KOO Tigers crush Fnatic to claim a spot in Finals

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KOO Tigers outclassed home-crowd favourites Fnatic 3-0 to clinch a spot in the 2015 World Championship Finals.

In front of an energetic Brussels audience, the KOO Tigers outclassed home-crowd favourites Fnatic 3-0 to clinch a spot in the 2015 World Championship Finals.

Many European fans had hoped to see either Origen or Fnatic escape the Semifinals, but Korea proved too dominant -- rampaging through the entire Semifinals weekend without dropping a single game. SKTelecom T1’s victory over Origen had been widely predicted, but many expected the clash between Fnatic and KOO to be a much closer contest.

Fnatic certainly appeared to have an edge in the early stages of Game 1, with a top-lane gank from Yeu-jin “Reignover” Kim’s Rek’Sai securing First Blood for Fnatic. It would prove to be just the first drop of blood in the early-game bloodbath that followed, with the two teams brawling in a series of ramshackle engages that left multiple members of both teams dead, and helped Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten get out to a commanding 4/0 start on LeBlanc.

However, at the 16-minute mark in Game 1, after burrowing his way from the jungle into turret range, Reignover added ‘-eager’ to the end of his name, flashing toward the enemy team just in time to get knocked by Jong-in “PraY” Kim's Fate's Call on Kalista. With so many knock-ups available in KOO’s composition, the turret had ample time to help burn down the health bars of Fnatic’s front-line. With Reignover and Seung-hoon “Huni” Heo’s champs dead, KOO chased down the fleeing Fnatic, and fed a third kill onto Seo-haeng “KurO” Lee’s Kassadin, helping him come online as a credible threat.

“The biggest reason we tend to fall behind early game is because we are more passive than aggressive,” says KOO’s top-laner Kyung-ho “Smeb” Song. “With the first game against Fnatic, even though we were down in terms of kill score and whatnot, we felt pretty confident that we would win, just based on the fact that there were so many fights early game. Part of it is our confidence in our ability to have good team fights, but a more important part was the fact that we initiated fights when we were supposed to, regardless of the result. That really helped us relax and play better.”

With Gragas deactivated for the duration of Worlds due to a bug, KOO surprised spectators by locking in Zac in the jungle. According to Smeb, the idea had come from the team’s coach No-chul "NoFe" Jeong, a Master Tier-level player who’d been having good results with Zac in Solo Queue and suggested that the team’s jungler Ho-jin “Hojin” Lee pick it as a counter to Rek’Sai. The extra utility from Zac provided a powerful engage tool and reliable means of disrupting Fnatic’s turret sieges.

After a decisive 4-1 team fight and subsequent Baron at 30 minutes, KOO gained control of the map, bulldozing several turrets in rapid succession, putting Fnatic on the defensive. The Europeans came close to recovering after winning a team fight and getting a Baron of their own eight minutes later. But, with two inhibitors down, Fnatic would be forced to use the buff to defend their base. One final apocalyptic team fight around Dragon at 42 minutes ultimately proved Fnatic’s undoing, with Smeb all but zeroing out Fnatic’s primary damage dealer Febiven just seconds into the fight. KurO’s Kassadin cleaned up easily from there.

Giving up their early advantage in Game 1 and going on to lose such a hard-fought struggle appeared to deal a noticeable blow to Fnatic’s mental fortitude. Their performance in the following two games began to look increasingly desperate, and even on the Fnatic player cams you could notice severe emotional reactions to each misplay.

“I think for League, the psychological aspect is probably the most important part of the game,” says Smeb. “I was pretty happy with my performance in Games 1 and 2, so my [mental state] was pretty solid. Whereas Huni, he was shaken up a bit in my opinion. That's where the difference really came.”

In a video feature that ran before the series commenced, KOO’s AD Carry PraY acknowledged the passion of the European crowd, joking that he hoped to turn the venue’s atmosphere as quiet as a library. But even as the situation for Fnatic looked hopelessly dire, the fans in Brussels never flagged in their support.

“My plan to kind of turn the arena into a library-like atmosphere didn’t really work,” says PraY. “Because even when we were up, fans kept cheering ‘Fnatic! Fnatic! Fnatic!” to root and show their support. And that actually applied a lot of pressure on us, so we felt the pressure definitely.”

Players competing in the Semifinals were able to feel the energy of the crowd even more palpably due to an altered stage set-up in which the crowd surrounds the stage on four sides. The new round set-up also has the two competing teams facing one another, as if perched in a close-quarters stand-off.

“What I really liked and like about the stage setup,” says PraY, “is the fact that we’re surrounded by the crowd, the players. Everywhere you turn, you see the fans. It feels almost as if we can feel the chants and the crowd noise better in this setup. I really liked being surrounded by the fans.”

Next weekend in Berlin, the KOO Tigers will square off against the tournament’s only undefeated team, SKTelecom T1. What do they feel they need to improve to have a chance of taking down such an intimidating opponent?

“Against SKT, we’ve tended to fall apart rather easily,” says Smeb. “I think what’s most important for us to do well against SKT is to continue this momentum and keep our form. And I think we’ll try to not leave everything on the table and not feel the pressure, especially given that this is the last match. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”

“We actually faced SKT during the LCK Finals [earlier this year], and we lost,” adds PraY. “Even going into that, there were questions in the back of our head, like, do we really have an honest chance of winning? I think with next week’s Finals, we’re going to do better. Like Smeb said, what’s most important is to continue our upward swing and keep our momentum. Since we beat Fnatic 3-0, I think we may have a better chance against SKT this time.”

You can watch KOO take on SKT in the 2015 World Championship Finals next Saturday, October 31st, 12:00 CET / 07:00 EST / 04:00 PST.


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