Written by: Richard Lewis
Fnatic was undoubtedly the team of 2015. Then, with tournament wins in Minsk, Barcelona and Katowice, 2016 was shaping up to not be much different. All sports dynasties provide brief glimpses of greatness before the inevitable fall, and after underwhelming performances at the previous two majors, it felt like fnatic reached that point. Fast forward to this weekend, and the ELeague championship offers the team a chance to renew their past glory.
We are undoubtedly in the “SK Gaming” era of CS, a sentence I never thought I’d type again. The Brazilian team, with back-to-back major wins, is currently the world’s best, and there’s nothing to suggest that dominance will be challenged any time soon. Other teams are playing catch-up, and only a series of intelligently orchestrated roster moves will produce a team that can come close.
In the absence of SK Gaming, who is going to seize the opportunity, winning this inaugural ELeague season? It is hard to look beyond the Swedes, as everyone else left in the tournament has their own unique problems. Like a lot of American sports, often the victor of a long season isn’t the best on paper, but the one that marshals resources and mitigates weaknesses. Fnatic’s record alone against Na’vi means they have one foot in the final. Na’Vi has never beaten them in a best of three or five series, and that wretched record includes some humiliating defeats. Anyone who watched Na’Vi struggle to put away Cloud9 last week will wince at the prospect of playing Fnatic next, even in their current diminished form.
Both teams have had similar story arcs of late. Their star players, Olofmeister on fnatic, and Guardian for Na’Vi, both recovered from arm injuries. The latter, rendered unrecognizable from his usual self, played on a higher mouse sensitivity to compensate for restricted movement. Although both claim to be recovered, Fnatic has enjoyed an edge, as Olof appears a lot closer to his pre-injury best than Guardian.
Add the very real trend of Na’Vi seemingly lacking that mental fortitude needed to win in semi-finals and finals, a tournament position they very often cruise to, and all signs point to a comfortable Swedish victory at the Cobb Energy Centre. For a team that was considered by many the best in the world, they have struggled to really accrue the trophies they should have during that time. When we look back on this period of CS history with a fresh set of eyes, Na’Vi very well may be remembered as an underachieving team.
Meanwhile, in the other semi-final, you have two teams with problems of their own. Virtus Pro, suddenly resurgent in the quarterfinal match against Ninjas In Pyjamas, perpetually blow hot and cold. For their opponents, mousesports, this is uncharted territory, the first time they’ve been in the final four of a sizeable tournament. Hard to imagine they could trump the experience of the veteran Polish team, but nobody predicted them to get this far. Weaknesses rather than strengths will settle this match, and I predict an all too typical storyline. NiKo cements his status as a world-beater, while his teammates work hard, but ultimately fall short.
Whoever clambers out of that series should be easy pickings for Fnatic. They either get an inexperienced team awed by the occasion, or an old foe that they’ve recorded multiple high profile victories over, back when both were in better shape. Even if haunted by the specters of defeat at the hands of Astralis and Team Liquid at the last two majors, these are the perfect opponents against whom you can exorcise the demons.
Once ELeague is over, Fnatic will take stock of their situation. The season seems to have delayed the almost inevitable roster shuffles affecting all of the teams chasing the Brazilian pacesetters. For the Swedes, their current standing isn’t good enough. They no longer inspire fear as they once did, and once those first cracks appear, it’s hard to ever appear invincible again. Fortunately for them, whatever the future brings, there isn’t anyone I see left in the ELeague running capable of stopping them. Failure to win under these conditions would be a rotten last chapter in the history of Fnatic’s dominance. The table is set, and all signs point to Fnatic wrapping up the inaugural ELeague championship.