SK Gaming and Fnatic turn in another thrilling 'el clasico'
What makes sports—and esports—so fun is the emotion it fuels in its players and their fans. Nothing does that better than rivalries, the kind of rivalries where the fans hate each other and the players want nothing more than to crush the guys on the other side.
In the relatively young field of esports, with no regional rivalries on which to call, it’s rare to have that kind of rivalry. But today, we got to experience one when the League Championship Series (LCS) leading SK Gaming, undefeated at 8-0, faced off against the 6-2 Fnatic.
Fans call the match “el clasico,” in homage of one of the greatest real sports rivalries, Real Madrid vs. Barcelona.
Much like the soccer version, “el clasico” features two of the most storied franchises in the history of their sport. SK Gaming is the original professional esports team, perhaps the first to ever salary players. Fnatic is its regional European rival ever since it burst onto the scene midway through the last decade. In League of Legends, that rivalry burned bright as Fnatic’s dominant team and SK Gaming’s various lineups clashed for years.
This season, the two are playing like the two best in Europe, despite a roster overhaul for Fnatic.
The match also represented a clash of styles. SK Gaming plays greedy, pushing all lanes as hard as possible and daring the opponent to stop them, using Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen’s strong counter-jungling and their individual talent to go toe-to-toe with foes and crush them, often sacrificing vision to continue their pushes. That, combined with the same superb team fighting they showed last season, saw them start the season with eight wins in a row.
Fnatic, on the other hand, favor a whirlwind frenzy of wanton aggression, roaming the map in groups and ganking for kills constantly. Would SK Gaming be able to man up and go toe-to-toe with the furious Fnatic?
The answer, after one of the most action-packed games of the season, was no.
The two Korean imports of Fnatic, Kim “ReignOver” Yeu-jin and Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, got the match started off the right way for their team, combining for a series of early kills. Fan favorite Huni, both for his breathtaking performances and his antics outside the game, finished the match with an insane 8/3/16 KDA line on Rumble, landing numerous effective Equalizer ultimates. But it was ReignOver who got him fed early, a 2/4/15 KDA Rek’Sai performance opening up the game for his team, participating in all of the first four kills they secured.
SK Gaming, though, didn’t go down without a fight. While their aggressive lane pushing left them open to Fnatic ganks and gave up deaths, they managed to keep the pressure on by maintaining a farm lead and scoring a couple kills of their own. Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou was his usual dominant self, putting up a 7/3/7 KDA on Graves. But the Fnatic aggression would eventually beat SK Gaming down, with Fnatic taking full advantage of SK Gaming’s low vision style.
In an uncharacteristic performance, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen posted a 1/8/9 KDA line on Jarvan IV. That champion pick seemed perfect for SK Gaming—an early-game powerhouse capable of protecting their pushing lanes. But Johnsen was one step behind Fnatic.
The Fnatic victory broke SK Gaming’s eight-game win streak, saving Fnatic’s own EU LCS record of 9 games set last year. “It’s great to break a win streak,” Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten said in the post-game interview.
Of course, in typical Fnatic fashion, the pre-game was more interesting. The team is quickly becoming a fan favorite thanks to their fast-paced play, camaraderie, and quirky top laner, who provided another gem before the match:
“Sssssssssssssssssssssss,” Huni intones. “All shut up?” Someone replies: “we are all nervous.”
“Whaaaaat?” Huni says, wiggling in his chair. “Is this nervous?” “Yeah.”
“Oh, big problem, guys. Why? Why? Why not?”
“Because we are against Godgiven.”
Big problem? More like no problem for Fnatic. They just crushed the top team in Europe, winning a big game in esports’ oldest standing rivalry. Fnatic now sits at 7-2, one game behind the 8-1 SK Gaming. Should Fnatic win their match tomorrow and SK Gaming lose, they’ll hold the top spot in the standings, and earn an invite to the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice tournament.
Few expected this new Fnatic lineup to feature at the top of the EU LCS standings, but the team is showing that they’re a staple there, no matter who dons their jerseys.
Even if they're an adorable little wiggler like Huni.
Image via Riot Games/Flickr