League of Legends LEC 2020 Preview: Fnatic

League of Legends. Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Courtesy of Riot Games. /

European League of Legends returns this week with the LEC starting on Friday 24 January. Here’s our preview of Fnatic and a prediction of how they’ll fare in the Spring Split.

From the outside looking in, an LEC runners-up medal and a top-eight finish at the World Championship could be considered a successful season for Fnatic considering the domestic dominance of G2 Esports in 2019. But League of Legends teams aren’t remembered for losing finals and being eliminated in the knockout stage of tournaments, they’re remembered for lifting trophies.

Fnatic players and staff understandably made their disappointment known at the end of last season and have since made changes in an attempt to remedy their mistakes of the last twelve months and push on to challenge G2 in 2020.

These changes included a new face in the jungle to replace Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen as well as a new-look coaching staff following the departure of Six-Star General Joey “Youngbuck” Steltenpool.

Rumors swelled around the Fnatic camp throughout the second half of Season 9 with many reputable sources claiming that the org was looking to swap out established jungler Broxah for Rookie of the Spring Split Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek. While the move didn’t materialize in time for the Summer Split, it didn’t take long for Fnatic to return for their new jungler and will be hoping he can provide something different for the team in 2020.

As for the coaching staff changes, there’ll be a familiar face to EU viewers leading Fnatic on stage from January onwards. Following an unsuccessful spell on Origen, Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez decided to retire from professional play in the off-season and has now taken up coaching, starting with the head coach role at Fnatic.

Replacing the most decorated coach in European history is no easy feat and it’s clear that Mithy has enormous shoes to fill in his first season leading his new roster.

Some may claim that Fnatic, one of the largest organizations in League of Legends, gambling on an incredibly inexperienced head coach is unwise, but Mithy’s game knowledge and leadership abilities have been clear for all to see, even on a struggling Origen roster. Provided he has a strong foundation of support staff around him, as well as reliable leaders on the Rift, there’s no reason why Mithy can’t kick off his coaching career with a successful first year at Fnatic.

So do Fnatic now have the tools required to close the gap between themselves and G2 Esports?

Despite reaching the quarter-finals of Worlds, there are still some reservations held by fans and analysts about certain members of the current roster that could result in a larger disparity between Europe’s top two sides in 2020.

Top Lane: Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau

When Bwipo initially burst onto the scene in 2018 Spring, he was highly praised for doing what many thought to be impossible, snatching a place on the first-team from Fnatic legend Paul “sOAZ” Boyer. On top of that, he also demonstrated his strong adaptability in the same season, switching to bot lane to aid Fnatic’s adjustment to the new meta, in place of Rekkles.

From there, it only got better for Bwipo. The Belgian went on to reach the World Championship final alongside his new Fnatic teammates, competing against and defeating some of the best top laners in League of Legends history. He was also crowned “PC Rookie of the Year” at the 2018 Esports Awards for his contribution towards Fnatic’s successful season despite zero prior experience on top division team.

That being said, 2019 is probably a year to forget for Bwipo after he was handed a large chunk of the blame for Fnatic’s failings over the last twelve months. While the top laner often proved himself to still be the reliable carry of 2018 for Fnatic, he was also caught out of position and overextending countless times through the season, and that’s without mentioning those memorable (for all the wrong reasons) Rengar top games.

Whether these mistakes were due to communication issues or lack of team synergy over the last year, only the Fnatic players know, but one thing is for certain: Bwipo will want to improve on his 2019 performance and re-establish himself as a top tier top laner in 2020.

Jungler: Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek

Joining the LEC after winning three major Spanish titles and EU Masters with MAD Lions in 2018 means the pressure will be ramped up and all eyes are going to be on you.

Selfmade thrived under that pressure and crushed his jungle opponents, guiding a very inexperienced SK Gaming team to the Spring Split playoffs on their return to the highest level of European League of Legends.

Selfmade’s aggressive early playmaking and complete control over the map in the first fifteen minutes caught several seasoned LEC junglers off-guard in 2019 and led to the Pole deservedly being awarded the Rookie of the Spring Split award. The manner of his performances and the nature in which he dismantled well-drilled LEC squads with intelligent pathing and ganks meant it was only a matter of time before a bigger organization picked the jungler up.

Fnatic have done exactly that and are hoping Selfmade will have the qualities that former jungler Broxah lacked. Fnatic’s previous jungler had a lack of control around the top side of the map, leaving Bwipo on an island to give up free kills, and this often led to Fnatic’s downfall in 2019 matches.

On SK Gaming, Selfmade proved that he’s not afraid to venture up towards the top lane as he frequently visited Werlyb and Sacre to get them a slight edge in their match-up to then push on and create split-push or roaming pressure.

To be successful in the Spring Split, Selfmade has to make a strong start and develop synergy with his teammates, particularly Bwipo and Nemesis.

