The European No. 1 seed, Fnatic, secured itself a date with history early Sunday morning when it cut down the upstart Cloud9 in a brutally short 3-0 series, becoming the first Western team to advance to the League of Legends World Finals since Season 1 -- a year in which the very first incarnation of Fnatic hoisted the very first Summoner's Cup.
To say that expectations were high heading into the match would be an understatement. The tensions between European and North American fans that are usually left to the wayside during Worlds rose to a fever pitch leading up to the match, as each region's champion vied for the chance to make history.
Once the two teams took to the Rift, however, it was clear that only one of them had the bite to back up their bluster -- Europe's Fnatic. Game 1 of the series was perhaps one of the most powerful statement games of all time, as Fnatic's mid laner, Rasmus "Caps" Winther, and top laner, Garbeil "Bwipo" Rau, eviscerated their opposite numbers despite opening themselves up to be counterpicked. Bwipo's top lane Viktor performed especially impressively, as not only was he forced to lane against Cloud9's counter to the newly-popular pick in the form of Eric "Licorice" Ritchie's Ekko, but he also received the lion's share of Cloud9's jungle attention. Neither proved enough to shut down Europe's finest top laner, however, as not only did Bwipo still go on to have a remarkable performance alongside the rest of his team, he managed to do so without dying a single time despite all of the attention he received from Cloud9.
Cloud9 did its best to change the texture of the series heading into Game 2, hoping to avert a clean sweep after its devastating loss in Game 1. Not only did Cloud9 ban away LeBlanc from Caps after his performance in the previous match, it also stole away Bwipo's Viktor and opted to flex it into another entirely new position, handing it off to Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi for the first showing of bottom lane Viktor in competitive history. Fnatic responded by picking a team largely designed to scale into the later stages of the game, with Bwipo's Jayce and jungler Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pederson's Xin Zhao hoping to clear the way for a late game carry from Caps' Azir. At first, it looked as though Cloud9's attempt to break the rhythm had succeeded. Cloud9 found first blood thanks to a misstep from Fnatic's support, Zdravets "Hylissang" Iliev Galabov, after controlling the entire bottom half of the map for the first 10 minutes, largely thanks to the dominance of Sneaky's Viktor in lane. Their reprieve was to be short lived, however, as Cloud9 failed to advance its lead beyond a handful of kills, all while Fnatic managed to match it in turret kills and exceed it in farm, especially on Caps. Eventually, the inevitable breaking point was hit, and Cloud9 had to confront the reality that its thousand or so gold lead meant very little in the face of Caps' three item Azir, which swept through the tankless ranks of Cloud9 and found himself a crucial quadra kill at the 25-minute mark, which made taking Baron and the game an academic exercise for Fnatic.
Despite the fervent prayers of North America's devoted fan base, Game 3 would not be different from the two that came before. While Cloud9 did find more kills in Game 3 than in Games 1 and 2 combined, it did so while also dying an inordinate number of times, all without exerting meaningful pressure anywhere on the map. Once again the all-star trio of Bwipo, Broxah, and Caps proved impossible to stand against, though Fnatic most owed its success to the play of Hylissang, who not only shut down Sneaky's Lucian before it could get off the ground thanks to a first blood, but also found the engage opportunities that allowed Fnatic to make all of the game's teamfight look so lopsided.
Fnatic's road ends next weekend, when the back-to-back EU LCS champions march off to battle against Invictus Gaming in the World Finals, with each team playing for the chance to claim the Summoner's Cup for their region for the first time in LCS history. Just who the favorite should be is a question that only time can answer, as Worlds 2018 has taught the world anything, it's that there are no, and may never again, be any favorites when it comes to international events.