There are two sides to a team game: the winners who prevail against adversity--and their opponents who tried their best, only to fail.
On April 9, Yoo "Ryu" Sang-wook stared blankly at his computer screen as his team, H2k Gaming, fell against Origen 3-2. Although H2k had been hanging onto match point, its dreams of qualifying for the EU LCS Spring Split finals vanished into thin air. A day later, Martin "Rekkles" Larsson found himself in the same scenario--clutching his head between his hands, completely distraught as G2 Esports crushed Fnatic 3-1.
But the season isn't over yet, and the last game H2k and Fnatic play this split is still of the utmost importance. In Rotterdam, the two teams will clash for the third place seed and its circuit point reward. H2k is no stranger to this scenario, having qualified for the 2015 World Championship with back-to-back third place finishes in the Spring and Summer splits.
So the players will have to dust themselves off, iron out their mistakes, and prepare for the final showdown--without the European crown in sight.
In Fnatic's case, being outside of the finals is a first. Historically, the team has qualified for every single EU LCS final in history. And although Fnatic's playoff win was convincing as it dismantled Vitality 3-1, the team would not repeat that same fate in the semifinals against G2 Esports.
Fnatic's attempts to control the early game and ramp up only worked in the second game of a one-sided 3-1 series, when it prevented G2's hard-scaling composition from reaching its critical point.
To the team's credit, the players tried their best. Fnatic has grown from a regular season sixth-place afterthought, struggling to find an identity, to a tight-knit group with more potential and growth ahead. The team showcased its ability to pinpoint a compositional weakness and its ability to capitalize on meta-game changes against a less-adaptable Vitality. Despite its early-season struggle, Fnatic's coordination has improved.
Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon, Noh "Gamsu" Yeong-Jin, Johan "Klaj" Olsson and Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten have contributed to 38% of Fnatic's first bloods (63% team ratio), allowing the squad to build early leads. And despite the team's tendency to roam, Febiven is able to keep up on farm, killing 6.4 more minions on average than his opponents, Luka "PerkZ" Perkovic and Erlend "Nukeduck" Holm, at the 10-minute mark.
Rekkles also shines as a continuous source of damage, elusive enough to escape potential deaths while staying in range. At the core of Fnatic, Rekkles has contributed to 80.7% of his team's kills--and his 11.2 overall KDA stands at the top of the EU LCS standings during playoffs.
Fnatic's issue does not lie in its ability to perform when it's even or ahead of its opponent, but how the team gets to that point. Despite the impressive first blood statistic, Fnatic has traditionally relied on jungle picks that need require time to scale, a selection that sometimes puts strain on the team's mid-laner.
In addition, the team's lack of flexibility trickles down to its drafting phase. Without Alistar, Klaj's impact diminishes because his ability to initiate dives under tower is nullified. The same applies to Gamsu and his tendency to play tanks, leaving the team struggling when champions like Ekko turn out to be a highly coveted pick in the meta.
For all its predictability, Fnatic has thrown a few curveballs. Enter: Zed, Kassadin and Jhin--the latter champion which caused a shift in the team's bottom lane momentum following Rekkles's performance at IEM Katowice.
The team's victories and losses have been relatively decisive. On average, Fnatic's games lasted less than 34 minutes throughout playoffs. H2k-Gaming, on the other hand, isn't the quickest to react. In fact, its series against Origen showed how games can hinge on the smallest lapse of judgment in crucial team fights--especially with long death timers. Unlike Fnatic, H2k's games have been over 42 minutes long on average.
At some point, H2k held a 2-1 series lead against Origen and nearly reached the finals, but Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider's Gragas sent the team packing to the third-place match-up, with one crucial Explosive Barrel at a time.
Despite the loss, H2k has shown its ability to draft, take initiative, control vision across the map, and pave the way for its team composition.
The team has been able to rely on FORG1VEN's efficient laning phase and ability to position himself during team fights. Although he can play a variety of champions, he has provided the most utility on Sivir and Corki.
Despite the loss against Origen, FORG1VEN ranks among the best in the EU LCS in the following metrics: kill participation ratio (76.6%, second among AD carries), 11.2 minions killed per minute (ranking first among playoff participants), and damage dealt per minute (636, the second highest in the rankings).
FORG1VEN is but one member of H2k, one of the most devastating teams in the European LCS. His mid-laner, Ryu, has held leads against Origen's finest at the 10-minute mark with a 6.6 cs differential. He's also contributed to 60% of his team's first bloods.
H2k has been active across the map from the get-go. With first dragon and first tower rates of 60% and 80% respectively, H2k has been able to turn the game against Origen's lead, and mitigate the damage done by trading towers. The team's vision game ranks at the top, placing 4.2 wards per minute, and clearing a much higher amount of stealth wards than other LCS teams (33%).
Unless Fnatic pulls a surprising draft, H2k is likely to win the series. The team's better coordination across the map, consistent drafting, understanding of picks, ability to recover from deficits, and vision game supremacy is likely to give it the nod over an a team that relies largely on its team-fighting and pressure early game. That is, unless Fnatic reaches a point in the late game where only team fights matter.