Tenacity: Part 2 in a review of YellOwStaR's career

Thumbnail image courtesy of EU LCS / EU LCS Screengrab

Even if a professional player never makes waves, he always experiences periods of downturn. Every League of Legends player in the history of competitive play has had moments where he doesn’t play well, where his form deteriorates. In the game’s infancy, Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim excelled, he earned accolades, he could be referred to as one of the game's best. As a more sophisticated understanding of League of Legends developed, and more players acquired aspirations of “going pro,” the competition increased. As an AD carry shotcaller, YellOwStaR juggled his own performance against his team’s and found himself lacking — and then he found a way to change that.

“People were not playing as good as they are now,” YellOwStaR said in a 2014 Reflections interview with Duncan “Thorin” Shields. When asked if he thought he could perform as an AD carry again in 2014, as he had in early 2013, YellOwStaR said he didn’t think he could.

The swap and the mediocre support player

2013 EU LCS Spring regular season champion picks

Champion Games Wins WR (%)
Thresh 6 4 66.7
Sona 5 4 80
Draven 3 2 66.7
Leona 2 2 100
Fiddlesticks 2 0 0
Nami 2 1 50
Caitlyn 2 0 0
Varus 2 2 100
Lulu 1 1 100
Tristana 1 0 0
Twitch 1 0 0
Nunu 1 0 0
Shen 1 1 100
Ezreal 1 0 0

Fnatic went into the 2013 European League of Legends Championship Series having just won the first ever LCS split. High spirits followed the team, but steeper competition brewed on the horizon. Beginning as early as the playoffs, chatter of green squads rising and creating struggle for European giants like Gambit Gaming bubbled. Three new teams joined the LCS that summer: Lemondogs (qualified as Sinners Never Sleep), Team ALTERNATE, and Meet Your Makers.

During parts of the LCS that summer, both Lemondogs and Team ALTERNATE looked like the best teams in the league. Team ALTERNATE went undefeated in the five game super week of Week 1, beating staples like Evil Geniuses and SK Gaming. The team played a team fighting-oriented and aggressive style reminiscent of the Chinese league with tinges of inspiration from Oh My God as they drafted picks like jungle Hecarim.

By contrast, Fnatic lost three of their five initial games to Evil Geniuses, Meet Your Makers, and Ninjas in Pyjamas. Fnatic lost to an explosive invade from Team ALTERNATE in Week 2. In Week 3, they were defeated by an equally-struggling Lemondogs when support Bram "wewillfailer" de Winter had an improved roaming game over Fnatic’s Christoph "nRated" Seitz.

While some had previously called YellOwStaR a Top 3 AD carry in Europe, players new to the LCS like Erik “Tabzz” van Helvert, Jakub “Creaton” Grzegorzewski, and beginning in Week 3, Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek exposed very obvious gaps between YellOwStaR’s mechanics and the new generation. Compiled with nRated’s alleged loss of motivation, Fnatic made the decision to execute what became one of the best role swaps in the history of the game.

Prior to Week 4, after losing six of 10 games in the first three weeks, Fnatic announced that they would add substitute AD carry, Johannes “puszu” Uibos to their starting roster and move YellOwStaR to support. As these changes coincided in timing with some of Counter Logic Gaming’s more egregious role swaps in North America, the initial declaration was met with skepticism.

Fnatic wanted to retain YellOwStaR’s vocal presence and motivation, but he struggled to keep up with other AD carries. LCS caster Martin “Deficio” Lynge, then the support for Ninjas in Pyjamas, recalled while describing Fnatic during the 2015 European LCS Final that when YellOwStaR was an AD carry, he would try to last hit and type cooldowns between CS. As YellOwStaR became more comfortable with the role in 2014, he said of his swap, “It's easier for me to pay attention to what we are doing on the map and shotcall.”

While his play as an AD carry in 2013 made it obvious YellOwStaR couldn’t keep up with flashy prodigies, his debut games as a new support were abysmal. In his first game against Meet Your Makers, YellOwStaR died twice in the first two minutes. His one-dimensional warding habits meant he over-warded, dropping greens in both lane bushes when far enough forward. He and puszu hugged turret and found themselves pushed back by MYM’s duo lane.

puszu, YellOwStaR's first AD carry lane partner

But they won, which was more than could be said for Fnatic’s earlier encounter with MYM that summer. In Week 4, Fnatic secured a 3-0 record over MYM, Lemondogs, and a Team ALTERNATE with Matti “WhiteKnight108” Sormunen subbing in the mid lane.

It’s difficult to say what worked for Fnatic immediately with YellOwStaR entering the support role. Perhaps his ability to focus more on the rest of the map in his new position freed up more of his faculties, and puszu’s hunger to advertise himself on the competitive stage made up for their depressingly lacklustre laning phase. puszu showed the same affinity for Varus as YellOwStaR had, and the two developed a rhythm of poking from afar on Sona and long ranged AD carry picks.

When asked about YellOwStaR’s transition, Deficio said, “His change to support was super clunky. It was during the Summer split and he got Puszu as ADC who was also new to the scene so facing them during the Summer Split was super easy. They were a teamfight focused bot lane who almost just ff'd the lane if you got 2v2 against them, but they got solid in lane and then did well outside of lane as a team during playoffs and Worlds.”

In Week 4, Team ALTERNATE gave way to Lemondogs in the running for upstart team of the year. Creaton suffered an injury, and substitute WhiteKnight108 moved to the AD carry position in Week 5. Coincidentally, one of YellOwStaR’s greatest rivals in 2015 entered the LCS the same week in which he transitioned to the support role. Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez replaced wewillfailer on Lemondogs, and over time, many attributed their surge to first place in the regular season to that roster change.

