The ray of Teleports rising from the rift, the bait into a choke point, the Lissandra ultimate, the end of Team Vitality's run.
No matter the season, European League Championship Series fans expect Fnatic to win. The boys in orange and black have a long history of success, winning the EU LCS in every season barring the 2014 summer season where they came second to Froggen's Alliance.
But this season was different.
Without shotcaller Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim and most of the familiar faces that made Fnatic an international powerhouse, Rekkles and co. finished the regular season in sixth place — the lowest they've ever placed. H2k-Gaming, G2 Esports and Team Vitality cemented themselves as the region's elite for most of the split. With the exception of a few naysayers who praised Fnatic's recent scrim performances, most said Vitality would make it to Rotterdam with ease.
Fnatic's euphemistic other half, Origen, also made short work of their quarterfinals opponent, the Unicorns of Love. Origen and Fnatic went a combined 6-1 this weekend and both teams advanced to the semifinals where they will face off against H2k-Gaming and G2 Esports respectively.
With all that said, it's somewhat expected to see Origen and Fnatic improve toward the end of the split. Fnatic's 2014 holdouts, Paul "sOAZ" Boyer and Martin "Rekkles" Larsson, know what it means to conserve energy during the regular season and, as Alfonso "mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez put it on the analyst desk, "step up for playoffs."
For the remainder of their time as EU LCS teams, Fnatic and Origen will always be the answers you circle on the multiple choice quiz when you're stumped. Against the Unicorns of Love, Origen's win made sense. Unicorns hadn't beat over Origen in a single game this split, and their revolving door of junglers has forced the team's macro play to slip away.
The problem comes out in the Vitality and Fnatic series because this time around, we weren't stumped. We weren't looking for the safe answer, but we got it anyway.
"Not saying they are a favorite because they won against us, and we played pretty bad."
— Kévin "Shaunz" Ghanbarzadeh on Fnatic's chances of success in semifinals
Going into the quarterfinals, I had the most trepidation about the way in which Vitality have defined themselves. When coming up with a way to describe Vitality, I invariably went back to referring to them as a counter-drafting team. Rather than ban out an opponent's comfort champions, they've preferred to devise a strategy that counters them and creatively play around them.
This task usually requires a lot of research into the enemy team and time to consider any tweaks or changes. If Fnatic came to the EU LCS with multiple strategies after preparing for two weeks, Vitality would reasonably struggle to adapt and come up with the appropriate counter-strategy between games.
Fnatic haven't been particularly creative with their compositions all split. In fact, this was often why it was easy for Vitality to dismantle them. Fnatic played one composition until another team countered it. Then they would fixate on another, but it would take them time to devise one.
This series was no exception as Fnatic still defaulted to some of their favorite picks, like scaling utility AD carries and Poppy. In the series' first match, Fnatic played a heavy scaling composition that fell in line with what they preferred to do during the regular season, compensating for early game mistakes by waiting for the late game. Vitality's composition should have countered them, as they brought crowd control and champions that could have an earlier impact.
A few flaws came out in Vitality's plan of attack as Lucas "Cabochard " Simon-Meslet over-extended and Vitality chose a jungle pick that was weaker than Fnatic's in the early game despite choosing stronger lanes. Vitality failed to capitalize on any dive or pressure opportunities in the early game, which allowed Fnatic to accomplish the obvious goal of their composition and win out.
Team Vitality didn't alter their approach until Game 3, and more small mistakes cost them in Game 4 after Lee "Spirit" Dayoon reverted to more early aggressive picks. Vitality accepted fights in choke points against Lissandra, and Fnatic pulled through.
Over an extended series, Vitality demonstrated a failure to apply some of their creative drafting techniques to change the game — they opted to ban Spirit's surprise Kindred rather than draft around it. This series demonstrated the importance of the best-of-two format coming to Europe next split that will give teams like Vitality more game-to-game practice.
But it isn't fair to blame everything on slow adaptation. Vitality's Teleports weren't on par with Fnatic's. Fnatic seemed to coordinate vision and side wave pushes better than ever. It's just that their victory is slightly cheapened by Vitality's in-game mistakes. Fnatic could control the pace of most of the games because Vitality simply didn't challenge them early enough.
G2 Esports also lack series experience, and Fnatic may be able to punch through their style in a similar way. Yet G2's identity is less dependent on an ability to adapt a draft. They'll be tougher to crack.
The horns fall from the Unicorns
"We just pick stuff and it works why change it?"
—mithy on Origen's quarterfinal win
The above quote is the best way to describe Origen's playoff bout against the Unicorns of Love. A great deal of mechanical and strategic mistakes plagued the matches, but that didn't stop them from going decidedly in Origen's favor.
Origen's win, as it was more expected, requires slightly less of an explanation than Fnatic's. Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage looked more comfortable within the framework on Origen with Patch 6.6 Orianna buffs and the increased viability of Varus. In Game 3, the opportunity even arose for him to style with Leblanc.
Following the matches, PowerOfEvil said on the broadcast that the break gave him an opportunity to observe how Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez plays scrims with Origen and see what the team requires of their mid laner. While Origen were far from a well-oiled machine, they seemed to work better in their defined style of playing around the bottom lane. Whether as a result of increased team play or redoubled efforts, Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen also performed a lot more like he did earlier in the split when I considered him to be Europe's best AD carry.
Similar credit goes to the Unicorns of Love's bottom lane, but overall Zven and mithy seemed to reach a higher level with skillshot timing and positioning. The Unicorns of Love lacked coordination around Baron and in mid lane fights, which ultimately allowed Origen to overcome them and sOAZ's Teleports came through more successfully than those of Tamás "Vizicsacsi" Kiss. While Origen reverted to mid lane comfort picks, Hampus "Fox" Myhre played an awkward Lissandra with inefficient ultimates.
This rush-mid-force-sloppy-fights Origen won't defeat H2K Gaming — unless H2K go for a reckless Baron fight as they've done on occasion. Origen's composition drafting still appears less tight with high priority on Gragas and Leblanc in conjunction with Sivir in Game 3.
Once again, we're entering a round of EU LCS playoffs where we don't need to go with our gut. We don't need a safe answer. G2 and H2K should best Fnatic and Origen to advance to the final in Rotterdam.
But Fnatic are still here, and the nagging feeling that they'll surprise us lingers on.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.