European history. G2 had looked unstoppable up until that point but Fnatic proved it was possible to match them. The five-game series was decided by the finest of margins and on a different day, could easily have turned in Fnatic’s favour.
The squad’s hard work didn’t end there either as Fnatic were then drawn into Worlds 2019’s “Group of Death” with three time winners SK Telecom T1 and Royal Never Give Up awaiting them. The first week of the group stages was brutal for the Europeans as the team never really seemed to get going but somehow pulled off three consecutive wins against Clutch Gaming, SKT and RNG to make a miraculous escape.
Overshadowed by G2’s own Worlds final run, it shouldn’t be forgotten just how well Fnatic performed at the tournament. They even managed to win a game against FPX - something their LEC title rivals couldn’t manage.
A game of chance
One quality that Fnatic and G2’s Worlds final runs share is that both teams took a major risk that year. G2’s decision to swap Luka “Perkz” Perković into the bot lane ended up being a stroke of genius while Fnatic were extremely brave to put faith in a then inexperienced Bwipo for the majority of the 2018 tournament.
In order to catch G2, something needed to change at Fnatic and the organisation is clearly prepared to do whatever it takes to do so. The loss of head coach and six-time European champion Joey “Youngbuck” Steltenpool will undoubtedly be a major blow but rather than play it safe, Fnatic has looked to shake the industry by appointing legendary support Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez as his replacement. The Spaniard has always been famed for his intelligent approach to the game but next season he is entering uncharted territory and heading straight for the deep end in his first year as a coach.
Joining alongside him will be former SK Gaming jungler Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek who will add fiery youth to the squad just as Bwipo did back in 2018. Selfmade is already close friends with Nemesis and the two will be absolutely pivotal to Fnatic’s title hopes in 2020 as jungle and mid combos could likely define the meta this year as it did in 2019
While the new faces will want to settle in quickly, the other players have to step up as well. Nemesis has overwhelming promise and could become a primary carry for Fnatic this year with more experience under his belt while the bot-lane duo of Rekkles and Hylissang need to assert their dominance once again.
But perhaps most importantly will be Bwipo, the glue that holds together the team. The Belgian is usually the one fighting without resources and copes with that to varying degrees of success. As we saw during his 1v1 tournament win at All-Star, Bwipo has an incredible understanding of champions’ limits and occasionally he will miraculously pull ahead despite his major disadvantage.
If Bwipo can perform to that level consistently and if Mithy can bring the team together, there is no limit to what this squad can accomplish. The next season of the LEC will be extremely competitive but anything other than silverware will be a disappointment for the elite group of players.