Tabzz and mithy ran an exceedingly aggressive lane (for the time). mithy debuted with Fiddlesticks support, and was able to find key locations to hide in fog of war and spring traps on Fnatic. YellOwStaR finished his first deplorable competitive Thresh game with missed skillshots and 10 deaths, clearly outclassed by Europe’s new support talent.

But, again, Fnatic still won.

Over the course of the 2013 League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split, YellOwStaR learned support in front of stream spectators. Some of his initial flaws beyond predictable warding included strict adherence to the 2v2, uncoordinated back timings with puszu that opened opportunities for the player left behind to die 1v2, and playing scared and far back in fights in order to avoid getting caught out and dying so frequently.

xPeke and sOAZ were Fnatic's stars in 2013

It’s ridiculous to consider how little YellOwStaR’s individual performance mattered to Fnatic during the 2013 Summer split and the team’s subsequent World Championship run. Paul “sOAZ” Boyer and Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez were one of the most threatening solo lane packages, and their supremacy was seldom in question.

Perhaps by focusing less on CSing, YellOwStaR was able to aid the development of Fnatic’s team-play. During this time, they became known for several signature strategies in Europe: the “Fnatic death bush” or hiding in the bush on the top right side of the map for comeback ambushes, borrowing mid lane Teleport use to constantly chip at outer turrets and look for picks, and early group pushes, as in the team’s game against Gambit in Week 6.

In Week 7, Fnatic expressed an increased sense of confidence and flexibility as a unit. sOAZ and YellOwStaR swapped positions for one game. YellOwStaR, known to enjoy playing Shen, and sOAZ, a fan of selecting Blitzcrank, lead Fnatic in a heavy roaming game with frequent picks and dives. sOAZ roamed as a support considerably more than YellOwStaR, leading to a faster game. From that point on, the team seemed much more aggressive and comfortable with YellOwStaR and puszu.

In Fnatic’s third game of the split against Lemondogs, they executed an invasion strategy with YellOwStaR playing Thresh. mithy seemed to have a larger abundance of wards, and YellOwStaR ended the loss with eight deaths instead of 10. Lulu turned team fights in mithy’s hands later in the game.

Relative to mithy, YellOwStaR bad begun execute more overzealous engages. When their initial matchup was reversed, and YellOwStaR played Fiddlesticks, he refused to leave his team in grouping phase to find a flank from fog of war, and he could get easily picked off.

mithy tended to use more pink wards than YellOwStaR — though pink warding in general was still undervalued — and he placed them more often in the enemy jungler, while YellOwStaR favored far more defensive warding. mithy’s ability to secure vision in enemy territory allowed his lanes to play further forward.

Throughout the season, YellOwStaR continued to make steady improvements. By the time of the final game against Gambit, YellOwStaR placed fewer wards in lane and tended to allow wards up river to guard the team’s laning phase efficiently. By then, he also seemed to work out proper positioning on Sona in team fights and had game-changing Sona ultimates to seal Fnatic’s spot in second place in the regular season.

mithy entered the LCS the same week YellOwStaR transitioned to support

Fnatic’s 2013 season culminated in a final series encounter with Lemondogs. Both teams had secured a place at the World Championship by defeating their semifinal opponents. As with Gambit the previous split, Fnatic entered the series with a 1-3 record against their fellow finalist, but they reversed the standings by triumphing over Lemondogs. Though mithy still laid deeper vision, aggressive play in Game 2 up the lane allowed Fnatic’s bottom lane to start off the game with a rare double kill. At this point, it became obvious that even with a lead, puszu and YellOwStaR didn’t have the best concept of how to pressure a lane. mithy traded for a double kill of his own.

Despite this, Fnatic was still entirely the sOAZ and xPeke show. Jungler Lauri “Cyanide” Happonen had very high lane presence, making it easy for Fnatic to snowball, and then they simply ran Lemondogs around the map. Fnatic secured the World Championship's first seed and their second consecutive playoff victory.

Royal Club and the Leona

2013 World Championship champion picks

Champion Games Wins WR (%)
Leona 7 4 57.1
Zyra 6 4 66.7
Sona 1 0 0
Shen 1 1 100

YellOwStaR made a much larger dent in the bracket in his third World Championship appearance than he did in his second.

First seed into the World Championship for Europe amounted to very little in 2013 as, having placed last at All Stars, Europe lost their first seed quarterfinals bye, and every team had to play in the group stage. Fnatic evaded the group stage heavyweights of Group A in SK Telecom T1 and Chinese team Oh My God by placing in Group B with third place European team Gambit Gaming, Korean team Samsung Ozone, North American Team Vulcun, and Philippines hopefuls, Mineski.

Vulcun started the group with an aggressive invade on Fnatic. Level 1s had gotten Vulcun two of the three prized wins against North American favorites, Cloud9, that summer and a Level 1 invade gave Vulcun a spiral to win over Fnatic. Lyubomir "BloodWater" Spasov demonstrated warding technique that would become standard at Worlds with invading to set out three wards and buying an early Oracle’s Elixir.

Fnatic rebounded against the wildcard team, Mineski, and catapulted into Samsung Ozone. The “dade award” for underperformance at a World Championship originated from Bae “dade” Eojin’s play at the 2013 World Championship. His champion pool had been stunted by a patch change, and he and most of the rest of Ozone showed abysmal form due to having failed to properly prepare. Gambit Gaming gave Ozone their first loss of the group, and Fnatic gave them their second.

