fnatic path

Fnatic: A path of fire

Fnatic (FNC) rewrote Worlds history this week, becoming the first team to ever advance to quarterfinals with an 0-4 start. How did FNC manage this miracle run? Certainly, the path to quarters was no easy feat for the European squad. From criticism in Play-In’s to breakdowns in group stage, Fnatic endured it all. Stepping into week two, FNC looked broken. However, the boys in orange had other plans in mind.

First sparks at Play-In’s

fnatic

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Coming in as the EU LCS third seed, Fnatic’s Worlds 2017 journey started early. With Riot’s newly introduced pre-Worlds Play-In stage, major region third seeds had to compete against emerging-region teams gunning for their seats. Fnatic drew into Group C alongside the GPL’s Young Generation (YG) and the LAS’s Kaos Latin Gamers (KLG). Initial reactions after the group draw pinned Fnatic as easy favorites coming into the week.
Although FNC claimed first in Group C, several questions circled around the squad’s performance. Doubts flared after Young Generation managed to topple Fnatic, securing second in their group. Suddenly, critics referenced FNC’s poor showing at Rift Rivals earlier this season. Others attacked Fnatic for losing to the seemingly weaker Misfits Gaming (MSF) in the EU LCS playoffs. Fans and analysts began to raise preemptive red flags.

Fnatic promptly shut those critics down in the Play-In’s Knockout stage. After securing a clean 3-0 victory over Hong Kong Attitude (HKA) from the LMS, Fnatic calmly advanced to the Worlds main event. There, Korean titans Longzhu Gaming (LZ) waited for them alongside North America’s Immortals (IMT) and Garena’s GIGABYTE Marines (GAM).

Week One: Fnatic reduced to ashes

fnatic

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Fnatic kicked off their Worlds 2017 group stage with an explosive standoff against the GIGABYTE Marines. A blitz strategy by the Marines shoved FNC on the back-foot. Blindsided, Fnatic opened their group stage with a harsh defeat. One player in particular, FNC’s top-laner Paul “sOAZ” Boyer, struggled massively against the Marine’s aggressive lane-swap strategy. sOAZ suffered through the first six minutes of the match, unable to kill a single minion.

The schedule was not getting any easier. Fnatic loaded in against North America’s second seed, Immortals. FNC’s AD-carry Martin “Rekkles” Larsson came out guns blazing. With “Twitch” as his champion of choice, Rekkles infiltrated Immortals’ backline, mowing down enemies with wild abandon. However, living true to his name, Rekkles committed a fatal mistake that would cost his team the game.

Spotting IMT’s mid-laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park seemingly unaware, Rekkles unloaded onto his target. Seeing red, the FNC AD-carry tunneled onto this single kill that could earn his team an all crucial advantage to secure the win. The plan blew up in his face. Rekkles expended his “Flash”, desperate to secure the kill, only to be met by a full Immortals squad gunning straight for him. Fnatic scrambled to save their carry, but the pieces fell apart. Immortals tore through Rekkles‘ health bar and sealed the game.

Following this crushing loss, anxiety crept into the Fnatic camp at 0-2, but the week was not over. Korea’s first seed, Longzhu Gaming, loomed like a tidal wave over FNC. It was sink-or-swim. LZ’s top-laner, Dongha “Khan” Kim, rallied the crowd after locking in “Nasus”, a pick that had not seen competitive play for years. The next twenty minutes would be a systematic dismantling of Fnatic’s team composition. sOAZ again struggled to gain any ground against his disadvantageous match-up. Fnatic were helpless to stop Khan‘s massive “Nasus” from ripping through their lines. FNC ended their first week 0-3, a score that no team in League history had ever overcome to secure a quarterfinals position.

Week Two: Marching through the flames

fnatic

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

After their bitter first week, Fnatic showed signs of internal problems. sOAZ took to Twitter, expressing his frustration toward being abandoned on “dog-champs” (champions, mainly tanks, whose primary goal is to supplement the team at all costs). Leaks and talks of the team’s turmoil spread like a social media wildfire. Suddenly, attention zeroed in on the burning European squad. Was this the end? How could FNC recover internally, much less on-stage?

