The Fnatic: How EU LCS finals might reframe one team's history

by theScore Staff Aug 20 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Robert Paul / The Score eSports

Technically speaking, Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim wasn’t meant to join Fnatic. At the tail end of 2012, Fnatic's roster of Paul “sOAZ” Boyer, Lauri “Cyanide” Happonen, Enrique “xPeke” Cedeno, Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, and Christoph “nRated” Seitz had managed to rebuild. Following the Season 1 World Championship, 2012 was unstable for the team. They narrowly missed an arrival at the Season 2 World Championship, taking out Curse Gaming EU in the quarterfinals and managing to sideline Moscow 5 for a game, but fans weren’t so optimistic about their chances going into the event. They were eliminated from Worlds contention by CLG EU in the third place match.

Several key roster changes allowed the team to bounce back and win an important title at Dreamhack Winter in 2012, knocking out CLG EU, the team that had barred them from World Championship attendance only months before. After other European representatives were unable to attend the IGN Pro League 5, Fnatic scrounged up enough last minute funds to make the trip. Despite only placing second at IPL 5, they carried the unique distinction of forcing the triumphant Team WE to lose games: something not even their strong European brethren Moscow 5 and CLG EU accomplished.

Fnatic continued to place Top 2 in the remaining events they attended at the end of 2012, but the age barrier for the 2013 European LCS qualifier threw what could have been Annapuma in Fnatic’s path. Rekkles, 16 at the time, would not be able to play for Fnatic until September of 2013 in the new League system. A promising prospect on the Fnatic squad was waylaid, but would incidentally create the entrance of a player far more important than him in Fnatic’s history.

While fluctuating from uninspiring to just stable as an AD Carry, Fnatic still performed well with YellOwStaR on the team. Many players on the lineup were familiar with him, as both sOAZ and nRated had played with him on Against All Authority, and he had even joined the team temporarily to participate in a tournament that required at least three French players in 2012.

The true boost to YellOwStaR's career came when the team chose to step away from support player nRated and place YellOwStaR in the position. Hopes weren't too high that he'd succeed in his new role, as role swaps backfire more often than they create legends. Though 2013 wasn't YellOwStaR's best year, he grew into his own as a vision control master in 2014 and could more easily flex his shotcalling muscles as a support player.

When I say YellOwStaR wasn’t meant to join Fnatic, I do so in an ironic way. After his semifinal MVP, imposing KDA, heaps of praise from teammates and opponents, apparent leadership, and high mechanical ability, YellOwStaR is Fnatic. Even removing current solo lane stars Heo “Huni” Seunghun and Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten might only nick Fnatic’s image or ability to dominate Europe next year so long as YellOwStaR remains on the team. Few teams in League of Legends history have such enigmatic core players that they seem to not only attract talent to surround them, but to be skilled and stable enough to lead.

Fnatic may have been host to more than one such player in their long tenure near the top of the European League of Legends world.

While mid laner xPeke may not have ever been lauded for his shotcalling — to my knowledge, that was never a role he played for Fnatic or now on Origen — his history shows he’s shared many of YellOwStaR’s enigmatic qualities. His true prominence began with a role swap. He’s been able to rebuild his legacy and attract talented players to play with him throughout his career.

When I think of Fnatic, I still think of xPeke more often than I think of YellOwStaR. While YellOwStaR has lead Fnatic to its highest consistent peak domestically, the Fnatic that appeared on the world stage in late 2012 is arguably the most prominent international iteration of the squad. Beyond that, xPeke was with the team at its infancy, from 2011 to the end of 2014. YellOwStaR's xPeke-less Fnatic is less than a year old.

Some of Fnatic’s most iconic moments occurred in 2013 and most of them involved the split pushing duo of xPeke and sOAZ. Terms like “the Fnatic death bush” and “the xPeke backdoor” are still well known to long time fans of the team, and few have anything to do with YellOwStaR.

This weekend’s final isn’t just a clash between Origen and Fnatic. It isn’t just about old Fnatic and new Fnatic. It’s about which Fnatic will stand out in memory as the Fnatic: xPeke’s Fnatic or YellOwStaR’s.