Fnatic became synonymous with early game aggression and control in Season 9, so if their new jungler can maintain this, while also assisting Bwipo in the top lane, then Fnatic might have what it takes to narrow the gap between themselves and G2.

Mid Lane: Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek

Yet again Fnatic have showcased their unmatched ability to take relatively unknown European talent and transform them into League of Legends superstars with Nemesis. The Slovenian joins the likes of Broxah, Bwipo, Caps, and countless others on the long list of players that have gone from European regional leagues directly to Fnatic and achieved international recognition.

Anyone who watched Fnatic regularly in 2019 can tell you that Nemesis is the real deal and is poised to become one of the best mid laners in the world this season, challenging Perkz for the title of “Best EU Mid”.

Following in the footsteps of Caps was viewed as an impossible task at first, but by the time the Summer Split rolled around, that was no longer an issue for Fnatic and their new recruit.

Twisted Fate, Lissandra, Akali, Cassiopeia, Corki, Kayle, you name it, Nemesis has played it at some point in his short Fnatic career. And it’s not just his champion pool that’s impressive, he’s near-untouchable in the laning phase, has incredible game awareness, and is a DPS machine in late-game team fights, as illustrated by his average DPM of 529 (the second highest mid in LEC Summer, only behind Caps).

One thing you can count on is that if Fnatic are to challenge G2 Esports and claim an LEC trophy in 2020, Nemesis will have a huge part to play. It’s likely the team will view the mid laner as the roster’s primary carry this season and it would be a shock if Nemesis doesn’t shine in that vital role.

AD Carry: Martin “Rekkles” Larsson

Rekkles is the late game win condition for Fnatic. While he dabbled in the likes of Garen, Karma, and even Morgana in 2019, it was clear that both him and Fnatic were more comfortable when he was operating a scaling marksman and allowed to reach the 30-40 minute mark.

More from Blog of Legends

Of course, in a meta that’s focused on early-mid priority and picking up early dragons, having a champion that doesn’t come online until later in the game isn’t ideal, however, it’s the way Fnatic navigate around this that makes the team so strong in Europe.

Drafting was pretty one-dimension for Fnatic last year (aside from the horrifying Garen-Yuumi phase). Bwipo picks an aggressive, early game top laner capable of playing 1v2 if required. Broxah picks a jungler that wants to win his match-up and control the map early on, sacrificing late-game presence. Nemesis picks champion that spikes on 1-2 items, but also is capable of carrying in the later stages if necessary. Hylissang picks Pyke.

This leaves Rekkles, who if allowed would have probably picked Tristana in 100% of games. However, this wasn’t the case, and instead, he would lean towards Sivir/Xayah in order to comfortably play safe in the bottom lane when Hylissang roams, often sacrificing CS in the process, but knowing that he’ll have the ability to 1v9 if the game reaches the 40th minute.

Expect this to continue into 2020. Expect Rekkles to continue his heavy bias towards late-game carries. And expect Rekkles to 1v9 several late-game team fights this season.

European AD Carries have come, and European AD Carries have gone over the last few years and very few have been able to match Rekkles in the role, and expect that to continue for a while longer.

Support: Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov

One positive that came out of Fnatic’s rather disappointing 2019 season was Hylissang’s impressive performances on roaming support champions and his ability to get Fnatic rolling in the early game with intelligent picks across the bot side of the map.

The key to this was his partnership with Broxah, meeting up with the jungler, and invading the enemy jungle to place deep vision to set up picks a few minutes later. Recreating this strategy with Selfmade will take time, but judging by the fact it was such a successful factor in Fnatic’s game plan last year, we’ll definitely be seeing more of it in 2020.

Much like Bwipo, Hylissang became known as a coinflip player towards the back end of the Summer Split as 50% of the time his roams would pay off and 50% of the time they’d result in his death.

Shifting this balance could be the secret to Fnatic catching G2 this year and there’s no doubt that it will have been worked on with former support, now head coach Mithy in the off-season.

Prediction: 3rd Place

Despite the clear potential of Fnatic’s new jungler and their in-built synergy as a result of just one roster change from 2019 to 2020, it’s hard to see this roster immediately making an impact on the LEC.

The talent of Nemesis and Rekkles is undeniable, but the jury remains out for Bwipo and Hylissang following their poor season last year, and is Selfmade experienced enough to address both sides of the map’s problems at once? It’s unlikely.

Not only that, we’ve also yet to see Selfmade perform on a strong roster, nor have we seen him perform consistently at all since the 2019 Spring Split.

Ultimately, this roster needs time. They could be ready to challenge in the Spring playoffs, they could have to wait until the Summer Split to push the likes of G2 and Origen, but Fnatic fans will have to be patient as their team finds their ground with new additions Mithy and Selfmade in 2020.

Next. LEC 2020 Preview: Excel Esports. dark

The 2020 League of Legends European Championship begins on Friday 24 January! Catch Fnatic vs. Origen at 16:00 EST / 22:00 CET on the Riot Games Twitch channel!