Resources / Esports News
Oct 27, 2018

This years Worlds Semi Finals are set to, at least for Western fans, be the best in all of League’s competitive history. There are a total of three Western teams (two EU, one NA) facing off against the solitary team from the East, Invictus Gaming. For the second series it will be a battle for the West, as North America’s Cloud 9, once of the most successful esport organizations to call NA their home, will throw down against Fnatic, one of the oldest esport organizations in the world. It’s a clash of New and Old World, a clash between fantastic upstart organization and the long, storied history of Fnatic. Both teams stand to write history though, as it would be the first time since the first season (which only had two non-Western teams) of Worlds that a Western team has made it to the Finals. Whether history will tell of the scrappy underdog NA getting in, or the regality of Europe in Fnatic, will depend on how the teams perform on the day.

Fnatic

The Old Kings of Europe once again look over a realm that’s theirs for the taking. The glory and legacy of Fnatic, after years of less than par (for the organization) performance, are long forgotten after the year that Fnatic’s had in 2018. They’ve finally returned to their former luster and shine and have reclaimed the European Throne from G2 Esports in both splits to reassert their claim to the EU LCS. They’re an absolute monster on the Rift, and as one of the oldest esport organizations in the World, they’re here to make another Worlds finals, one with far, far, far more prestige than the first Worlds that they won.  

The biggest skill mismatch to my eyes will be between the Top laners that Fnatic has and the star rookie Cloud 9 has brought. Fnatic have so far favoured their own rookie player, Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau, over the long time veteran player that is Paul "sOAZ" Boyer. Bwipo’s performance against EDG was… less than inspiring. While he wasn’t at the heart of their single loss, it’s hard to say he was really at the heart of their victories either. SOAZ, on the other hand, has only really seen play twice in the group stage, with a 1-1 win-loss statline, which is neither here nor there. It doesn’t seem that Fnatic factor him much in the Top lane, which leaves Bwipo to hold down the fort against a Top laner that gave arguably the best player in that position a run for his money just one series ago. Bwipo’s not a bad player per say, but in comparison with a lot of the remaining Top lane talent at Worlds it’s hard to see a world where he can truly shine. Whether he can show up against Cloud 9’s aggressive Top laner will be a test of his mettle.

There’s rarely been a player as consistent as that of Martin "Rekkles" Larsson. In a league that sees new and familiar faces don multiple jerseys throughout their career, Rekkles has led (barring that awkward year with Alliance-Elements, mind you) Fnatic back into an era of glory and looks to for many years to come. The definition of a consistent ADC, Rekkles may not have as many flashy montages as the likes of Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao or Hu "iBoy" Xian-Zhao, but his performance is a reliable point for Fnatic to play around almost every game. Alongside his relatively quiet Support player Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov, who’s selfless style has played no small part in Fnatic’s bot lane strength, the duo are a rock for Fnatic to fall back on if all else fails. They’re the counter balance to an aggressive Mid and Jungler, a late game insurance for late game teamfights, which Rekkles has continually shined within.

The true breakout player for the Fnatic organization, and the ranked 9th Best Player at Worlds according to Riot’s desk of analyst, has been Rasmus "Caps" Winther, the so-called Baby Faker and another addition to the long line of Danish Mid lane talent. He’s grown into that moniker like a suit and its day and day becoming more befitting, with more and more startling outplays and solo kills to his name. Caps performance this year has been an absolute treat to watch, and he’s honestly become one of the scariest Mid laners in the World, period. His performance this year for Fnatic hasn’t just lead them to retake their European throne from rivals and Usurpers in G2 Esports, but to their highest placing at Worlds for two years, and a good shot at their furthest ever since the first Worlds. The explosive growth of Caps over the past two years under the Fnatic banner has lead to this moment, and as the star that his team needs, he’s yet to falter. Whether he can carry on his insane performance will be tested, but Caps is one of the youngest players at Worlds still (only behind Son "Ucal" Woo-hyeon and Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo really,) so his time to grow is still plentiful.

