The fluke of Lee Sin top and Fnatic's favor

by Kelsey Moser Apr 18 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

Earlier this season, I wasn’t high on Fnatic. I’ve since amended my ways and declared them the best team in the European LCS.

I felt Fnatic was restricted to a certain style of play. While this is certainly true, it’s a theme of several teams this year, and Fnatic has managed to find ways to consistently execute their playstyle. 

Their skirmishing and team fighting grew stronger. Huni’s champion pool has expanded. Playmaking support picks remained in meta. Sometimes vision quantity will go a long way even if quality makes dips. Febiven can play both new meta champions and still excel on Leblanc. The patch changed in their favor.

Fnatic maintains a glaring point on which their success hinges. For the team to take off, Huni typically must succeed. There have been games, like in Game 2 of the most recent Playoffs series against H2k, where Huni was almost a non-factor and Febiven had a fantastic performance on Leblanc. The main factor is that when Huni rises, he destroys, but when he struggles, his impact seems almost non-existent.

As a result of this and his perceived smaller champion pool, it isn’t uncommon, as in the series against H2k, for opposing teams to levy all three bans against Huni. He’s been known best for his Hecarim, Rumble, Gnar, and Lissandra this split. When forced onto Maokai, it was clear that Fnatic would not do well with a tank player in the top lane.

When the meta shifted in favor of tank and utility junglers, Reignover could pick up more meat shields, opening up additional opportunities for carry top laners. Huni has continued to flourish on Hecarim with a regular season KDA over 14 in the two games he played the champion. The scaling of Hecarim and overwhelming amount of late game damage made him nearly impossible to deal with in Fnatic’s heavy skirmish and team fight style of play.

Ryu, H0R0, Reignover, and Huni

The baffling thing, then, is why Fnatic would ever think to put Huni on Lee Sin top.

As a gimmick, Lee Sin top makes a certain amount of sense. Invade the jungle to contest buffs repeatedly with two Smites. Early game duelist power makes it possible to put down the jungle pressure on the opposite side.

This strategy actually may have made sense if top lane Smite were viable last year, as getting three buffs early could drastically snowball the game in one team's favor with an experience advantage. This year, getting three-buffed early on is less punishing in terms of experience gains, and with the recent patches, more scaling, vision-oriented tank jungle styles are rewarded. 

As a result, invading on the jungler is riskier when he has more incentive to ward early over building battle stats and let his Cinderhulk scale until later.

Another difficulty is that Fnatic’s vision tends to be more centralized on the side of the map opposite Huni’s location. YellowStaR’s high ward count in the early game is dense to cover his and Steelback’s lane as well as the objectives on his side of the jungle. Taking invades on the opposite side of the map will be riskier, and Huni often got punished for it as a Lee Sin top player invading the enemy jungler.

As a result, for the most part, this strategy only served to put one of Fnatic’s highest damage dealing assets further behind. Lee Sin has terrible late game scaling, so if he doesn't snowball, he’ll have almost no impact in team fights where Huni is needed most. This throws Fnatic out of their comfort zone.

After losing the first game against H2K, Fnatic picked Lee Sin top again, won the second game, and perhaps decided the first game was a fluke. After losing the third game, however, Fnatic made the appropriate adjustments and picked Vladimir. Vladimir fits much better into Huni’s preferred style of play with area of effect damage and better scaling. Fnatic managed to completely dominate their last two games with a score line of 20 to 3 in Game 4 and 16 to 4 in Game 5.

The “cheese” style pick of Lee Sin top lane would be more expected from a team like the Unicorns of Love. If something like that appears again, that could ruin Fnatic’s chances of victory.

Febiven is often seen as a second fiddle carry to Huni, but when Febiven has a poor laning phase, he can still impact the late game. As time ramps up, we might see more picks like Cho’Gath, giving Febiven more team fight control. In the current meta, Febiven might be able to function better as a safety net to allow more experimentation, but this is not the time to test that theory.

Fnatic needs to be a force in team fights. With Huni and Febiven controlling their lanes to go into fights with more power, Steelback can properly clean up. With SK flagging, Fnatic has the best team fighting in the European LCS.

A lot of credit is often granted to YellowStaR for his shot-calling, and given he is commanding a team of three rookie players and a jungler considered underwhelming in Korea, it’s hard to deny that Fnatic’s fight-picking goes well above expectations. 

At times, it seems they don’t always pick fights near an objective, but they have improved over the season. Janna has worked well for YellowStaR beyond the standard engage support picks, as it allows him to disengage and exert a large amount of control over the map and terrain, setting up the less experienced players of his team.

This split, the European LCS has had many solo lane heavy teams gravitate toward the top of the standings. H2K, Unicorns of Love, and Fnatic measured up well with SK Gaming’s strong AD carry-focused team as an outlier, but Fredy122 and fox are no slouches either. Fnatic likely has the most oppressive solo laners of the group. Their ability to come out ahead is down to the fact that they’re the best at executing powerful lanes and team fights that play to these strengths.

At the moment, Europe’s climate has tempered into the Fnatic zone. This is where they live. As long as they give up the questionable experimentation and play that which is already comfortable, a ticket to Tallahassee should be theirs for the taking.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for the Score eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.