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It's In The Look: Fnatic's Flaws

by Michael “Veteran” Archer Jul 14 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Robert Paul / theScore eSports

"I think this game will come down to whichever team performs better as five, rather than one player outclassing his lane opponent."

- Rekkles on Fnatic's match against Origen, 8/7/2015

After Origen’s nexus fell on Friday, Huni looked dejected. Reignover could barely contain his excitement. They’d made it. 14-0. For the second time that week, they were able to overcome an immense gold deficit — at one point 7k separated them from their rivals. This was surely a cause for celebration. Their coach, Deilor, joined them on stage. Febiven had a huge smile on his face, Rekkles and Yellowstar were high-fiving each other. The team looked to do their signature huddle.

And Huni looked dejected.

Fnatic is the best team in the west. Let’s make that abundantly clear. They were the best prior to this week, and now they have cemented their claim. It doesn’t matter if they drop a game from here on out. Origen and H2K were the gauntlet and they beat both of them. If anybody was going to take them down decisively, it would have been one of these EU squads.

Fnatic are not weaker either. Many of their exposed weaknesses have been present since the start of their 14-0 run. They have been identified in various analytical pieces, stated and restated. Last week, the teams with the flexibility to carry out bold strategies and not hinder themselves in the process put Fnatic to the test. To all extents and purposes, they worked.

However, Fnatic’s ever-present resilience ensured that when either Origen or H2K made critical errors that eliminated their well-gained advantages, they would not throw the game back. Arguably for Fnatic, this slipped at one point in their fight against Origen, but more on that in a bit.

Fnatic have shown to be many things over the most important two days of the EU LCS. They are not an early game team, but a mid game focused squad. They are able to fall back on the strengths of their AD Carry and rely on their mid laner’s playmaking. Huni’s tendency to want to make an impact from the moment the game starts can lead to cluttered decisions in lane. Reignover, whose pathing has often come into question, is shown to be far less effective once taken out of a very small core champion pool. They are only human.

The Gods have bled and Week 7 may well pose worse tidings for them than their rivals coming into playoffs.

The Formula

There is a repeated methodology to taking down Fnatic. Gambit, somewhat surprisingly, stumbled upon it first and both Origen and H2K perfected it. Each of the teams to face Fnatic in this gauntlet came out of the draft phase with three met objectives.

1) Secure standard lanes

2) Abuse Reignover’s champion pool

3) Globals

Gambit recognized the importance of the first. Standard lanes are a weakness for Fnatic, as much as they are a strength for Gambit. By going the threat of Annie/Sivir, Fnatic will lose in early tower trades and GoSu Peppers’ Annie can use her significant power to out-roam Yellowstars’ Janna if they lane swap. This double threat ensures that Fnatic are forced to meet Gambit head on in the 2v2 and 1v1 lane. Gambit were able to pull off the first rotation Sivir on purple side by eliminating Rek’Sai and Olaf in the ban phase, forcing a first pick Gragas from Fnatic.

Going in, Fnatic were forced to either meet Gambit’s duo in the top lane or lose an early fast push. Not wanting to lose control of the map, they elect to keep standard lanes which gives Cabochard’ Hecarim all the advantages against Huni’s Ekko. Hecarim’s powerspike comes in at the first phage. Huni, rushing Lucidity boots into a Forbidden Idol, is unable to match with his Ekko. Cabochard is a walking win condition for Gambit, and Diamondprox’s prioritisation this season has reflected the new dynamic. It is both a blessing and a curse, but Gambit were able to steamroll ahead of Huni.

I have labelled Huni with much criticism in the past and here I’d like to highlight the benefits of Fnatic’s preferred early game strategy with him. When on these scaling carry champions, Fnatic like to use their lane swaps to fast push and open up the map early. An open map is Fnatic’s canvas, and they use this early fast push to create safe pockets with the creep waves for Huni to farm and scale. The rest of their lanes that don’t necessarily require this level of help (Febiven and the bottom lane) are able to buff him with vision control of the corresponding area of the jungle. Fnatic want Huni on a scaling champion like Ekko or Ryze. This is what they were denied.

Another thing about lane swaps is that they help to alleviate jungle pressure for either team. Your moves as a jungler are quite obvious in a lane swap. Gambit eliminated Rek’Sai away from Reignover along with Olaf. Both are arguably his pocket picks, with Reignover’s Rek’Sai build pretty revolutionary in it’s skirmishing capabilities. Regardless, his pathing is questionable (he can never level three gank the way he plays) and his actual impact on lanes - critical to a standard lane setup - is debateable. He is a jungler that excels at working with his team, having to work for it is another matter entirely.

