Something Old, Something New: Fnatic’s dramatic, all-European reboot

by theScore Staff Dec 1 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of EU LCS / lolesports flickr

Fnatic’s eagerly-awaited 10-man, all-European roster has finally been revealed, and it’s a cluster-bomb of fascinating talking points. According to Fnatic's announcement, the 2017 starting roster will include:

  • Paul “Soaz” Boyer
  • Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider
  • Rasmus “Caps” Winther
  • Martin “Rekkles” Larsson
  • Jesse “Jesiz” Le

In addition, Fnatic will field a Challenger Series roster consisting of:

  • Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek
  • Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen
  • Yasin “Nisqy” Dincer
  • Rasmus "MrRallez" Skinneholm
  • Johan “Klaj” Olsson

There's much that could be written about Rekkles, now Fnatic's longest-standing member and the last tie to Fnatic’s 2015 success. Amazing’s path to Fnatic after a disappointing 2016 is also fertile ground. The organization’s decision to build a 10-man roster while foregoing any imported players is fodder for plenty of discussion, both around the continuity represented by Kikis and Klaj and the new faces, Broxah, Nisqy and MrRallez.

But all of those topics are overshadowed, at least for now, by richer storylines and more intriguing gameplay questions. The return of Soaz is this year’s narrative equivalent of Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng leaving Counter Logic Gaming. Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten’s departure and replacement by Caps, a young Danish mid laner, has the potential to make or break Fnatic in 2017. Then there’s Jesiz’s return from retirement to play the third different competitive role of his career, presumably while splitting time with Klaj.

It will take time to digest all of these storylines and months of gameplay to render any judgment on the roster’s in-game strength. Initial impressions, though, suggest that Fnatic has not only jumped into the lead as the most narratively compelling team in the EU LCS, but also set themselves up with a good chance of both immediate and long-term success.

Mid lane makeover

The most surprising aspect of the new roster is the shakeup in mid lane. It’s true that Febiven’s individual performance declined throughout 2016, but the entire team was struggling to come together as a unit. It seemed likely that Fnatic would retain Febiven alongside Rekkles, building around the duo as a veteran core. Instead, Fnatic is trying to nurture a replacement for Febiven by going back to the well of European Challenger mid laners and picking up a fresh-faced rookie.

Caps comes to the EU LCS fresh off a Turkish Champions League title as part of Dark Passage. Recently turned 17, he’s now eligible to ascend into Europe’s most competitive league, and Fnatic were the ones to snap him up.

Entire articles can, and will, be written about Caps in the coming months. By making his debut with the region’s most celebrated organization, he’ll find it impossible to avoid the spotlight, especially because of Europe’s, and Denmark’s, storied history of producing mid lane talent. Caps’ triumphs and struggles, and his ability to live up to the expectations of Fnatic’s fans — who have been spoiled with skilled mid laners for years — could largely determine the team’s fate in the coming year.

For those unfamiliar with Caps’ history, he played with Mousesports in the EU CS 2016 summer qualifiers, then joined Nerv for six games in the EU CS. A few weeks into the split, Caps moved to Dark Passage for the final week of the regular season and eventually helped them earn a summer championship.

With both Nerv and Dark Passage, Caps showed himself to be a teamfight-oriented mid laner with an assassin’s sense of style, despite playing a steady diet of control mages.

Caps, Summer 2016

League  GP  KDA  KP  CSD@10  DPM
EU Challenger Series  6 1.9  76.5%  -0.5  469
Turkish Champions League  16  3.7  66.2%  +0.2  637

TCL stats include regular season and playoffs.

Caps’ EU CS stats were not especially impressive. During his six games with Nerv, in which the team went 2-4, Caps suffered quite a few deaths, failed to earn leads in lane, and put out a below-average amount of damage. However, only Nerv’s jungler, Jonas “Memento” Elmarghichi, had higher kill participation than Caps, showing that when Nerv made good things happen, Caps was typically involved. With a tendency to lose priority in lane and give up his tower early, added to weakness in other parts of the roster, Caps wasn’t able to shine.

In Turkey, Caps netted slightly better results in lane and showed off his assassin’s mindset with his risky positioning. On Dark Passage, though, Caps was afforded a bit more room to express himself because of greater contributions from his AD carry, Berkay “Zeitnot” Aşıkuzun. Caps found more openings to deal damage and clean up team fights, without having to carry such a high kill participation burden.

In general, Caps tends to involve himself through very aggressive positioning in all situations, often placing himself on the flanks and trying to access the enemy back line as the first man into a fight. That aggression leads to some nice teamfight multi kills, but also frequently gets him caught focusing different targets than his AD carry, or separating himself from the protection of his teammates.

Caps will thrive if Fnatic can create an environment where his side lanes draw attention to themselves in the early game, or where his jungler can buy him advantages. He’ll look better if the team can enable his big-move mentality in team fights, through effective primary engages and decisive follow-up when Caps pulls the trigger. But if opponents exploit Caps’ risky positioning, and if Caps is unable to refine that part of his play, he may his death count climbing.

The potential is there for Caps to become one of the EU LCS’s next praiseworthy mid laners, but his coaching staff and veteran teammates will need to help him solve some bad habits and refine his laning to get him there.

