3 Steps To Closing The Gap
In 2018 Fnatic returned to dominance in the EU LCS, winning back-to-back titles and earning Europe’s first seed to Worlds with little trouble. More importantly, Fnatic completed 3 big steps needed to close the gap between the East and the West: get out of Groups, win Quarterfinals, and win Semifinals. The steps are obvious, but they were not easy. Where most Western teams have failed, Fnatic has succeeded.
Step 1: Get out of Groups
Their first step may have been the easiest; Fnatic were placed into what many fans would call a group of life. While they would have to contend with their future Finals opponent Invictus Gaming, they would also face G-Rex and 100 Thieves. 100 Thieves qualified on points, though they were a team with more roster shuffles than expectations, rotating out star performers in the jungle and bot lane to mixed success. G-Rex came in as the third seed from the LMS, a region often regarded as only having one good team — Flash Wolves.
The group of life turned out to be the group of predictability when it came to 100 Thieves and G-Rex. Fnatic and Invictus Gaming quickly made it clear that the true fight wasn’t over who made it out of the group as much as who got the first seed. Invictus Gaming took the first match in commanding fashion, setting Fnatic’s botlane far behind their own and using that advantage to crush the early game.
Despite that, Fnatic still looked like one of the hottest teams in the West. Their victories over 100 Thieves and G-Rex were nothing short of brutal. On their second day of Groups, Invictus Gaming would be Fnatic’s heat check. Fnatic passed, proving their hot streak wasn’t over yet. They matched Invictus Gaming’s aggressive style with ganks, skirmishes, and outplays of their own and beat Invictus Gaming twice. Fnatic got the first seed in their group and helped secure perhaps the best possible bracket for the West. They didn’t just complete the first step, they did it in a way that set the other Western teams up for success.
Step 2: Win Quarterfinals
The good luck continued as Fnatic drew Edward Gaming for a quarterfinals opponent. Though EDG was not heavily praised going into Worlds, they improved sizably over the course of the tournament. They went even with Korea’s super team KT Rolster in groups and were reportedly performing well in scrims.
EDG came out strong, surprising Fnatic and forcing them into a knock-down drag-out brawl of a four-game series. EDG decisively won the first game, but Fnatic responded in kind in game 2. EDG played evenly with Fnatic until one bad Kai’Sa ultimate threw away a game 3 win that could’ve reversed the momentum of the series. EDG led in kills in game 4, but Fnatic kept even or ahead in gold by outdoing their opponents in lane and taking objectives when EDG took kills. Fnatic won 3-1 not as much through their renowned laners as their jungler. Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen earned a series KDA of 9/3/22 where his only average performance came in game 1, where he was set behind by a level 1 counter-jungling skirmish.
The tough series woke up a sleeping giant. In the post-game interview, Fnatic’s AD carry Martin “Rekkles” Larsson said, “We only really edged them [EDG] out in terms of mechanics.” Yet, the shaky win gave him confidence in the individual play of his teammates as he went on to say, “It’s gonna happen now. I can feel it, we’re gonna make it all the way.” That confidence would show in the following step.
Step 3: Win Semifinals
Fnatic’s next opponent would be North America’s Cloud 9, in what was the first West vs West semifinal since Season 1. Cloud 9 won 3-0 in their Quarterfinals against the Afreeca Freecs and proved themselves to be one of the best team fighting squads in the tournament. Fnatic didn’t get this memo, however, and dismantled them.
Fnatic put on a show the first game, winning in 25 minutes, 20 kills to 3. Fnatic’s star midlaner Rasmus “Caps” Winther and rookie top laner Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau tried to steal the show, taking clear leads in lane each game, but Fnatic’s botlane would not be outdone and killed C9’s AD carry Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi in a 2v2. C9 adapted in the series, bringing it closer and actually holding a gold lead 20 minutes into game 3. Yet Fnatic read the map better than C9. They caught C9’s toplaner Eric “Licorice” Ritchie out in the bottom lane then engaged on an outnumbered C9 and secured a Baron and a dragon that would help them close out the game and the series, sending them to the West’s first Worlds Grand Final since Season 1 —before Korea was officially a region.
