After a long five weeks, Worlds 2018 enters its final stage: the Grand Finals. Sixteen teams entered the Group Stage, and only two of those teams remain. While many had their eyes set on the Group of Death being B, or watching how favourites like KT Rolster would do, or even paying attention to Group A to see who would come out on top. All of us were duped, however, as it was the little Group D that both our teams hail from that turned out to be the most exciting. Group D, the group that saw a close competition for top seed between the once considered indomitable Invictus Gaming clashing with the Western hope Fnatic. Ultimately, Fnatic were the ones to take it all with a 2-1 (winning the tiebreaker game) over iG, and that last victory rings loudly in many fans ears as we head to their final battle for 2018.
The storylines for the two teams couldn’t be more opposites: Fnatic, the Old Kings of Europe, the darlings of their region, and the team with one of the deepest and longest history of victories their region has ever seen. Invictus Gaming, on the complete opposite, have never won a title domestically, and have missed plenty of international competitions due to medorice showings. They’ve often feel short and choked in the moments that they needed to step up the most. But there’s a reason they went almost undefeated: This team is scary when they’re on their game. Fnatic, too, have done more than enough to impress the world; they’ve even claimed many pundit’s votes as the favourites. Both teams styles will clash, but who will reign as the best in the World? Will it be the fan favourite Kings who return their Kingdom to glory? Or the constant Underdogs, the scrappy second sons of Invictus Gaming to bring the title home for China?
The so-called Old Kings of Europe have one thing that no other Western team has (technically) ever achieved: They’re (technically) World champions already. Now, that requires qualifying: It was the first Worlds, it didn’t have Korea at the tournament, and it was in the nascent days of League of Legends. Hell, to put it in perspective, it was seven years ago. Fnatic has ever since failed to reclaim their title with the coming of the Korean despots that have ruled Worlds tournaments year after year. They’ve come close and made significant challenges throughout the years, but never had a shot at it all since then. The only region to win outside of Korea and Fnatic is Taiwan and the Taipei Assassins.
But that stretches so far into the history of esports that, truthfully, it’s hard to hold as an accolade over other teams. As the Worlds tournament got more competitive, Fnatic found themselves continually watching the Finals from the stands. Finally, after a warpath through the EU LCS this year to reclaim their throne in Europe, they’ve continued their conquests all the way to find themselves once again in the Finals at Worlds. It’s been seven years since any Western team has even been there, and it feels like it’s seven years since any Western team were even contenders for it. How befitting it is for the only Western team to technically win the tournament to once again find themselves contenders for it.
Not only are Fnatic considered a real contender here, they’re even favoured over Invictus Gaming in many pundits minds. They won the tiebreaker against them to come out on top of their Group, Rasmus "Caps" Winther has been playing some of the best League of Legends we’ve ever seen, and Fnatic have completely stomped their way to the Finals. The Old Kings of Europe will be firing on all cylinders to remind the World that Europe is and has always been one of the premier regions in the World. Often Europe has shone at Worlds, being one of the most successful non-Korean regions ever. But long has a Finals appearance escaped them, and along with that the validation of their claim to be the second best in the World.
This isn’t just a good chance for the West and Fnatic to put a stamp on the biggest competition in the League circuit, it’s probably their best crack at it yet. Being heralded as the best team the West has ever produced, Fnatic sit with only one series between them and cementing their legacy as the best team in 2018. Worlds is the peak of competition, and to claim the victory here is the true crown that any King craves. Will the Old Kings of Europe expand their kingdom’s borders further into a truly global empire? The question is: Can Fnatic seize their own destiny, can they draw upon their own spirit, the hopes of their fans, and the dreams of the West and claim what is theres?
Every team has their stars and their aces, the core player(s) that form the entire game plan for their squads. They become the tactical pieces that the team revolves around. But there are often alongside these stars the unsung heroes, the ones that get the least praise, those who are under the radar. For Fnatic, that position is filled by the thankless role of that is Support, with the man behind the champion Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov. While it’s hard to call any member of a Finals team underrated, Hyli’s performance for the Fnatic roster is often not as hyped up as his more flashier teammates. He’s also one of the newest players, and was a quieter pickup for them.
But it’s off the back of Hyli’s roams and play making, particularly on Rakan (iG, if you’re reading this, BAN RAKAN,) that Fnatic are able to play around the map like they do. Hyli is like a restless toddler in a candy shop, and Caps presents the sweetest aisle. A frequent visitor there, his pressure and ability to appear at anytime (given the self-sufficiency of his ADC Martin "Rekkles" Larsson,) allow Fnatic the freedom to play the map how they want to. His presence is often what has set up his stars to perform, whether that be with early game roams or late game CC playmaking. If he wasn’t on such a star studded roster, he’d very well be the shining member, but gold will always shine. Without Hyli’s presence on the team, Fnatic would not be where they are, even if that doesn’t reflect in the statline or the highlight reels.
With their LPL brothers, and rivals, Royal Never Give Up avenged, and the slayers of EDG standing before them, Invictus Gaming are in a position they’ve never really been: the last and only hope for the LPL, China’s best team. IG’s track record at Worlds isn’t overly glamourous either. They’ve missed many of the Worlds tournaments from its inception to now, only appearing three times. They’ve only made it out of the group stage in the second Worlds, and have yet to really make a name for themselves in any real facet until this year. 2018 has been an entirely new story, with two almost undefeated splits, Invictus Gaming made waves internationally and domestically. But those waves crashed twice against the mighty shores of RNG, who stole the spotlight from them both times. The higher the rise, the steeper the fall, as iG fell back down to earth from the heavens.