The line is much thinner than one might think. Despite an undefeated summer split, Origen and Fnatic have only played each other in two games, and one of them nearly went into Origen’s favor. Beyond the less-than-dominant record, echoes of old Fnatic, the Fnatic that existed when sOAZ, xPeke, Rekkles, and YellOwStaR were all part of the team, exists in both teams’ playstyles.

A lot of Origen’s plays still pivot around split-pushing or backdoor strategies at times. A lot of Fnatic’s focus remains on comeback plays from picks or team fights, strong solo laners, and a flexible AD Carry.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Origen, however, is that the team’s core player, the xPeke to Fnatic’s YellOwStaR, doesn’t take center stage anymore. Despite owning Origen, xPeke doesn't seem as fundamental to the team as YellOwStaR is to Fnatic.

At times, xPeke’s play has been the difference between Origen's success or defeat. If he lapses and has negligible impact, Origen flounders. If he finds a strong champion, he can take off with the game. Even so, xPeke gets less of his team’s gold than the average European LCS mid laner. He and sOAZ have lost some of the limelight to their bottom lane and jungler.

Origen support, Alfonso, “mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez, was the other EU LCS semifinal MVP this past weekend. For most of this year, the undisputed top two European supports looked like YellOwStaR and H2K’s Raymond “kaSing” Tsang with mithy trailing ever so slightly behind.

In the Origen vs H2K semifinal, mithy seemingly outclassed kaSing in every way. His Alistar, Braum, and Janna play turned fights and made picks possible. Synergy with jungler Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider kept tight control of the fog of war. There’s a reason Fnatic’s past encounters with Origen this summer have been about support bans.

In 2013 Summer, mithy’s reputation on Lemondogs had some similarities to YellOwStaR’s now. mithy didn’t join the team until after the start of the split, but his addition seemed to provide a certain magic that saw Lemondogs catapult to the top of the standings. mithy isn’t lauded quite as much for his stability as YellOwStaR, but he has the track record to be the hinge on which Origen’s victory rests.

When xPeke chose to start over, his problem didn’t seem to have been with any player on Fnatic or with the organization specifically, but just out of a need for a fresh start. His fresh start included taking a step back and being less of the central carry force than he’s been in the past. Simply put, xPeke's new team is less about xPeke. Perhaps, if he does retire at the end of this year as he has reportedly planned to (though Origen themselves suggested xPeke will not retire), that will make the transition easier.

Despite this, Finals and Worlds are traditionally xPeke’s time — when he puts in his best efforts and rewrites perceptions that his form has been flagging. Players internationally have spoken highly of him at his World Championship showings, and even if he’s stepped aside for Amazing, mithy, and AD Carry Jesper “Niels” Svenningsen to receive more resources during the regular season, that doesn’t mean he can’t be inspired by H2K’s Yoo “Ryu” Sangook.

Ryu, like xPeke, has spent most of the summer impacting his team’s games outside the limelight: finding picks or playing a supportive role in team fights for his top laner and AD Carry to get the glory. In the semifinals, Ryu tried his best to plow through Origen's entire roster and almost succeeded on more than one occasion.

Because of Origen's and Fnatic's opposing styles and the stronger power of mithy and Amazing as a duo when they’re on point, an Origen victory isn’t as far from possibility as one might expect. YellOwStaR might outclass mithy on his own, but Amazing and mithy’s strength as a unit could find advantages in the jungle where Reignover sometimes feels more disconnected on the bottom side of the map. I’d still say Fnatic will take yet another European victory, but if Origen doesn’t take at least one game, I’ll be surprised. I expect five in total.

If xPeke does retire at the end of this year, this could be the last time we see the clash of two halves of old Fnatic. At the moment, YellOwStaR’s Fnatic is Fnatic, but the memory of xPeke’s still fights for recognition. This weekend’s matchup will be both nostalgic and baptismal. It's YellOwStaR’s biggest chance to squash the last question marks. YellOwStaR’s Fnatic has dominated all summer, and his Fnatic won’t falter at the finish line, even to xPeke.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports who specializes in EU LCS and LPL. You can follow her on Twitter.