Why Fnatic Put Their Faith in The Leftovers

January 23, 2018 - 15:55
Rocketeers / Spotlight /

When The Leftovers made waves during season three of the Rocket League Championship Series, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time until the European team signed with an organization. But they waited. And when they finished 4th at the World Championship, fans figured they’d be wearing the jersey of a major team within weeks. Still, the trio held out.

But then it seemed like they may have waited too long. Following an offseason roster swap, The Leftovers put up a spotty performance at the season four RLCS play-in tournament and fell into the lower-tier Rival Series. They wouldn’t be in the game’s brightest spotlight for an entire season, and you couldn’t help but wonder if their bet—both on their own abilities and on a more notable organization scooping them up—had backfired.

But The Leftovers persevered, going undefeated in the Rival Series before reentering the RLCS in the promotion tournament, and then brought in one of the game’s largest orgs to date by signing with Fnatic. One bad day derailed an entire season, but they can’t wait to get back onto the pitch and prove that they still belong amongst the EU elite. And Fnatic is just as eager to see how far this roster can go as Rocket League continues its competitive ascent.

Rough adjustments

The Leftovers came together haphazardly, but their early RLCS success was no fluke. The team, which formed hours before the signup deadline from the dwindling pool of available players (thus their team name), quickly surprised established squads like Northern Gaming and then-reigning champions FlipSid3 Tactics with their surprising offensive chemistry.

Captain Nicolai “Snaski” Andersen and Alexander “Sikii” Karelin were both skilled RLCS veterans with different teams, while Victor “Ferra” Francal was new to the pro stage—less refined with rotations and defense, but still able to score goals in bunches. When they parlayed that strong league play performance into a Top 4 finish at last June’s World Championship, The Leftovers seemed like a squad that could only get better with more time together.

The Leftovers during the RLCS World Championship

The Leftovers during the RLCS World Championship | Credit: Psyonix

But Snaski and Sikii had other plans. Feeling like their victories hadn’t been dominant enough, they felt like they could do even better with a new teammate. “As everybody knows, it was always way-too-close wins—wins nevertheless, but way too close. We figured that it wasn’t the best possible lineup, and a potential other third could make us stronger,” Snaski explains. “It was a risk, but we felt like it had to be done.”

When they told Ferra that they would try out other thirds and bring Kasper “Pwndx” Nielsen to July’s X Games Invitational in his place, he quit the team. By the summer’s end, Pwndx was out and Nicolai “Maestro” Bang—then a reigning RLCS champion with Team EnVyUs (previously Northern Gaming), although he missed the LAN—was in to finalize the new Leftovers lineup. The addition completed the “dream team” roster that Snaski hoped to someday assemble, and The Leftovers once again seemed primed for success.

The honeymoon was short-lived, however. Despite seeming like a sure bet to make the RLCS again, The Leftovers struggled at September’s play-in tournament. They lost in a clean sweep to Frontline, Ferra’s new team that later signed with Paris Saint-Germain eSports, and then fell to Aeriality (now with Team Secret) in a wild game five overtime scramble. The Leftovers missed their shot, and would play in the newly-created Rival Series for season four.

Dealing with defeat

What went wrong that day?

“Everything. Everything went wrong,” concedes Snaski. “We didn’t get much practice in due to Maestro’s late release [from EnVyUs]. Regardless of that, we should’ve been able to qualify with pure individual plays, but all three of us had the worst day of our careers. There are no excuses: these things happen in competitive play, and all you can do is move forward.”

Asked if he ever regretted scrapping their successful season three lineup and triggering Ferra’s departure, Snaski says, “Not at all. I regret how it was done, but I don’t regret the decision.” If they could do it again, he explains, they would’ve brought Ferra to X Games and then made the call based on their performance.

In any case, landing in the Rival Series was a crushing moment for the team, essentially negating them from several months of the opportunities that the RLCS spotlight provides—from the higher pay to playing in the World Championship, as well as related events like December’s ELEAGUE Cup. They knew they’d have to grind out the Rival Series season to have a chance to get back into the RLCS and the upper echelon of the sport.

“Obviously, it wasn’t fun,” Snaski admits. “We felt like we should be playing in RLCS, and we kind of just wanted to get it over with. We practiced very motivated, though, and managed to go through undefeated to prove a point.”

Missing out on the RLCS had other consequences, as well. The Leftovers had not signed with an organization before the play-in tournament, but they had offers from multiple teams at the time. When they landed in the Rival Series, with less money at stake and much fewer eyes paying attention each week, most of those offers disappeared. But Fnatic didn’t budge.

Fnatic’s faith

“Before the season, we had a lot of organizations contact us, and Fnatic was—from the very get-go—the one we were leaning towards, knowing their size and reputation. We kept an open mind, though; but when we failed to qualify for RLCS, a lot of the offers were withdrawn,” recalls Snaski. “Fnatic, however, didn’t want to withdraw: they were determined that we were the team for them. It was very surprising, but after they had shown so much faith in us, there was simply no other choice for us.”