Step 1, Fnatic beat the best team on the other side of the bracket twice in Groups to secure first seed. Step 2, they beat a team that had taken a game off of NA and Korea’s first seeds and was starting to gain momentum. Step 3, they dismantled the team that had taken games off of the former world champions, the tournament favorite, and Korea’s last hope in 2018. Along the way, they won through different lanes, playing with different comps, and around different win conditions. They did it all by looking like the best team the West may have ever produced.
East vs. West, China vs. Europe
For a long time, being the best in the West hasn’t been enough. Western teams stacked with international and regional talent often dominated their region only to falter on the international stage. After the Season 2 World Championship, it was rare to see Western teams make it to Semifinals, let alone Finals. Western teams have still yet to take a single Worlds Semifinals series off of an Eastern team and when fans talk about East vs. West, they almost always talk about the gap between the two regions.
This year, 3 out of 4 semifinalists were Western teams. Each team had to beat strong opponents to get there as well. In 2018, the West has narrowed the gap from a chasm to a fissure, no asterisks need apply. Fnatic is poised to seal it almost entirely shut.
While Fnatic winning Worlds will not erase the 5 Summoner’s Cups in Korea, it does close the gap between Europe and China. In international tournaments thus far, China has been the clear second best region behind Korea, winning MSI twice and making it to the World Championship Finals 3 times. Conversely, Europe has had a slight reputation as China’s foil ever since Fnatic’s 2015 squad beat a strong, MSI-winning EDG team in Quarterfinals. This year, G2 gave new life to that narrative by beating Royal Never Give Up — China’s top team and an odds-on favorite to win Worlds at the start of the tournament. If Fnatic can beat Invictus Gaming, they might do more than close the gap, they might kick start a new regional rivalry that’s been brewing for some time now.
On the other end, Invictus Gaming has every reason to want to douse this fire before it turns into a blaze. 2018 is supposed to be China’s year as Royal Never Give Up handily took home an MSI trophy and China beat Korea at Rift Rivals. RNG’s AD carry Jian “Uzi” Zihao earned the top spot in this year’s top-20 players list, and Invictus Gaming’s midlaner Uijin “Rookie” Song earned the second spot. China even got all 3 teams into Quarterfinals this year.
Invictus Gaming has the burden of proving many analysts right. They have the burden of claiming a year that their fans believe belongs to them. If they fall short, they do not only lose another Summoner’s Cup their region could have had. They lose China’s spot as the undisputed second best region and the best chance it has at catching up to Korea.
The Battle Between the New Elite
Both teams want the Cup but it will not be easy for either of them to get it. At first glance, Worlds 2018 seems to belong to the plucky underdogs. Not so — now that the dust has settled, the upsets are gone and a new elite stands tall. Fnatic and Invictus Gaming have proven themselves as the “overdogs” plenty of people underestimated in favor of RNG or KT.
“It’s win the whole thing or be a disappointment, at this point.” - Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau
Fnatic and Invictus Gaming are two teams that have proven they can beat the best in the world. They have also proven they can beat each other, and that is great for everyone watching. If the recent past is any indicator, this will not be a clean 3-0. This will be a back and forth best of 5 where both teams have mastery over one of the wildest, bloodiest metas in the history of League of Legends. This will be a struggle between two teams that are stacked at nearly every position and can play through any lane. This will be a battle of two teams that feel they should win and play every game with that confidence.
“I think after the best-of-5 next week he [Rookie] probably won’t even be top 20.” - Rasmus “Caps” Winther
This Finals match will be a battle between two evenly-matched, top-tier prizefighters. This is Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson, Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo. This will be a battle held on equal footing and with more legacy on the line than ever. East vs. West. China vs. Europe. Invictus vs. Fnatic. This might be the most exciting Finals League of Legends has had yet.