Fnatic and Cloud9 had a very similar start to their 2019. Both came off an impressive Worlds run, and both were faced with the loss of their powerhouse mid laner. However, a single glance at their LEC and LCS standings shows they dealt with this issue in very different ways to very different results.
Cloud9 had a shaky first match against Team Liquid, but they quickly gained momentum and established themselves as one of the best teams in their region. Meanwhile, Fnatic suffered a staggering fall from grace to the point they look nothing like the team that took the 2018 World Championship by storm. Which begs the question: If the circumstances were the same, why are the results so different?
The first thing that comes to mind is the choice of mid laners.
Fnatic chose a high-risk, high-reward option of recruiting a promising rookie in Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek, but Cloud9 went the safer route of signing a proven veteran in Yasin “Nisqy” Dinçer. It would be easy to portray this as a game-changer. After all, the former doesn’t have the confidence or the game knowledge to fill the shoes of his predecessor, while the latter has an already developed skill set and years of competitive experience to fall back on.
But while Fnatic took a shot in the dark with their mid laner, it’s hard to claim they missed. They didn’t hit the bullseye, sure. Nemesis isn’t a world-class talent that everyone hoped he would be, and his first stage games were undeniably shaky. Once he got over the initial nerves, though, he proved himself capable enough to stand up to most LEC mid laners.
It’s not like Nisqy had a perfect start either. His debut against Team Liquid was hectic at best, and even though he got much better at navigating fights and working together with his teammates throughout the split, he’s not an overwhelming presence that can single-handedly win C9 games.
In the end, neither mid laner is on the level of the player they replaced. And while the differences are there, they’re not big enough to explain Cloud9’s rise or Fnatic’s downfall.
So, what about the coaching staff?
It’s no secret that the 2018 Fnatic was built on two pillars—their team director Joey "YoungBuck" Steltenpool and their head coach Dylan Falco. The former worked on macro concepts like rotations, vision control, and late game teamfighting, which quickly became the defining traits of his lineup. The latter focused on draft and laning. However, the off-season saw Fnatic letting go of Dylan Falco without realizing how much he brought to the table. The result? They have a massive hole in their early game, and they’re still trying to shore it up to this day.
Cloud9’s off-season was uneventful in comparison. Barring the already mentioned loss of their mid laner, they parted ways with a single analyst towards the end of 2018. With that, the most important members of their coaching staff—head coach Bok "Reapered" Han-gyu and assistant coach Jung "RapidStar" Min-sung—stayed on the team. And the infrastructure that led them to the best international result in North America’s history was still intact.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Fnatic and Cloud9 is self-awareness.
When you’re at the top of your region, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to your problems. After all, can you even have any glaring weaknesses when you’re winning one game after another? Combine that with a top-2 finish at Worlds, and it’s not exactly surprising that Fnatic didn’t notice the chinks in their armor. Whether it’s limited champion pools, overreliance on mid lane aggression, or conscious decisions to draft losing lanes and scale into the late game, Fnatic looked past their shortcomings because no one had the ability to expose them.
Meanwhile, Cloud9 were always keenly aware of their flaws. Not only did they face more adversity in their region, but they had multiple close calls at Worlds 2018 that caused them to take a step back and reevaluate their playstyle. On top of that, their head coach Reapered spent so much time on the team he knows exactly how to highlight Cloud9’s strengths and cover their weaknesses.
In the end, the devil is in the details. There’s no single issue behind Fnatic’s downfall, and no single reason behind Cloud9’s success. It’s the decisions both teams made in the long run that led them to where they stand today.
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