Fnatic taste blood. Their rivals, G2 Esports, who defeated them in the Spring Split Finals, lost in the opening weekend of the LEC Summer Split, giving Fnatic the opportunity to claim a number one position in the league and extend that over the course of the Split. But this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Fnatic top laner Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau spoke to us about how his team continuously seeks to improve, forging stronger bonds within the team and becoming well-versed to counter any situation.
Hotspawn: The answer to this is probably no surprise, but I do want to hear it in your words. Tell me what your goal is for the Summer Split.
Bwipo: Contesting for the championship. From start to finish, that’s the only thing that matters.
Hotspawn: With that goal in mind, and remembering that Fnatic finished the Spring Split with a convincing loss against G2: what did you guys focus on training during the offseason?
Bwipo: We had a couple of in-depth talks about what we want to be as a team, and how we want to behave towards each other. We made sure to tighten up everything in the team, and do a better job at everything. That includes things like having a good look at how we practice and how we can improve our practice. Those are things that we were changing.
[The issue] a matter of bringing it up between the players or the whole team.
Hotspawn: When you mention that you had to figure out “how to behave towards each other”, is that focused on in-game aspects, or also on regular team dynamics?
Bwipo: Both. When I say behavior, I mean the way we’re talking to each other, when we’re talking to each other, what kind of information we share. We just ask ourselves: did we do a good enough job to make people understand what we believe are good strategies, or what we thought were good champions and good picks. This type of communication and type of communication between the players is what we focused on in the sense of: are we agreeing on what champions are strong? And if we aren’t, are we able to reach a conclusion that we’re all satisfied with?
Hotspawn: We, as outsiders, can only see the result of such training on the Rift when you play a match, but it’s interesting to hear how teams get to that improved stage. Can you shed light on how a team like Fnatic addresses such problems and works towards improvement?
Bwipo: We try to have a humane talk about it. Generally speaking, depending on how large the issue is or who is dealing with it, it’s a matter of bringing it up between the players or the whole team. From that point on, people just have to voice what they’re unhappy with or what they’re happy with. For example: if we don’t like the amount of priority we have on a certain champion, but one player is super adamant that the champion is super OP and that he’ll carry the game, then we have a team meeting and the person is asked to explain their point. Why is it OP? In what situations isn’t it good? That’s where the discussion goes from. It starts from being asked: “Why do you disagree?” Then you have to explain why you disagree, and then we try to figure it out.
Hotspawn: How much of a role does playing solo queue and scrims play in the team reaching a conclusion?
Bwipo: That’s basically where most of it actually matters, right? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always black and white. For example, it could be that in scrims a pick is doing very well, but on solo queue it’s doing very poorly. Then, most of the time, you’re still going to consider it to be a success. The scrim performance will matter more. But if on-stage a player is convinced that they can make a champion work, even if during scrims that champion performed poorly, the trust will be there from the team. But, generally speaking, if you’re going solo queue and it’s going well, but in scrims we’re not able to play around it, that’s where the discussion starts. We’ll ask ourselves: “Why can’t we translate this to scrims?” That’s how it works. Scrims always weigh way more, and your opinion needs to be reflected in those scrims and you need to prove how your champion is useful or powerful.
Hotspawn: Do you have any memorable examples where one of your teammates called out an unexpected champion, and you guys managed to make it work?
Bwipo: Oof, there are many. Well, Caps’ Vayne is an old one. It wasn’t this year, but it ended up working. People weren’t sold on it and we were like “are you sure?” It’s a legendary video at this point, with Broxah asking if he was sure. Other than that, at Worlds 2018, in the quarterfinals, we were playing against EDG. Viktor wasn’t universally considered as ‘broken’ yet. People were picking up that he was super broken. And I was just like: “Give me Viktor. I’ll play the Viktor.” It worked out! I got solo killed, but it worked out in the end! *laughs*
Hotspawn: It’s pretty impressive that you trust so much in each other to call out ‘strange’ picks on such important stages.
Bwipo: Yeah, but this is why I think communication between players is so important. If someone is aware that I think a certain champion is strong, then they can also suggest that champion. Singed, for example, is a champion I really like to play. Then my teammates could all of a sudden see a situation where Singed could be good, even if I’m not thinking about it because I’m trying to figure out what my best-performing champion could be. Sometimes having someone bring fresh air into your brain with a unique suggestion can change your whole perspective on how the game is gonna go. This can make or break a game for the enemy team. It’s very difficult for most players to play against a completely unique champion all of a sudden. Out of nowhere, you see Singed top, Zac top, Malphite top.