During the World Championship, the support triumvirate of Zyra, Thresh, and Sona reigned, but YellOwStaR had different ideas. He has become known for his Leona play, though perhaps in a somewhat comical fashion. Leona wasn't heavily favored at the World Championships because of her lack of range, and the fact that she couldn’t help take down turrets in lane swaps or harassing. Fnatic and other teams (especially the Chinese squads) compensated by executing very early turret dives with Leona’s engagement instead.

More aggressive play allowed YellOwStaR to gather a 1/0/3 scoreline in the first 10 minutes of their rematch against Vulcun. Fnatic obtained the first seed from Group B into quarterfinals and drew North America’s first seed, Cloud9.

Despite YellOwStaR’s increased aggressive play in the group stage as Leona, he still warded primarily defensively within Fnatic’s own jungle when Tier 1 turrets fell. Against supports Daerek “LemonNation” Hart of Cloud9 and especially Pan Kan “Tabe” Wong of Royal Club Huang Zu, who tended to place more invasive words, this contrast caused Fnatic to make more misplays.

Fnatic’s series against Cloud9 was a close one. A game went into each team’s favor before Cloud9’s duo lane was caught out, resulting in a very large snowball for Fnatic that won them the best-of-three. After Royal Club Huang Zu defeated their fellow Chinese team, Oh My God, YellOwStaR would once again drop out of the World Championship as a result of “Chinese aggression.”

Though Leona didn’t conform to the World Championship meta, Tabe brought forth an even more outlandish pick that demanded bans: Annie. Tabe and Jian “Uzi” Zihao found success bringing the duo lane mid with Annie’s stun threats as capable backup while their jungler invaded. If a team tried to counter this aggressive style, Tabe would collapse with an Annie stun.

Supports performed much more actions in the first 10 minutes in this series than YellOwStaR had in his games in the European LCS. By toning down some of their over-active play, Fnatic could actually use YellOwStaR’s defensive wards to punish Royal’s over-extensions. The one game Fnatic won, puszu fell back on Varus, and Fnatic relied on the utility of counter-engage of their bottom lane with Leona and Varus to actually turn fights.

In an explosive Game 4, Fnatic let Annie through, opening Royal’s preferred style of play. This was the most back-and-forth game of the series, but Royal managed to find objectives after they won teamfights and ultimately advanced to the final over Fnatic.

Outside just the bottom lane matchup, Royal’s mid laner Pun Wai "Wh1t3zZ" Lo expressed a wider champion pool and decimated xPeke in farm totals by counter-picking him. This series loss gave Fnatic a lot to mull over, and a very different team would appear in the 2014 European League of Legends Championship Series the following year.

2014 and the time Fnatic lost the LCS

Fnatic had advanced little as a team in order to participate in one of the least satisfying interim international events following the World Championship, the Battle of the Atlantic. Cloud9 got their revenge, and Fnatic underwent changes before the new season began.

2014 EU LCS Spring champion picks

Champion Picks Wins WR (%)
Leona 6 2 33.3
Morgana 6 5 83.3
Karma 4 4 100
Thresh 4 1 25
Annie 4 3 75
Lulu 2 1 50
Alistar 1 0 0
Nunu 1 1 100

2014 was not a particularly good year for European League of Legends teams or Fnatic, as they lost their only split in three years, but it was a very important year for YellOwStaR. Martin “Rekkles” Larsson had turned 17 and could start for Fnatic in the first week of the Spring LCS. Immediately, commentators noted the drastic upgrade to Fnatic’s bottom lane, but Rekkles wasn’t the only one dropping jaws.

YellOwStaR adopted the Annie pick that had bested Fnatic at the World Championship. Changes to the support role in the preseason made Annie even more viable, and she worked her way into the champion pools of supports internationally. YellOwStaR and Rekkles began playing further up in lane than puszu and YellOwStaR ever had. Fnatic went on a seven game win streak, and their bottom lane lead the KDA ratings.

YellOwStaR finally understood the power of a support’s threat zone and dictated the pace of the lane the way he never had in 2013. Fnatic suddenly didn’t have to find creative ways to maneuver around the map; they could perform much better in team fights with an AD carry who could position well enough to secure kills and add onto the damage provided by sOAZ and xPeke. This slowed some of their strategic advancement, but made them more threatening in a skirmishes and team fights.

Then things went very, very wrong.

Fnatic's win streak came to an abrupt end against Gambit Gaming. Vision changes meant a general reduction in vision placement by European teams, and Gambit quickly learned to abuse the meta growing pains with an Evelynn rework. Gambit themselves began maximizing their pink ward placement, but Fnatic's map was very dark by contrast.

As a result of stagnation, Fnatic then went about losing to every single team in the LCS after having already beaten them. They topped their seven game win streak by going on an eight game losing streak. High Fnatic KDAs shattered, and they began to grasp for strategies that would work. The public mocked sOAZ's Lulu top fixation, but no single player seemed at fault for the collapse.

Even with a slacking form, Fnatic managed to make the finals of the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship. They bested Millenium, Cloud9, and an Invictus Gaming barely treading water before being utterly humiliated by a lagging KT Bullets in the final.

Eventually, Fnatic found an answer.

Fnatic changed their luck in Week 7 against Gambit Gaming, the team that started them on their losing streak. Fnatic built a poke and disengage composition that allowed them to move around the map quickly with Sivir. They applied the disengage power of a new support popularized by rising Polish squad, Team ROCCAT: Morgana. Gambit could't keep up with the speed of Fnatic's composition and promptly lost.

