Fnatic's prospects at MSI
The 2015 Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) will soon be upon us, and many Western fans are excited to see their regions' top teams back in action. There has been a large amount of discussion around how good TSM is relative to the Korean and Chinese top outfits, but less emphasis has been placed on Fnatic's chances.
Fnatic was forced to re-jig its roster after four of the five members of their Season 4 World Championships team left the organisation. Rekkles replaced Tabzz at Elements (formerly Alliance), xPeke and sOAZ formed a new challenger team, Origen (which has since cruised into the LCS), and Cyanide retired from competitive League of Legends.
This meant that a new roster had to be built around experienced support player, YellOwStaR. Fnatic decided to take a risk on two talented but unproven Korean players - top laner Huni and jungler Reignover. The organisation also signed highly-respected European Challenger Series mid laner Febiven and little-known ADC player Steelback.
Many believed that Fnatic would struggle to match their past glory with this new roster. While they had invested in four unproven young players, SK Gaming had supplemented their roster with improvements in both the mid lane and AD Carry roles. Elements had retained a seemingly similar-strength roster to their victorious one of 2014, only replacing AD Carry Tabzz for Rekkles. If anything, this was an improvement on paper.
However, League of Legends is played on Summoners Rift, not paper. Fnatic surprised many by finishing 2nd in the regular split and winning the resulting play-offs. The team became well-known for their aggressive plays and for the hilarious moments Huni provided during All-Chat.
However, most agree that Fnatic are comfortably the worst team from the supposed "Big Four" of League of Legends (Korea, China, NA and EUW) to be competing at MSI. The EU LCS has become drastically less competitive over the past few splits, but the region is well-known for stepping up when it counts. Here are some aspects of Fnatic's gameplay to look out for.
1. One-hit wonders
While Fnatic is considered by most to be weaker than SK Telecom T1, Edward Gaming and Team SoloMid, they are a team more likely to cause an upset against superior opponents than most. This is due to their aggressive, unpredictable playstyle. If either Huni or Febiven are afforded early kills, Fnatic are a team that is incredibly efficient at snowballing these advantages into early-game dominance.
While one would presume that teams such as SK Telecom T1 and Edward Gaming have the tactical strength to avoid allowing Fnatic these advantages, Team Solo-Mid will be a prime target of Fnatic's. Although TSM are considered to be one of the strongest tactical teams in the West, Fnatic are perhaps the team most likely to topple their tactical applecart in one-off games. Dyrus is infamously the laner that TSM leaves alone to be bullied and often dominated. While in North America, this doesn't usually prove to be a problem, allowing Huni the freedom to bully Dyrus could be a huge issue. However...
2. The meta does not favour Fnatic
... Huni might not get to pick a viable carry-top laner.
Three things have most notably come into prominence due to the recent meta changes: The need for at least one tank, the anti-assassin mid lane meta, and smite top laners.
All three of these could prove to be detrimental to Fnatic in the context of other regions - regions where the opposition are incredibly knowledgeable at pick and ban strategies.
Reignover thrives upon early game junglers. He loves to get his lanes rolling early, but the new meta instead focuses more upon tank junglers who scale into the late game. Additionally, if opponents ban one of the two elite jungle picks (Gragas and Sejuani) and pick the other, Reignover may be forced to revert back to comfort picks such as Rek'Sai, Lee Sin and Rengar. If he is forced to do this, it is highly likely that Huni will be forced onto a tank - allowing him less potential to carry the team.
The other jungle option for Reignover in this situation would be Nunu, but a pick that increases Steelback's importance may not be the best idea for Fnatic. This is both due to him arguably being the weakest player on Fnatic, as well as the fact that he is rumoured to be leaving the organisation after MSI.
The anti-assassin mid lane meta has hurt Febiven. While he has had good performances on mages such as Xerath in the past, he is undoubtedly more comfortable on assassins. While players such as Bjergsen and Faker are famous for their assassin play, Bjergsen has also performed well on other picks, while SKT Telecom T1 have brought over a separate mid laner who thrives upon non-assassin champions.
Overall, Fnatic will be a dark horse heading into this tournament. On a good day, they could surprise any of the top three teams. However, it appears likely that they will finish no better than 4th in the group stages, and will struggle to compete at a similar level to either Edward Gaming or SK Telecom T1 in the semi-finals. Whatever happens, they will undoubtedly try their best to put on a strong, entertaining performance.
Photo courtesy of lolesports