Fnatic versus EXCEL will be the first elimination match of the 2022 LEC Summer playoffs. And it’s not nearly as foregone a conclusion as fans might expect.
Based on nameplates alone, the outcome of the first lower bracket matchup of the LEC Summer playoffs should be a straightforward affair.
Fnatic have appeared in every single LEC and EU LCS playoffs since the very beginning of European League of Legends. They’re one of the region’s oldest and most storied organizations, and one of only two organizations in the region to make it to a World Championship final.
This is only EXCEL’s second playoff appearance since their entry into the LEC in 2019. In their first playoff showing earlier this year, they were eliminated in the first round by Team Vitality. They’re an inexperienced organization that has only just started to show any signs of promise in the past year.
The story so far
The head-to-head record between these two teams clearly favors Fnatic, who have won all but three of the 16 games they have played since Spring 2019. Multiple iterations of both rosters have met on the rift, only for Fnatic to beat EXCEL to a pulp and send them packing with their tail between their legs.
In short, it’s not looking great for EXCEL heading into their playoffs matchup on August 28.
But if you know anything about competitive League of Legends, it’s that you can never trust the past to give you an accurate picture of the future.
Fnatic have been on a downward swing this split. Their solo laners have looked uncharacteristically shaky, and while their shining light has always been their bot lane, it doesn’t always feel like the duo are being set up for success.
EXCEL, while by no means perfect, are riding an upswing that began in Spring. They finished both splits with a 9-9 final record. It’s not perfect (it’s not even particularly good), but it’s enough. And as a team that have been consistently mediocre throughout their LEC tenure, ‘enough’ is all that’s needed.
A historic organization in the middle of a historic slump. A notoriously mediocre organization at the beginning of what could be their rise to prominence after four years of invisibility. This will be the last competitive appearance this year for one of these teams, and it’s shaping up to be a banger.
Fnatic have everything to prove
It’s not been the best of years for Fnatic. The controversy that surrounded the roster in the 2021 postseason necessitated a fairly abrupt set of roster changes at the start of the year. Even bringing in LEC fan favorites Marek ‘Humanoid’ Brázda and Martin ‘Wunder’ Hansen couldn’t quite remove the sour taste of the team’s ill-fated Worlds run.
Spring saw the team finish the regular season in second place, a good showing for a team that had changed their entire top side of the map only a few months prior. However, they were knocked down from the upper bracket by Rogue and were then eliminated by G2 in what came to be called their legendary lower bracket run.
Summer so far has been less successful, with Fnatic landing straight in the losers’ bracket of the playoffs after a tiebreaker loss to Misfits in the final game of the regular season.
It was a disappointing loss that perfectly highlighted one of Fnatic’s key issues — their lack of cohesion. The combination of Sylas mid with a pocket Yuumi from Misfits was able to pick Fnatic off like flies, and they just weren’t able to group and shut Vincent ‘Vetheo’ Berrié down. Even though Iván ‘Razork’ Martín Díaz dominated the map in the early game, Fnatic weren’t able to come together to turn that lead into a win.
Now, there’s only one best-of-five loss standing between them and elimination from the LEC playoffs – which would also see them miss their first World Championship since 2016.
In an interview with Jaxon, support Zdravets ‘Hylissang’ Gabalov admitted that the team not being “on the same page” had been one of their biggest downfalls in Summer. He explained that “differing opinions of how the game should be played” were what had cost Fnatic so many victories.
Teams can get away with a lack of cohesion in the regular season — games can turn on a dime (as proven by the Misfits/Fnatic debacle) and you can sometimes win on superior mechanics and better drafts alone. But that just won’t fly in a best-of-five series. You need to be consistently playing at the top of your game. That means, you guessed it, playing as a team.
This isn’t season eight, where superior solo laners could win you a World Championship without a whole lot of team cohesion (here’s looking at you, Invictus Gaming). The current meta requires team play, and lots of it.
EXCEL have nothing to lose
Where Fnatic are under a fairly intense amount of pressure in this playoff series, EXCEL can kick their feet up and relax (metaphorically, of course). If they get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, then they’re just matching their previous best performance.
They have comparatively low expectations behind them. They qualified for the playoffs in last place. They’re finally starting to move on from being one of the worst-performing organizations in the LEC. Anything they manage to achieve will be an improvement on their history in the region.
This is not to say that EXCEL should be content with failure here. It is to say that the joint weight of expectation and community pressure is very much not on them.
If they win, they’ll have shown a better performance than ever before in the organization’s history. If they lose, they’re performing the same as they always have.
Unfortunately for EXCEL, they’ve been on a pretty significant downswing throughout the second half of the summer split. They lost five consecutive games before their final three wins of the season, in which they finally managed to turn things around just in time to win their tiebreaker versus Vitality and qualify for playoffs.
What will this matchup look like?
We’ve already got a two-game sample size of what a matchup between these teams could look like. Both regular season games yielded somewhat surprising results.
EXCEL actually won both of their games versus Fnatic this split — and both in under 30 minutes. In those games, it was EXCEL’s bot lane dominance that secured them their victory, which is something that Fnatic seriously need to be worried about heading into this series.
Interestingly, Fnatic and EXCEL have very, very similar play styles coming into this series. They both excel (get it) at playing around their bot lane — it’s their primary win condition, and both teams are set up to enable that bot lane to shine.
Their solo laners are… fine, but they’re not the reason these teams win games. It’s arguable that Erlend ‘Nukeduck’ Holm is a more consistent mid laner than Humanoid. There’s much less of an argument to be made in the top lane – you’d be hard-pressed to find an LEC viewer, pundit, or coach who didn’t think that Wunder was a better top laner than Finn.
This is a series that will live and die by the botlane. More specifically, by the ability of both junglers to support their bot lane while not letting the rest of the map hemorrhage away a gold lead. Razork and Mark ‘Markoon’ Van Woensel have been two of the most aggressive early-game junglers in the league this split, ranked first and second for first-blood percentages in the LEC.
If there’s one thing EXCEL need to do this series, it’s ban Zeri. Upset is the best Zeri in the LEC, with a 100% win rate over four games (it helps that the champion is also incredibly overtuned). Patrik is also a fairly proficient Zeri, but not to the point where it’s worth Excel letting it through pick/ban.
Fnatic have the best-of-five experience, and EXCEL have the recent win record. Each team has their own unique mental edge coming into this series — if Fnatic win, it will be the expected outcome, and if Excel win, it will be a monumental upset.