The League of Legends World Championships [official site] has its second semi-final later today to determine whether it's European side, Fnatic, or Korea's KOO Tigers heading to Berlin (and one step closer to the task of hoisting the super-heavy Summoner's Cup). This stage is in Brussels so I'll be watching from bed wearing my frog onesie and writing about the winners on Monday BUT in the meantime, here are the semi-finalists:
Ah, Fnatic. I would say they were the titans of the esports scene but there is a) a team called the Bangkok Titans who were at Worlds as an international wildcard team and didn't make it through group stages and b) there is another esports organisation in Europe called Titan who field CS: GO and Smite teams so it might get confusing.
Instead I will remind you of Fnatic's undefeated summer season in the European LCS and their win at the playoffs which saw them defeat Origen to nab the European number one seed for Worlds.
Fnatic actually won the very first World Championship which was held in Jönköping, Sweden as part of DreamHack Winter 2011 so if they (or SKT for that matter) go on to win the whole thing it would be the first time a team has lifted the trophy twice. Talking about it in those terms raises the esports Ship of Theseus problem, though. The lineup in those days was xPeke (now Origen's founder and mid laner), Shushei (currently without a team), Cyanide (now a substitute jungler for Origen), LaMiaZeaLoT and Mellisan (both retired). Basically it would be the organisation winning twice rather than the players.
As an aside, Fnatic's current captain, YellOwStaR, did make it to finals that same year but he was on the second place team, Against All Authority. He and a player called Dyrus are the only two LoL pro players to have made it to every Worlds tournament Riot has had.
In last weekend's quarter-finals Fnatic turned in an impressive performance against China's Edward Gaming, stomping the Mid-Season Invitational winners in just three games. Well, three-ish. Play was halted twenty minutes into the second game due to a bug and the game eventually had to be completely remade, champion selections and all. The thing which struck me about the games was how much better Fnatic were at communicating with one another, responding and behaving as a coherent unit during play as opposed to Edward's five separate people each doing their own thing.
When chatting with shoutcaster Trevor 'Quickshot' Henry after that particular match the subject of top lane player Huni came up. Specifically we were discussing his ability to alter his play in response to criticism.
"This is a guy who was heavily criticised in the spring split for having a really weak champion pool so he comes back in summer and he spits in everyone's face with phenomenal performances on everything," says Quickshot. "Then he gets called up multiple times for poor decision making or getting caught out of position, so he picks Riven who is very difficult to lock down, gets caught out of position but makes it out alive and lets his team steal objectives. So even in these criticisms there's still growth and development."
I asked whether he thought Fnatic could make it to the finals and he says yes (although I should caveat this by saying I haven't spoken to him since the Korean teams played so I don't know if that opinion has been revised – for me I think it still holds true). "Every time Fnatic has been challenged they have researched and stepped up to the challenge."
I should add though that Fnatic have played the now-removed character Gragas twice in the competition whereas their opponents have not used the character at all. Whether Gragas's unavailability proves problematic for Fnatic will depend on how strong jungler Reignover's champion pool is, or how well he has adapted to the change over the last week.
When it comes to KOO Tigers, their win was something of a surprise for a number of people last weekend. On paper KT Rolster, their opponents were the stronger team. They had beaten KOO in terms of league season placement, and they had bested them during play-offs. KOO had a sort of Raggydolls story to them too (insomuch as any professional player can be referred to as a Raggydoll) because they were a team built from the players other organisations had let go when the Korean league clamped down on organisations fielding multiple teams.
KOO had other ideas, though, and won in four games.
One of the keys to KOO's success was their top laner Smeb's strong performance on a champion called Fiora. He managed to keep one of the world's best top laner's at bay with her – a big enough concern that I wouldn't be surprised to see Fnatic spending one of their bans on Fiora during the champion selection phase. Smeb versus Fnatic's Huni will, I think, be a top lane dust-up well worth watching.
KOO have also said they beat Fnatic a few times in practice matches, although they acknowledge that those matches aren't great indicators of tournament game success.
Honestly? KOO still look to be the weaker team (although I said that for the quarter-finals and now look where we are – I've learned nothing). They can have lackluster early games and in the game they lost against KT they failed to capitalise on an early lead, making mistakes and allowing their opponents back into the game.
I asked shoutcaster David 'Phreak' Turley how he felt about KOO's chances against Fnatic after their quarter-final victory.
"I think it's even more Fnatic favoured," he said. "As we saw today KOO are actually still fairly weak early game. Their statistics from the group stage show them beating up a wildcard team and an underperforming CLG. They do infact have weak laning phases a lot of the time and weak early shotcalling. It requires them to have some really good calls to come back in games.
"Fnatic seem almost too smart from that. I think Fnatic are a lot of very amazing players. Whether Huni can handle Smeb remains to be seen - I think that's a close matchup so it's an interesting inflection point. Player by player Fnatic stands up well but I think the fact KOO are still losing early games and Fnatic are good at capitalising early leads and probably won't make the same shotcalling mistakes that KT did to allow KOO back into the games - it seems like it's moderately in Fnatic's favour I'd say."
Fnatic vs KOO Tigers takes place at 1.30pm (the League of Legends schedule page does a weird thing where it detects your time zone BUT I have no idea if it's adjusting for the clocks going back to GMT instead of BST this weekend so I'd double check if I were you) and you can watch it here.