Love it or hate it, Rift Rivals is one of the funnest tournament ideas from Riot, who have often be criticized for lacking in international showdowns (with only MSI, a recent addition, and Worlds.) This year’s tournament went off much better than last years as far as it’s reception goes, and the showings were interesting in their implications for the regions involved. For Europe, the NA-EU Rift Rivals could not have gone worse last year. This year, the European side (even with a sandbagging Splyce) were able to hoist the trophy, and bragging rights, for their region. At least until Worlds, EU > NA is alive and well without much contention.
With the first week back of EU and NA LCS, let’s check into the narratives surrounding each regions representative teams, starting with EU LCS’ G2, Fnatic, and Splyce. Fnatic is our second team to look into, the most storied and historical team in the EU LCS (easily the longest continuous team, now with ex-rivals SK Gaming long forgotten.) After a drought of EU LCS titles, Fnatic finally reclaimed their European throne last Spring, much to the joy of their fans. Still, the roster carried a series of questions hanging over their heads, even coming home from playing a big part in Europe’s Rift Rival win. With long time franchise player Martin "Rekkles" Larsson stepping away from the game due to the meta and the Top laner duo of Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau and Paul "sOAZ" Boyer filling in, they returned from Rift Rivals on a high securing two of the three wins for EU, but needing to cement themselves domestically. In their return to the regular season, they went a surprising 1-1. 1-1’s are expected to happen, but was was startling was who they lost to: Rift Rivals comrades Splyce.
The Old Kings of Europe Against North America
The contingent that the EU LCS sent this year couldn’t possibly have done worse than last years Rift Rivals, where Fnatic held an embarassing 2-4 record over six games, their only wins off of… Phoenix 1, basically NA’s equivalent to Splyce from this year. G2 went 1-5 and Unicorns of Love only squeaked out a 3-3 record. NA dismantled the Unicorns of Love in a 3-0 sweep of the finals, leaving the EU LCS with little to grasp onto in their defense. Yes, the region traditionally had done better than NA at Worlds (not too hard to beat that record though, to be fair.) But they looked completely lost at the Rift Rivals tournament, and NA held onto that fact for as long as they could.
This year’s Rift Rival, alongside being better received by the community and embracing more of the ‘fun’ side, was a far, far, far better showing for the European teams. Fnatic, in particular, came up big for Europe: in the relay Bo5 (which is a really fun thing Riot, good job,) they won two of the three games EU needed to take it all home. Their play against NA was sometimes questionable, but overall they played great, with some insane plays off of Bwipo and Rasmus "Caps" Winther. For Fnatic, it was a showing their fans needed. Fnatic haven’t been struggling immensely in recent years, but it’s been awhile since we could realistically call them the best in Europe. They’ve constantly sat as Europes 2nd/3rd team. G2 and even Misfits have often taken that spotlight away from them, with G2’s utter dominance and Misfits surprising rise at Worlds (alongside their undefeated Summer split.) To come up clutch for Europe as a whole, that felt good to see again for fans of Fnatic.
The Kings Come Home
The interesting part of the relay aspect of this years Rift Rivals is that every team needed to perform for their region to come out with the win. Fnatic “carried” Europe in the same way a player might on their team, if their team helps them get there. Fnatic’s great games at Rift Rivals weren’t the only reason Europe won, and they came back to Europe needing to prove themselves to be a real threat in the Summer. Their week included a match up against comrades from Rift Rivals in the struggling Splyce and a middling Roccat. For many, after their showing at Rift Rivals, they felt Fnatic had secured the best chance for a much needed 2-0 weekend to draw themselves ahead of the pack.
Fnatic’s recent struggles domestically haven’t stopped them from performing admirably internationally, doing well at Worlds, even when they were put against some steep competition like Royal Never Give Up. It’s domestically that Fnatic have struggled in recent times, and only recently did they do well in their playoff run. They needed the wins this week after a blistering Rift Rivals, to show that their domestic worries weren’t cause for concern. With how the roster was playing, particularly Bwipo, sOAZ, and Caps, alongside their ability to make the right calls in the late game, Fnatic should’ve been in a prime spot to do just that. However, fate had other plans, as they went 1-1, and losing not to the middle of the pack Roccat, but to… Splyce.
1-1 Week: Treading Water in the Middle of the Pack
Fnatic’s lost game was against Splyce, and while the team represented Europe at Rift Rivals, they were nothing like their Spring split selves. Splyce have looked lifeless and without much of a sense of direction during their Summer campaign. On that fateful meeting with Fnatic, however, Splyce looked anything but that. Fnatic couldn’t even blame it fully on playing at Rift Rivals and being tired from that, because Splyce were playing there too. Splyce looked dominant and proactive in their play, while Fnatic just couldn’t find a response to get them back in the game, constantly reeling from the onslaught that was Splyce’s play. It’s not fair to simply pick on Fnatic for their loss though, as Splyce seemed a completely different team that had an actual gameplay and method to their play. They were maybe simply the better team on the day. Regardless of that though, playing from behind is something every team experciences, and Fnatic looked out of sorts playing from behind, which can be a worrisome thing if it continues.
The game against Roccat was a lot closer to fans and pundits expectations. Depending on how well Fnatic perform this week, we can even chalk up the loss to Splyce as a glitch in the Matrix and less of a sign of weakness from the Old Kings of Europe. Fnatic looked far better in their win against Roccat, making good, proactive plays around the map in the early game and slowly incurring more and more of an advantage against their opposing number. Far from a stomp, Fnatic and Roccat traded blows throughout the game, with one team making a play on the bottom side of the map, only for the other to make one on the top side. However, Fnatic held the lead throughout the game through smarter plays and objective control. A complete stranglehold on the dragons, with two Infernal dragons spawning, Fnatic were fully in the driving seat of the game. Securing Baron at 25 minutes into the game, pushing in Top lane, and then running down Mid lane into a clean ace to win the game. It was a much better performance from the Fnatic side than their loss against Splyce. Still, the loss to Splyce hangs over the squad’s head like a nasty cloud. A 2-0 week and this would be a very different discussion, but the Splyce loss is hard to forget.
So What Now?
Fnatic need to find some stability to their play in an EU LCS that’s becoming more and more competitive. The second part of the split is always the point that teams playoff dreams are made or broken, and Fnatic is not exception here. Sure, they’re still technically second place, but they’re sharing that with Vitality, with both FC Schalke 04 and Roccat just a win off. Their loss to Splyce shows that they can’t rest on the laurels that was their Rift Rivals showing. Even their impressive reclaiming of the European throne won’t mean as much to fans if they cannot secure playoffs and therefore also a good shot at Worlds. 1-1 weeks are to be expected, but to lose against a team like Splyce... That shouldn’t happen for a squad that took down some of NA’s best while jetlagged.
Fnatic have a hard week ahead of them too. A game against the struggling Unicorns of Love shouldn’t be much of a trouble for the roster, but then again Splyce shouldn’t have been such a problem either. The real statement game is against the currently undefeated Misfits team, the de facto best team in Europe currently (and sadly for Europe, not a team they could send to Rift Rivals.) G2 met the Rabbits and fell, and Fnatic can reassert themselves again as contenders for the Summer split by succeeding where G2 failed. A win against Misfits will mean far more than another W in the W/L columns: it’ll be a sign that Fnatic are still here to play and vie for that European crown again their place at Worlds.