But it’s iG that now sit in the Finals, prepared to fight for their regions honour. RNG’s dynasty was not to be. EDG’s longshot road to the Finals was cut short. After a year of disappointments and choking in clutch situations, iG have finally broken that curse and found themselves in a position to prove themselves. Long has iG and their fans waited for this opportunity. It’s a chance for redemption, a chance to flip their own script, to take the narrative into their own hands. To show all those ups and downs, the losses, they were part of a story that ultimately ends happily. They can bring China to the forefront of the conversation once again, remind the world, amongst the hype for the West, that China has always been the second best region at Worlds.
In this way, Invictus Gaming find themselves in an all too familiar situation: with the odds stacked against them. While the talent has always been there for iG, it’s their ability to perform in high stress situations that’s failed them time and time again in 2018. But they’ve looked different. They won out against KT in a Game 5. Jackeylove’s beautiful Flash forward to secure a teamfight sticks out as a key turning point for the young star. Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning’s aggressive Jungling is back to form. Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok and Song "Rookie" Eui-jin look to carry their team across the finish line through sheer willpower. IG have it in themselves to win, and they’ve always had it in themselves. Whether their own demons will haunt them or be exocerized depends on themselves only.
The 2018 year has largely been dominated by other, more established teams and their narratives. Will RNG make history? Can KT push Korea back into the Finals? Will the West finally rise? Those stories lie dead and dying, except for whether the West will rise. IG have a chance to end the incessant chatters around other teams that seemed to have forgotten them. To once and for all prove to the World that the LPL is not simply the RNG/EDG region, that iG too should be included at that table. They’ve already downed one tournament favourite in KT Rolster and dismantled another European King to avenge RNG. IG have never performed to expectations, so them being the unfavoured side won’t mean much to the underdogs: they’re primed and ready to show that their early mishaps in the year were a thing of the past. The unexpected dynasty that is iG can be set in stone with one more Bo5 series win. Are iG up to the task? Or will they collapse under the weight of their own expectations?
Every team has their stars and their aces, the core player(s) that form the entire game plan for their squads. They become the tactical pieces that the team revolves around. But there are often alongside these stars the unsung heroes, the ones that get the least praise, those who are under the radar. I’m going to be slightly controversial here and say that the Unsung Hero for iG is their prodigious ADC Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo. While Jackeylove has always have moments of glory and glimpses of his mechanical prowess, his career to date has been marked time and time again by his greed and greeness. One of the youngest players at Worlds, Jackeylove has been groomed by the iG organization since he was 16 to be their next ADC star. So far he’s lived up in part to that and collapsed in other ways. But next to the might of Theshy and Rookie, Jackeylove’s fallen out of the discussion many times with iG. His inability to perform consistently has plagued him, but the expectations of him are just as daunting as any challenger.
The one thing that is so easy to forget is that his career is still insanely young. To be at this cutthroat of a stage in the Worlds tournament at such a young age is… quite akin to his nemesis, Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao. Uzi’s first appearance at the Worlds finals was in Season 3, truthfully his breakout year. That finals saw his story begin, as he and Star Horn Royal Club were swept aside by the winds of history and SKT. Jackeylove has improved as the tournaments gone on, and his Flash forward into quadrakill could very well be the turning point of his entire career; if he can prove himself in the Finals. Jackeylove is the quintessential iG player really: a chip on his shoulder, a world to prove himself too, and a history of choking in those clutch moments to erase. Jackeylove has the spirit and the gusto to be one of the greats in the ADC position, his proving grounds is one of the harshest and coldest of habitats: Worlds. Will the young flower wilt and die before blooming? Or can he withstand the cold and remain victorious against the odds like the Winter Jasmine?
As if it needs to even be talked about, but the obvious players to keep your eyes glued onto are the two Mid laners from each team. You have the European “Baby Faker,” one of the best Mid laners we’ve ever seen and surely ready to claim to be the best the West has ever produced in Caps. Across from him is the Korean adopted by China, Rookie. The (arguably) best Mid laner at Worlds, and possibly even in the entire World, Rookie has a hard time fully filling out that title given to him with such a vacant trophy cabinet. Twice struck down by RNG, his Worlds campaign has felt like watching a bat out of hell.
Both Mid laners are highly competent, and both have been arguably the biggest part of their teams ascent to the Finals. Their champion pool mirrors each other quite a bit, opting towards tyrannical, hard carrying assassins. The unique difference is that Rookie has played Galio, which Caps has not, and highlights a bit of their differences. Rookie will and has played the supportive Mid lane style, to allow his team the space to carry him to victory. Caps, on the other hand, is much more of the solo carry style, willing to take the playmaker and clutch the victory in his own hands.
In many people's minds it's the MId lane that will define the series and the victor overall. Can Caps step up again and hold his own against Rookie? Will Rookie’s indomitable laning continue to be a throne in Fnatic’s side? While the Mid lane is definitely the main point of conflict, it’s the rest of the map that may very well define how that match up plays out. If ads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen or Hyli are able to have their say in the Mid, Caps may be able to best the best Mid laner at Worlds. But if Rookie can deflect those ganks, or even get ahead with the help of his own Jungler and Support, it may be Fnatic that finds their middle part of the map collapsing in on itself. Can Caps stand in the place that his nicknames origin, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok has stood three times and claim the Worlds trophy? Or will Rookie, another deep admirer of Faker, have finally found the magic flow to win it all and bring not only IG glory, but the whole of his adopted region China?