The third day of quarter-finals in the League of Legends World Championships [official site] pitted European hot shots Fnatic against China's last remaining hope, Edward Gaming, each hoping to secure their ticket to the Brussels semi-final.
Spoilers await you after the jump!
It was the European side, Fnatic who stomped to victory in just three games. Well, three and a half if you count their first crack at the second game which fell casualty to a character bug.
Fnatic's captain Bora 'YellOwStaR' Kim is understandably pleased when I meet him after the games are finished.
The support player considered retiring at the end of last year's World Championships but instead of actually doing that he stayed with Fnatic. The team he rebuilt became a force to be reckoned with. Their hard work ensured dominance of the European region all summer and has led YellOwStar to this, his fifth Worlds tournament.
We'll get to the games in a moment but first I ask what he's most proud of achieving over that last year.
"There are a lot of things I'm proud of," he says. "First of all we could barely communicate so to be able to perform everyone has to be happy - with their life, with their friends and stuff like that - you have to have friendship with each other. We were able to build some trust between us, have fun, make everyone feel comfortable and then focus on the game."
He explains that the road to Worlds is a year-long process. "When you want to aim for the World Championship title you have to work during the whole year. It's not like 'Worlds is coming, I have to really practice!' You have to slowly build up work ethics and keep up a good pace at the beginning. When we started with the gaming house in Germany we were playing tons of hours. You increase the amount of hours and you can almost never rest. Hopefully we don't burn out."
To aid in the not burning out the team are taking Sunday easy. "We should just relax and have some fun, go outside. Then we really want to win so we're going to practice even more the day after."
Turning our attention back to today's games, I ask about that aborted game two. Play was stopped after twenty-one minutes because of a bug affecting one of Fnatic's chosen champions, Gragas. The issue prevented Gragas casting his "Q" ability (tapping Q lets him roll out his explosive casks, tapping Q again can explode them early). After exhausting all the potential solutions and coming up blank, Riot offered Fnatic the option to remake the match which they accepted. Given so much of the game had been played out and so much information had been given up by each team with regard to the match-up, it was agreed that the pick and ban phase would be started from scratch too.
Here's the full explanation if you're curious - if the bug happens a second time Gragas will be taken out of the remainder of the tournament:
The thing was, the aborted game had a really interesting lineup so a lot of people – Fnatic included – had wanted to see it play out. The interest came because two champions who had been treated as default bans due to their strength in the current patch, Mordekaiser and Gangplank, had both been let through. Players, fans and analysts were keen to see what the teams had come up with to deal with these champs.
I asked YellOwStaR whether Fnatic had found the match valuable despite it being left unfinished.
"It's hard to judge because it was only twenty minutes in the game," he says. "Basically what we've experienced in scrims [practice matches] is really different to what we have on stage because in scrims it doesn't matter if you win, if you lose, if you win fast, if you lose fast... You can't know what to expect on stage because they will play more carefully, there's more at stake. So really you have to see the outcome. But we were really confident that is was working so if we were to remake we would have gone for the same but it seemed they didn't want to."
The subject also came up when I had my customary post-match chinwag with shoutcaster Trevor 'Quickshot' Henry. "The first thing we learned very clearly was it's not a matter of 'get a champion, insta-win'. Deft, who is one of the most celebrated AD carries on the planet showed a limited understanding of how to play Mordekaiser. EDG as a team showed a limited understanding of how to build a team around Mordekaiser."
On the other hand, Fnatic, who had picked up the Gangplank had a clear plan. "Seeing the composition Fnatic had drafted against Morde? Perfectly viable," says Quickshot. "It could literally have won nine out of ten games if executed well. So the biggest thing we learned is that there are counters, there are theories – unfortunately we didn't get to see them unfold as much as we would like."
When something like the Gragas bug happens, does it make the pro players wary of picking up that champion again? It didn't seem to be an issue given Fnatic gave Gragas another outing in the remake of game two.
"We've played so many games in our life and this is the first time it happened," says YellOwStaR. "Maybe one game out of ten thousand? So [with] how rarely that bug happens, we're not scared of it happening."
Edward Gaming came into Worlds as one of the favourite teams to win but had a patchy group stage. At the beginning of the first game it looked like they'd put their game faces on (and swapped one game face for another, with substitute AmazingJ making way for regular top laner Koro1) but Fnatic had clearly been studying their opponents.
"It's really easy to see where they're good," said YellOwStaR. "For example, EDG is really strong at playing around their AD carry and that's what we wanted to shut down, because they're really comfortable playing around it and as long as you drag them away from their comfort zone they might be in trouble because they might not adapt as fast as we can because we have communication advantage. They might not be as fluent talking to each other."
Was there a moment in the series when Fnatic knew they had beaten Edward? YellOwStaR knows better than to think like that.
"As long as their nexus is not down you know you might have higher chances to win or lose but it's never over until you kill the nexus."
Fnatic, of all teams, should know that what with their clutch victory against ahq e-Sports Club in the group stages. "Yeah," agrees YellOwStaR. "That's why we should always be focused until the last moment!"
The semi-finals are Fnatic's next challenge but I can't help asking whether YellOwStaR thinks we might see two European teams make it to the finals.
"That would mean a lot but first of all we have to focus on our semi-finals. We know the Koreans teams are really good as well. Two European teams would be the first time in the history and it would be great but at the same time, there is still the domination of Korean teams that everyone wants to shut down. They won season 3, season 4, and now SKT is back for season 5 and they look really strong."
He doesn't know what will happen but he adds, "We're ready to face anyone."