Despite the eyes pointed at them, Fnatic stepped into week two of group stage determined. Their fate would be decided in a single day of games. The odds were almost insurmountably stacked against them. To throw salt on their wounds, Fnatic began their second week against Longzhu. Analysts feared another 20-minute rampage that would knock the European squad off their feet for good. FNC loaded into the game with clear heads.
Fnatic fought for 30 minutes through a close early-game. After several teamfight outplays from Longzhu, the Korean giants subjugated FNC to 0-4. If Fnatic’s goose was cooked at 0-3, now it was burned to a crisp. FNC recollected. There was still a sliver of a chance that they could change history. And so, they set out to face Immortals.
FNC’s jungler Mads “Broxah” Brock-Perdersen pressured Immortals early on his signature “Rek’Sai”. The game balanced on a knife’s edge for the first 35 minutes. Then, in a play eerily similar to Rekkles‘ previous falter against IMT, Immortals ADC Li Yu “Cody Sun” Sun flashed straight into four members of Fnatic. FNC seizing the opportunity, push through IMT’s entire base on that single mistake. Finally, with a win on the board, Rekkles sent Cody Sun his regards.

Don’t call it a comeback

fnatic

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

As FNC gained momentum, Immortals suffered three consecutive losses. This set in place, the necessary conditions for (dare I say it) a monumental comeback. Now, the onus was on FNC to overcome their previous performance against the GIGABYTE Marines. Having already seen two games from the Marines that day, FNC entered their match with unwavering focus. After GAM’s top-laner, Minh Nhut “Archie” Tran, locked in “Urgot,” FNC’s gameplan was clear.

GIGABYTE’s composition lacked engage, unlike earlier against IMT. Fnatic recognized this weakness, attacking the biggest potential threat on GAM: Archie‘s “Urgot”. Broxah spent this game eliminating Archie‘s pressure through repeated ganks. FNC dominated the GIGABYTE Marines and claimed vengeance over the squad that handed them their first Worlds defeat. Suddenly, Group B had a three-way tie. Fnatic held all the momentum heading into tiebreakers against Immortals and GIGABYTE.

FNC stepped into the first game against Immortals by locking in an unconventional “Malzahar” pick for their mid-laner Rasmus “Caps” Winther. IMT did not know how to react to the single-target pressure from Caps‘s “Malzahar.” And like a fire razing the plains, Fnatic burned through IMT in a 27-minute stomp. FNC stood one game away from rewriting history and once again, the GIGABYTE Marines stood in their way. Unlike their previous performances, GIGABYTE opted for a standard composition, hoping to outplay Fnatic without any hidden antics. FNC tasted victory and sOAZ set his sights on quarters. In a draining 43-minute match, sOAZ dominated on “Gnar,” earning himself eight kills and pushing his team into the history books.

Fnatic’s second week of Worlds 2017 is a testament to the resiliency of one of esport’s most storied franchises. So many times in FNC history, when the cards were down and the odds against them, Fnatic rose above. Now, the European squad stands to represent their home looking onto quarterfinals. After staging the biggest upset in Worlds history, can Fnatic continue feeding this fire? Is quarters as far as FNC goes? Or can Fnatic continue forging the path?

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Gigabyte Marines: Orchestrated chaos

GIGABYTE Marines (GAM) debuted on the international stage at the League of Legends 2017 Mid-Season Invitational. Their blitzkrieg playstyle and unconventional strategies surprised several major-region teams, earning international recognition overnight. After securing a top-six finish, the Marines dominated their region, the Garena Premier League (GPL), and charged toward Worlds.

The Marines drew into Group B at Worlds 2017, along regional powerhouses: Longzhu Gaming (LZ), Immortals (IMT) and Fnatic (FNC). Their notoriety on the international stage meant teams and analysts could not write them off as another ‘wildcard’ team. After week one of the Worlds Group Stage, GAM sit at third place in their group, with a 1-2 match record. How did GIGABYTE find initial success? And can they surge into week two to capture a spot in quarterfinals?

GIGABYTE Marines evoke chaos style

gigabyte marines

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Heading into their first match at Worlds 2017, questions circled around how GIGABYTE Marines would size up against European powerhouse Fnatic. Determined to make a statement at their Worlds debut, GIGABYTE defied the meta. After locking in an unexpected “Nocturne” for their star jungler, Duy Khanh “Levi” Do, GAM took Fnatic for a spin.

