nRated - Europe's Strategical Mastermind
Christoph 'nRated' Seitz is one of the most strategically influential veterans in European competitive League of Legends history. Best known for his time in FNATIC, where he was able to place highly in a number of international competitions, the latter part of his career has been spent in the colours of SK Gaming. As well as playing individually and synergising with his AD Carries in the bottom lane, nRated has displayed a mind for the game which has helped his teams gain an edge on their opponents.
By tracking the German's career, one sees the thread of tactical thinking flowing from one to another, as he arrives, and with each team achieving a higher level of strategical prowess in his presence. In this article, I'll look at each stage of nRated's time competing in League and the strategical impact he and his teams were able to have. I was able to consult with nRated directly, finding out his role and responsibilities in each of his teams, allowing me to build up a framework of his influence and effect on the teams he has played with in his career.
aAa - The sleeper counters to Moscow Five
against All authority (aAa) are best known for their runner-up finish at the S1 Championship in 2011, but they were still relevant at the top of the European scene in early 2012 also. nRated joined on February 22nd, taking on the Support role. He was a veteran of the early betas of League and had played with the core that went on to later form SK Gaming in 2011. Less than three weeks after being added to aAa, nRated's team competed at the IEM VI World Championship and were able to take fourth place, losing out to the unbeaten Team Dignitas and CLG.NA.
The hallmark of this aAa line-up, which featured YellOwStaR as nRated's AD Carry, sOAZ in the Top lane, MoMa in the Mid and Linak at Jungler, was their incredibly strong form in online play, which still made up a lot of the competition among top European teams back then. Winning numerous cups and taking top placings in others, the French-based side were able to defeat CLG.EU numerous times, as well as get wins over teams like FNATIC and Moscow Five. Likewise, in online practices they were known as one of the strongest teams in the region.
It was aAa's success level against Moscow Five that made them such an interesting team, since they were able to neutralise the Russians's game, to some degree, by employing strong one-versus-one jungling, with Linak taking on Diamond directly, to prevent themselves getting counter-jungled, as so often was the downfall of the other top teams of the time.
Despite such strength online and in practice, which provoked a lot of hype around the line-up, they would never again get to face M5 offline and show if they would have been one of the rare few capable of beating Alex Ich and his comrades. Attending IPL4 in Las Vegas, nRated's men were humiliated and failed to finish in the top six. The team disbanded the following month.
In aAa, nRated did not play a shot-calling role, instead those responsiblities lay with Jungler Linak. nRated's responsibilities were timing engages for team-fights and attempting to set-up advantageous situations from which to fight.
After aAa, nRated spent less than a month on trial in Millenium, another French team, along with botlane partner YellOwStaR, before both departed in late July.
FNATIC - Establishing a new European powerhouse
The FNATIC nRated began playing with, on a trial basis, in early August, was a broken down shell of the team that had won the S1 Championship a year or so earlier. His addition saw them garner some online success and they decided to make the acquisition a permanent one, with him being officially announced a week before the Regional Qualifier for the Season 2 World Championship.
In the Qualifier, FNATIC were able to reach the semi-final, where they took a game off M5, but ultimately fell to the dominant Russian side. In the third place play-off, nRated's team again took another elite European side (CLG.EU) to three games, but again failed in the decisive third, missing out on a slot for the World Championship. A month after the Regional Qualifier, Lamia, nRated's AD Carry, announced his retirement from competitive League.
After playing with former SK Gaming AD Carry Candy Panda for a while, it would be the young 16 year old Swedish player Rekkles who would get the nod to play with FNATIC for the rest of the year. FNATIC shocked the world as they were able to take down CLG.EU 2:1 in the final of Dreamhack Winter in late November. This result sparked enough faith from the FNATIC organisation for them to book expensive last-minute tickets for the team to attend the stacked IPL5 tournament in Last Vegas a week later.