Reign’s Over

Gambit used Reignover’s weaknesses in his pool to secure Sivir and deny the fast push playstyle that Fnatic favour. Origen and H2K simply eliminated Reignover from the game and that could have been the end of his impact if not for some glaring errors in both team’s map play. H2K came in against Fnatic from the purple side, banning away Rek’Sai and Olaf (as Gambit did) while first picking Gragas. Reignover was forced back to Rengar, a champion that had since fallen out of the meta. That is not to say he had no purpose. Rengar can use his empowered Bola Strike to lock down a target, an easy follow up for Febiven’s Jayce.

Regardless, Reignover was on a low tier jungle champion. Added on to this was the inclusion of H2K’s global: Shen. Now, Reignover is in the uncomfortable position of having to make a high impact on standard lanes on a low tier jungler against a global. Luckily, H2K’s early game wasn’t without its flaws. Despite an early 2-0 lead for Odoamne coming off of a strong Level 1, H2K’s jungler, loulex, elected to power-farm instead of invade Reignover and allow H2K’s lanes to apply the pressure they would otherwise have been able to. This call led to Odoamne having to begin with a ruby crystal and boots on Gnar instead of a Dorans start that could have snowballed the lane further.

Luckily, as is Huni’s nature, he was only too eager to try to take lane advantage back. and Reignover was only too happy to try and help. H2K’s Shen pick was able to respond (kaSing has had a higher kill participation than his jungler throughout his tenure) and Fnatic were unable to take anything. Fnatic came out of the laning phase 5k gold behind their opponents until loulex was caught out at Baron. Once again, more on that in a bit.

Origen did something similar. Reignover was denied his preferred junglers but this time Fnatic were left with a choice. Origen had started blue side and left Kalista open with Sivir banned. Fnatic place high priority on Kalista as it suits their playstyle. Fnatic took the bait, but this time they had a plan. Origen took Gragas and Ryze in the first rotation, secured a global with Twisted Fate and a superior roaming support with Nautilus. A critical issue is the inclusion of Corki in their composition. This wouldn’t be the first time that stacking so much magic damage would come back to haunt Origen, but it should be re-stated that the game was in their hands.

Fnatic responded by instead going all-in on a mid/late game teamfighting composition: Huni on Lulu, Reignover on Nunu, Yellowstar on Janna and Febiven Viktor. Fnatic had accepted their weaknesses and understood that their opponents’ inferior macro play would have to be their gateway again - and once it happened, they were in the best position to capitalise.

xPeke’s Twisted Fate did work. A team that so often relies on their bottom lane’s capabilities was suddenly all over the map. In their prior matchup, Fnatic understood Origen’s willingness to end the laning phase early and one-upped them. This time, Fnatic were in an uncomfortable position they had experienced before and decided to throw the early game in draft in favour of their all-in mid-late. Origen took everything.

Both of these teams had exposed what was already there before. Fnatic are a team that works best as a team and that has helped to mask that they are not individual all-stars. Currently, they don’t have to be. Let’s look at where these teams faltered and oddly enough it can be summarised in one word.

Sheen

Trying to summarise these misplays with ‘Sheen’ is probably not the best idea, but the fact that so much has revolved around this specific power spike infuriates me to no end. Let’s take a step back and look at the first time H2K and Fnatic met. H2K lost the early advantages in a lane swap, Huni’s Ryze had his safe pockets to farm and Fnatic understood that their 5-2 lead did not mean they could fight through Corki’s Trinity Force powerspike — one of the strongest in the game. Fnatic straight avoided fighting for six minutes. They wave cleared, they set wards, but they never tried to and actively avoided fighting H2K head on.

However, when H2K amassed what was granted a far more substantial lead on Fnatic, they fell victim to the very same powerspike. How they did this was through a harder macro misplay. Fnatic, at this point, had no dragons, so there was no real pressure on H2K to secure it. They simply had to maintain Baron control, avoid fighting and win. Instead, they went dragon, crossed the river and loulex proceeded to attempt to deep ward without any vision of the Fnatic members. They are waiting for him.

Fnatic essentially secured Baron off of this catch, and H2K were pulled into the fight because of the pressure Fnatic can exert with their Jayce, Rumble and Corki in a siege with Baron would spell the end of H2K’s control of the map anyway. Corki had just hit his powerspike. They lost. Fnatic got Baron and took over the game.

