On March 14, 2014, a wary Fnatic shuffled on stage for the first match of the Intel Extreme Masters Season VIII World Championship against Invictus Gaming. Neither iG nor Fnatic were in good standings in their respective leagues: multiple 1-1 ties placed iG just above last place in the LPL and Fnatic had only recently recovered from an eight game losing streak in the EU LCS as they limped to 3-3 record prior to their trip to Katowice.
Invictus Gaming crushed Fnatic in their first game. Liu “Zz1tai” Zhihao’s flashy Yasuo snowballed and Fnatic did not react well to iG’s lane swap. Things looked dire for Fnatic after a loss to the seventh place LPL team, but it was only one game. Fnatic bested fellow European squad Millennium in the lower bracket in an awkward and drawn out game, granting them the chance to play Invictus Gaming again after their loss to the KT Bullets in the final match of the day.
With a Yasuo ban, Fnatic ran through a less organized Invictus Gaming to squeak into the semifinals against North American team Cloud9. Fnatic lost one game in the series before making the final. They didn’t win a single game in their set against the KT Rolster Bullets, a team that would go home to Korea and lose out in the Champions quarterfinal that season, but what happened at IEM Katowice is less important than what followed on Fnatic’s return to the EU LCS that year.
With the help of creative compositions, Fnatic only lost one of their eight remaining EU LCS matches, placed second in the regular season, and triumphed over Alliance and SK Gaming in the playoffs en route to their third consecutive LCS title. The 2014 Intel Extreme Masters World Championship served as Fnatic’s springboard back to the top of Europe.
It’s that time of year again, and this edition of the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship has a lot in common with the one from 2014. Both Fnatic and Origen are coming into this tournament after a bumpy start to the season has put them in fifth and sixth place respectively. Like Europe, few regions are sending their best representatives to Katowice. Only the QG Reapers, Royal Never Give Up, and Counter Logic Gaming are in good standing within their respective leagues. Many expect the struggling Korean team, SK Telecom T1, to still win it all.
Both Fnatic and Origen have one starting player who participated in the 2014 IEM World Championship: Origen's Paul “sOAZ” Boyer and Fnatic's Martin “Rekkles” Larsson. Both rosters are thick with talent, and both teams entered the new year with lofty expectations that they've so far failed to meet. Just as it was for Fnatic in 2014, IEM Katowice could help these Worlds semifinalists rebound.
Origen: the Baron, the reunion, and happily Ever after
“I think the biggest adaptation for me was the shotcalling. I wasn't really used to that. If mithy, for example, was calling for "push bot, push mid, we rotate into the jungle," and stuff like that, I need to get used to that and adapt to it fast. I think we found ourselves yesterday, our last day of scrims, for the matches today. We don't have the best synergy yet, but the shotcalling is pretty good right now.”
Origen have the softer group, but a longer list of problems. As with the IEM World Championship in 2014, both Origen and Fnatic start their week against a Chinese team.
Despite Royal Never Give Up’s higher position in the LPL, it isn’t out of the question to say that Origen can beat them. Both teams make strong Baron plays and despite Origen's sixth place status,the secure the game's first Baron 64 percent of the time. On the flip side, Royal are undefeated in games where they secure the first Baron and average the earliest first Baron time in the LPL by a wide margin.
Origen and Royal are both relatively bottom lane-centric teams. Though Origen have lane swapped more than Royal, they still seem to favor the 2v2, using Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez to get a lead for Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen. This formula has seemed less effective in recent weeks, and Origen’s teamfighting has looked scattered as Zven positions too far forward, and the team fails to peel.
With that being said, Baron has been just as much a friend to Origen as an enemy. Some of their more disastrous fights have occurred around the Baron area as the team splits in half behind the pit to get picked off. Royal Never Give Up’s early game vision may be lacking, but they set up well for Baron. This could be a case where choosing to take Baron against Royal might result in disaster, but if Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider can flex his steal muscles, Origen can replicate WE’s approach to taking Royal out.
Though Origen’s strengths rest on playing around their bottom lane, Europe’s ability to efficiently play lane swaps across the board can create a plan for victory. Royal like to place scouting wards that give them information about reverse swaps, but applying an approach similar to Unicorns of Love’s blind swap turret hug could deny Royal their ability to expand their bottom lane advantage.
All that to say that this game is winnable for Origen.
