Fnatic and Schalke 04 take divergent paths to EU LCS final

Fnatic is a known European League of Legends Championship Series titleholder. Not finalist. Not playoff hopeful. But champion. Of the 12 total EU LCS finals, Fnatic has been to eight of them. Fnatic has only lost once -- in 2014 Summer to Alliance -- and the upcoming 2018 EU LCS Summer Split finals against Schalke 04, is yet to be played. This team doesn't simply make finals, it wins them, and of the four finals series that Fnatic missed, the team took third three times. Fnatic has never finished below fifth/sixth place.

This is why, regardless of roster, Fnatic always seems prepared to win. The team imbues its members with internal confidence and ambition that is readily apparent in-game and onstage, from veteran players like top laner Paul "sOAZ" Boyer and AD carry Martin "Rekkles" Larsson to rookies like top laner Gabriël "Bwipo" Rau, the latter of whom has become another face for the team over the past year.

Earlier this split, with a recent 2018 Mid-Season Invitational loss fresh in their minds, the players of Fnatic admitted to using 2018 EU-NA Rift Rivals as a springboard and practice for a potential League of Legends world championship bid. Both sOAZ and Bwipo were quick to add in the caveat of "if they make it," but the unspoken message was that with the circuit points they already had accumulated and the improved performance of the team due to roster swaps in the volatile early-summer meta, the team would make the world championship again. This was the team's test. That's the Fnatic prestige.

When mid laner Rasmus "Caps" Winther spoke on broadcast after Fnatic's shaky victory over Misfits in the EU LCS semifinals, he immediately reiterated the team's confidence going into the match, despite obvious in-game hiccups.

"So, we actually had a really good week of scrims," Caps said. "So I had really high expectations coming into this week. But at the same time we hadn't played Misfits for a while. And they play a very different style than anyone else, and I was a bit worried in the sense that they play really hard for early game, and we were afraid that maybe they would roll over us in the early game. But at the same time, I felt like we are a better team."

The day before Caps and Rekkles' Post-Game Lobby breakdown on the EU LCS broadcast, FC Schalke 04 Esports' bot laner Elias "Upset" Lipp and jungler Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider joined host Eefje "sjokz" Depoortere in the exact same chairs in the EU LCS studio. Both looked surprised and almost dazed in the wake of a 3-1 victory over Team Vitality.

"It just ..." Upset said. He interrupted himself to briefly shake his head. "It's undescribable honestly, I've ... I'm super happy with how it turned out in the summer split, especially after spring split was so frustrating and depressing how bad we were I think and how bad we played. And then we change one player and -- this man over here will come soon."

Upset gestured offstage to Amazing, who was waiting in the wings to step onstage for the broadcast.

"Suddenly we are in the final and I still can't really believe it," Upset said. "It will take some time I think. But I'm insanely happy and thankful to my teammates and the coaching staff."

While FC Schalke 04 is a legacy European soccer club, founded in 1904, the team's esports division hasn't often seen success, never mind a trip to the EU LCS finals. Founded in May 2016, FC Schalke 04 Esports picked up the roster of the defunct Elements team that had finished 2016 EU LCS Spring Split in seventh place -- out of relegation danger but well outside of playoff contention with a 6-12 record. The team was relegated after an eighth-place finish in 2016 EU LCS Summer and losses to ROCCAT and Misfits in the 2017 EU LCS Spring promotion tournament.

Rather than attempting to purchase another EU LCS spot, FC Schalke 04 Esports stubbornly stuck to promotion from the challenger series, requalifying for an EU LCS spot for 2018 Spring. With the roster of top laner Tamás "Vizicsacsi" Kiss, jungler Milo "Pride" Wehnes, mid laner Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm, Upset and support Oskar "Vander" Bogdan, FC Schalke 04 Esports finished with a 7-11 record in eighth place. The team only made one midseason roster move: the acquisition of jungler Amazing.

"I can't guarantee that I will not cry." Amazing said as he sat down in his chair next to Upset following FC Schalke 04 Esports' semifinals victory. This is not only FC Schalke 04 Esports' team redemption story, but a personal rebirth for Amazing as an LCS player. This past spring, Amazing was on the other side of the broadcast desk as an analyst. Most thought his professional career was over.

"The last two years, two-and-a-half years I've played, ever since Mithy and Zven left Origen, were s--- for me," Amazing said. "I didn't find any happiness within the teams I was in. It was not like anything that felt like brotherly love to a certain extent, where it that made you feel like teammates."

Amazing has found that happiness now on FC Schalke 04 Esports, and in turn, the other team members have found their missing piece: a veteran jungler whose experience they can rely upon and rally around. Now they face Europe's default champion in Fnatic.