Many people were asking about Malphite at the end of the Spring Split. All of a sudden he came back into the game. “Wait, how strong is he exactly?” is what people were wondering. Especially if you use runes that you don’t usually use on this champion, like Grasp of the Undying, or Press the Attack Malphite. You’re just wondering: “Can this actually beat me?” It forces the enemy to ask questions that they shouldn’t be asking as a professional player. It’s a very powerful tool to have access to, and it’s just about players recognizing when and how it works for them. It’s obviously also about champion mastery—you need to have the confidence to bust them out in a high-pressure situation where you have to make it or break it.
The main thing is answering the question of how good you are in the current meta.
Hotspawn: Throwing curveballs in the draft phase is something a team like G2 is now renowned for, but we did see Fnatic experiment more as well last Split. Like you said, you had a Singed, Zac, and even an Urgot game. How are you guys training yourself to be more flexible?
Bwipo: The main thing is answering the question of how good you are in the current meta. If you’re not good at playing what is considered to be the strongest, then you’ll have to spend more time practicing those champions. But if you’re very well-versed, and you feel very confident in the champions that you’re supposed to be able to play, you can experiment more. If, for example, in this meta your AD Carry isn’t comfortable playing Varus, or your mid laner isn’t comfortable playing Syndra, or your jungler doesn’t want to play Graves, that is a huge problem. Those champions are considered to be overpowered. After that has been learned and you’ve mastered those champions, if you will, that is when the time comes to ask yourself: “What champions can we play outside of that?” You start to look at champions to counter the meta.
Aphelios was a huge part of the meta for a long time in the Spring Split, and still is to some degree. When that type of champion shows up for so long, eventually you can exploit its weaknesses. Malphite is a great example of a champion that handles Aphelios very well. He showed up at the end of the Split, when Aphelios had been played for three months. That’s when you’ve been able to test picks, adjust according to meta changes, and all of a sudden it seems doable for a Malphite. But you have to have a neutral standpoint when evaluating how good a champion is. You can’t go in, lose a game, and conclude that Malphite is a terrible pick. If you have the mentality of either “this champion is OP” or “this champion is bad” and there is no in-between, then you simply can’t get a bigger champion pool.
I feel like a lot of players have the bad habit of comparing the most OP champions to any other champion, and if that champion can’t compete with the OP champion in every single situation, then it ‘must’ be a strictly worse champion. Ornn, for example, is a super solid tank. He’s good against magic damage, he’s good against physical damage…he’s good against everything. In the long run, Ornn will almost always be better than Malphite. But in a niche case, where there are multiple AD Carries, or the enemy has one super important carry, Malphite will do the job better. Recognizing that and trying to make the champion work is what’s important. You need to find a specific situation where he can be better for the team overall, and a situation where it doesn’t hurt too much to play it into your lane.
Hotspawn: So as you say, the starting point of becoming flexible is mastering the current meta. Is Fnatic, in your opinion, a team that can adapt well to different metas?
Bwipo: It always depends on the individual players, of course. If the meta turns into a split pushing meta with Fiora or Kennen in particular, I’m not that confident. I don’t have much mastery in them—I’ve never played them that much in the past. Even when they were strong, I was more comfortable playing a tank into them, or a straight-up counterpick like Jayce. I would find answers to those champions rather than playing them myself, because I didn’t feel that I’d play those champions very well. If such a meta ever shows up, Fnatic could maybe struggle a bit for a while. I’m not that great at those champions. Then the question is: how good am I at finding answers to those champions?
Hotspawn: What about the rest of your team?
Bwipo: I feel that everyone is very good at every meta so far on my team. Maybe there will be some criticism towards Hylissang’s ranged support, where maybe people will say he doesn’t play it that well. But that’s about it. I think everybody else on our team can master pretty much every meta.
I know I played in the bot lane instead of Rekkles when it was a Mage meta, but even today he proved that his Syndra is more than capable. And that’s just another Mage, right? I didn’t play in the bot lane previously because Rekkles wasn’t good at it—he just felt that I was better at the Mages. That was the reasoning behind that decision. I don’t want people to undersell him for that. He’s still very, very flexible as a player. Even though in the past people may have felt that wasn’t the case, he absolutely is right now.