A fan-favorite organization that just came away from one of the most impressive runs of any Western team in any League of Legends World Championship ever.
An organization that hadn’t been in the premier European League of Legends circuit since their relegation in Season 5.
And yet, somehow, these teams are rivals.
And they’re going to face off against each other in the first game of the 2019 LEC Spring Split.
Fnatic enters 2019 with both an upgraded coaching staff and 4/6ths of their all-star European roster still intact.
Now without veteran Soaz as a backup and occasional mentor, all eyes will be on breakout star of 2018 Bwipo to outclass every other top in the region - including his former partner in crime.
Another loss waiting to have its effects felt is the loss of Caps. The rookie midlaner looked promising in his debut season for the boys in black and orange and truly came into his own in 2018 - earning international prestige and recognition. However, with great success came even greater ambitions, and Caps himself stated he wasn’t content with what he saw as an easier way to success again - instead opting to start fresh on a revitalized G2 Esports roster.
New midlaner Nemesis comes in after some fearsome performances in the Spanish National League (LVP) on MAD Lions, and Fnatic looks to maintain their track record of turning inexperienced diamonds in the rough into truly world-class talent.
SK, on the other hand, don’t have an established LEC team to augment, or even overhaul. Instead, they chose to take three parts of Nemesis’ supporting line-up in MAD Lions, and add two relatively experienced Korean talents in the middle and support roles.
With Rekkles being the only remaining member of Fnatic since the rivalry days (even then, it’s a stretch - he joined towards the end of what many see as the peak of the rivalry between these two), the former-MAD Lions grudge match is perhaps the most prominent storyline heading into this.
As well as this, SK is craving redemption - after exiting the LCS so dramatically, having dropped from a strong showing in Spring 2015 (finishing 3rd-4th) to being relegated that very same Summer due to internal struggles, they are longing to show the fans that they belong here.
In a similar vein, support Dreams comes in off of an uninspiring year on Vitality Academy in the French League, having been relegated from the EU LCS on Mysterious Monkeys during their debut split.
Midlaner Pirean has comparable LCS experience to his fellow Korean teammate, but on the other side of the world - Phoenix1 and EnvyUs both allowed him to show signs of promise in a somewhat competitive NA LCS. It wasn’t until last year, where he showed signs of hope on a floundering SK Telecom roster that people indeed took note of him - perhaps he has learned a few things from Faker and can be prepared for the slew of talented midlaners awaiting him in Europe.
Toplaner Werlyb makes his hopefully triumphant return to the LCS, having improved leaps and bounds from the days he spent carrying GIANTS on Jax. He will need to prove himself once more versus one of the most renowned carry tops of recent, though he has already established that he can more than hold his own even versus the likes of Soaz in the past.
My matchup to watch would be Broxah vs. Selfmade since both tend to carry games hard for their teams - though Fnatic’s Broxah does so in a less explosive, yet more consistent style. Widely considered to be the best jungler in Europe, and top 5 in the world, it is expected that he will completely dismantle this SK Gaming lineup if given a chance. He now faces a jungler that has yet to make his debut on the LCS stage. However, Selfmade’s volatility is something you cannot account for, and Nemesis can vouch for this - if things don’t go to plan, FNC’s gentle giant in the jungle may find his entire gameplan disrupted by the new kid on the block.
At the end of the day, at least these rivals have one thing in common - both of these teams harbor some form of resentment towards G2. FNC for having Caps taken away, and SK for having their initial LCS spot taken. After all, the enemy of my enemy is… my rival?
Images Via: LoL Esports Flickr