27 – that is the number of games it took for Fnatic to reach the 2017 World Championship Quarter-Finals: nine games in EU LCS playoffs, three in EU LCS regionals, seven in Worlds play-ins, and eight in the stage groups, a marathon journey that has led to this point.
It has been a long road up until this point. From internal strife to wildcard losses, playoff chokes to tiebreaker sagas, Fnatic has stood on the edge of elimination time and time again.
And yet, here they are, ready to represent their region in quarterfinals for the first time in two years. Will Fnatic make the impossible happen and continue their impossible streak of luck? Or will the hometown heroes, Royal Never Give Up, overtake their overseas foes, standing tall with the crowd behind them?
On an individual level, Fnatic matches up with their Chinese counterparts surprisingly well. Rasmus “Caps” Winther has steadily improved over the course of the tournament, to the point that he could take on the challenge of Li “Xiaohu” Yuan-Hao himself.
Martin “Rekkles” Larsson versus Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao will be a particularly interesting matchup. The two AD carries are regional heroes and veteran stars for their team respective teams. Both have the chance to destroy the other in lane, depending on whose day it is to shine.
One particularly surprising element of Royal Never Give Up’s worlds performance is their lack of early game dominance. Everyone knows the skill and power of Xiaohu and Uzi: both carries dominated their lanes in the LPL, and starred for their team as one of the best in the position.
Yet their play at Worlds 2017 has not reached quite the same heights. Both have played extraordinarily well, but they are not outshining their lane opponents to quite the same degree, behind their forthcoming European opposition in terms of 15 minute CS.
If Fnatic keep up their current style, they could feasibly outplay their Chinese opponents in the early game.
In fairness to Royal, this could be a result of their group stage matchups. In group C, all three of the top teams have world-class players in both the mid and ADC positions.
Though G2 eSports ultimately missed the playoffs, Luka “PerkZ” Perković and Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen are still very capable players who can dominate the laning phase.
These head-scratching stats may also be a sign of change for RNG. For years, Royal, and China as a whole, have been known as the constant aggressors of competitive League of Legends.
The common stereotype is that Chinese teams play fast and flashy, with constant early aggression. This Worlds, RNG have turned that preconception on its head.
Royal has not developed a weakness, but rather evolved, into a more complete team for an international stage; RNG’s mid/late game rating currently sits at 35.7, second only to SK Telecom T1.
Despite their history of early game focus, the team fits perfectly with their new style. Xiaohu and Uzi have worked in tandem to create a truly frightening carry combination in mid and late game situations.
In the meantime, Liu “mlxg” Shi Yu and Yan “LetMe” Jun Ze have used their tank champion prowess to provide a solid front line for the team, day in and day out.
Finally, Shi “Ming” Sen Ming rounds out the comp with ardent censer supports, in order to get Uzi the late-game damage he needs. RNG has created the perfect squad for a totally revamped style of play.
By contrast, Fnatic might not play as poorly against their Chinese foes as one might think. On a good day, Rekkles and Caps can both matchup favourably against their lane opponents, giving their team the early game lead.
Even if Fnatic can establish their lead, however, the unrelenting consistency of Xiaohu, and the constant threat of Uzi will likely be too much for them to bear. Royal Never Give Up has the heavy advantage in this particular series.