Despite struggles with Fnatic and Team ROCCAT's initial rise, Fnatic's main 2014 Spring rivals were SK Gaming. SK developed an intelligent approach to the game that focused on setting up fights around dragon by herding teams into the pit and creating space for AD carry Adrian "CandyPanda" Wübbelmann to take advantage. Though CandyPanda didn't stand out, his team had means of impaling the opposition on his Vayne, and they developed a flavor for split-pushing.

Having rewatched games closely, I believe the 4v0 meta of 2014 Spring had a huge impact on YellOwStaR's playstyle. YellOwStaR seemed to lose some confidence around Week 9, as he and Rekkles reverted to more passive laning, but the evolution of the jungle-duo lane-top laner push meta opened up the map much more. In order to lane after taking down outer turrets, more jungle vision was required, which kept YellOwStaR roaming frequently. He picked up support Karma to move more fluidly around the map and started to fall into place as the roaming and vision-oriented support we’ve come to know him as.

After overcoming their hump, it seemed Fnatic engaged with the game much more creatively. During semifinals, Fnatic ran a series of entertaining compositions, including the Soraka/Kayle/Janna composition that served as a maddening counter to Alliance’s catch and Karthus composition.

Despite these advancements, Fnatic were wholly unprepared for the blunt objects that knocked in their teeth at All Stars in Paris that year. By once again winning the LCS in 2014 Spring, Fnatic were invited to the All Stars tournament to compete with the top teams in the five major regions.

Fnatic lost to every single team except the GPL’s Taipei Assassins. It became clear that the Chinese and Korean teams had developed a counter to the 4v0 meta that allowed them to freeze the minion wave top to get an advantage on the AD carry. Completely lacking an advanced concept of wave control, Fnatic fell hard against SK Telecom T1 and got run over by the team fighting prowess of Oh My God.

Perhaps in one of the most memorable humiliations in League of Legends eSports history, SK Telecom T1 fielded a roster of their World Championship skins, despite those champions not synergizing particularly well nor being in meta.

Like KT Bullets, SK Telecom T1 hadn't been performing well in Korea, but they demolished every opposing team at All Stars, demonstrating the full extent of Korean dominance. Sure, the game wasn't a stomp, but given how poorly those champions fit in the meta at the time, Fnatic should have won.

2014 EU LCS Summer champion picks

Champion Picks Wins WR (%)
Morgana 11 8 72.7
Thresh 11 8 72.7
Nami 3 2 66.7
Braum 1 0 0
Zyra 1 1 100
Alistar 1 0 0

Following All Stars, Fnatic returned to the European League of Legends Championship Series and picked up their first analyst in Alvar "Araneae" Martin Aleñar to contend with having fallen behind strategically. Yet Fnatic had even bigger problems in Europe.

Alliance, the super team that only managed to acquire two-fifths of the initially proposed roster, had finally begun to look like a dominant force. Fnatic lost to Alliance and SK Gaming in the first week of the summer split, foreshadowing events to come.

Of Fnatic, Henrik "Froggen" Hansen, the central figure of Alliance, said "Fnatic would rather go between lanes and get kills than focus objectives." This proved to be a very apt description of how games between Fnatic and Alliance would play out.

In response to YellOwStaR roaming more often, Rekkles began to follow. YellOwStaR got picks on champions like Morgana or Thresh, and Rekkles eliminated them with Lucian or Twitch. Alliance held lanes, pushed out, and use hyper scaling champions to chip at turrets and avoid direct confrontation until late game. Kog'Maw was favored by Alliance AD carry Tabzz and seemed to appear in every match against Fnatic to punish their lack of objective focus.

All summer, Alliance relied on other teams making mistakes. Very few squads took it upon themselves to force anything from Alliance, so they simply waited for openings. YellOwStaR himself said that he believed Alliance really capitalized on Fnatic’s mistakes (see video above). Alliance shut down Fnatic 3-1 in the LCS final that summer, handing Fnatic their only LCS loss in six splits to date.

More troubling than Fnatic’s lost summer split was the fact that they didn’t even look like the second best team in Europe. Fnatic barely bested Team ROCCAT in a five game series, and SK Gaming’s close games that met Alliance in objective prioritization made them look better than Fnatic. They secured the second seed into the World Championship, but Fnatic looked like only the third best team in Europe.

2014 World Championship champion picks

Champion Picks Wins WR (%)
Janna 2 1 50
Thresh 2 1 50
Nami 2 0 0

Following the 2015 European League of Legends Championship Summer final, sOAZ told theScore eSports in reference to 2014, "I've said it many times before, but the atmosphere on the team was really bad for the month leading up to Worlds. I was a bit down, but I still tried to focus on what I could." It certainly showed.

It's remotely possible YellOwStaR has an even year World Championship curse because, just as he did in 2012 with SK Gaming, YellOwStaR fell from the tournament in the group stage. During the World Championship, Fnatic displayed both a high ceiling and a disastrous low. Fnatic's highlight moment was their definitive dismantling of Samsung Blue, likely the strongest team in the world for most of the year in 2014. They simply hit the go button from spawn time, Rekkles ended with an impressive Lucian KDA of 8/1/5, and YellOwStaR a score of 0/1/9 on Thresh.

On the low end of the spectrum, Fnatic participated in one of the most strategically void games played at a World Championship against OMG. I haven't actually counted the number of bad trades of an inhibitor for Baron, illogical backs, or canceled auto attacks, but it's actually just bad, and in the end, Fnatic lost.

Naturally, lolesports awarded that game "Game of the Year" in 2014. It's fun to watch if you suspend critical thinking.