In Vegas, FNATIC pulled off another upset, downing Korean representatives Azubu Blaze in the group stage, though falling to Chinese top team World Elite. In bracket play, FNATIC continued to wow spectators, sweeping reigning world champions TPA in their first series. A close three game series against CLG.NA allowed nRated some revenge for the IEM VI World Championship of earlier in the year, as this time his team came out on the right end of the result. In the upper bracket final, FNATIC went three games with World Elite but fell to the lower bracket.
In the lower bracket, a rematch against TPA allowed the German's gang to show that the upper bracket series had been no fluke, repeating their 2:0 victory. That set-up a finals rematch against World Elite. The Chinese side began with a map advantage and fnatic were able to win the opener, but WeiXiao and company took the win in the next game and the title.
Shot-calling, preparation and an understanding of minion pressure
One of the primary factors behind FNATIC's success at IPL5, particularly their 4:0 undefeated performance against the reigning LoL world champions TPA, was their intensive bootcamp prior to the event. The team had put many hours into their practice, which had begun before Dreamhack Winter. As well as playing numerous games, nRated's side had tried out numerous different styles and altered their tendencies. This ensured that a team like TPA, well known for their research, had very little to go on from past FNATIC games, while the European team could use their own scouting from the Taiwanese team's world championship run.
nRated was one of the primary shot-callers of FNATIC, sharing the responsibility with Top laner sOAZ. The German's speciality involved and understanding of how to make macro calls based on wave control, to create map pressure. He had an excellent understanding of when a lane needed to be pushed a certain way, how to stack it to do so and the exact effect it would have, both in terms of tower damage and forcing the opponents to make key decisions.
As a result of this cerebral approach, nRated's team show-cased a better understanding of wave control to create map pressure than many of the Western teams, most of whom were still obsessively focused upon team-fighting and vying for the dragon or baron. An example of how this would be applied was when nRated would have his team set each side lane wave pushing, leaving two ranged creeps so it would be a slow affair, and then they would group all five players into the Mid lane and push.
With nRated well known as a threat on Blitzcrank, this meant that the enemy team was always threatened with a potential engage in the Mid lane, while the side lanes gradually built in pressure until it became unbearable and FNATIC could either secure the fight they wanted or transition into outer towers.
More success with the kid
The last event of the year, all of two weeks after IPL5, was IEM VII Cologne. In the group stage, FNATIC were able to defeat Reapered's SK Telecom and progress in first place. That win secured a semi-final against the CJ Entus of Dade and inSec. inSec had terrorised CLG.EU with his farm-intensive carry jungling style, but nRated and FNATIC were able to find an answer to the split-pushing style of the Koreans, grouping up together at the right times and forcing fights.
nRated would later admit that CJ were the superior team, but by playing aggressively against them and forcing opportunities for mistakes to occur, his FNATIC team were able to edge the series 2:1. The problem, as he saw it, with many of the Western teams, was that the passive farm-up style of Season 2 left Westerners helpless once Koreans were fully farmed. In the final, FNATIC fell in three games to an inspired performance from virtuoso Top lane shot-caller Reapered.
Climbing back to the top
Those late results in 2012 had meant FNATIC finished the year as the best European team, with M5 having finished only fourth at IPL5, but that would be called into question as FNATIC knew they could not use their AD Carry for the following year. Rekkles, at age 16, was too young to play in the League Championship Series (LCS) which was set to begin that February.
As a result, FNATIC removed Rekkles and brought in YellOwStaR, nRated's botlane partner from his aAa days. The French AD Carry had been playing in SK Gaming, where he had been the primary shot-caller, but would not be called upon for such responsibilities in FNATIC, where their existing approach was already proven and reliable.
The first event with this new line-up would come less than three weeks into January, attending IEM VII Katowice. Losing to Azubu Frost in the group stage, FNATIC progressed in the second spot. In the play-offs, they would face Azubu Blaze and be eliminated after three games. Days later, it was the qualifier for the first LCS split and FNATIC made it through to ensure they would be competing in the new era of top European League of Legends.
