Fnatic mastered the art of roster gambling

How has Fnatic stayed at the top of the European League of Legends scene since its inception? The answer lies in their remarkable ability to manage their roster.

Image Credit: Riot Games

The departure of Paul “sOAZ” Boyer and Rasmus “Caps” Winther was a huge hit for Fnatic. Not only did they lose two pillars of their 2018 roster, but they also had to bring in an unproven rookie to fill the void in the mid lane. With that, it’s easy to think that Fnatic are going to have a rough time in 2019. 

But they’ve been here before.

In fact, Fnatic are one of the best orgs when it comes to bouncing back from losing star players and rebuilding their lineups into title contenders. The main reason behind this is their roster management. 

Hard choices

Let’s face it, League of Legends is a ruthless esport. The gameplay is constantly evolving to the point where a professional match from several years ago might not even seem like the same game today, and pros work insane hours to keep up with the ever-changing meta. Hence, it’s common to see them burn out from the never-ending grind. 

And Fnatic navigate this dog-eat-dog world perfectly. 

Barring the time when they held onto Shushei way past the double AP meta, Fnatic are great at identifying players that overstayed their welcome. Moreover, they frequently do so a split or two before said players start falling off. The best example of this is nRated in 2013. At the time, he was the captain and strategic leader of the entire lineup, but once Fnatic noticed he isn’t practicing as hard as his teammates, they released him in favor of a role-swapping YellOwStaR. 

Fnatic’s Harry Wiggett explains the decision to release nRated

Back then, this decision came under fire, and it certainly didn't help that nRated went on to enjoy quite a bit of success on SK Gaming. Fnatic had the last laugh, though, as YellOwStaR became the foundation of their explosive 2015 lineup, and nRated struggled to stay on top of his mechanics towards the end of the same year. This isn’t an isolated incident either. Whether it’s replacing Gamsu with Kikis, Febiven with Caps, or Amazing with Broxah, Fnatic have repeatedly shown they’re willing to take risks and chase roster upgrades.

It feels weird to commend an organization for releasing its players. But having the guts to make tough decisions is a huge part of what makes a championship-level team.

Raising the stakes

Another thing that stands out about Fnatic is their willingness to invest in new talent. This goes all the way back to them noticing and holding onto Rekkles when he wasn’t eligible to play in the EU LCS. And while recruiting a young mechanical prodigy in the first years of competitive League of Legends might not seem like that much of gamble, Fnatic continuously introduc fresh blood into their team. 

The best case of this was at the end of 2014 when they lost four core players in xPekesOAZ, Cyanide, and Rekkles, forcing them to rebuild their roster from scratch. Next year, they entered the EU LCS with a lineup of three rookies, one struggling jungler, and YellOwStaR. Everyone thought they were destined for failure. Yet, it didn’t take them longer than a single split to turn the public opinion around and establish themselves as the #1 team in Europe. 

Nowadays, it’s common to see Fnatic have a hungry up-and-comer lined up to take the place of a long-standing veteran. This happened with Broxah and Amazing as well as Bwipo and sOAZ. And even though Caps deciding to leave the team caught Fnatic off-guard, they stayed true to their values by bringing in a rising star in Tim "Nemesis" Lipovšek to fill his shoes. 

That doesn’t mean that all of their players have to perform under the pressure of being replaced at any given moment. On the contrary, Fnatic always seem to know which pieces to hold on to. For instance, Rekkles is the focal point of their roster, and while they did lose him once to Alliance, they instantly made room for him when he decided to come back. And even though the likes of xPeke, YellOwStaR, and Caps ended up leaving the team, Fnatic went above and beyond to hold on to them. 

Long-term strategy

Fnatic aren’t a perfect team. Despite being a European powerhouse, they often struggle to keep their star players, so—in a way—many of their roster moves are made out of necessity. They’ve also committed their fair share of mistakes in the past, and you could even argue they’ve gotten insanely lucky with some of their acquisitions. 

Ultimately, though, Fnatic climbed to the top of their region by making some of the boldest player moves in the scene. And as long as their roster management doesn’t falter, they’re likely to stay there.

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