Why Fnatic Are Failing In This Tournament and How They Can Learn From KOO vs. CLG

gosickboy 2015-10-06 01:26:09

Disclaimer: I decided to write this article after a heated conversation with my friend Veteran. I realised that while I had a different interpretation of Fnatic's failings, I was unable to properly articulate the reasoning. I suppose you could say this article is dedicated to him.


Fnatic, for me, are an interesting team, both in the narrative they've created and the one they'll surely create. In the opinion of this writer, most lineups are pretty easy to upgrade. KOO Tigers are probably my favourite team at the Season 5 World Championships and while I think they have a strong and capable lineup capable of reaching the finals, I also believe they're easy to break down individually.

Smeb and Gorilla are the best players on the team, KurO is consistent (except for one awful OGN final) but limited in his own ability and Pray and HoJin are too meta dependent and seemingly maxed out on their own individual levels. Were I team boss, if KOO Tigers don't win Season 5 Worlds, I'd probably look at replacing HoJin and Pray and it wouldn't be difficult for KOO to replace them either. They could bank on the young talent of Peanut and Ohq or the S tier veterens like Spirit or Imp, it would be whichever option the coaches and players felt was best. I can run this scenario for nearly any team (to avoid drama I'll focus on Korean teams):

SKT? Replace Wolf.

KT? Replace Nagne and Arrow.

Jin Air? Replace TrAce and Chei.

CJ Entus? Replace anyone but Coco.

NaJin e-mFire? Replace Watch, Ggoong and Pure.

KT Rolster's mid split transformation after they replaced Fixer with Piccaboo has shown exactly what replacing a very mediocre player (by Korean standards) with an S-tier prodigy can do for a team. It's not like any of the players I named are terrible, it's just that some are average and some aren't.

Now, the problem with Fnatic is they're actually one of the only Western teams I can't realistically do this for. Yes criticisms can be made of all their players, especially when compared to S-tier KeSPA players. Febiven might be the best midlaner in the West but how does he hold up to Faker, PawN or Dade (in Season 4)? Rekkles might be a strong Western ADC but he still doesn't have the insane damage output of Deft or Imp. Yellowstar is in the running for greatest ever Western player but he still doesn't have the mechanical brilliance or game destroying roaming of Gorilla or Piccaboo. But could they realistically get any of these S-tier legends of the game? No, so it's not really worth considering.

Veteran argued this:

Huni/Reignover has been Fnatic's weak link for the longest time. Their victory against iG gave Reignover the easiest time of his life. This is one of the only times that he has actually been genuinely impactful against a strong team (thanks based Skarner pick). vs. AHQ and C9 Fnatic interpret the meta of S-tier tops to mean that going all-in on Huni, THEIR WEAKEST CARRY, is the best. A player who can NEVER be trusted with any sort of deficit, backed up by a jungler who is thanking the stars loulex exists so he can occasionally look useful. Teams camp Huni, feed off of Huni/Reignover, shut down Fnatic. Because Fnatic have finally made their weakest point their most valuable point too.

Is this fair though? I mean, Reignover's a conversation for another time and I think while he gets a lot of flack he doesn't deserve, he also suffers from Fnatic's overall playstyle (something I'll explain later). Also, with Reignover, what realistic upgrades could Fnatic secure? The whole World is starved for quality junglers, so without recruiting a core carry jungler like Svenskeren (who's never really performed in a bo5, twice been relegated and once been nearly relegated) who would massively disrupt Fnatic's entire playstyle, I can't think of any options that not only play his style but are reliably better. Especially when you consider that TSM and Cloud9 are both likely to be in the market for new junglers in 2015.

Huni, for me, is an enjoyable player to discuss. Fnatic, even amoungst Fnatic fans, are one of the most polarizing teams. Some people will tell you that Rekkles is terrible, some will tell you he's the European Deft. Some people will tell you that Huni is far behind Odoamne, Cabochard and sOAZ, others will tell you that he's the best player on Fnatic and the best toplaner in the West. Even for myself, Huni has me feeling all coflicted. What I will say is this (and it sort of agrees with Veteran): Fnatic are utilizing Huni in a fundamentally incorrect way, I believe that if Fnatic used Huni in a similar way to how the KOO Tigers use Smeb then they'd be 3 - 0 in their group right now.