The league format seemed suit FNATIC as they would finish the regular portion of the split in first place. In the play-offs, they defeated EG (the new name for the ex-CLG.EU line-up) 2:1. In the grand final they would face Gambit (the new name for the ex-Moscow Five line-up. Gambit had won the IEM VII Katowice line-up, beating both of the Korean Azubu teams, and were thus once more considered Europe's kings. FNATIC would change that, for the time being, with a thrilling 3:2 victory in the Bo5 final.
Split-pushing to victory
A factor that made FNATIC successful against the former CLG.EU line-up, who was previously been one of the very best teams in the entire world, was their effective use of split-pushing. CLG.EU's approach was, famously, to play passively early on, farming up to become strong and then win with late-game team-fighting. To prevent that from happening, nRated's team would abuse split-pushing, having strong solo laners like sOAZ and xPeke off pushing a wave in a side lane, so that EG players were constantly having to return to lanes and clear the minions, allowing FNATIC to group and push a tower elsewhere.
On an episode of 'Summoning Insight', former EG Support Krepo explained that from the EG side, it had been hard to figure out what was happening. They would be preparing to group and fight, only to suddenly notice a big wave building up and pushing in a lane, forcing them to abandon their plan to fight five-versus-five and send someone to deal with the wave. This meant that when they would lose games, as a result of FNATIC gaining more towers and getting ahead that way, the EG players would feel as if they hadn't truly lost, instead feeling like they could have won if they'd just been able to force a fight.
Life as an analyst
The Summer split of LCS began quite poorly for FNATIC and in early July it was announced that nRated had been removed from the team. Just over a week later, Evil Geniuses announced at they were bringing nRated into their team house to live with them and operate as an analyst.
"Christoph 'nRated' Seitz was released from Fnatic and while we found this surprising news, we saw this as an opportunity to pick up the analyst we always wanted. Not only is he a very capable player in terms of skill, he has a sharp mind when it comes to decision making in game and as he is a friend, we are able to respect his opinion and observations of our team both in and out of game.
He will play several roles, but primarily he will be the Analyst of the team, filling a hole which already in the short time he has been with us has made a considerable impact in decision making and highlighted things which we were previously ignorant of."
-Snoopeh, Jungler of Evil Geniuses (Reddit, 2013)
Evil Geniuses had also begun the Summer split in poor form, sitting down in sixth place in the standings, prior to nRated coming on board. The German Support player set about analysing the team's approach, which still held true to their old CLG.EU roots of waiting for the late-game and being wary of early aggression. He came to the conclusion that they lacked confidence in their ability to make plays early, encouraging them to embrace this aspect of the game and become less predictable.
As well as breaking down the team's strategical approach, in line with being more aggressive early, nRated designed some effective level one tactics for them, allowing them to gain edges and force the action right from the get-go in games. This would be a new approach entirely for an Evil Geniuses team which had previously been stuck in the paradigm of letting Froggen farm all game and waiting for him to carry the game late. Now, Froggen began to roam a lot more, in line with how Mid laners across Europe were playing, so as to help with ganks in other lanes or provide pressure on towers.
Immediately, EG began to turn their results around and recorded their first week with a winning record. Starting a record of 6:9 before nRated's arrival, EG would go 9:4 over the last 11 games, finishing tied for second place. Losing out to FNATIC in the tiebreaker for second, they settled on third place. In the play-offs, EG would reach the third place decider but lose to Gambit in a three game series, being denied a Worlds slot, echoing nRated's own disappointment the year prior with FNATIC.
With EG set for a long off-season, nRated was released and was picked up by Lemondogs, the team who had finished first in the regular portion of the split and second overall. The German would attend the Season 3 World Championship with his new team, acting as their analyst. Prior to that tournament, he was able to bootcamp with them in Stockholm and help them sort out individual mistakes, since all of their players were still inexperienced at top level competitive play, and general overall improvements. Again, nRated would play a key role in designing new level one tactics.
At the World Championship, Lemondogs would not progress from their group, finishing in third place, but the effect on their level ones was noticeable.