Despite the disaster of Fnatic's 2014 World Championship, I think of it as a unique time in YellOwStaR's career up to that point in which he was the single best performing player on his team. Even in the series against OMG where his teammates made terrible misplays every which way, YellOwStaR could make a highlight reel of Nami disengages.

Some would reflect and call Rekkles the best performing member of Fnatic at 2014 Worlds, but he really only excelled on Lucian. Even in losses, YellOwStaR landed the right Thresh hooks and used the right skillshots on Janna and Nami. While xPeke, Cyanide, and sOAZ struggled depending on the game, YellOwStaR maintained a powerful form and ended the tournament having out-warded every support he faced in the group, including Samsung Blue support, Lee "Heart" Gwanhyung.

By the end of 2014, YellOwStaR, a player who had never been a truly elite AD carry, despite the accolades he received, had become an elite European support. Yet Fnatic was in shambles. YellOwStaR had overcome his own battle for relevance after finding himself unable to compete as a shotcalling AD carry. Unfortunately, despite the high level of skill on the Fnatic roster, the team of sOAZ, Cyanide, xPeke, Rekkles, and YellOwStaR had reached a point where it had begun to tear at itself.

Many in the public sphere knew of the discontent within the Fnatic roster. Changes were coming. In the coming months, YellOwStaR would have to make a decision.

Kelsey Moser is staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.

NicoThePico parts ways with Fnatic

by 4d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Fnatic /theScore esports

Fnatic head coach Nicholas "NicoThePico" Korsgård has left the team, the organization announced Monday. Team manager Finlay “Quaye” Stewart will step in as the team's interim coach until a replacement is found, while Michael “Garki” Bolze will take over as manager.

NicoThePico was previously Origen's head coach before being replaced by Alvar “Araneae” Martín in July. He himself replaced Luis “Deilor” Sevilla as Fnatic's head coach in August.

"After joining Fnatic at the end of Summer Split 2016, I got the chance to build a new roster together with the FNC management for the upcoming season. We started off looking good and had apparent synergy and meshed well together, both in and out of game. As time went on we started facing challenges on the inside. As a result, problems occurred that I could not foresee beforehand and fix in due time," NicoThePico said in a statement.

"As I have been unable to provide the needed remedy, I feel that someone else with an outside perspective on the team and its issues, in both draft and gameplay, might be a better solution than what I was able to provide. I’ve decided to step down as Head Coach of FNC effective immediately."

Fnatic are currently in third place of Group A of the 2017 EU LCS spring split with a 4-6 record. They face Giants Gaming on Mar. 25.

"I am of the belief that we have a truly talented group of players capable of far more than where we currently sit in the standings. I will do my best to give the players a better structure and the resources needed to succeed," Quaye said in a statement. "Together with remote coaches, analysts and our players, we will make sure to give ourselves the best chance at playoffs and making it to Hamburg. The situation is far from ideal but we strongly believe that we are moving in the right direction.

"I'd like to thank Nico for all his hard work and wish him the best of luck in the future."

Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

Rekkles on ex-teammate Febiven: 'He was definitely one of the most inspirational people I've ever worked with'

Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Flickr

Speaking with theScore esports during the first part of our interview, Martin "Rekkles" Larsson talked about some difficult things: building Fnatic's chemistry on the short LCS timeline, how he wants to eventually end his career and how he has matured as a player.

In the back half, things got a bit more light-hearted. He talked about his all-time favorite teammate during his time with Fnatic, the carry champions he'd love to be playing, and why he recently decided to sign with talent and management agency Orlando John, which counts a number of other big names in Swedish esports among their clients.

During your long time with Fnatic, who has been your favorite teammate, and why?

It's actually an easy answer, but I want to make sure I word it correctly.

Most people would probably expect me to say Bora ["YellOwStaR" Kim] here, but I feel like Fabian ["Febiven" Diepstraten] has actually been the best teammate I've ever played with.

He's one of these rare people who, no matter what happens, always lightens up the mood. I don't know exactly how to explain it, because I know it's not intentional from his side. It's just the way he is. But he's just such a positive spirit in the room, he always lightens up the mood no matter what.

I think, especially during last year when we were going through so many tough times, I [would] never have got to where I am today [without] him. He always made it easy to go through the days, it was a joy to play with him because he was the player he was, and he's even better to this day.

In a way I actually regret letting him go, but it's just a part of it. It always changes between the years, and you have to just make the best out of the situation. But he was definitely one of the most inspirational people I've ever worked with, even though I'm sure he doesn't actually realize it for himself. I'm sure many people feel the same that have worked with him.

In an ideal world, are there any champions that you'd love to play in the current meta?

At least for AD carries, I pretty much hate all of the ones that are being played right now. I think the meta would be much more fun if it was kind of like, Twitch, Tristana, Lucian, maybe some Kalista as well and some Jinx. All these champions that can go off and get those pentakills, but can also ... for example Twitch, you know he unstealths and he just gets one-shot.

I like these kinds of playstyles where it's like, kind of high-risk, high-reward. It feels like you can play the perfect fight but get zero kills, but then you can play a suboptimal fight but because you are doing something outside the box you can get a pentakill. I think it's just much more fun to watch, and much more fun to play.

Meanwhile the current ADs that have been around for pretty much the past one and a half, two years have been not so fun to play and not so fun to watch, because they're very linear. And there's not much room for the extra percentages at the top.

For example it would be a huge difference between a good Twitch, and a really good Twitch. Meanwhile a good Ashe, and a really good Ashe ... it's hard to tell, actually, if you're playing or watching, who is [which].

