The Classics: Fnatic vs. SK Gaming
Last week on “The Classics” series, I talked about the oldest rivalry in League of Legends: CLG vs. TSM. To find our next great rivalry we have to cross the Atlantic Ocean, to Europe. Having first battled on the maps of Counter-Strike, these two teams seem to be destined to be rivals in every game they meet. I’m talking, of course, about Fnatic and SK Gaming. Both teams got involved in League of Legends very early, and due to the fact that their star mid laners were two of Spain’s most famous esports players the match became known as El Clásico – after the famous soccer rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid .
The first time these teams met in an official match was for the Season 1 Qualifier, in May 2011. The match was very close between the two, but in the end Fnatic came out victorious. Fnatic went on to have a great World Championship, taking first place, and an equally impressive start to the 2012 season. In the meantime, SK Gaming found themselves in a bit of a slump, trying to find the best roster. While the first world champions failed to qualify for the Season 2 World Championship, losing to CLG.EU and Moscow 5, SK managed to qualify.
The most epic El Clásico game took place at IEM VII – Katowice. Both teams got seeded in the same group, and as fate had it, they met in their last group match with both having a similar record: 1-1. The game was not just a chance to beat a rival but also the only ticket to get out of the group stage. Things got off on the right foot for SK Gaming, winning bot solo lanes. For all intents and purposes, this looked like SK’s game, and they were inches away from closing it. But Fnatic never lost heart, put up a heroic defense, and in the end managed to close the gold difference. A good team fight allowed SK to push for the base of Fnatic, but the latter replied by taking two kills and pushing back into SK’s base, where after a prolonged fight they managed to destroy both nexus turrets before being repelled – with xPeke juking four players that were chasing him.
What came next was the stuff of legends:
xPeke’s name became synonymous with the act of backdooring, and his Kassadin turned into a must-ban for any team facing him.
Season 3, and the LCS, started with another El Clásico that Fnatic won, after a very close game that started in SK’s favor. 2013 was an incredible year for Fnatic, winning both splits of the LCS and getting to the semifinal of the World Championship. While SK finished third in the regular season and got fourth place in the playoffs of the spring split, the summer split saw them struggling and eventually ending up in seventh place and having to play in relegation matches to keep their spot in the LCS.
SK Gaming returned in Season 4 with a reformed lineup and finished first in the regular season. They nevertheless lost again to Fnatic in the Spring Split’s playoff final. The Summer Split saw both teams losing to Europe’s “super team”, Alliance, and ending second and third, qualifying for the Season 4 World Championship. Throughout 2014 though, both teams were equal in their direct matches.
Season 5 sees both teams with extremely different rosters from the ones they had when the rivalry began. The only players remaining are YellOwStaR and nRated, both having played at one time for the other team throughout their careers.
Fnatic – making Koreans work
In the off-season Fnatic changed most of its line-up. Keeping YellOwStaR, they built an entirely new team around him. Instead of getting ahold of veteran LCS players to fill their roster, they went in the opposite direction and chose to gamble on young and untested players.
Most notably, they signed two young Korean talents for the top lane and jungle positions: Huni and Reignover. With Huni having very poor English, it would have been hard to predict just how well he would do on the big stage. While his solo plays are solid, what is more impressive is the synergy he has with Reignover, one of Fnatic’s trump cards in the beginning of this season.
Fnatic kept the tradition of a strong mid laner by signing Febiven, formerly of H2K Gaming. Being one of the most hyped young European mid lane talents from the challenger scene, Febiven did not fail to deliver. The aggressive style of the team seemed to fit him perfectly, and he is consistently one of the biggest threats Fnatic has to offer.
With a brand new team under his command, YellOwStaR had to decide on the direction they would take on first. He decided that an aggressive style that relies on the individual skills of each player would be the best for first. While some teams like Unicorns of Love and Copenhagen Wolves managed to punish this style and take games from them, it worked wonders for them. Whether or not they will be able to take down SK Gaming remains to be seen, but if any team has a chance, Fnatic is that team.
SK Gaming – the best team they had … by far
Few people could have predicted the level of dominance SK showed during the first four weeks of LCS. During the off-season they signed in Fox from their challenger team and Forg1ven, the former AD Carry of the Copenhagen Wolves. These two changes seem to have made all the difference for SK, who are now looking strong enough to take on even Korean and Chinese teams.
While most people are blown away by Forg1ven’s style and consistency, I’m utterly impressed by Fox’s performance. With no experience on the big stage and no big achievements under his belt, he did not falter and stood his ground even when facing veteran players like Froggen. Being young and already this good is also a big plus for him especially since he has experienced players on his team, like nRated and freddy122, from whom he can learn a lot.
There can be no debate that Forg1ven joining SK Gaming was the best move, not only for his career but also for the SK organization. With nRated as his lane partner, and probably mentor, he looks unstoppable. His aggression is much more calculated, he trusts his teammates, is more patient but also has the flashy plays we expected from him. While last year he was trying to force the team to adapt to his style, he now seems to be the one that has adapted to his new team. His synergy with nRated has transformed his game, as he is learning to rely on information about the enemy team’s movements that is not driven necessarily by deep vision.
Right now, SK Gaming sits comfortably in first place, bearing an undefeated record, and for the first time seem more than able to take the LCS crown. For Fnatic, this next El Clásico will surely be an uphill battle, since they are the underdogs. While it’s very unlikely that SK will lose, as stated earlier Fnatic has the best chance to pull a victory when compared to the other teams. Both teams have weaknesses that the other can exploit, and we will look forward to see if that happens. What is certain though is that this will be a great game, one that fully deserves the title of Classic.
Photo credit: fnatic.com, lolesports.com