Coming into the game, GAM transitioned their AD-carry and Support topside. Meanwhile, their top-laner Minh Nhut “Archie” Tran sacrificed his early levels to accelerate Levi‘s experience advantage. When Archie showed himself bottom, Fnatic responded appropriately, but fumbled the execution. FNC stacked four members onto Archie‘s Galio in a bottom dive. However, this left GIGABYTE’s duo free to rush the opposing top-outer tower. FNC failed to completely punish the lane-swap. Instead, they returned to their standard lane setup while Levi power-farmed his jungle.

Then, at 5:04, Levi broke a record, being the fastest player in Worlds history to unlock his ultimate. Archie‘s early sacrifice set his jungler up for monumental success. And Levi sprung to action. Not twenty seconds after hitting level six, Levi used his ultimate, “Paranoia” straight down bottom lane. Caught in a massive level mismatch, FNC’s support Jesse “Jesiz” Le dropped while his teammates scrambled to respond. What began as a surprise 2-on-2, became FNC committing four members to the fight. Despite the numbers, Levi secured three kills and GIGABYTE set the pace to ‘chaos’.

After a 24-minute bloodbath, GIGABYTE emerged victorious. The air was electric as casters and fans roared behind the Marines’ explosive win. Not only did GAM dominate their European opponents, they made a definitive statement on the metagame. Levi, in an interview with Worlds host Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere, promised to bring even more exciting strategies against Longzhu and Immortals.

The Marines hit a brick wall

gigabyte marines

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Heading into day two of the Worlds group stage, GAM sat across from Longzhu Gaming, tournament favorites and Korea’s prize first seed. What unforeseen strategy did the Marines have planned to challenge the Korean powerhouse? GAM head coach Nguyen Duy Thanh “Tinikun” Doung reached deep into his playbook for the upcoming match.

The draft between GAM and LZ began surprisingly safe, until Tinikun made the call to lock in “Mordekaiser” for Archie. GIGABYTE plunge deeper into the rabbit hole, rotating their AD-carry Vu Long “Noway” Nguyen mid-lane and placing their mid-laner Van Cuong “Optimus” Tran topside. Few knew what to expect out of GAM’s questionable composition, but Longzhu had a definitive game-plan coming into the match.

Longzhu invaded as five into GAM’s blue jungle quadrant, warding all possible paths to bottom lane. This gave Longzhu information on GIGABYTE’s lane assignments and a glimpse into the GAM strategy. By pivoting Archie and support Thien Nhan “Nevan” Phuong to the bottom lane, the Marines delivered the duo to their deaths. Longhzu, spotting this weakness, executed a clean four-man dive to secure first blood. After dropping to the early dive, Archie commits a crucial mistake, using his “Teleport” bottom, only to be dove again. This poor call set the GAM top-laner so far behind, he never truly recovered.

With their bottom duo limping through the early-game, step one of GIGABYTE’s grandiose strategy crumbled. Suddenly, the game became a steamroll for Longzhu. Archie was largely ineffective on the “Mordekaiser” pick and GAM struggled to trade objectives effectively during the mid-game. Without the early minutes of the game going according to plan, GIGABYTE Marines fell apart and could not seem to pick up the pieces.

Do the GIGABYTE Marines abandon ship?

gigabyte marines

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

After their crushing defeat at the hands of Longzhu Gaming, GAM look onto their third match against North America’s second seed, Immortals. Questions surrounded the Marines as analysts and teams dissected their previous matches. Without precise early execution, GIGABYTE could not seem to regain control of their game. It was clear. Teams that recognized GAM’s early objectives could capitalize on those weaknesses. No doubt Immortals prepared for GAM’s signature lane-swaps, but would the Marines shift to another strategy instead?

GIGABYTE Marines had a particularly weak draft, handing over the “Xayah” and “Rakan” duo to the Immortals bot-lane. Perhaps worse, rather than executing a unique strategy, GAM opted into standard lanes. Aside from an aggressive “Kayn” lock-in for Levi and Nevan running “Heal” and “Ignite” for his summoner spells, the GAM draft was largely underwhelming. Unlike their previous games, GIGABYTE did not have an explosive start. Without securing an early lead, the Marines struggle to play from behind. Once Immortals built up their advantages, IMT pushed those leads into a clean victory.