Finding a new home
In the off-season that followed Worlds, nRated was one of many players to try out for Froggen's "super-team", which would later become Alliance. Failing to get an invitation to join, nRated would find an opening in the form of SK Gaming, who were losing Nyph to the very same Alliance. nRated's mechanics had degraded since his playing days, half a year or so prior, but SK were facing troubles of their own.
The former top tier European team had put together a new line-up distinctly lacked star names, seeing players like Kev1n and Ocelote leave them in the off-season. Their new line-up, with former aAa Top laner fredy122, ex-Copenhagen Wolves Jungler Svenskeren, CandyPanda at AD Carry and unknown Danish player Jesiz at Mid, had many predicting SK would be a bottom feeder in the next LCS split.
When they, with Nyph still playing, had barely scraped through a Promotion series against Supa Hot Crew, coming back from 0:2 down to win 3:2, and largely with Nyph playing the role of hero and carrying them, there was little reason to expect any greatness from that team. nRated was invited on the condition that he apply himself heavily to practicing, to get his level back to a satisfactory range and ensure he would be a valuable contributing member.
SK Gaming - The little team that could play the right way
Over the first four weeks, SK seemed to be only slightly exceeding the low expectations many had of them, managing only a 4:6 record, putting them tied for fourth place. Beyond that point, though, they would explode and go on a 14:4 run over the last 18 games, finishing the regular portion of the split in first place. SK had reached the top spot in week eight, holding it for the remaining three weeks. The final week, a super week, had seen nRated's men go 4:0 and himself receive the weekly MVP award. SK finished the split without a losing record against any team in the league.
While the players had all performed more effectively than anticipated, it had been the team-based approach which had won SK so many games and against so many good opponents. While he had been the one of the main shot-callers in FNATIC, nRated's role would be reduced in SK. Svenskeren would make the early game macro calls, with the team individually calling out for lane gank. During team-fights, each member of the team would play a role in calling out the targets to focus. nRated's area of control came in the macro rotations and deciding when to take team-fights in the mid and late-game.
Outside of the game, SK would have group meetings where they would come up with strategies and everyone was allowed their input. nRated would prepare some special approaches and wrinkles for playing specific opponents, but the others would be required to approve these plans. As with a number of the teams he had previously been involved with, nRated was in charge of all of the level one play, designing the invades and cover tactics.
The story-book climax that never came
In the play-offs, SK defeated ROCCAT in the semi-final to reach the final. There, they would meet FNATIC. This set-up a perfect story-line for SK and nRated. For SK, they were the team nobody had expected anything significant of, but who had figured out the cerebral approach to overcoming all the teams with the bigger names and now they were gifted an opportunity to take down FNATIC, the two-time reigning LCS champions and a line-up stacked with European stars.
For nRated, he had gone through the fire of being team-less due to being thrown out by FNATIC mid-Summer split and now had battled back to both show his worth as a player and to a team, from a strategical point of view, climbing to the top of the rankings. Now, he could, should SK prevail, be given a chance to not only take the title, but do so in satisfying fashion over the team which had ejected him so unceremoniously.
Were this a movie, SK would have won in whatever fashion and nRated would have left the building carried atop his team-mates' arms. Instead, reality dealt a slap to wake SK up, as FNATIC rolled over them 3:1 to take a third LCS split title.
The sequel proves just as underwhelming
The Summer split saw SK's fortunes head the other way. After spending the first eight weeks ranked inside the top three, SK went into a free-fall over week 9 and 10 to drop as low as fifth. Only a 3:1 superweek at the end brought them to a respectable fourth. Many predicted Millenium, filled with strong laners, would defeat SK in the quarter-final, but nRated's boys used lane-swaps to completely neutralise and fluster Kev1n and company, sweeping them out of the tournament 3:0.
