Fnatic will be among the favourites to storm to victory at the League of Legends World Championship 2019 after enjoying a strong season thus far.
Last year the European powerhouse went all the way to the Worlds Grand Final and suffered a heartbreaking 2-0 defeat at the hands of Invictus. A record-breaking 205 million people tuned in to watch the action unfold and Fnatic were devastated to lose to the popular Chinese outfit. Yet they have bounced back admirably and their dominant showing at the recent Rift Rivals 2019 should give them a huge confidence boost.
Fnatic has been one of the most consistently successful League of Legends teams over the years, and it ranks second to only the mighty SK Telecom T1 in the all time global rankings. It is now a giant in the burgeoning esports scene, competing in Dota 2, CS:GO, Fortnite, FIFA, Clash Royale, Rainbow Six Siege and Street Fighter, as well as LoL.
Europe’s Leading Light
The BBC called it the esports equivalent of super-team Real Madrid, while Bloomberg hailed it as Europe’s biggest and most successful team. Forbes ranks it as the sixth most valuable esports organisation on the planet, worth $120 million and growing. It has 45 pro players and many more staff, and while its headquarters remain in London, its tentacles have spread to San Francisco, Berlin, Belgrade and Kuala Lumpur.
Yet Fnatic emerged from humble beginnings. Sam Mathews founded the team back in 2004, when he was an 18-year-old playing rugby in the Harlequins under-21s team. He sold his car and borrowed money from his mother, Anne, in order to provide the initial working capital, and then set about putting together a band of the best European gamers he could find.
He speaks of spending a few grand to send a pair of Unreal Tournament stars to a competition in the U.S., where they won $10,000 in prize money, securing him a profit. He kept chipping away like that and reinvesting in the team. After years of hustling, the franchise eventually grew in prominence.
“We were probably the first team to professionalise, treat the players fairly and pay them on time, and we always delivered on promises,” said Mathews. “We gained a lot of respect, so what ends up happening is you do get benefits of being a brand in the space that people respect because you then get players interested in playing for you and they know that they will get stability.”
Inaugural World Champions
Fnatic entered the LoL scene via the purchase of myRevenge in 2011. It proved to be a shrewd decision. Fnatic enjoyed instant success within the nascent LoL pro circuit, romping to victory at the Season 1 World Championship.
Prize money for finishing first was just $50,000 back then, whereas last year they earned $870,000 for finishing second, but it provided the organisation with a timely financial boost.
Fnatic became increasingly professional, and it hired legendary Counter-Strike player Patrik Sättermon as chief gaming officer in 2012, while Wouter Sleijffers replaced Anne Mathews as chief executive in 2015. Sam Mathews remains the chairman of the firm, and it is going from strength to strength. It has enjoyed great success within the CS:GO scene, but nowadays it is probably best known for its LoL roster.
A Long History of Success
It has won the EU LCS seven times, which is more than any other team in the history of NA and EU LCS. It finished third-fourth in the Season 3 Worlds and runner-up last year, while it has two top-four Mid-Season Invitational finishes. In a scene dominated by South Korean teams, Fnatic has flown the flag for Europe with aplomb.
Invictus’ success at last year’s Worlds marked the end of a five-year period of Korean dominance and the scene feels wide open, exciting and unpredictable right now. There will not be an overwhelming favourite in the Unikrn betting odds for the Worlds, and Fnatic should certainly feel like they can go to Paris and clinch the trophy on European soil in 2019.
They were a little sluggish at the LEC Spring Split, where they finished third, but they roared back to form at Rift Rivals, producing some scintillating performances to vanquish their North American foes and seize the trophy for Europe.
They were team at the tournament and they have carried that form into the LEC Summer Split, where they sit top of the standings with a perfect 6-0 record. They trounced LEC Spring champion G2 Esports with a beautiful display recently, and Fnatic looks like a major title contender for the Worlds this year. They have occasionally fumbled their execution at crunch times this year, and if they can keep their concentration then they have a great chance of success.
Ambitious Expansion Plans
Fnatic maintains a strong reputation among pros, casual gamers and esports fans to this day and the future looks very bright indeed. It raised $19 million in April 2019 in order to fund an ambitious expansion drive. Mathews, who has now assumed the role of chief executive, aims to grow Fnatic from 150 staff to 1,000 in the next five years, while boosting its presence in Asia and North America. Former Mercedes AMG Formula 1 chief executive Nick Fry is now serving as chaiman.
Fnatic will plough the money raised into strengthening its teams with new nutrition and psychology programs – and physical training coaches for players – after taking lessons from the ultra-successful British cycling team. The Fnatic LoL team will benefit from this investment, and from the increasing professionalism that comes with private equity types joining the board.