The cult of QO

When the new Fnatic roster formed in April, the region was abuzz with excitement about a lineup that looked to eclipse every other SEA team ever to have competed. However it quickly became apparent that the lineup’s strength on paper was not translating into practice.

Despite the decision to replace Meracle with Ah Jit, the recent improvement of Fnatic suggests a different explanation for the team’s early problems. In hindsight, it has become abundantly clear that early on the team failed to discover an appropriate playstyle to fit all of its players. Too many of the players were used to playing defining roles in their previous teams and, relatedly, too many players were used to playing with a lot of gold relative to their respective roles.

With Fnatic’s success in the TI7 regional qualifier, we see that their solution to the above problem was for four players to surrender themselves to the mercy of one. The cult of QO was born. A player who now leads the team and has designed a system wherein every other player explicitly plays around him, in service to him, with the ultimate aim of enabling him.

Without even watching them play, the slightest analysis of Fnatic’s recent drafts reveals a very clear pattern. More than any other team at the moment they have developed an explicit system and it’s one that, as of yet, works very well. Thus, it might surprise you to hear just how simple it is. QO plays a hero which can fight very aggressively, diving relentlessly. Everyone else plays heroes and buys items that help him to do that.

Thus, the other four picks will have a emphasis on heal/sustain, saving capability and control. The plan is straightforward: once key item timings are met, the team 5-mans around QO and protects him with their lives. Meanwhile, he is the butcher, the executioner, more terrifying than even a sharknado.

Here is an example of an ideal Fnatic draft. Where possible, DJ will almost always pick himself Witchdoctor. It fits all of the criteria listed above. It can heal, it can control, and as a bonus it can do both of those things with no farm at all. And you best believe that is what DJ gets these days. Those expecting huge 4 position plays from the player this TI will be sorely disappointed because in the QO system DJ plays a hard ‘6’ position.

Next, you have Febby on Clockwerk. Again it fits the criteria well. It has enormous potential to control, some ability to save, and can pull key targets off of QO in fights. And like Witchdoctor, it can operate with less farm than many of the other heroes in its position.

Ah Jit and Ohaiyo on Necrophos and Underlord represent sustain and control particularly in the context of the ultimate 5-man setup. Both of these are heroes that usually need to be focused early on if you want to take down their teammates because of how much they contribute to keeping their teammates alive. And this is precisely the kind of support QO thrives with. An additional benefit of these heroes is that either one of them can do well in a solo lane and this is important because in every game either Ah Jit or Ohaiyo will receive no support whatsoever in order to guarantee that QO can get the help he needs.

Lastly there is the king himself. It should come as no surprise that PA is an ideal pick for him because it’s an all time favourite of his and one which brilliantly embodies what he’s all about. This hero quickly wreaks havoc on opponents when allowed to move freely around a teamfight and that’s exactly the kind of situation that the rest of the team is designed to set up.

Naturally, these exact heroes will not be available, nor ideal, in every single game. So look at this next example.

Five entirely different heroes but the exact same system. Ember Spirit, like PA, is a mobile hero that can ‘go ham’ provided the right conditions. Furion and Venomancer are both able to solo and both good at 5-manning early on. Nyx and Tusk are both capable of controlling and saving. The itemisations take it one step further. In this game, Venomancer will buy Force Staff and Halberd. Furion will buy Drum and Solar Crest. Tusk will buy Greaves. While standard enough choices, these are the sorts of builds consistently aimed for in this team because that is what their system demands. Oh yeah, and QO goes Radiance in this game, a further indication of just how QO-centric the team is.

So that’s the system. Your first question might be how a team hopes to succeed with such a predictable strategy. Well, MVP Phoenix went very far with a similarly QO-centric approach. Another example is TI5’s CDEC. Everyone knew exactly what they’d do and despite this it got them as far as the grand final. TI3’s Alliance were the same. Indeed, teams who have that much confidence in their system are usually onto something, often successful, and frequently meta-defining.

Of course this is not always the case. And a team who incorrectly thinks they’ve discovered a flawless system can be heavily punished for it. In a game that is so heavy on strategy an informational asymmetry can easily be your downfall. Is Fnatic’s system perfect or does it have weaknesses? Despite making it to TI, the qualifiers already revealed a few weaknesses.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, regional leaders TNC were the team to most handily defeat Fnatic. Their approach was to draft a Drow strategy, recognising that they could hit an even faster timing than Fnatic, and capitalising on the fact that their opponents drafted very little catch. After all, the Fnatic system depends on hitting certain item timings before 5-manning.

That said, Fnatic’s chances of winning were also severely compromised by a truly bizarre last pick Terrorblade by DJ. The hero in no way fits their system and also didn’t fit the game. Probably, the team realised they had been outdrafted and panicked, resulting in them being even more outdrafted.

But perhaps the most important factor of all was just how one-sided the mid lane was. Despite early help from Febby’s Io, QO was demolished by Kuku. And this highlights another potential weakness in Fnatic’s system. QO, for all his strengths, is far from the best laner. This is probably why Fnatic always help him in lane. But some laners are so good that they’ll abuse this very fact, gaining an exp advantage and shoving it in your face. Kuku, arguably the best midlaner in SEA, made a mockery of QO in this game, completely undermining a system designed entirely around him.

The other game that Fnatic lost was against Mineski. While this was definitely Mushi’s performance of the tournament, going above and beyond any reasonable expectations, strategically it also highlighted something exploitable about Fnatic’s system. Again, despite help from Febby’s Io, QO lost his lane. Again, Fnatic’s plan was exploited by the fact that Mineski had earlier timings than them. With a core trio of QoP, Timbersaw and Batrider, the item requirements before taking over the map were far fewer than their opponent’s.

But most fundamentally, this game exposed just how weak Fnatic’s system can be to Batrider. Since Fnatic always leave at least one side lane to solo, Batrider can normally win that 1v1. Then, in the midgame, the hero makes pickoffs which stunt your timings, making it much harder to ever hit a good 5-man momentum. Lastly, when you do try to 5-man, Batrider is able to isolate a hero, turning the 5-man into a 4-man. It should come as no surprise that Fnatic went on to ban Batrider in the first phase for all their remaining games of the tournament.

One last important lesson comes from their game against Skatemasters during the groupstage. For much of the game Fnatic looked in for a devastating upset. Ultimately, they pulled it back at the end. But how did they go behind against the weakest opponent of the group? They were cocky. More specifically, QO was cocky. After a comfortable early game, Fnatic rapidly approached their 5-man timing.

And then, shortly before QO would finish his BKB on PA, they chose to take a 5v5 fight in the enemy jungle. A fight which, with his BKB, would have been a stomp. But the failure in discipline led to a lost fight, and a snowballing Storm Spirit on the enemy team. Most likely, this lack of diligence was a result of underestimating their opponent. Most likely, this won’t happen at TI. However, what we can draw from this is that QO does have a cocky streak.

And this one small fact might ultimately be Fnatic’s undoing come TI7. Because, it is one thing for acolytes to be loyal to their cult leader and another thing entirely for them to retain that loyalty in the face of their leader failing them. It is already incredible that so many players who are used to being central to their teams have accepted derivative roles for QO’s benefit. If the situation arises where the four of them enable QO and despite this he fails to convert, it is difficult to imagine their faith not faltering. And even the slightest gap in trust will totally undo the power of this system.

While every player will play a key role in Fnatic’s TI7 run, there can be little doubt that their run will be about QO. There is no other team more committed to a single player and whether this turns out to be more of a strength or a weakness will likely dictate their final placement at the event.

EG preview featuring Cr1t can be found here.

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