Let's look at KOO's draft vs. CLG and then compare it to Fnatic's draft vs. Cloud 9 to see what I mean:

- KOO 1st ban Veigar. Clearly a champion they're uncomfortable playing against and with. The Veigar pick, while situationally strong right now, is just something the KOO Tigers are clearly unknowledgeable about. Respecting the mere possibility that Pobelter plays it, they ban it out.

- CLG 1st. ban Kalista. In their LCK Summer performances Pray showed a deadly amount of skill with Kalista. Because CLG are a team that relies on getting a botlane advantage, they try and limit the ability of Pray and Gorilla. Correctly deducing that Pray is the weak link between the two, they try and limit his champion pool.

- KOO 2nd ban Darius.

- CLG 2nd ban Gangplank. While KOO Tigers haven't put any performances on Gangplank and Zion's game on Darius was less than meaningful, both teams respect the new champions that aren't competitivly tested fully yet.

- KOO 3rd ban Lulu. While this is historically a strong pick for KOO (as the innovators of the Juggermaw) they've actually had pretty poor success with it recently, mostly due to Pray's positioning. Deciding that they want to first pick another champion, they also don't want to give it to CLG.

- CLG 3rd ban Mordekaiser. Rounding out the Juggernaut bans (Fiora is not a Juggernaut), CLG aren't sure if KOO play Mordekaiser but they are sure that a lane dominant hero like that would mess up their ability to dominate the 2v2, same logic as their Kalista ban.

- KOO 1st rotation Rek'Sai. Not only is HoJin extremely comfortable on Rek'Sai but it's also the best jungle champion for global pressure (the sustain and ultimate mean you have virtually no downtime). I can't recall HoJin ever playing Elise and Elise, as a more gold dependent more carry orientated jungler, doesn't fit into how KOO want HoJin to play the game.

- CLG 1st rotation Azir and Elise. While it is confusing in that not only does KurO not play Azir and KOO have already picked their jungler, I'm guessing the logic was something to do with CLG not wanting to show too much early on. Not only do they like to give Zion the counterpick in the toplane but it's moreso vital given Smeb's formidable prowess as a toplaner. I will say that leaving open Viktor and picking Azir is questionable, especially considering KurO might be the best Viktor player in the world after Faker (boasting a 90%+ winrate on the champion).

- KOO 2nd rotation Ashe and Kennen. Both of these picks are not only KOO specials (having innovated both of them back in the meta and had extreme success with them), they're also a situationally strong bottom lane and always good at teamfights later on. KOO show their confidence in the 2v2 here, they're quite happy to show their botlane to CLG and dare them to counterpick.

- CLG 2nd rotation Tristana and Blitzcrank. So if Ashe is the average Korean ADC's hero of choice, then Tristana is the average NA player's ADC of choice. Extremely strong at fast pushing turrets, safe in teamfights (due to having 2 escape abilities) and a dangerous late game threat. The Blitzcrank here is an all-in counterpick, if Blitzcrank can hook Ashe without Flash then Ashe is highly likely to fall. 

- KOO 3rd rotation Morgana and Viktor. Here we see the brilliance of KOO. Now I don't believe that KOO predicted the Blitzcrank pick, they probably predicted a Thresh pick. But by picking a botlane that's weak to all-ins, they dared CLG to counterpick them. CLG obviously went more extreme than KOO predicted, which makes NoFe's draft here even more brilliant. By sending the Kennen to toplane and picking the Morgana, by far Blitzcrank's hardest counterpick, they completely shut down CLG's win conditions. No other team could do this, no other team could rely on their toplaner being an amazing Kennen player (bare in mind we haven't seen Kennen as a toplaner really at all outside of a few Acorn games) and their support player being an S tier threat with Morgana and Kennen. Viktor is a staple for KOO and KurO, and also has a favourable matchup against CLG. It's likely that CLG saw the Viktor coming, they probably just underestimated just how good KurO's Viktor was.

- CLG 3rd rotation Olaf. For Zion, Olaf into Kennen is clearly a matchup he feels confident in. I mean, Smeb just blind picked Kennen toplane and challenged Zion to pick whatever he wanted. Olaf is a good answer but it speaks to KOO's confidence in Smeb in that they'll happily drop him into a losing matchup.

Kennen - Olaf

Rek'Sai - Elise

Viktor - Azir

Ashe - Tristana

Morgana - Blitzcrank

This game was a one sided stomp from KOO Tigers, probably the most one sided game that didn't involve Bangkok Titans. Not only did they win the draft phase heavily, come out ahead in the lane swap and play the map better but they also took several key indivdual victories and demonstrated instances of vastly superior teamplay. An unbiased fan might be forgiven for thinking that this was a game where an amateur team played against a professional team.