That set-up a semi-final that seemed impossible for SK, set to face an Alliance team who had gone 3:1 over them in the regular split, finished with a 21:7 record and never recorded a losing record against any team in the league. It seemed like destiny that Alliance would not only win, but in dominant fashion. SK again produced an unexpected approach though and would lead for the early portion of most of the games, even winning lanes against the mechanically strong Alliance players.
A four game series of intense team-fights saw each game up for grabs for both teams, but some key fights going Alliance's way and some impeccable team-fighting from their star Froggen ended the semi-final in heartbreak for nRated. Coming into the series nobody could have expected they would have been able to put up a fight, nevermind truly threaten to reach the final. Having come so close, it was especially bitter to be beaten out in the end.
That loss also prevented a potential finals rematch with FNATIC, who had been far from their form of the previous split. On the basis of the Alliance series, that would have been nRated's best chance to get that revenge victory over his former team-mates. Down in the third place decider, nRated was at least able to right a past wrong, coming out on the right side of that particular match for the first time in three seasons, with SK sweeping ROCCAT 3:0 to earn a spot at the S4 World Championship.
Worlds itself was a disappointment before it even began, as star Jungler Svenskeren receiving a ban for the first half of group play, due to behaviour considered unprofessional by the organisers, meant that SK was hamstrung and had little chance of progressing from a group with the first placed North American team (TSM) and a Chinese side (SHRC) which would eventually go all the way to the finals in it.
The thinking man's Support
nRated's influence on his team's strategical and tactical play is apparent and consistent, even as his role as shifted in terms of significance or scope as he has gone from team-to-team. In interviews he shows himself to be both a deep thinker on the game and articulate in communicating his ideas, leaving it no surprise that he is able to design and influence his teams towards the right approaches for the moment and current meta.
As well as his level one tactics and macro-game shot-calling, nRated has at times shown a special proficiency for deducing what champions will be broken sooner than others, allowing his teams an edge in abusing them early. This has also shown itself in his botlane synergies with his AD Carries. Back in his aAa games, he and YellOwStaR were famous for their Leona and Corkie combination. With Rekkles he would play champions like Zyra and Leona effectively, allowing his AD Carry to go the hypercarry route, get fed and dominate the team-fights.
The ADC maker
Just as the Korean AD Carry Locodoco has often been credited as being a core component in the creation of numerous high level Support players, due to playing with them early in their careers, so nRated can be seen to have played a valuable role in the development of his AD Carries. While it's not that he literally created them, nRated has shown an aptitude for quickly synergising with his carries, often needing very little time to reach an effective level.
With YellOwStaR, in the early days of aAa, nRated was able to quickly form a successful botlane. Even coming into the disappointing days of Season 2 FNATIC, he was able to survive Lamia's troublesome laning to allow FNATIC a chance to win against titanic teams like M5 and CLG.EU. Given a 16 year old Rekkles, nRated set aside additional time outside of team practices to duoq with the youngster and they rapidly developed into a strong botlane which could challenge the likes of CLG.NA's Doublelift and WE's WeiXiao, considered the best AD Carries in the world.
When YellOwStaR returned, it had been almost six months since they had played together, but the team immediately gelled once more and nRated's botlane found itself lifting the first LCS split trophy. Finally, pairing up with Candy Panda, who was viewed by many as a tired old dog, nRated was able to provide a more aggressive Support that revitalised SK's ADC to win the MVP for a week in the Spring split and play at a solid level throughout that campaign.
Most exciting of all, nRated now finds himself with FORG1VEN as his new partner in the bottom lane. This mechanically gifted, aggressive and driven AD Carry has the tools to become one of the elite AD Carries in the West, perhaps even the best. If nRated can synergise with him correctly, SK now finds itself as a team that can win off more than just good play from the top side of the map and a smart strategical approach.
nRated's individual level has fluctuated over his career, but his impact on the teams he has worked with, both strategically in and out of the game, has seen them all improve and embrace the cutting edge of tactical play. Truly, the German Support has been Europe's strategical mastermind.
Photo credit: in2lol, OnGamers, Dreamhack, ESL, Riot
Custom artwork courtesy of hyuugaclan.