Fnatic are a team with an awful lot to prove.
Coming into the 2020 League of Legends World Championship off the back of a crushing loss to G2 in the LEC Summer Split Finals, many fans were worried about the level of international performance the squad would produce. The inconsistency issues that plagued them throughout the regular split looked as though they had mostly been solved in the LEC playoffs, but many pundits were hesitant to put their faith in this iteration of Fnatic.
Judging by their Worlds performance so far, however, it appears as though these doubts were mostly unfounded. Fnatic have cemented themselves in an early-game, skirmish-heavy playstyle and tore up the Rift in the group stage, dropping two games and making it into the knockout stage as Group C’s second seed.
Fnatic’s wins have looked extremely dominant. And in an interview with Dot Esports after their loss to Gen.G, top laner Bwipo explained that their loss was a result of “trying a draft that [they] don’t usually play.” The team looked undeniably weaker with mid laner Nemesis piloting a much more supportive champion in Lulu, but Bwipo is confident that the loss hasn’t set the team back in terms of confidence.
“It didn’t work out, and it looked pretty bad, but ultimately it definitely gave us the perspective we needed on what defeat actually feels like,” Bwipo said, highlighting a key issue that often affects teams who show such dominance in the group stage.
If a team isn’t forced to “taste a loss” early on in lower-stakes games, complacency with drafts and in-game decision making can quickly develop. In a best-of-five series, “comfort can get removed from you” as the enemy team learns your drafting tendencies, according to Bwipo. And without the experience of a loss from the group stage, this can massively affect a team’s mental fortitude.
Sub-optimal Lulu picks aside, Fnatic have settled into a style that suits them down to a T at this year’s World Championship. In the LEC, the teams struggled to adapt to the playstyle of a carry jungler, with previous jungler Broxah playing a much more supportive style. Internationally, however, Fnatic look locked and loaded on playing for Selfmade, enabling him on his comfort champions and supporting him on early invades.
They’ve been the only team to find success on the Evelynn pick, so much so that it’s now almost permanently banned against them. The prevalence of Evelynn as a solely European jungle pick highlights an interesting discussion of meta, namely that each region comes into the tournament with their own variances in how they think the game should be played, developed from a split of domestic play.
This regional variance is most prevalent in counters to universally strong champions, particularly in the top lane, explains Bwipo, citing Camille as a champion with the most varied “answers.” The question of meta, however, can’t be limited to a purely regional divide. The most fascinating aspect of international events is the micro-metas that are developed within each group, such as the characterization of Group C by Volibear, Renekton, and Ornn picks in the top lane.
“When Ornn and Volibear are taken away in the ban phase, suddenly Renekton shoots up in priority, and you have to find an answer to the Renekton in order to match him in the top lane,” Bwipo said, referring to Fnatic’s less-than-stellar draft against Gen.G. In this particular instance, the team discovered that Malphite was not, perhaps, this answer to Renekton that they had been looking for. But Bwipo remains confident that the team hasn’t taken the loss to heart and said the game offered them some “much-needed perspective” on their drafting heading into the quarterfinals
Although their Malphite pick against Gen.G may not have been the most successful so far at the tournament, Fnatic made it out of the group stage relatively unscathed. But now, their real challenge begins in the quarterfinals.
Bwipo is confident that whoever they face, they can at the very least make it an “exciting” series. With the level of global top lane talent at this tournament, he knows he’ll have “either a really good quarters or a really, really bad one”—such is the all-or-nothing nature of the current top lane meta. He described all of his potential top lane opponents as “pretty much TheShy’s level of skill,” which is a bold move considering Fnatic’s history with the Invictus Gaming lineup of which TheShy is a core member. But where some players would be feeling the pressure, Bwipo is just excited.
As a player on a team as established as Fnatic, tournaments such as the World Championship always carry the weight of representation. When you’re playing under such an iconic logo, you’re a representative of all that logo has come to mean throughout the history of esports. Bwipo sees himself equally as a representative of Fnatic as a team and of Europe as a whole.
“When I’m coming off the stage, I feel like I’m a player that’s part of Fnatic,” Bwipo said. “But when I’m waiting for a groups draw, or a quarterfinals draw, I feel like a representative of Europe.”
With the LEC’s recent upsurge in international performance, the concept of representing Europe has come to mean so much more than just showing up to a tournament. It means making it to the finals and trying to beat the best of the best.
Fnatic’s World Championship run continues against the LPL’s Top Esports on Oct. 17 at 5am CT.
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