The return of Soaz

In the other solo lane, Fnatic fans are celebrating a homecoming. Soaz is one of the most popular players in Europe, and earned that status as a core member of Fnatic over a two-and-a-half-year span that stretched from 2012 to 2014. During that time, Soaz attended two World Championships and won three consecutive LCS titles, completely dominating European LoL and cementing legendary status for himself and teammates like Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim and Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martinez.

When that illustrious Fnatic core split up ahead of the 2015 season, Soaz joined xPeke at Origen, also teaming up with Amazing. Over the next year, Soaz increased his status as one of Europe’s most accomplished players by helping Origen crush the Challenger Series, reach the finals of the EU LCS summer split, and beat the Flash Wolves in the World Championship quarterfinals before falling to SK Telecom T1 in the semis.

Origen took a step backwards in 2016. A surprise playoff run saw them reach another LCS final in spring, but star players Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez left mid-season and Origen spiraled down into the Promotion Tournament the following split. The team held onto its LCS spot, but is now undertaking a ground-up rebuild.

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, famously said that, “No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Soaz’s return to Fnatic isn’t a resurrection of the old school glory days: Fnatic is no longer the same river, and Soaz is not the same man. Since Soaz left, he’s achieved his own set of impressive results while developing his own set of at-times-controversial opinions, especially on the topics of coaching and outside analytical commentary. Meanwhile, Fnatic has seen its own successes and failures, matching Origen’s 2015 world semifinals run while experiencing similar struggles in 2016.

Soaz’s performance potential for 2017 can’t be compared to his history with Fnatic. Fans shouldn’t set their expectations based on what they saw from “FNC sOAZ,” despite the temptations of nostalgia and the revival of a partnership with Rekkles. That said, fans also shouldn’t write off Soaz as a fan-service signing and judge him by Origen’s summer 2016 results.

Origen had a poor summer split, but Soaz, similarly to Febiven, was by no means the biggest problem on the roster. A look at his stats from 2016, specifically his kill participation, shows how much less help he was getting from his other laners in summer compared to spring.

Soaz, 2015

Spring Regular Season  2.4  54.2%  23.9%  -2.7  18.3%
Spring Playoffs  4.2  61.9%  18.1%  0.0  18.6%
Summer Regular Season  2.3  66.3%  20.7%  +2.1  17.4%

Origen’s summer failings had much more to do with the team’s scramble to find a suitable AD carry after Knstantinos-Napoleon “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou’s early-split departure and with Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage’s performance drop-off. Soaz didn’t exactly come across as a star player weighed down by his teammates — he gave up as many unnecessary split pushing deaths as ever—but he had his share of strong games, too.

Soaz won’t be a one-man savior for Fnatic, but he can be a solid piece of the puzzle. His ability to lead his former team back to glory will have little to do with his legacy or the shirt on his back; it’ll come down to how well he can integrate with both his old and new teammates.

Jesiz remotivated

Jesiz has been part of LoL esports for a long time, in a variety of capacities. He made his name as a mid laner with SK Gaming in 2014, then moved to Team Coast in North America for the start of 2015. Halfway through the spring split, sitting on a 1-7 record, Coast replaced Jesiz with Zachary “mancloud” Allan Hoschar. Coast failed to win another game that split and were relegated.

Jesiz’s next move brought him back to Europe, where he made a position change and became the AD Carry for G2 Esports, then known as Gamers2. In that role, Jesiz helped the team reach the Promotion Tournament and take out his old organization, SK Gaming, to qualify into the LCS.

During the 2015/16 offseason, Jesiz tried out yet another position change, playing support with G2 in the PGL Legends of the Rift tournament, then leaving the organization afterwards. Jesiz stated later, in an interview with Dignitas, that he had decided to retire as a player “because [he] simply didn’t enjoy the game” and had lost his motivation. He moved back to North America to work with the Dignitas organization, putting in a few more games at support during IEM Cologne, where he posted just a 1.3 KDA and 51 percent kill participation over three games, but ultimately becoming an analyst for the 2016 spring split. After Dignitas was relegated, Jesiz moved to the Immortals as an assistant coach.

With a return to the playing field imminent, it seems that Jesiz has recaptured the motivation to be a professional player. The big question for Fnatic, though, is whether Jesiz can translate his motivation and game knowledge onto the Rift. Past performances alone don’t seem to justify signing him: in the two offseason events where Jesiz played support, he suffered weak finishes and unexceptional performance stats.

Jesiz, Support Games, 2015

Event  Games  KDA  KP  WPM
Legends of the Rift (G2)  16  3.9  62.0%  -
IEM Cologne (DIG)  3  1.3  51.4%  0.99

Fnatic will hope that Jesiz has spent the past year not only coaching, but dedicating himself to becoming a better support player. Just as importantly, they will look for him to bring a unique voice and perspective to the team, based on his diverse experiences as a coach, analyst, and multi-position player over the course of his career.

A plan for today and tomorrow

Taken all together, this set of acquisitions makes it clear that Fnatic want to combine a competitive roster with a long-term vision of player development and future strength. By surrounding someone like Caps with reliable veterans and stocking their cupboards with a few more young players on the Academy team, Fnatic are attempting to have their cake and eat it, too.

Is that overly optimistic? Maybe. Given the results of other teams who attempted 10-man rosters, such as Team Liquid and Longzhu Gaming, there is certainly reason for skepticism.

But there are also reasons to give Fnatic’s new structure the benefit of the doubt, and praise them for their clear game plan and their commitment to European talent.

Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics. You can find him on Twitter, unless he’s busy giving one of his three sons a shoulder ride.