With only G2 Esports and Pioneers seen as potential competition in the winners’ semifinals, tournament underdog Fnatic took an unprepared Cloud9 roster all the way to five games in an electric matchup for the HCS winners bracket round two today. The series ended with a 3-2 victory for C9, but the outcome showed strength fans didn’t expect from Fnatic.
After a comfortable performance in the pools to take the top spot of Pool A, reigning champions Cloud9 were considered to have an easy run to the winners’ bracket finals in the upper half of the bracket. With C9 only dropping a single map in pool play and winning 3-0 against the titans of Sentinels, Fnatic’s performance raises questions on just how far this roster of rookies can go at Anaheim.
Game one would set the tone for the back-and-forth nature of the set. Oddball on Recharge was close from round one, both teams exchanging blows with only a few seconds of ball time separating them as C9 secured the round. SuperCC would prove to be the player that Fnatic rallied behind in round two, contributing both to objective play and the slaying department with a standout 11-7 K/D ratio. Round one may have been a close fight, but round two ended in favor of Fnatic with a 100-20 scoreline. Round three was looking to be more of the same, with Fnatic enjoying an over 50-point lead in objective time and needing only 20 more seconds holding the ball to take game one from C9. However, C9’s experience over Fnatic’s can’t be understated, and as C9 wrestled back control of the Oddball, desperate split pushes from Fnatic would be the swan song that led to a C9 victory.
Unphased by a close loss in game one, Fnatic took the fight to C9 in Slayer on Streets for game two. After gaining the lead, Fnatic never let go of it, C9 trailing by two to five kills for the majority of the match. C9’s Renegade put up an impressive 17 kills to try and tip the scales in his team’s favor, but 15 deaths on the board alongside teammate Eco’s 13 was too high a cost. Fnatic would end up closing out the Slayer 50-47 to tie up the series, with Joseph “Juziro” Bartholomay and SuperCC being the team’s standout players with +2 and +4 K/D’s respectively.
Strongholds on Live Fire for game three was going to be a tall order for Fnatic to take. Despite being described as Slayer with extra steps by many pro players, Strongholds requires a level of objective efficiency and rotational skills that allow more experienced teams to shut out their opponents handily.
It wasn’t a promising start for Fnatic. C9 secured an over 100-point lead by maintaining control of the Sniper Rifle and Active Camo. Despite Fnatic only securing five fewer kills than C9 throughout the match, their objective play was not able to match that of C9, who secured the Strongholds map 250-171.
With their hopes of an upset on the line going into game four– Capture the Flag on Aquarius–Fnatic forced C9 into an aggressive pace of play. Within the first minute of the match, both flags had already been pulled, a messy round of slays narrowly going in the favor of C9 to put them 1-0 up. Every pull of the flag was a similar story throughout the next 10 minutes, but the frantic nature of the match gave Fnatic the opportunity to keep the score level throughout. With only 16 seconds left on the clock and the scoreline at a stalemate of 3-3, Juziro tossed the C9 flag out into the middle of the map and forced a sudden death timer. Despite Juziro falling early in the run, C9 chose not to return the flag immediately and focus on kills, allowing Torez “Envore” Broyles to sneak out the flag from under the C9 line of defense and get it all the way home.
Fnatic had gone from struggling to break into the top eight in January’s HCS Pro Series to taking the unbeaten champions of North America to a game five. The impossible began to seem possible as Fnatic took a strong early lead in Slayer on Bazaar, creating a gap of up to 10 kills by the mid-game against C9. Victory seemed out of C9’s reach as the score reached 27-18 to Fnatic, off the back of SuperCC’s dominant early game with 13 kills to only two deaths. But the underdog story would begin to crumble as C9 forced the game to a standstill. Fnatic saw success when they could play a fast and aggressive game, their players with a more confident set of shots in one-vs-one battles. But when forced to rotate and push against a C9 hold in one corner of the map, C9’s synergy in a full teamfight would prove stronger. C9 took away Fnatic’s momentum, and then took the series with a 50-41 win in game five.
While a crushing defeat in its own right, Fnatic’s ability to compete with C9 in this series proved they have what it takes to put up an impressive performance in their run through the elimination bracket. With their side of the elimination bracket containing open qualifier teams such as XSET, Oxygen Esports and G1, Fnatic has the potential to steal the show with a top six finish at their first tournament under the organization.