This third game looked grim for the GIGABYTE Marines. Rather than playing to their unique styles, they revealed glaring weaknesses in their standard compositions and ability to play at a disadvantage. Now, several questions bubble to the surface. Did the defeat from Longzhu shake team morale? Will GIGABYTE have the confidence to execute their unique strategies? Fans can speculate, but it is up to team captain Levi and coach Tinikun to steady their ship. As week two of the Worlds 2017 group stage barrels forward, the GIGABYTE Marines must recollect and march on.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Fnatic qualified for Group Stage from Play-in Stage

Fnatic’s possibilities for the rest of Worlds

The third seed from the EU LCS, Fnatic, has successfully qualified for the Group Stage of the 2017 League of Legends World Championship. By placing first in their play-in group and defeating Hong Kong Attitude in the play-in knockout, Fnatic enters into the main event. They join G2 and Misfits as Europe’s international representatives.

Play-In Stage Recap

Fnatic beat HKA in play-ins knockout

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Fnatic’s play-in stage was not perfect. They dropped a best-of-one to Young Generation, second seed from the GPL. Young Generation was also able to build a 2,500 gold lead in their first match-up, although Fnatic did ultimately win.

Against Kaos Latin Gamers, representatives of LAS, Fnatic handily won both games. The European squad was able to accrue near-10,000 gold leads twice in less than 26 minutes. Fnatic fans should be proud of these performances.

Moving on to face Hong Kong Attitude, Fnatic showed a bit of both worlds. In game one, HKA held the advantage for about 29 minutes. Fnatic turned things around by scoring a pick-off of Godkwai and turning it into a Baron. Then, in Fnatic fashion, they continued pressing through the next five minutes to close the game.

Whether due to HKA tilting or Fnatic adaptation, the next two games stayed favorable for Fnatic all the way through. While Broxah and Soaz remained on tanky disruptors throughout the series, Fnatic’s bottom lane showed some variation. Rekkles and Jesiz executed Xayah-Janna, Xayah-Karma, and Sivir-Rakan. Caps excelled over the series on Cassiopeia and Taliyah. This combination, Rekkles and Caps as scaling AD and AP carries, Broxah and Soaz on hefty initiators and Jesiz abusing Ardent Censer supports, seems to be Fnatic’s sweet spot.

Fnatic’s best bet is to continue drafting towards these compositions. Putting Soaz on Cho’Gath or carries, such as Rumble, Jarvan IV, etc. is not ideal. Broxah has historically performed well on Elise, but when Fnatic does not close the game in less than 40 minutes the pick becomes useless. Jesiz is in a similar boat, where he can perform on Braum, Thresh, and even Camille support, but the meta strongly favors enchanter supports who can abuse the strength of Ardent Censer.

Possibility #1: Group A

Group A consists of EDG, SKT, and AHQ

Image from RiftHerald.com

Assuming Cloud9, Fnatic, Fenerbahce, and Team WE qualify for the Group Stage, Fnatic has two widely varying paths. In one scenario, Fnatic is drafted into Group A with EDG, SKT and AHQ. If that happens, then Fnatic might as well consider their 2017 Worlds run over, because the competition in this group is fierce.

AHQ

AHQ is most likely a reasonable opponent for Fnatic, based on their perceived power level over HKA as the LMS’ second seed. The LMS squad has been to the World Championship on multiple occasions, and they have essentially maintained their entire roster from last year. Westdoor is acting as the mid lane substitute, with Chawy on the starting line-up.

The worrying match-up against AHQ would be top lane. This LMS squad is more likely to draft a winning match-up for Ziv, mixed with a high-tempo jungler for Mountain. For example, it would not be surprising to see a Camille-Kha’Zix or Renekton-Elise. The trade-off, though, would be for bottom lane match-ups, which would benefit Fnatic. AN is put on Ashe or Caitlyn more than Tristana, Xayah, or Kog’Maw.

SKT

SKT is another second seed team in Group A. The Korean team’s reputation speaks for itself, and Fnatic should fear this opponent. Faker may just be the perfect veteran mid laner to shut down young Caps, and the Bang-Wolf bottom lane duo unquestionably matches Rekkles and Jesiz.

The big deciding factor in this match-up would be top lane. Huni is such a wildcard. It is hard to tell if he will be able to stomp Soaz and solo carry, or become a liability. SKT will also bring two junglers, so if Peanut or Blank fails to stuff Broxah, then they have a back-up. Fnatic’s top and jungle will be put to the test, yet again.

