Kelsey Moser: On Fnatic’s finish

Fnatic finished strong when it mattered in the EU LCS gauntlet
Fnatic finished strong when it mattered to reach the League of Legends World Championship. Photo courtesy of Riot Games.

Although much talk in the finals of the European League of Legends Championship Series regional gauntlet surrounded the catastrophe of H2K Gaming’s bottom lane getting 2-v-2 killed as Sivir and Braum in Game 1 and other misplays by Sin “Nuclear” Jeong-hyeon, I found Fnatic’s draft in the third and final game the perfect culmination of the series.

As discussed after the best-of-five between H2K and Unicorns of Love, H2K found success in identifying a need to play around top and mid with a safe bottom lane. If H2K’s bottom lane remained safe and the Sivir and Braum strategy worked against Fnatic the way it worked against Unicorns of Love, H2K could have continued to play with this setup. Game 1’s Aurelion Sol pick and Maokai telegraphed that Fnatic wanted to play to top side. Aurelion Sol might waste time in a dive on Sivir and Braum, and Maokai’s easy crowd control can exploit Cho’Gath pushing into him early.

After Fnatic discovered it could take advantage of both in Game 1, despite H2K getting away with pushing out mid and resetting to keep control of the jungle behind Baron, it adopted the safe bot lane approach in Game 2. Because H2K didn’t take advantage of Cassiopeia’s power to contest jungle vision after Fnatic stole Baron, and Fnatic identified H2K’s willingness to just push and reset mid, it could use Sivir’s flank potential and Syndra’s power in open fights.

That paved the way for Fnatic’s plan in Game 3.

Fnatic chose to ban Cassiopeia and Rakan, two powerful tools used separately or in conjunction (especially for H2K, as seen in their UoL series), and then Jarvan IV. A Jarvan IV ban should have prompted H2K to ban Tristana, as the Tristana and Jarvan IV pickups are considered acceptable trades. Jarvan IV blocks out many melee wave clear mid laners, but Tristana can play in and out of Jarvan IV ultimate with her reset jump.

When H2K instead opted to ban Morgana, Fnatic could first pick the Tristana for free. H2K decided to try to go for both strong top and bot, looking at Gnar and Caitlyn/Alistar, but with Janna available, Alistar becomes a much more difficult pick to execute. Although Sejuani works well into Gragas in team fights, Gragas still has more early game effectiveness, and Fnatic chose it as part of a formula to snowball bottom lane.

Ashe and Varus bans blocked some of the stronger early game laning AD carries, leaving only Caitlyn with less utility or effectiveness later after nerfs. Fnatic then went for a very strong solo lane combination in Syndra and Shen.

The value of Shen in this draft is actually to play around mid. If H2K tried to use roams from Alistar or Sejuani to force mid, Paul “sOAZ” Boyer felt comfortable ulting. As such, Rasmus “Caps” Winther could comfortably push out mid early on, abusing the matchup against Corki.

Even though one might argue Corki, in isolation, outscales Syndra, a Syndra with the ability to call on Shen’s ultimate becomes an immovable mid lane shover. Against that combination, it becomes nearly impossible to fight for mid control in the mid-to-late game.

Fnatic then executed the plan well. Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen, who has struggled with playing around bot, used pressure to ward out the enemy blue buff and gank. The first blood going over to Jesse “Jesiz” Le ensured an early Ardent Censer, and he purchased the item before 13 minutes into the game.

In the mid lane, Caps and Broxah pressured mid early to deny farm. In the past, Caps and Broxah have lacked the initiative to pressure strong 2-v-2 matchups, and it seems as if they began working on preparing this for Gauntlet after Misfits was able to just choose a scaling jungle and mid lane duo, then punish Caps for over-extending on Cassiopeia.

Just shy of 10 minutes, H2K engaged mid on a far-forward Caps, but Shen gave up top side to ult. As long as Fnatic could trade mid and bottom and control that half of the map, it could get advantages for Andrei “Odoamne” Pascu’s lead. As the game progressed, sOAZ could also start itemizing for split with Titanic Hydra and Spirit Visage, making it hard to force him out of lane.

To that end, Fnatic also had no problem giving up both first and second tier turrets in exchange for Ocean Drake. H2K spent resources securing Rift Herald, but ended up using it to get a Tier 2 top side turret it likely would have secured anyway because it didn’t have enough pressure to challenge Febiven’s hold of mid. The sustain of Ocean Drake at 15 minutes, however, synergized well with a side laning Tristana and Shen and the Ardent Censer rush Janna and Syndra combination to infinitely hold mid.

This composition with Ardent Censer on Tristana and the Syndra and Shen combination could actually scale extremely well into late game. The brilliance of this combination is that it not only sets up two strong lanes for Fnatic, but the ability to hold mid with three champions (Gragas’ ability to clear and disengage with ultimate also helps) and the heavy scaling from Tristana makes it extremely hard for even Corki and Gnar to outscale. Gnar, especially, has to itemize against Shen as a split-pusher, which would make it difficult for him to deal with Tristana in team fights until much later, taking H2K’s strongest champion out of 5-v-5s.

The best part of this composition, however, was that execution required Fnatic to play to traditional weaknesses. They had to emphasize mid control, play to bot side early, and get Broxah involved more in lanes instead of taking a standard path. While Broxah still shows rough edges (Fnatic’s early attempt at denial in mid lane emphasized that Broxah may still have difficulty playing around mid when it’s ahead), and Fnatic still had moments in the series (like 30 minutes into Game Two) when Rekkles went to push out a side lane, leaving mid expose for a force, the fact that Fnatic capitalized well on their Game 3 composition is a good sign for Worlds.

Fnatic will enter the grueling play-in stage of the League of Legends World Championship, a place a team constantly pegged as top two in Europe throughout the regular season likely didn’t see itself landing. But the final acknowledgement of its weaknesses sets Fnatic in good stead to enter group stage. It’s all down to the boot camp.

Photos courtesy of Riot Games.

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