One of the players that’s seemed to revel in the intense matches that Worlds brings has been fellow Danish player and Jungler, Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen. His mechanics, not always a skill we have on display for Junglers, are absolutely nuts, with those fancy feet that can side step and juke in the craziest ways to survive and still manage to get the kill. His aggression and pathing are exceptional too, often playing in synergy well with Caps and has been a large part in Caps’ dominance of the Mid lane. Broxah’s already shown the world that he can step up to the plate and play just as good a Jungle game as any of the elite Junglers there. His mechanical skills have been the most surprising feature, having some of the craziest Lee Sin plays (the biggest marker of a mechanical Jungler basically,) against some of the toughest opponents. Whether he can best his countryman and trail blazing Jungler that is on Clolud 9 will determine if his excellence makes a lasting impression or just a flash in the pan.

Fnatic are one of the few esports teams that truly can point towards a legacy. They’ve dominated the EU LCS for years, fell from grace, have bounced back with a strong core of players, and now are challenging the single most important tournament in the League circuit. While the narrative this year was whether RNG could complete history, it doesn’t mean they’re the only legacy team with history to make: if Fnatic can find their way into another Finals, they’d cement their place as one of the best esport organizations in the West, and possibly even the whole World.  

Cloud 9

If it weren’t for the overarching insane story that three Western teams are in the Semis, Cloud 9’s story alone would dwarf any other narrative at the tournament. From last place in the NA LCS to the Semis at Worlds, the furthest any North American team has ever come, isn’t just miraculous, it’s unfathomable. It goes to show the grit and determination of the roster and team, and is reflected time and time again in their play. When the roster kerfuffle was ongoing, many fans felt angered at the choices being made by the C9 organization. In the end, it’s possibly the best choices they’ve ever made, and arguably the flexibility and endurance the roster’s shown is one of the key reasons they’re here. The Cinderella story of Cloud 9 doesn’t have to end here either, and the NA squad have already put many doubts to rest. Can they continue to write their own story against Europe’s best? The pen’s in their hand.

In the Top lane is another story of the insane rookie’s that Cloud 9 has managed to assemble, in Eric "Licorice" Ritchie. The star player who has somehow filled the very big shoes left behind by his predecessor, Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, has already made quite the name for himself in NA and now internationally. Against some of the very best Top laners, like Afreeca Freecs Kim "Kiin" Gi-in, Licorice has held his own in lane and thoroughout the rest of the game. His performance is just as vital to Cloud 9’s miracle run this year as any of the other players, and the meta has suited his aggressive playstyle quite perfectly. Having already taken down Kiin, outside of a match up against Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok, it’s hard to see anyone else he’d need to prove his mettle against. While he still suffers from greed and pushing too far out sometimes, those are rookie mistakes, and he’s growing to be a cornerstone player for Cloud 9 to continue to work around.

The substitute situation for Worlds has always created for some awkward player situations, but for Cloud 9 they eventually decided on the flexibility in their Jungler position being more important than their Mid. In the Jungle is the mature, resurgent Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen. Svenskeren has looked a completely different Jungler from his TSM days to his current performance while wearing the Cloud 9 jersey, and has shown both mechanical skill and veteran pathing judgements that keep Cloud 9 in a stable position throughout the game. Beside him is the young gun, fiery Robert "Blaber" Huang. Much like the RNG duo of Hung "Karsa" Hau-Hsuan and Liu "Mlxg" Shi-Yu, Cloud 9 use their Junglers differences to their advantage. In short, they got options. Play it fast and loose? Blabber can work. More steady and stable? Svenekeren’s shown up time and time again.

While many things have changed for the Cloud 9 organization, the one constant outside of the ADC role has been the Mid lane. Since the departure of the famous original Mid laner Hai "Hai" Du Lam, the European import Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen. Jensen’s been a player that, once he worked out the early blunders of his professional career, has solidly performed for Cloud 9 game in and game out. He’s been a consistent performer and always in conversation for top three in the Mid lane position in all of NA. His performance has been the stable buoyancy for the team, and that hasn’t changed since the roster shuffle finally settled. He’s come to life even more leading up to Worlds, and barring his performance where he was reportedly sick, he’s seem up to the task of challenging any of the remaining Mid laners. Fortunately, the meta, like many teams still standing, favours his style and champion pool: aggressive, playmaking assassins. On carries like Le Blanc and Irelia that have dominated this year’s meta, Jensen has continuously looked like a fish in water. Which is good, because he’s facing possibly his hardest competition yet. Always considered top tier but never the best, Jensen’s finally got an opportunity to prove that he’s not just “one of the best,” but could very well be the best Mid laners in the world.

