Slow starts are nothing new for Fnatic's League of Legends team. But just two weeks into the League of Legends European Championship, the world championship runner-up is facing dire straits.
An 0-4 start following tense losses against Team Vitality and FC Schalke 04 Esports is entirely unexpected. And for Fnatic's players, like top laner Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau, the split so far has been devastating.
"It's really rough," Bwipo said after his team's loss to Vitality. "We're at the bottom of the standings, literally."
As Bwipo said, Fnatic, along with Rogue, sits at the bottom of the LEC despite being considered one of the best teams in Europe. Sure, former starting top laner Paul "sOAZ" Boyer went to Misfits Gaming, and mid laner Rasmus "Caps" Winther joined G2 Esports in one of the league's most notorious offseason moves, but with Bwipo taking over the top lane full-time and a mostly intact roster, there was no reason to expect an 0-4 start.
"It's frustrating losing games to teams you feel you should never lose to," Bwipo said. "We're neither contesting nor conceding any lane, so we're not doing anything. That's the identity of Fnatic right now."
In their first three games, Fnatic seemed to be neither willing to contest their opponents' moves, nor concede an objective to secure or reinforce another. Bwipo said the team is working at fixing the issue, and he has faith that the team will figure it out. After all, three of his current teammates also reached the world championship finals alongside him.
However, Fnatic are hitting roadblocks as far as integrating new mid laner Tim "Nemesis" Lipovšek within their system. In a way, they have struggled to enable him as much as he has struggled to enable them.
"It's a really tough experience so far, especially considering we came off the loss at worlds," Bwipo said. "Maybe Invictus left such a mark on us that we don't know what to do anymore. I doubt that, but it feels that way, and it looks that way."
It has been as if Fnatic lost touch with who they were in 2018. Fnatic knew what to do inside and outside of the game to reach the world finals. They adapted; if top lane received the enemy jungler's attention, then Broxah would pivot toward the bot lane and secure leads there. The biggest problem right now, Bwipo said, is that Fnatic aren't getting any tradeoffs for their losses in most matches.
"The biggest identity loss we have is that we have no one to play around. I don't think any of us are willing to be played around," he said. "As a team, we've hit an all-time low, and I think we need to crawl out of it.
"I'm not saying that we can't or won't, but right now, I can't say with confidence that we're going to win worlds like I used to. That hurts me as a player."
Fnatic's loss to FC Schalke 04 Esports was yet another setback, but the team showed some improvement. Following a tragic early game in the bot lane, Fnatic stalled to hold Schalke off. Despite holding a 4,000-gold deficit in the 15th minute, the team rallied behind its solo laners and Broxah.
However, an unsuccessful contest over Baron Nashor resulted in the team's loss. Bwipo, who wasn't there for the fight, said it felt like Fnatic could have turned the battle if he had been near the pit.
"I will do everything I can to convince the coaching staff and the players that we can be the best again," he said. "And I'm going to try to take matters into my own hands as much as possible for the near future at least. I have decided to sign on to the team for three years, and I haven't forgotten that. If Fnatic is going to crash and burn ... that's not gonna happen with me. That much, I can promise you."
Fnatic's competition remains fierce. The team has yet to play Misfits Gaming and G2 Esports, the current front-runners for the LEC title. But Bwipo said he can still see his team winning this split, even if Fnatic can't get the perfect spring they were hoping for going into Week 1.
"I'm pretty tired of losing," Bwipo said. "This week is basically where I start my split. I'm pretty sure we're going to be back as old Fnatic."