Now I do believe that CLG are better than they showed in this game but I also believe that even if CLG had played to their usual level and not picked the Blitzcrank they would've found themselves out of luck in the game. Why? Because of how heavily KOO won the draft with one flex pick. CLG aren't used to drafting against teams with this capacity this because no teams outside of Korea do this.

Smeb was the undisputed MVP of this game because of what he acheieved in play. Multiple times he assassinated the hard carry of CLG Doublelift and he did it on a champion that no one plays anymore and that was only drafted because of who Smeb is as a player. This is what makes Smeb an amazing player, not only is he a carry toplaner amoung carry toplaners but he also has a mindbogglingly-large champion pool. He displays finesse and mastery of these champions that is only matched by Faker. I've seen Smeb have amazing games on Gnar, Riven, Lulu, Kennen, Maokai, Jayce, Yasuo, Malphite, Shyvana, Rumble, Fizz, Nautilus, Hecarim, Shenr, Ryze, Lissandra and Sion. His movement (both on a micro and macro level), his teamfighting, diversity and warding are all a sight to behold. What's more is that he's the main shotcaller for KOO Tigers, a team known for their exceptional shotcalling.

Yet for all this, we have to ask, does Smeb get unreasonable focus in the draft? Is Smeb set up to carry every game? In this game he was thrown to the dogs in favour of the other KOO players getting comfort picks in strong matchups. A worse toplaner would've been run over by Zion's Olaf, would've struggle to impact teamfights with an Azir and Tristana to push him out and ultimately been useless. Yes there are games where Smeb gets the counterpick on the enemy toplaner and games where he is set up to carry but it's never at the true sacrifiece of his team mates.

KOO always aim for well rounded and flexible team comps, this is how they're the 2nd most consistent team in the strongest League in the World. They're a multi threat team through and through, I've seen games where KurO's been thrown onto an Assassin and crushed the entire enemy team, and while this is far from a regular occurance it's always an option for the Korean team. The enemies know and they know it because they trust completely in each other's abilities and decisions. You can never count out the KOO Tigers because they will are always capable of finding some wacky strat or pick that'll take you by surprise and display another level of depth to their team.

Now let's look at Fnatic vs. Cloud 9 draft:

- C9 1st ban Elise. Strong pick for Reignover, Fnatic's only win this tournament was on Elise.

- FNC 1st ban Gangplank. Power pick on this patch, likely going to be 100% pick ban all Worlds. C9 used it in their 'upset' win over ahq as well. Side note: I actually think this is a mistake because I not only think Ball's Gangplank was a complete non factor in why they won over ahq but also Huni is a strong Riven player and the Riven vs. Gangplank matchup is a nightmare for the Gangplank.

- C9 2nd ban Olaf. Something of a flex pick for Fnatic as they're the only team to use Olaf as a jungler and there's a chance that Huni can play it toplane as well.

- FNC 2nd ban Mordekaiser. I've seen Sneaky play Mordekaiser on stream and it is an unfamiliar pick for FNC. However, given how C9 played in their two wins thus far I do think it's arguably wrong to ban out a champion that's so poor at sieging and taking turrets. That said, Mordekaiser is a bit strong at the moment and the Dragon ghost is good at taking turrets... Questionable ban but I can understand the mindset.

- C9 3rd ban Lulu. Power pick on this patch, although Lulu would suit C9's playstyle in this tournament so far I reckon C9 are just wary of giving it to Fnatic (as not only is a flex pick but one they've performed well on) and just have other priorities. I believe that Lulu is a better Red Side 1st rotation pick so I understand why C9 banned it over picking it themselves.

- FNC 3rd ban Veigar. Smart, you've just seen what devestating things the Veigar can do and how well C9 can play around it. I commented before on the Veigar pick in more detail in the KOO vs. CLG break down.

- C9 1st rotation Darius. Controversial and I actually think this was a mistake. Not only do I not rate Darius nearly as high as the teams rated it in the first week but you've also seen that Huni wasn't a significant threat on the champion in FNC's loss to ahq. I suppose, for C9, it is important to get Balls on a champion he's comfortable with, but I just think Darius is too easy to counterpick.