There's a lot of champions I would definitely enjoy playing ... oh, I forgot to mention Vayne as well, holy shit! Vayne is in there as well, she's one of those. There's so many of them I would enjoy seeing in the meta but I definitely understand why they're not, because they bring so little to a team, you know. You can be completely invisible, as I said. You can have these fights where you unstealth and just get one-shot, and you just bring nothing to your team. You have no CC, no lane pressure, no wave control, nothing. No objective control, no sieging.

But those are the champions I dream about at night.

As you were rattling those off, it felt like a lot of those were hyper-carries, like maybe you want to put the "carry" back in AD carry.

Yeah, I miss Season 4 in many ways, because that's when AD carries were played this way. Season 5, I guess to a certain extent it was pretty much okay, like at Worlds you saw a lot of Kalista and Tristana, but pretty much the entirety of Season 6 was mostly utility carries. Especially toward the end. And Season 7 hasn't been even something to remember.

So I'm definitely hoping that they make some changes, but it's looking patch-by-patch that they're not planning to do so. If anything, it's kind of weird. They always mention at the beginning of the patch that they want to address the marksman issue, and I always have these high hopes as I'm starting to read it, like, "Oh finally, I'm getting something," but then they actually end up nerfing everything, so I'm not really sure if there are two different people writing the stuff, and then actually making the changes? But it's always so demotivating when you go through it.

You're looking for the buffs to Vayne and Jinx and Tristana, and not finding them...

Yeah, and you have like lethality buffs, the Deathfire nerfs and the Varus nerfs in the same patch. So they just kind of take away the actual playable heroes from you, and you kind of have to just figure your way around it.

But the patch so far is actually looking a little bit better. The AD carries are not more useful, but at least they're more fun to play.

We did see some changes to Lucian in the patch, and I'm wondering if you think that makes him playable even though he doesn't really fit the description of a utility AD carry.

I think he is playable. I mean he always kind of has been, but he's just very, very specific in what matchups he can be played in and what styles he can be played in. I don't really think that changed. But I think he's more smooth now, and especially with both Warlords and Deathfire falling out of the meta a little bit, Fervor AD carries like himself are kind of rising up.

I think he will see some play this week, actually. I wouldn't consider him a top-tier pick or anything, I just think he works into specific matchups that he wouldn't work into before because of the Deathfire, Lethality stuff going on or the Warlords hyper-carries.

He has a place now, but he's still far from optimal, I'd say.

Are there are any other carries that you think we might see this week that we haven't seen a lot of, or has there not been as much of a shakeup?

I think there's going to be a lot of changes to AD, actually. But as I said, I don't think the ADs that are going to see play are going to be more useful than previously. I actually think Varus and Jhin were quite overpowered on the Lethality patch, and I don't think that these ADs that are seeing play are as overpowered. They are much more Season 4-style but in a worse way, where they are invisible for the majority of the game and then they kind of pop off later on, but at least have the possibility of doing so.

So I think we will see some more kind of hyper-carry comps style of play this week, so if the stars align, maybe some Twitch, maybe some Tristana, even some Jinx. Who knows.

We saw Stixxay go off on Ezreal last week, and it felt like maybe we had traveled back in time.

Ezreal will definitely be popular on this patch. As I said, Fervor AD carries are rising, and he's always been kind of like, the Fervor AD carry. He will definitely be an extremely high priority this patch, if not the highest. I would be surprised otherwise, at least.

I wanted to ask about getting an agent since you recently signed with Orlando John. Did you have an agent before?

No, I've actually always worked by myself, ever since the beginning until the beginning of Season 7, basically.

So what made you decide that now was the right time to get an agent?

I've not only come to realize that I've been around for a while now, and have quite the brand, and perhaps so many years left under my belt ... but also that there's a lot of opportunities out there that I haven't even realized exist yet.

And after seeing some other professionals pick up agencies, not League of Legends professionals necessarily ... but for example [Emil "HeatoN" Christensen] had been working with [Orlando John], and I saw a lot of stuff he had been doing. He was on Swedish television, all these kinds of things, and it looked super cool and kind of the stuff that I wanted to do, though perhaps a bit more international.

And I was just like, kind of inspired in a way. And I wanted to check around for possibilities, and then they actually at the same time approached me at DreamHack, so it was kind of just like, both parties thinking the same way. So it was kind of just perfect for me, because I figured once I'm done with my career, I'll have to do something anyways, and going back to studying is sub-optimal.

So having something on the side like an agency, who can help me out with possibilities like the ones HeatoN is doing currently, would be the dream actually, and something I'd really enjoy doing I think.

Whenever you decide to retire, do you have an idea of what you want to do when you decide to do stop playing?

If you asked me this question half a year ago, I'd definitely say that I want to be an analyst for League of Legends. But I think, the later I come into my career, kind of the more tired I become of the game. Not necessarily even the game, but like sitting in front of the computer and watching VODs, and all these kinds of things.

I think I want to be out there more, do more things. And I'm not sure if analyst work would bring me that. For example, when I saw HeatoN taking part in [Mästarnas Mästare], in Sweden it's quite huge, where all the legendary professional athletes compete against one another. And he was able to be part of that as an esporter, it was like, the biggest thing ever that has happened to it in Sweden at least.

Thinking for myself, can I be that guy in a couple of years, it sounded at least in my head more motivating and fun rather than spending another couple of years watching VODs and kind of doing what I'm already doing today.

So you don't want to leave esports behind, but you want to do more than what you're already doing?

Basically, because then I might as well be playing, right? That's kind of how I feel right now. I don't think playing is that much about playing anymore. I think we've come to a point in League of Legends at least, where most of the professional players are around the same skill level. It's not as in Season 4, where the skill level between certain players would be so big that they can just win the game by themselves; this doesn't really exist anymore. And I think it's much more even now, these days.

