Fnatic are once again at the World Championships but any hopes of going one better than last year’s runners-up finish could be tarnished by a brutally difficult final groups day.
Last year, Fnatic were one series away from making history. That roster was the first European team to reach a League of Legends World Championship final since the very same organisation won the first edition of the tournament back in 2011. However, now the team is just one day away from falling in the Group Stages.
Fnatic is one of the most storied and successful organisations in LoL history, but this year are joined in Group C by two elite teams of equal prestige: Royal Never Give Up and three-time World Champions SK Telecom T1. Following losses to both teams already, progressing to the Worlds quarterfinals could be the toughest challenge the organisation has ever faced. However, as Splyce showed in Group B, you can never underestimate the power of European teams in Week Two.
C stands for Chance
When the Worlds Group Stage draw was complete, there was a lot of sympathy for Fnatic with many fans fearing the worst. However, the team hasn’t shown an ounce of fear. "You know they're more scared of us right?“ were the brave words from the organisation's Twitter account.
Rather than worry, Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau saw the draw as a huge opportunity:
“If we can make it out as first seed there’s a good chance we’re making it all the way to the final, the semi-finals are almost guaranteed because if you can beat teams like SKT and RNG – there’s not many second seed teams that can contest you in a best-of-five.
“I’m going to be looking forward to playing against the biggest teams in the world, that’s the main difference this year. Last year, I missed the opportunity to play against the best teams because they were either in another group or the other side of the bracket. This time around I’m getting the full experience.”
Before the Groups started, Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen echoed that sentiment:
“I’m kind of looking forward to it honestly, it’s not about waiting until quarters anymore to get these really big games. Every game of the Group Stage is going to be important and we’re going to have to show right from the first game that we deserve to go to quarters because it’s not going to be like 2017 where we go 0-3 in the first week and still make it out.
“Even if we lose the first game it’s going to be hard and especially if we go 0-2 there’s probably no way back, so we have to show up and begin right from the beginning which is pretty exciting.”
Perhaps Fnatic should have been careful what they wished for as so far, Group C has proven to be too hot to handle with the European second seeds looking far from their best. Yet, there is still hope with a day of games left. Fnatic will have to improve drastically, but at this time of year anything can happen.
Stars in their eyes
Group C has enough star power to blind viewers with some of the greatest individual players to ever grace Summoner’s Rift including Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao. Yet, Bwipo has been salivating over the opportunity to take on Group C’s incredible pool of top-laners of Kim “Khan” Dong-ha, Xie "Langx" Zhen-Ying and Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon.
It’s been a tough start for the Belgian but he claims he can candle the mountainous challenge: “From my perspective I have the most fun in this group in the sense that I get to adapt my playstyle in so many different ways depending on which team I’m playing.
“Against Clutch, I’m going to have to go head to head to try to make sure Huni can’t snowball his lead while still pushing myself whereas against SKT, a team who likes to play around Khan, I’m going to have to hold the door. Then you round it all off with RNG who are obviously known for throwing their top-lanes under the bus so I’m going to have three different ways of approaching three different teams and that is going to be an interesting challenge for me.”
“It’s going to be big for us that Nemesis is in form with the mid-laners we’re going to be facing.”
All of Fnatic's line-up are world-class players in their own right though young Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek will have to perform internationally to truly be considered a star. His teammates were quick to sing his praises as Broxah labelled the mid-laner as crucial to their potential success:
“It’s not like Nemesis didn’t have a spotlight in the beginning, he played consistently well, but then towards the end of the season he started also consistently putting the enemy mid-laner in the ground which is really impressive. It’s going to be big for us that Nemesis is in form with the mid-laners we’re going to be facing. Even Tanner "Damonte" Damonte has been looking pretty good, but Faker and Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao are especially difficult – even if you play decently these two will carry the game.”
Bwipo agreed, stating the mid-lane battles could decide the team’s fate: “With the experience he got from best-of-fives as well as throughout the whole year, Nemesis has proven to everybody he is world-class. I look forward to seeing just how good he is. If you’re looking for a test of strength, I believe Faker is the best player in the world to compare against. If you can stand against him you can stand up against anybody and that’s ultimately going to be the biggest question on if we can win Worlds, can we hold our own against the biggest teams.”
While Fnatic are still looking for more wins, so far Nemesis has mostly been up to the task with an admirable performance against SKT giving Fnatic fans a glimmer of hope that they can make the Knockouts once again.
Euphoria or a Eulogy
The first season of the LEC resulted in one of the most thrilling seasons Europe has ever witnessed. The unorthodox playstyle of G2 with mid-laner turned ADC Luka "Perkz" Perković wowed fans around the globe as their unique strategies saw them become the first Western team to ever win the Mid-Season Invitational.
To some, that automatically qualifies G2 as favourites to lift the Summoner's Cup and consequently speaks volumes of Fnatic's quality too, as they pushed G2 to their limit in the LEC Summer Split final with a breathtaking five-game series in Athens.
Considering how Fnatic started the year with a long loss-streak, the transformation over the course of the season has been remarkable. Fnatic once again look like World Championship contenders, but they still have a mountain to climb.
Group C is a huge task, but whoever reaches its peak will soon become tournament favourites. Fighting back and escaping this group would give Fnatic an immense level of momentum, especially considering they will have the overwhelming support of the raucous European crowd behind them.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger: survive the Group of Death and Fnatic could become immortal. Fighting through Group C and making yet another amazing international run would cement the organisation in the hearts of European LoL fans for many years to come.