Cloud 9’s Bot lane is an interesting juxtaposition: the player with the single most appearances at Worlds (given Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok’s absence) in veteran ADC player Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi alongside rookie Support player Tristan "Zeyzal" Stidam. While Sneaky’s early performance in the tournament left much to be desired, he’s bounced back to be a consistent threat and source of damage for the Cloud 9 roster. He, like Rekkles, is a sturdy rock for the team to fall back on (most of the time.) Zeyzal has impressed throughout the tournament with his mechanics and playmaking abilities, particularly given this is his rookie year (at the LCS stage, he did play for EUnited in the Challenger Series prior.) The duo work extremely well, and we can all forgive them for that awful start to the Group stage against RNG, particularly after looking damn good in their victory over Afreeca Freecs. The Senior and the Student will be tested here against one of the strongest Duos in the Worlds tournament, but should they come out on top they’ll assert themselves, and NA, as a Bot lane powerhouse.

The Match Up

While Cloud 9 and Fnatic both hail from the West, they’re distinct in many ways, but their stories mirror each others quite a bit. Fnatic was once the sole King of Europe, dominating their region and actually managing an undefeated regular split back in Summer 2015. Cloud 9’s opening split they went 23-5, and while that record is hard to measure given how the seasons have changed, they’re one of the most dominant forces the NA LCS has ever seen. But both teams had a dip in performance, a fall from grace, and have picked themselves back up with a fresh crop of home grown talent to carry on their legacies into the future.

The biggest point of contact and conflict for both teams is centered around their dueling Danish Mid laners, Caps and Jensen. Both prodigies that were largely brought to their current power level through the nurturing and training of their teams, they’ve now stormed onto the World stage not just as talents within the West, but as some of the very best Mid lane talent in the world. Sharing very similar champion pools, with Le Blanc and Irelia play coming to mind, they’re set to finally settle the debate over who the better Danish Mid laner is. The two have never faced each other at any of their Worlds appearances, and it’s the first time they can settle once and for all who is the better Mid laner.

The biggest point of contact and conflict for both teams is centered around their dueling Danish Mid laners, Caps and Jensen. Both prodigies that were largely brought to their current power level through the nurturing and training of their teams, they’ve now stormed onto the World stage not just as talents within the West, but as some of the very best Mid lane talent in the world. Sharing very similar champion pools, with Le Blanc and Irelia play coming to mind, they’re set to finally settle the debate over who the better Danish Mid laner is. The two have never faced each other at any of their Worlds appearances, and it’s the first time they can settle once and for all who is the better Mid laner.

Alongside the flashy battle that will likely consume the Mid lane, there’s the more calculated and paced competition in the Bot lane. Fnatic’s duo of Rekkles and Hylissang against Sneaky and Zeyzal. Both ADCs are marked for a similar playstyle, not the hyper aggressive style that’s common in the LPL’s ADC talent, but a more pensive, calculated style that looks to deal damage safely and clean up the fight. Much more of a securing-the-win, team fight oriented style, rather than a hard carry style, has defined both players in their roles. That doesn’t mean they’ve hid behind a lack of mechanical prowess, as both have shown glimpses of glory already. But both teams revolve around the stability of their Bot laners, and that can be a point of advantage, or disadvantage, if either side pulls ahead or falls behind.

Overall, Cloud 9 and Fnatic are not as mirrored as the showdown across the bracket are, but their advantages in their overall team prowess are similar nonetheless. The main battles that will be fought are on the bottom half of the map, and alongside that will be the moves of the Junglers. The “Better Jungler Wins” meme aside, one of the pivotal moments will be how each teams Jungler decides to play around their lanes. They can be the ones who make or break a fight or get the gank that secures their laners dominance. Or throws away the lane for their team. It’s a battle of the West, but it’s also a battle of whether NA or EU can stand tall as having the better players in almost all their respective roles. It’s a battle for pride and a battle to make history, with only one side being able to bring the honour home of: Who’s the best in the West?

Jared MacAdam
Jared MacAdam

Canadian League writer who spends too much time watching LPL who never stops talking about Uzi, Ray or his bird.