With the Group stage finished, we move into the elimination tournament portion of Worlds as we blitz into the Quarter Finals. Gone are the Bo1s and jockeying for those two slots out of Groups. Now, every game means (tournament) life or death. For our second day of events we have Fnatic lead by Mid laner Caps, dead set on proving to the World that Europe is not a region to be trifled with. On the other end of the Rift stand EDward Gaming, with Scout’s squad here to prove that last years embarrassments are long behind them, and redemption is at hand. The transition into Bo5s will bring a whole new level of excitement and competition to the series’ between these two teams, with the hopes of appearing in those Finals on the line.
Fnatic: The Old Kings of Europe Return
With the restoration of the throne and the Old Kings of Europe Fnatic not taking just one but two EU LCS split titles with them into Worlds, many fans of the region and Fnatic are hopeful for some more magic. After multiple seasons of playing second fiddle domestically, the boys in orange and black have managed to not only find themselves at Worlds, but have made quite the buzz about them. Many had Fnatic as a strong team, but few were so bold to think that Fnatic could top their whole group. They earned that too, beating the titanic LPL team Invictus Gaming not once, but twice in one day. The resurgence of the oldest EU LCS team in the league has brought them here as not just leaving their group, but being the top seed. Whether that will help them, having drawn EDward Gaming, will be decided, but it speaks to the quality and timber of the team overall to have done it.
Fnatic’s performance at Worlds has been spectacular, with even the sole achievement of managing to topple iG a great feat by any regions standards. But for EU, they’re part of a long legacy of teams that have managed to upset Korean and Chinese teams. It has, however, been a long time since a European team has made it to the Finals overall (like, the first Worlds ever and that was… well, far less prestigious than it is now.) Fnatic’s path to the Finals is probably one of the easiest they’ve ever had, but they can’t sleep on that fact. They’ve shown the hard work and team cohesion that they’ve made over the past year, but they’ll need to show that their victory over iG wasn’t just a glitch in the matrix. Because it’s important to remember that a Bo1 victory is different from a Bo5 victory.
Like many teams at Worlds, Fnatic have made full use of their substitute players. With a rotating Top lane of either upstart Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau or one of the oldest Top laners in the world, Paul "sOAZ" Boyer, Fnatic have a wealth of options for their games. Both are quite adept at playing in this Top lane meta that sees the likes of Sion, Urgot and Orrn picked up regularly. Fnatic seems to trust both equally, so they may just swap each out during the series depending on what kind of presence they’ll need in the Top. In the Jungle position is the explosive Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen, who’s made waves this tournament for completely outplaying his opposing number time and time again. The Dane’s grown into quite the threat for the Fnatic side and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. In the Mid lane is the highest ranked Western player according to Riot (9th, for those who are curious,) Rasmus "Caps" Winther. The so-called Baby Faker has really grown into that moniker, as he’s utterly dismantled the enemy teams Mid laners likes its another Solo queue game and has easily entered pundits minds as a Mid laner to watch out. Long time Fnatic ADC Martin "Rekkles" Larsson and often under the radar Support Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov have proven to be world class players as well. Rekkles’ is no stranger to the international stage and his performance this year is showing that. He’s had carry performances time and time again to lead Fnatic to where they are now, and doesn’t look to be stopping that either.
While it’s of course true that Fnatic’s roster is talented, that isn’t what impresses me most about the team. They’ve really come together to form one cohesive unit in their team fighting and macro plays. They’re not half in half out, they’re not scattered. When they fight they fight as one. It doesn’t feel like some teams where the whole victory rests on one player every game. Fnatic’s shown each player has the ability to carry, from insane outplays by Broxah, consistent damage out of Rekkles, or just absolutely monstrous games from Caps. Fnatic aren’t a one or two trick pony: they’ve got players that can step up in any game, at any time, for their team. That’s what’s excited me most about this Fnatic squad. They’re a complete package, and they’re looking to make history with all the stars aligning for them to even push for a Worlds finals appearance once again.
EDward Gaming: The Redemption Arc Continues
The redemption arc that’s been EDward Gaming’s return to Worlds has to be the biggest story following the team around this year. After a tumultuous start to their Worlds campaign last year, ultimately costing them the chance to move out of the group stage in their home country, EDG had a lot of ground to cover to bring honour and glory to their massive fanbase. Sticking with largely the same roster, only replacing their Top laner, the faith placed in this team by the organization seems to have payed off: they’ve officially redeemed themselves by making it out of groups this year. While it may not be as sweet as if it were on their home turf, the travelling fanbase of EDG surely was there to see their team make them proud.
While it’ll come as no surprise that a team hailing from the LPL, well known for their aggressive and bloody tendencies, EDG are an extremely adept team fighting team. Their strength has and will be for this tournament that sense of understanding team fights like no one else, and they’re not a team to be taken lightly on that front. Time and time again EDG have won games through just making a teamfight work that shouldn’t have. They have a kind of sixth sense about it, which probably comes from being in a region that just loves throw down over, well, anything really (I’ve seen teamfights over a skuttle once…) Their early game aggression and mid game decision making have been hallmarks of EDG’s time in the LPL, and they’ve been just as clear of strengths with their Worlds campaign this year.
The EDG roster that’s once again found themselves at Worlds looks to be almost the same as last year, with a few key changes. The only new addition this year was in Top laner Jeon "Ray" Ji-won, coming over from NA to the EDG organization. Ray was once known as the Sword to the Top lane duo of him and Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, due to his aggressive tendencies. On EDG he’s tempered that aggression and grown into the role, being helped by a meta that favours him. His Urgot is one of the best at the tournament. In the Jungler position is the duo of aggressive, mechanically gifted Chen "Haro" Wen-Lin and the wise, prudent Ming "Clearlove" Kai. Like many Worlds teams, EDG utilizes these two Junglers to affect their overall game plan, whether they need a stable voice in Clearlove or outplayability from Haro. In the Mid lane, Lee "Scout" Ye-chan’s play has steadily improved. He’s become more of a consistent player and less of a coin flip like last year, where it was always a question of whether he’ll carry hard or throw hard. Now, Scout’s become someone that EDG can rely on. In the bot lane the explosive duo of Hu "iBoy" Xian-Zhao and his baby sitter Tian "Meiko" Ye. The ADC position is probably one of China’s expertise, and iBoy is no stranger to performing exceptionally under that pressure. Being led and often held back from over aggression by his support Meiko, the unsung hero of EDG, the Bot lane brings some serious firepower for EDG.
There’s an interesting dynamic to the LPL overall at Worlds. They’ve often played second fiddle to the LCK, have always been the scrappier region, and are known to implode when they need to step up the most. In a year with a weaker Korea, and being on the opposite side of the bracket from the two favourites to win Worlds, EDG have a real chance to redeem themselves completely for last year. Quarters is already a far better showing than they managed to win last year, but they’ll be hungry for more, to prove that last year was an anomaly and that this roster really is the real deal. It’s also a chance for them to get twice the honour back for their region by taking down the pesky EU team that brought iG down from a guaranteed first place to second place in their group. Whether EDG are up to the challenge will be on them, but they have the potential to win, as they’ve always had. This roster is too talented to not at least deserve that.