We breakdown the history of Fnatic ahead of the LEC and take a look at where they go from here.
Travis Gafford interviewed Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau for the League All Stars 2019. The big, smiling face jumped around everywhere as if having too much energy contained within - very much like his own playstyle - as it made the claim, “Simple - you’re either G2 or Fnatic if you want a trophy … Is anyone going to contest G2 or Fnatic?”
LEC has had the yellow and black logo be a mainstay since the very beginning of competitive European League of Legends. Bwipo was part of the first Western team to make finals at a Worlds in 2018, with a monstrous performance that saw him netting the best PC rookie of the year at the Esports Awards. The team has permanently been in the mix as a dominant contender for the coveted European trophy.
The upcoming year could spell the end of that discussion.
2018’s Rocky Start
After losing their star midlaner, Caps, to their main rival in a historic twist of fate, Fnatic were forced to kneel down in the first three weeks of play as they went down 1-5 to start a historic franchising season off. It was abundantly clear that something was wrong internally. The roster composed of four Worlds finalists was amongst the bottom of the table teams - only ahead of a Rogue squad, which was rumoured to be a hasty construct, as a result of being a late entrant into the franchise process.
Three weeks in, it had been clear that Fnatic had nothing to offer to the Spring split of LEC - with losses that you’d never expect from what should have been a championship roster. The narrative between Fnatic and G2 seemed completely irrelevant, as the latter were on a roll within the league - acquiring win after win in typical G2 fashion.
Of course, this was the setup to a miraculous comeback. It was the perfect storm, as Youngbuck - legendary coach of Fnatic - was able to hobble the pieces together to not just make play-offs, but make it with the third seed. A slew of victories - including one over G2 - gave the LEC broadcast their favourite storyline back, and saw claims being made that Origen would be defeated by Fnatic, for them to contend with G2 properly.
History has been kind to Fnatic, as their third-place finish hid how fortunate they were to get to that point. Had it not been for Vitality and Schalke collapsing mid-season, after being particularly dominant initially, and Misfits’ super team never coming close to the heights imagined, Fnatic might not even have made the playoffs that split.
Fnatic was a broken and despondent team whose pieces had been cobbled together by Youngbuck, under the shadow of several collapsing teams.
Internal Strife - To Kick Or Not to Kick
With the 2018 Worlds behind them, seeing Fnatic somehow making it to five games against G2 Esports twice over, and then lose in the quarter-finals to the eventual champions, fans were quick to remark on Fnatic’s excellence and paint a rosy picture of the upcoming 2020 season.
They were wrong.
Although fingers of underperformance were pointed, several industry insiders came out on talk shows and discussed how fragmented and broken the Fnatic line-up had become internally. A complete roster revamp seemed imminent, with rumours floating around about the organisation considering the removal of up to four players. Bwipo’s casual remark of G2’s atmosphere being the polar opposite to that of Fnatic couldn’t have been more true.
Despite the results being much more promising than the start of the year would indicate, it was clear that it wasn’t just a point of two factions in a team. Ultimately, Fnatic have placed themselves on a tightrope with the removal of Youngbuck - who, according to rumor, gave the ultimatum between himself and Rekkles - in place of Mithy.
Now, with four players of the original roster remaining, and their mid-laner Nemesis being appeased with an offering of his previous jungler - differences in the roster could end up even more pronounced.
All this, coming as it does alongside accusations of players no longer being the grinding monsters that they once were, means 2020 could mark one of the most important years Fnatic has ever had in League of Legends.
Despair or Ecstasy - Fnatic’s 2020
Between 2016 and 2017, Fnatic were not able to make the finals of the LEC (then EU LCS) a single time. However, they still held claim to one of the biggest brands with the implication of prestige and financial backing to match. With this, came their franchise player, Rekkles, who would perpetually be considered a toptier bot lane partner.
No matter what happened, they would always have the opportunity to rebuild to the very top. 2020 could see this change.
Rekkles is no longer the force of nature that he once showed himself capable of being, and Fnatic is now far from the only team with money to spend. Age has taken care of one, and franchising the other. Although the former definitely has it in him to elevate his game once again, 2020’s field now features Forg1ven, Perkz, Upset, and rookies who look to chip away at his royalty.
Now, Fnatic find themselves without a flagship, that they can build themselves around. Bwipo is a mechanical wonderboy, but 2019 has shown flaws inherent to his game, which he’d have to combat before propping a franchise up on his back. Nemesis - though talented - is nowhere near the level that Caps, Perkz, historically, or some of the other celebrated European laners can bring to the table. From a factioned team and fractured pillars, hope seems fragile for the European studs.
The upcoming year has given them but one boon, they have Europe’s greatest mastermind behind their backs now: Mithy.
Currently Fnatic has one simple goal, to hit the ground running. With how fragmented the team has been painted as being in the locker room, it seems like only a winning record could carry them forward. Mithy is a tactical mastermind, but very few people have bestowed in him the faith that he could be the one to drag Fnatic through to an LEC title, within the upcoming year.
Should the factions prove to be too much to manage, and internal dynamics fall out of hand at the same time as teams like Rogue, Mad Lions, and Schalke come back up, the team will no longer even be deemed worthy of standing on the same stage as the LEC trophy.
Now, Mithy might very well find his greatest goal to be the development of Fnatic’s next franchise player to build around. Despite Bwipo’s confidence and what history has indicated, Fnatic is not the team to beat in the upcoming season. It is but one of a slew of contenders who seem to be trying to push each other out of the way, en route to G2’s throne. Now, more than ever, there are almost no ‘freebies’ for them should they start having a bad split again.
Should Fnatic fail to contend for a trophy, and fail to cultivate the next titan to rebuild their team around underneath Mithy, this could spell the end of their dynasty of dominance. Each brand in the LEC is hungry for their spot, and Fnatic is going to have the biggest fight of their lives ever come LEC 2020. Contrary to what the players bearing their flag, and the fans bearing their flair, think - this is a very precarious position for Fnatic to be in.
It’s now or never.