Origen may collide with ex-Fnatic and current Team SoloMid support Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim, which spawns a number of interesting storylines as both teams suffer very similar problems with unity. Both Origen and TSM are third in their respective regions for combined kills per minute, meaning that their matchup is likely to be disorganized and bloody. Again, TSM have been playing more around Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s early game success, but they haven't been able to convert that into wins. In all likelihood, this matchup may just come down to which team gets the better fights with their AD carries later in the game.
Ever’s weaker laning phase has been exacerbated since Intel Extreme Masters Cologne, but Origen average a gold disadvantage at 15 minutes. Both teams have done well with global pressure from running multiple Teleports, but we’ve seen poor execution by Origen on this front as of late. Ever have also succeeded in pressuring their top lane opponents, and Origen rely too heavily on sOAZ lately for that not to hurt. Ever have struggled recently, but with more time with star support Kim "KeY" Hangi, they are a team to watch at Katowice.
This group is in slight shambles from top to bottom, and Origen have a reasonable chance to escape. When I spoke to PowerOfEvil at IEM San Jose, he said that the team’s shotcalling system had only just fallen into place the day before their first match. Origen could have a similar surge at Katowice and once again again like the promising team they were in San Jose, but it feels like most of that will come down to a weak competition pool.
Fnatic: Swift and Spirit again, Counter-Logiced, and an SKT beat down
"It's not the optimal state because it's very tough for an AD carry to have all these responsibilities, but I'm putting all my time into solving this. I'm watching through replays, just put myself in their seat, and — what would I do now, what would the enemy team do now — and I guess just trying to improve one of the weak sides of myself as a player, I think. With time I will just grow into it, people will take more responsibility, and we will be much stronger than we are right now."
Based on Group B, Fnatic are in a far worse position to find success than Origen. Despite Royal’s recent 2-0 win over the QG Reapers, QG seem to have a stronger grasp of team play and a more complex strategy based around slowing down the pace of the game. As Fnatic have often sought to implement slower game play, this becomes a much more difficult matchup as QG excel at the freeze and mid-late game teamfighting.
The last time that these two teams clashed in a best-of-three series, QG won 2-1. I wrote a feature covering the matchup between Lee “Spirit” Dayoon and Baek “Swift” Dahoon that discussed how Swift's team in China played better around him, but that Spirit was the better player. I still stand by my statement, with the caveat that Spirit is still having trouble adapting to Fnatic. Evidence of poor communication show when he gets caught out, and he often chooses to farm selfishly or go for greedy ganks without vision coverage.
This doesn’t make him dissimilar to Swift though. Swift has engaged too early in several of QG’s games before hitting his power spikes, but QG have demonstrated more coordination around their jungler in terms of setting up fights in choke points or executing multi-Teleport strategies. I expect this to ultimately give QG the advantage, even if Fnatic win the early game lane swap — which is also not a done deal given Fnatic’s occasional fumble.
Potential matches against Counter Logic Gaming and SK Telecom T1 may not be straightforward depending on the jungler SKT decide to play. Should Fnatic play against an SK Telecom T1 with Bae "Bengi" Seongwoong they may be able to execute invades when he plays champions other than Elise and Gragas. SKT have looked nearly as scattered with Kang "Blank" Sungu as Fnatic have looked with Spirit, and this match becomes harder to call. Ultimately, SKT have a better chance of bringing it together in team fights when Lee "Duke" Hoseong is less cut off.
CLG have a better grasp of split-pushing and seem to understand their own weaknesses well. I could foresee this matchup devolving into a Zz’rot Portal war, but ultimately CLG have a firm grasp of their system. Fnatic’s possible matchups in this group do not favor them, so their chance of success is through the outplay. There's no shame in dropping out of Group B, as I strongly feel the tournament winner will come from that group.
Even with a bleak outlook, Fnatic's trip to Katowice can be productive for them in their quest to better integrate their jungler. Spirit developed two distinct styles on Samsung Blue and Team WE. He can develop yet another style on Fnatic. In a recent interview, support Johan "Klaj" Olsson said that he and Spirit have recently worked on establishing vision together, taking some of this responsibility from Rekkles so he can focus on delegating other tasks.
Enhancing this dynamic may be the best way for Fnatic to improve their team play and allow their carries to be more effective. With struggling vision, Fabien “Febiven” Diepstraten has not fully been able to take advantage of his opponent's poor positioning. Fnatic can begin to develop a more defined playstyle once they improve their foundation.
Predicting a rebound as a result of the IEM World Championship would not only be difficult, but foolish without additional information. Regardless of how Origen and Fnatic do in their respective groups, this tournament can help their domestic play if they can learn from taking on international competition. This could be a 2014 Katowice story all over again, but at the moment I’m not in the betting mood.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.