It's nice to have you back, Fnatic. The first week was a test of confidence in your play. You reverted back to how you played in the early weeks of the spring European LCS split, relying solely on your individual skills to overpower teams instead of using teamwork and communication. Huni was playing like a solo queue player that was stuck in a party with four people who knew each other and didn't want to follow orders. The draft phase was overconfident and sloppy, culminating in Cloud9's Balls showing you your own mortality by sending you to a record of 1-2 with a Darius Pentakill.
Today we saw the Fnatic that the top Asian teams didn't want to face in the quarterfinals. This was the team that YellOwStaR raised up from a bunch of solo artists at the start of 2015 and transformed them into a seasoned champion, going through the entire summer regular season without dropping a single map. They drafted well, controlled the map from the first minute of the game, and weren't afraid to mix up their strategies, bringing in the double ninja bottom lane of AD Kennen and support Shen to rattle C9 in their opening contest.
The only misstep on the day following two convincing wins over C9 and Invictus Gaming was their victory against ahq e-Sports Club, where they showed some of the same issues that they had in their first game against the Taiwanese champions. Fnatic were in a position where they could have split-pushed and methodically dissected their bloodthirsty combatants, and they alternatively took the road of trying to get into a fist fight when outmaneuvering them would have saved them the heart palpations later on in the game.
Anchored by a fully equipped Jinx and a Tahm Kench that protected her at every turn, a seemingly one-sided win for Fnatic turned into an archaic battle for their advancement in the tournament. The ending came when ahq, after pulling the game back in their favor due to luring Fnatic into constant skirmishing and raising the Jinx, pushed into their opponent's base with three inhibitors down and only seconds away from winning the game. Febiven came up as the hero in the dying seconds, rushing in on his LeBlanc and sniping ahq's ace, AN on Jinx, before the marksmen could use either his health or flash summoner spells to save himself. With ahq's sole damage source gone, Febiven and Fnatic were able to rush down the middle lane and take down the Taiwanese's base before they could revive.
Although going 3-0 on the day and advancing out of the group, it won't be getting any easier for Fnatic from here on out. Their next challenge will be EDward Gaming in the first round of the knockout stages, which will see two of the best teamfighting squads left in the tournament go at it for a shot at the semifinals. AN is a great player, one of the best at the competition, but Fnatic will be in for a rude awakening if they allow EDG's Deft to have the same scoreline and equipment they allowed ahq to acquire. Even with EDG's issues in the LPL summer postseason and the group stages, giving Deft, possibly the greatest AD Carry of all-time, the chance to win a game on a fed Jinx will not end in smiles and an incredible highlight reel.
Looking past Fnatic, let's talk a bit about the other three teams in the group and how their Worlds shook out.
For North America's last hope, Cloud9, their end to the tournament was bittersweet. Given little chance to even take a game in the entire group stage, they came out of the gates looking like a championship contender, sweeping the first week of games and heading into the final stage needing only one win to advance. A team that has always prided itself on being able to outsmart teams and beat them with their brains, these games brought them back to reality.
C9 tried to continue with their fast pushing strategy that served them so incredibly well in the first week, but with days of preparation and game tape to look over, the other teams in the group were ready to handle the Cinderella team. They were embarrassed by Fnatic in the first game of the day and proceeded to drop their next three games, including a tiebreaker to ahq e-Sports, and were eliminated from the tournament in a disappointing third place following a perfect start to the competition.
The silver lining for Cloud9 is that they now have an established, world-class carry core in the likes of Incarnati0n and Sneaky to build on heading into the new year. Both players proved their worth against the world's best, and if Cloud9 takes more gambles to upgrade their roster, we could be returning to the old days when C9 went through the LCS season with minimal losses and one-sided victories. Hai, while hitting his ceiling as a jungler who switched from his natural position and only came out of retirement due to desperation, will be an interesting story to watch in 2016. If he stays and commits to being a jungler, he showcased that he has the mechanical ability to make plays and lead his team through shot calling. The extra practice and games in the LCS would allow him to gain the one glaring thing he's missing as a player: the knowledge and experience when it comes to jungle pathing and reading the opponent's early-game movements.
Moving over to the Asian teams in the group, we had two teams defying their pre-Worlds expectations. ahq were rumored to be struggling in scrimmages and having trouble adapting against the world's best teams, and the Taiwanese kings were able to turn that narrative around by surrounding Group B in chaos and baiting teams into wild brawls that they were born to be in. Ziv, An, and Albis were all first-rate in their group stage matches, ahq's top laner and AD carry dispelling the myth that Westdoor was the ace of the team. They will now continue on in the tournament facing the one team no one wanted to see in the first round: SK Telecom T1, the odds-on favorites to win the Summoner's Cup for a second time.