- FNC 1st rotation Sivir and Gragas. So this is confusing because  Cloud 9 have not played either of those picks this tournament. I mean Gragas is a flexible jungler but I don't think it's worth taking the Gragas away from Hai at all. Also I just feel like Ashe totally outclasses Sivir at the moment (it was close before the Sivir nerfs to be honest). For me the 1st rotation of picks should always be about taking something away from the opponent. For example, Incarnati0n has played Azir a lot recently and Azir was pretty essential in their win over iG... Right now FNC had a chance to test C9 and see if they could play without the Tristana as well.

- C9 2nd rotation Lee Sin and Tristana. Tristana makes sense, she is a priority pick for Sneaky and Cloud 9 and integral to the style of play they've played. Sneaky's played Tristana in both wins, it bothers me a lot that Fnatic didn't even try picking it away (iG also lost picking Sivir into Tristana). The Lee Sin makes little sense to me, as although Hai has shown a mild amount of proficiency with the champion (nothing compared to HoJin), Fnatic have already picked their jungler and it's not like you can duel a Gragas early.

- FNC 2nd rotation Yasuo and Alistar. This is where, for me, Fnatic lost this game. The fact that this game was even as close as it was speaks to Fnatic's strengths as a team but these really are terrible champion choices. For those who don't know, Alistar recently received a nerf to his W that changes drastically how you land the combo. Alistar, who can't reliably land the combo, is not a good pick, this is why he has such a terrible win rate in this tournament. KOO vs. FW? Gorilla played Alistar. KT vs. OG? Piccaboo played Alistar. Not only that but they combo'd it with Yasuo, the champion that is most dependent on his ability to land the combo perfectly. Also it's obvious that C9 are going to pick Azir so you either play Yasuo into Azir or into Darius, both terrible matchups. Fnatic have also yet to deny anything from C9 and only got a flawed, incredibly difficult and one dimensional team comp to show for it. 

- C9 3rd rotation Azir and Morgana. Surprise surprise, the Azir shows up again. This champion plays perfectly into how C9 (and CLG) want to play the game and FNC have no way to answer it. The Morgana is a LemonNation staple (he's won so many big games with it) and shuts down the Alistar even more (can't combo what's Black Shielded).

- FNC 3rd rotation Orianna. Tunnel on the wombo combo more, what is this early season 3?

Darius - Yasuo

Lee Sin - Gragas

Azir - Orianna

Tristana - Sivir

Morgana - Alistar

I don't really understand how Fnatic were planning for this game. You can't splitpush because Darius just kills you, you can't siege because holy wave clear on C9 and you can't really land the wombo combo because Alistar sucks and Morgana Black Shield shuts it down. Now let's assume that Fnatic didn't lose the draft as badly they did, it's never a good idea to build an entire comp around one player carrying. Why? Because you have no backup plan, no depth. This is what KOO never do and what Fnatic did in both the games they lost. They tunnel everything in on one win condition and to be honest, no toplaner could carry the game in this drastically dire of a situation.

In conclusion I'll say this. Fnatic are the best team the West's ever seen (sorry Moscow 5), they will likely bounce back and top their group and they could still make semi finals (depends on who they draw). But when looking at the criticism of the team's performance so far it's no individual's player performance, if anything it's week 9 EU LCS MVP Deilor's fault.

There's no realistic upgrades for Fnatic as a team and please realize that by funneling so much pick ban priority onto Huni they actually hurt him; such 1 dimensional strategies won't work against the best teams in the World. Either give Huni a huge counterpick and allow him to run over the enemy toplaner or sacrifice him in order to mind game slam the enemy team in the draft phase. Fnatic's roster is fantastically deep, and they need to start utilizing this advantage over every other team in the group. 

When KOO obliterated CLG they gave every team in group B a playbook on how to beat Cloud 9. I believe CLG have more than one strategy but I don't believe the same for Cloud 9. I mean even if you don't believe in the neccessity of banning out Tristana and Azir then just run a bunch of engage, crowd control and wave clear. Siege comps fail when you just smash head into them and CC them into the ground. If Fnatic beat Cloud 9 tomorrow using either of these methods then I put the chance of Cloud 9 going 0 - 3 around 80%.

At this point, any team's failure to defeat Cloud 9 means they deserve nothing more than a ticket home.

The author specializes in Korean League of Legends. If you enjoyed this, toss him a follow at @Gosickboy_.

Images courtesy of Riot Games & the Lolesports stream.


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