So it's actually more about watching VODs and having the strength of mind in comparison to the guy next to you, rather than just physical possibilities. I think, for example, if I were to retire and go into analytical [roles], then I might as well keep playing because I think I would be doing the same job.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.

Rekkles: 'I was about to sign a three-year contract [with FNC], which I've actually put on hold for now because...I haven't been feeling that well personally'

Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Flickr

Martin "Rekkles" Larsson has been a starting AD carry for Fnatic for over six splits. Some of those ended on high notes, like the team's summer 2015 campaign that saw them crack Top 4 at Worlds before a 3-0 loss to the Koo Tigers. Others, like the 2016 season, saw the team fail to make Worlds.

After Fnatic's loss to Unicorns of Love in Week 7, Rekkles posted a series of tweets that discussed how he felt about the loss and wanting to end his career on one of those high notes.

theScore esports sat down with Rekkles to ask him more about the team's struggles, the three-year contract that he has yet to sign and whether he would actually consider retirement after this split.

Fnatic is now on a two-week skid, and your last win came against Origen. You've got a couple of weeks ahead of you that your team is expected to win, so how do you maintain the right mentality in situations like that?

Basically, after we got back from the break ... we went home for a week after we played against Origen. Which, in hindsight, was quite a mistake and I went out on Twitter and said that it was one, as well. And actually I made a similar mistake back in 2014 when we were going to play All-Stars in Paris. After the split was done, we had three or four weeks before the event, and I just thought like, this was one of my few opportunities to go home, so I'm going to take it.

After that I remember that I went out and said that it was a mistake, because I ended up not catching up on the patch as well as other teams and I felt like, this time around, it was a very similar story where H2K and other top teams went to IEM, and generally just practiced and got a lot of insight on the international scene more generally. Like, how the best teams in the world play the current patch.

And we were so far behind when we got back, so we just told ourselves that there's probably going to be a lot of games right now, both in scrims and in the LCS, where we don't get the results that we want. And that might actually include playing against worse teams as well. Even though it's not a fun thing to lose against ROCCAT and Giants when you, after all, are a team like Fnatic and you're supposed to be fighting for the top spots in Europe, at least, to begin with.

I guess we kind of just accepted that the situation is what it is, and that we're probably going to drop some games, and we're focusing on just improving as much as we can for playoffs. Because even if we were to lose to ROCCAT or Giants, as long as we get a win or two we'll still be fine and still end up third in our group. We haven't put too much emphasis, and I don't think the panic has struck yet, but if we were to drop a couple of games and if ROCCAT were to win a couple, maybe we would have to reconsider our current goals.

But for now we don't really put too much emphasis on perfecting the patch or anything like that. We're just trying to work out the basics so that we can be the best team that we've been together so far, when playoffs comes around.

How did the vacation come about? Were you hesitant beforehand or did that reaction only come afterward?

We all kind of agreed that we would go home, and practice from there. So it wasn't like we were just home and not playing the game, or not talking to each other for a complete week. We actually just had two days off, I think. One of them was a travel day. We didn't really think beforehand that it would have too much of an impact, but the difference of being here and working together from the office, seeing each other on a daily basis ... to just kind of chilling at home, and everyone not giving it their all.

It just ended up with the practice not being as good as it should have been. We were just sort of playing and going through the motions. And it didn't really feel like we were getting anywhere, and that, kind of, week was wasted. When, as I said before, the other teams were improving at a much higher rate than before, because of IEM.

I've heard from a lot of organizations and players that one of the most difficult parts of the LCS system is that you get into the split, and you have to build chemistry right away. It doesn't feel like there's a lot of time to build chemistry, and in your case, you had the team basically rebuilt around you. Is it as difficult as they say to build that kind of chemistry, and could this be part of the issues we see with Fnatic?

I think it's actually really difficult to build chemistry. We were striving to get it, I guess from the base of it, because we were going for a European roster. We thought it was more likely that we would get a synergistic roster if we were to go for that, rather than just bringing in imports once again and just coin tossing if we were to get motivated Koreans that maybe were there to stay for a longer time, or if we'd just get another couple that would just pass by.

I think, in hindsight, it's actually hard to tell if we made the right choice or not. But at the time it just felt like, going through the year with Spirit and Gamsu — even though they were like legit good players in their individual roles, it just didn't work out together — we thought that, "okay, we'll just build a European roster now and we have this chemistry already from the get-go, so we can work on all the in-depth stuff, and we kind of already have the base in place."

But then, after going into the season and having some struggles and replacing a player, we had to start over, it felt like. Just as it was last year, it was us falling behind and not being able to catch up to other teams, it feels a bit similar this year. And it feels like we're always on the back foot and always a patch behind, if that makes sense. And we don't really know before other teams what is to be played, and what's actually to be done to be a top team.

Many times it feels like we're tripping on the finish line, in a way. It's definitely a frustrating feeling, especially for myself. And that's actually connected to the stuff I commented about after our game against Unicorns. I went from basically being Top 4 at Worlds in 2015, and having so many expectations going into 2016, to having a pretty lacklustre year all in all. Even though we had an IEM performance, we just really didn't reach our expectations.

And then going into another year, it's pretty much the same, it feels. It feels really tough and really frustrating, because we're all putting our complete lives into it. There's not much else to it than sleeping, eating and playing the game. So it's definitely frustrating to not feel like we're getting anywhere, or like, feel like we're getting a step ahead of the others, and always on the back foot.