It perhaps could have been worth going dragon had they set up the bottom sidewave in their favour. Instead, it would be Origen that did this properly. I’ve briefly touched upon Fnatic’s critical error and this team — a team that had avoided the sheen powerspike against H2K and abused it against them — had their hands forced, as Origen’s side waves pushed against them while going for a third dragon. Fnatic aren’t a team used to playing against sidewave pressure — they are normally the ones exerting it. I can only assume this led to their decision to contest dragon against a mobile team in the midst of a double sheen powerspike with Twisted Fate’s completed Lich Bane and Corki’s finished Trinity Force. Reignover had not finished Aegis of the Legion or Locket of the Iron Solari yet, and not even the components of a Banner of Command were present in Yellowstar’s inventory.

When Origen went for Baron after this fight, they did so with their sidewaves still pushing. More progress on the macro front.

Origen had previously thrown a lead with Amazing’s greedy dive at the Tier 2 top turret, but they had now exerted enough pressure onto the typically stout Fnatic squad to force them into an unfavourable position. They had forced Fnatic to make a critical mistake. This is usually what Fnatic do. This was new, big, bold. Then they threw it all away with even more greed. Origen’s frontline again got too eager and flashed over Reignover, which separated themselves from their front line. There is now a Nunu who had finished Locket of the Iron Solari between Origen’s front line and their majority magic damage carries. This fight did not go well. Coming off of it, no other fights went well. Fnatic’s all-in on their mid-late game payed dividends and with their own two inhibitors exposed and down they were still able to come back and end the game.

It’s In The Look

Throws.

Much criticism has been levied against people who explain that these games were thrown. They were. They were thrown by teams that are inferior to Fnatic in their understanding of the mid/late game. Inferior in their understanding of power spikes. Inferior in their understanding of how to manipulate side waves.

But these teams are catching up.

Decisions are perhaps the easiest thing for a coach and have influence on. Macro decisions, those you take ‘as five’ can be taught. They aren’t habits, not yet. They aren’t lessons you learned to climb in solo queue. They aren’t tendencies that are ingrained in your head because, to a large extent, many players in the west have never had to get used to thinking ‘as five’ before. This is why Deilor is worthy of so much praise. His team has been a powerhouse of five against the lesser collections of many. This team understands everything they need to at a high level. In a region where teams are only just realising that being good as individuals is not enough, Fnatic are already experts in working not ‘as five’, but as one.

Yet Huni looked dejected. Perhaps he was shaken by his own performance this week. Perhaps coming so close to tasting defeat twice had gotten to him. I’m more willing to bet on the former. Huni as a player seems to be (rightfully so) proud of his own abilities. Perhaps there is another reason. Perhaps it’s because the achievements of Fnatic as one unit are being laid waste by teams that understand their weaknesses as individuals. That’s not on all of them. That’s on all of them, individually.

There are two weeks left until the end of the summer split. Three weeks until playoffs. What options are there to patch these up? Does one hope that their opponents do not continue to improve, that their opponents who are now on board with the strong macro play that Fnatic themselves introduced stumble into inconsistency. It is difficult to iron out tendencies like Huni’s to want to make an impact the moment he walks into lane. It is difficult to turn Rekkles into a lane bully. It is difficult to add new champions to Reignover’s skillset.

Not in three weeks.

Perhaps the look on Huni’s face is there because he realises, as is evident now, that the playoffs are no longer free. Fnatic are no longer alone and they are far from invincible and none of their options to improve or patch out errors are easy. Fnatic have a far more difficult road staying ahead of their competitors than their competitors do of surpassing Fnatic. They have started at a mastery of different areas, Fnatic have just helped them to see the light. They may have created opponents even more well rounded than themselves in doing so. Perhaps this won’t matter. If they get to Worlds, they can still take games comfortably off of Korea, who are as mid/late game centric as they are and arguably weaker in the laning phase. But China, the region that holds the greatest ensemble of individual talent in League of Legends history? China will apply pressure from the get-go and will not throw as European teams are.

Fnatic needn't be so worried. If Europe improves in their macro play and starts behaving ‘as five’, or as one whole complete unit, they could finally meet their potential and be a real competitor to China and Korea at Worlds. If this happens, it is entirely on Fnatic’s back. Fnatic will have an enduring legacy no matter how far they go now. Their indisputable LCS run. Possibly the elevation of an entire region. The first team to stand up to SKT at MSI. This team has a lot to be proud of.

Make no mistake. This is the best team the west has ever produced. But they know the road ahead will be tough. You can see it in the look on Huni's face.

Michael “Veteran” Archer is an EU expert, writer and analyst who is currently managing a relationship between his palm and his face. You can follow him on Twitter.

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