After two convincing wins, Fnatic looked like they could sweep the best-of-five series, but a fierce comeback in the third and fourth games took us to game five, and the sound of scraping silver. Those first games were remarkable for being two of the most similar professional games we've ever seen on an LCS stage. With identical team compositions on both sides, and two deja vu inducing first bloods which saw Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten's Azir force H2K's mid laner Ryu "Ryu" Sang-wook into his ganking teammates, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were watching the same game twice.
"After the first game we thought they would change something up, because I think we had a pretty decisive first game," Rekkles told us. "When they didn’t, we were obviously quite happy and I think that was a mistake by them. I think in general in longer series you should be throwing things up and throwing off the enemy team. And making them uncomfortable. I think that is the most important thing. So I think that was a mistake from them but also a mistake we showed against G2 in the semi finals."
By the third game, H2K had learnt from their mistakes and banned out two of their opponents' most troubling picks, the top lane Ekko and mid lane Azir. With these out of the picture, Fnatic tried to adapt but fell short in games three and four, floundering against an adversary intent of constantly increasing the pressure. During the third game, even though things looked grim for Fnatic as H2K stormed their base, there was a bizarre moment when it seemed just possible that they could turn it into a win and sweep the series, even after losing all three inhibitors. Despite scoring an ace against their opponents and securing a triple kill for Rekkles, even Fnatic weren't able to turn the game around. Not with super minions pouring into their base from all sides.
But it was game five where the true winners were to be crowned, and the tension was palpable as both teams danced around each other, unwilling to commit and risk everything on a single team fight. Fnatic managed to keep H2K busy in a Mexican stand-off while they searched for the perfect opportunity to engage and gain the advantage. "They had double TP and we were only playing one TP in most of the games so they shouldn’t be “Mexican stand-off-ing” with us because they should be 1-3-1ing and using their TPs to their advantage," Rekkles told us. "But rather what they did was play against our game and they played right into our hands.
"I think that fight was right after we shopped, so I had my three item power spike and I think Fabian had his Void Staff so he had his three item power spike. So we were fighting during a time where our chances of winning were quite high. So I think we played to our winning conditions and they played right into it. I guess they didn’t realise what they had to do against our comp. That could be anything from not having enough practice against this sort of style or fifth game jitters because, after all, you’re really tired when it gets to that point. It is all down to how you handle high pressure situations and how much you’re used to playing for longer hours."
Through all of this, the crowd was unflinchingly on Fnatic's side. "I was lucky enough to have Fabian on my team," Rekkles said. The mid laner was born and raised in Rotterdam, so this is the first time he's been able to play to a home audience. "I think in general these kind of events are what you remember when it is all done. When I think back to the 2015 Summer Split I don’t think about the 18-0. I think about Stockholm. And I am sure when it all comes down to it you are going to be thinking about Rotterdam when you think back to 2016 Spring Split. Especially Fabian who had a similar experience to what I did back in Sweden." Febiven's family was in attendance, his father proudly sitting in the front row wearing a Fnatic baseball cap as the chants transformed from the traditional "FA-NA-TIC", to calls for "FE-BI, FE-BI!". The Rotterdam Ahoy erupted as the team won their final, stunning team fight and steamrolled down the mid lane straight into H2K's nexus.
It was during this team fight that we once again caught a glimpse of 2015 Fnatic, a team who time and time again made quick, smart decisions and turned a game around before their opponents even know what was happening. For just a second it felt as if the team's old shot caller and captain, Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim, was up there on stage with them. But no, this is a Fnatic who has grown and evolved through adversity over the previous weeks and months.
Throughout the series, Rekkles relied on Ezreal as his pick of choice, only dropping it once in an attempt to deny H2K's adc Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou his trusty Corki pick. What makes Ezreal such a strong pick for Rekkles? "I don’t think Ezreal is actually that strong," he explains. "For sure Sivir is stronger. For sure Lucian is stronger. Probably the Corki. I kind of realised after 3 or 4 Sivir games against G2 [in the Playoffs] and losing all of them that even though she is one of the strongest, if the not the strongest adc right now, this is the wrong approach for us as a team and we kind of just accepted that and tried to adapt as much as possible to our strengths. Being on a champion like Ezreal is perfect because it aligns so well with how we play and once I get my power spike it comes to a point where actually want to fight."
With their win in the bag, and 50 Champion Points under their belt, Fnatic can relax and enjoy the rest of the weekend. Next up, G2 esports and Origen (including ex-Fnatic veteran, Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez) face off in a fight for first place.
While third place may not be what Fnatic is used to, historically, this victory demonstrates a marked improvement in the team since even as recently as Playoffs. "We really tried to make the best out of what we had with the two weeks of preparation we had before the Vitality game," Rekkles explained. "The team put their heart into it and that is what got us this far. This transition in the last two weeks has been really interesting and I am really proud of my teammates. That they did this together with me. Even though obviously it is not the final, not the ultimate goal, it is still a really good thing."