EDG

EDG is at the head of the table for Group A as China’s first seed. This is almost certain to be a jungle-mid contest. Clearlove is one of the most touted junglers appearing on the Worlds stage and Scout throws some serious fast balls. Both of these players enjoy similar champion pools to Caps and Broxah, as well.

Mouse and iBoy could be EDG’s weak points. Mouse was left on a supreme island at last year’s World Championship, and EDG’s opponents punished them for it. Fnatic could try to give Soaz a winning match-up, such as Gnar or Jayce, to hinder that position. While iBoy is a hot rookie, he is untested on such a pivotal stage. He will rely heavily on Meiko’s leadership for success.

If Fnatic is placed in Group A, it may be the greatest challenge they have faced all year. SKT and EDG should be tougher than Misfits and G2, Fnatic’s greatest competition in Europe. Every member of the team will be tested, unlike the Play-In stage. Hopefully they will avoid this scenario.

Scenario #2: Group B

Group B consists of Longzhu, IMT, and GAM

Image from RiftHerald.com

Since G2 is in Group C and Misfits is in Group D, then Fnatic’s only other possibility is Group B. These match-ups would most likely be more favorable for Fnatic making it to the next stage. Immortals, Longzhu and Gigabyte Marines would be their opponents.

Gigabyte Marines

Everyone remembers the Gigabyte Marines from their performance at this year’s Mid-Season Invitational. Their primary weapons are their jungler, Levi, and mid laner, Optimus. Levi generally opts into carrying from the jungle. Lee Sin, Nidalee, Kha’Zix, and Graves are right in his wheelhouse. Do not be surprised to see him draft an Ezreal. Optimus sometimes pairs with an assassin, such as Fizz or Leblanc, but he can also pull out Syndra, Taliyah, etc.

Fnatic should be able to match up against this team, but remember their time with Young Generation, GPL’s second seed. If Fnatic’s players come into this match-up without respect for their opponents, the Marines will gladly stifle Broxah from the jungle. The EU LCS third seed should play around Rekkles and bottom lane to win these matches with ease, but there is a world where GAM blows them out of the water.

Immortals

North America’s second seed showed up this summer, taking TSM to four games in the finals. They rely heavily on the dynamic support staff of Xmithie and Olleh, who love to show up in every lane and enable Flame, Pobelter, and Cody Sun. In the current meta, Cody Sun is Immortals’ highest ceiling damage dealer. Pobelter and Flame are consistent laners who slowly build leads over their opponents, only to use their advantages in teamfights.

It is hard to say which team has the advantage between Fnatic and Immortals. The deciding factor will probably be in the support position, actually. Olleh is exceptional on play-making supports, such as Rakan, Alistar, and Thresh. He is more likely to leave the bottom lane and impact other areas earlier and more frequently. Jesiz needs to strap on his Boots of Mobility to stand a chance.

Longzhu

Korea’s first seed, and the most hyped team coming into Worlds, is Fnatic’s trade-off for facing IMT and GAM in Group B. Longzhu is one of the only teams in the tournament that legitimately outclasses Fnatic in every role. Khan, Bdd and Pray are more apt to dominate lane than Soaz, Caps or Rekkles. Gorilla outclasses Jesiz, and Cuzz is the glue that holds it all together. As they say, jungling is easy when you have all three winning lanes.

Fnatic’s strategy could involve preparing much more for GAM and IMT than Longzhu. All they need to do is finish the Group Stage in second place to move on to the next round. If Fnatic is to beat Longzhu, it would need to be in the hands of veterans Soaz and Rekkles. They would need to draft winning match-ups for Broxah and Caps, then hold their own against some of the top League of Legends players currently in the game.

From there, the rest is too speculative to really analyze. Discussing the quarterfinals and beyond would involve lots of assumptions that would probably be wrong. At this point, we know Fnatic is in the Group Stage, and we know that they will slot in either Group A or Group B. Many already viewed Fnatic as an international contender, but their stumbling in the EU LCS playoffs and the Worlds Play-in leaves some with doubt. If they are able to be in Group B with GAM, IMT, and Longzhu, then they could be set up to make a deep run into the entire tournament.

2017 World Championships groups

Image from LoLesports.com


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

Other Images: LoL Esports Flickr, RiftHerald.com, LoLesports.com

Statistics: GamesofLegends.com

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