Invictus Gaming, the last place team in the group, entered the tournament with a full head of steam following their sweep of EDward Gaming in the LPL summer's third place match and victory over summer finalists Qiao Gu in the Chinese Regional Finals' climactic match. KaKAO was a non-factor for a majority of iG's time in China, and their bottom lane of Kid and Kitties were a disservice throughout the group stage, constantly getting held down in the early-game and then making colossal mistakes in the late-game. A team known for their inconsistency and ability to waver between an elite team and a non-entity, Invictus fell into the latter category this Worlds and quietly had one of the worst outings ever for a Chinese team at the World Championships.
Rapid Reaction: World Championship Quarterfinals
Flash Wolves vs. Origen
The Wolves will be ecstatic to know they've dodged EDward Gaming in the first round and ahq e-Sports Club, a team they lost to in both LMS splits this year. Origen, while a strong team and one of the best still left when it comes to map pressure, showed weakness against KT and LGD on the final day of Group D, losing two games when their opponents decided to match Origen's pressure with various teleportation methods of their own.
Origen will be overjoyed because they were able to dodge SK Telecom T1 in the quarterfinals and didn't have to rematch versus Fnatic, the team they lost to in the summer EU LCS playoff finals. The glaring weakness for the Wolves in the group stages was their inability to cleanly finish games, throwing leads away and having some of the longest matches in the tournament. Origen's mid-to-late-game prowess should help them deal with the Wolves' three-headed beast of Karsa, Maple, and SwordArt.
SK Telecom T1 vs. ahq e-Sports Club
A lot of teams would fall for ahq's style of fighting and craziness. SKT T1 is a team, that, rom my perspective, hard counters Group B's second place team. Ziv is one of ahq's strongest points and will have to matchup with MaRin, the captain, shot caller, and current MVP of the team through the first six games. ahq's two biggest weaknesses in terms of players, Mountain and Westdoor, will get to meet up with Bengi and Faker, the legendary duo that have been playing together for three years, have won already won a world title together, and have the potential to romp their counterparts in a best-of-five series.
This draw reminds me of the 2013 Worlds when the Gama Bears, Taiwan's champion at the time, were placed against Faker in the first round of the knockout rounds. The Bears were never given the chance to show how good they were because SK Telecom T1 swept them in the blink of an eye. ahq are a team that I feel like could make it to the semifinals or even the finals if given another road, but they're meeting their worst nightmare in the first round and will need to pull of the biggest upset in Worlds history to make the semifinals.
Fnatic vs. EDward Gaming
The heavyweight fight in the first round of the playoffs. Two teams that can fight, have veteran leaders in YellOwStaR and Clearlove, and deploy two AD carries that have been linked since last year's Worlds, Rekkles and Deft. It's a battle of two teams that could be considered the second and third best teams in the competition outside of SKT T1. One of them won't even make it to the top four by the time the week in London ends.
It will be interesting to see if EDG continue with AmazingJ in the top lane instead of Koro1. AmazingJ has had a rough time asserting himself in the starting role, and it isn't going to get any easier when he goes up against Huni in the quarterfinals. Don't forget that it wouldn't be a first time thing if a Chinese squad swapped out one of their starters from the group stages for a sub player, OMG doing it last year when they had a middling opening round with Dada77 as their support before putting Cloud in for their match against NaJin White Shield.
The result? 3-0 OMG.
KT Rolster vs. KOO Tigers
The pair of Korean teams probably would have liked to face different teams in the first round, yet they will breathe easily knowing that SKT T1, the team that swept them both in LCK finals (KOO in the spring, KT in the summer) is on the other side of the bracket. So whichever team can get out of the first round and make it to semifinals will have confidence that they can make it to the Summoner's Cup Final against either Fnatic or EDward Gaming given a strong performance.
This is a rematch of the semifinals of the Champions summer season's playoffs, KT Rolster edging that series out in a close 3-2 victory. One interesting pick to keep checks on in the series will be Ashe, a champion that both Arrow and PraY are excellent on, setting up teamfights for their top lane carries (Ssumday and Smeb) and their teamfighting-centric mid laners (Nagne and Kuro). Rolster appear to be the stronger team heading into the clash, but don't forget that the Tigers are a team that can flip matches on their head with unorthodox picks and new strategies that can steal games in a best-of-five.
The King of Worlds: Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten
Previous Kings: Hai, Karsa, MaRin, Balls, Maple, Bengi, Ssumday
Not since Faker in 2013 have we seen such an impressive debut from a mid laner at Worlds — no, I did not forget Pawn — and Febiven has a chance to walk the same road as the game's greatest player by winning a world title in his first year as a pro-gamer. And with how the brackets worked out, he might even have a chance to face off against Faker in a highly anticipated rematch from MSI when the Korean champions won in five games over Europe's best.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow him on Twitter.