This is your sixth split starting for Fnatic, and you've been with the organization a while. Certainly you have a legacy in this game, and you spoke in your comments about potentially ending on a high note. Was that just frustration on Twitter after the loss to Unicorns of Love, or are you legitimately considering retirement sooner rather than later?

Honestly, at the beginning of the year, I thought that I had a lot more to give. So I was about to sign a three-year contract, which I've actually put on hold for now because, as I mentioned as well on Twitter, I haven't been feeling that well personally. I've been having a lot of individual struggles, and a lot of this frustration that's coming from the team side of things as well, it's kind of just adding up. At some point throughout the split now, where things weren't going my way, I kind of just like, wasn't able to hold up the individual wall anymore. Usually that's how I try to explain it.

Usually how I try to see it is that there's a wall of how much I can take, as a person. And on one side of the wall there's all the team stuff, you know, like all the issues you're having as a team and how things are just generally working at your job, I guess, if you want to make it simple. And then on the other side, there's your personal life. Even though there's not much to it, there's always you giving yourself some space at times. And it felt like many of the issues that were on the team side of the wall kind of went around it, and started influencing my individual life. And I guess at that point I wasn't able to keep all the balls in the air, any more.

And I kind of went into a slight depression, I would say. I went through a similar thing back in school, where I also spoke to a therapist, and it felt very similar in many ways. And it kind of scared me, and also went as far as me putting the contract on hold, actually, because I wasn't sure if I was able to continue any longer.

Obviously I would never leave my team behind, and I would always finish this split out no matter what. Even if I were to feel the worst ever, I would still finish it out, because I wouldn't be able to live with myself, giving up on my teammates and letting them finish out the split by finding a random AD from solo queue. So that was the only thing I was sure about, that I wanted to finish out the split at the time. And I kind of just told myself that I'd do that first, and I'll just take one thing at a time. And then once the split is over, I'll reconsider if I want to continue or not.

But it's definitely getting better by the day, and I'm actually meeting up with a therapist on Thursday, which I have really high hopes for. If things go my way, I'll get out of this in one piece, and I'll actually get stronger from it. But there's always the possibility that I'm not able to pick it up again, and that's why I decided to not lock myself in under a three-year contract which I might not be able to fulfill.

But I didn't really have any plans at the beginning of the year at all, actually, at quitting. I thought I had at least three years, or even more, to give. I wanted, as I said on Twitter, to end my career on a high note, in a similar fashion to how for example our 2015 run was. And just seeing last year and this year, I don't think I'll ever feel satisfied or proud to leave that kind of mark on my career behind.

So to clarify, the three-year contract was an option at the beginning of this split, and you decided not to do it?

It still is, actually. Basically I have the contract ready to sign, because we were negotiating a lot between the seasons. Since we were home early last year we had a lot of negotiations and talks with Fnatic on what we wanted to do together in the future. And equally as much as they wanted to work with me, I wanted to work with them as well. And yet to this day I wouldn't see myself going to any other team.

Regardless of how things work out in the end, I want to continue playing for Fnatic for as long as I'm at least playing the game.

If you were given an opportunity to end on a high-note somewhere else, like a top-tier NA team or even in the LPL, would you go? Or are you determined to finish with Fnatic?

I'm pretty determined that I want to finish with Fnatic one way or another. Leaving at the end of Season 4 was a mistake as it was, and I learned from it, and I don't want to repeat it again. They have been really good to me pretty much throughout my whole career. So I don't want to let them down one more time, and I want to end things here.

But it's been a tough couple weeks for sure, and this whole three year contract has been on the table ever since, and it's still going to be on the table between the splits but I just don't want to put them in a position where I sign a contract for them, but I'm not able to fulfill it. Like I would rather talk it out again, and perhaps even shorten it to be sure that we don't end in an awkward situation where I'm not going to continue playing and they are having me under a three-year contract.

Very few players I've interviewed have been as candid about topics like depression and mindset issues as you're being right now. Is this something that players are starting to talk to each other about more? Have you spoken to other players about these sorts of things?

Not necessarily, no. I think I've just kind of matured over the years, and I feel like I'm more accepting toward the truth, these days, and toward my own feelings. Rather than, back when I started playing, where I would just kind of like force myself to feel away, rather than actually feeling the way I feel, and saying the stuff I have on my mind.

I think I just kind of matured in that way, and I feel more mature and more able to move forward, I guess, and improve. Not only on a professional level, but also on a personal one.

For example, take the step to actually talk to a therapist when I feel like I'm in need of one.

It feels pretty difficult in esports for someone to say, "I was in a place where I just couldn't keep going, and I needed someone to help me." It feels like more often the mindset is "just power through it, you're living the dream, you have to do this." It feels like this kind of conversation is a change from what we've seen in the past.

Yeah, I think as I mentioned, at the beginning of my career this would never have come into question. I would never actually accept that I didn't feel 110 percent, and I think that's how many players feel as well. They kind of just like, come into it, and they "live the dream." They're so extremely motivated that they're almost shaking from it, you know?

And it would never come to mind that they don't feel 110 percent. So I don't think it's until the later parts of your career, when you've played the game for a longer time, that you will actually face these issues. Where it's more realistic than in the beginning.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.

Esports Ink: Fnatic's sOAZ on his anime-inspired tattoo

theScore esports Staff

At their core, tattoos are about expression.

They can be a symbol of emotion, commemorate a person or event, or simply be displays of art.

For Fnatic top laner Paul "sOAZ" Boyer, his ink represents something personal. With the original idea coming from a Japanese anime called Zankyou No Terror, he wanted to keep his tattoo as authentic as possible by getting it done in Japan.

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Match highlights: H2k-Gaming vs. Fnatic

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