Fnatic, obviously, is no small fry in the world of esports. Founded in 2004, the UK-based team fields successful Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, and Dota 2 teams, among others, and has powerful reach and dedicated fan base with more than 1.1 million Twitter followers.

Fnatic will enter the Gfinity Elite Series this March

Fnatic will enter the Gfinity Elite Series this March | Credit: Fnatic

Rocket League saw an influx of larger organizations enter the scene last season, with the likes of Cloud9 and EnVy in the mix, and Fnatic likewise thought the time was ripe to invest in competitive car-soccer. More pressingly, plans to enter the Gfinity Elite Series in season three—as announced last month—were brewing, and Fnatic needed to field a squad that could compete in-studio each week. The Leftovers’ play-in loss didn’t change Fnatic’s mind, and the signing was announced in early October.

“With our expected entry into the Gfinity Elite Series, Rocket League quickly became a priority for us. It was already appealing, as the growth over the past few years has been impressive, but this just pushed us to take the leap,” explains Colin “CoJo” Johnson, Fnatic’s Rocket League, FIFA, and Street Fighter manager. “It pushed us not only to find a squad that was immensely talented, but had some room to develop as well. That’s why the then-current Leftovers squad was so appealing to us, as they had a rough day in the [play-in] tournament against Team Secret to get back into the RLCS, but were still undoubtedly skilled.”

“Every team can have a bad day, and that’s exactly what happened to Snaski, Sikii, and Maestro that day against Secret,” he continues. “Their talent is undeniable, and the mental strength they showed to rebound from that tough day by going 7-0 in the Rivals Series vindicated our decision even more. It felt even better, though, when their first major competitive action under our banner was to beat Team Secret and EnVyUs on our way back to RLCS.”

Finally signed

Despite the stumble that initially kept them from the RLCS, this team ultimately found a great fit: a major organization with a proven track record and significant resources. It’s what they were looking for the whole time, and while The Leftovers fielded other compelling offers before last season, they didn’t feel comfortable with some of the organizations in pursuit.

“We’ve been in contact with a lot of smaller orgs providing very good offers, but I’ve seen small orgs fool other Rocket League teams one too many times. We wanted to wait it out until a big, settled org came around who we’d know had the funding they said they have,” Snaski says. “As a side note, I also believe it was necessary for Rocket League to have bigger orgs getting involved to spread the word about the esport, which again leads back to why we wanted bigger, more established orgs.”

Maestro, Snaski, and Sikii (from left) in their Fnatic ki

Maestro, Snaski, and Sikii (from left) in their Fnatic kit | Credit: Fnatic

What’s it like being under a major organization after months of holding out? Pretty great, says the captain: now he feels like there’s no pressure to worry about anything outside of their performance.

“It enables us to focus on the game and nothing else,” Snaski affirms. “Our time in Fnatic so far has been fantastic: we’ve been in China and London, and are about to go to Germany in our short three-month stay. We’re sucking up the all the experience to use on the field later.”

And while they struggled during the fateful RLCS play-in, their undefeated Rival Series run, promotion tournament success, and community events have helped this revised roster get in sync over the last few months. “We understand how we want to play and what each man’s role is,” says Snaski, who calls himself the defender, Maestro the aggressor, and Sikii the “glue” that fills in the gaps and binds them together as a cohesive squad. “This doesn’t mean I can’t move up, or that Maestro can’t defend; I suppose it is just where we get the maximum efficiency out of every player.”

Fnatic looked rocky at the DreamHack Leipzig qualifiers, but they’ll have a chance to show off their synergy against a packed international field at the actual tournament this weekend. And it won’t be long before both the RLCS and Gfinity Elite Series kick off their new seasons in March, providing plenty of opportunity for Fnatic to show why they belong at the top level. Europe is incredibly stacked with talent—”scary strong,” Snaski admits—but he’s confident that they’ll be able to make Top 4 in the RLCS again.

The Gfinity Elite Series will be a unique new challenge for this team, providing an in-studio LAN experience each and every week alongside their online RLCS battles. “Getting out of your comfort zone to play is getting more and more important as the scene grows, and the Elite Series definitely provides that,” says Snaski. And for the organization, getting into the UK-based league for next season is all upside.

“It’s a massive opportunity for us, not only giving us a chance to jump back into the fighting games community with Street Fighter V, but to help our Rocket League team grow even more as a unit,” explains Johnson. “As well, it gives our FIFA boys a consistent competitive platform to prove themselves on. Building out our London fan base and community is a plus too. Having more and more of our athletes at our HQ here in Shoreditch will only help push that effort.”

Ready to return

The competition in both the RLCS and Gfinity Elite Series is sure to be tougher than ever, but there’s plenty of opportunity for Fnatic to shine. Johnson seems thrilled for his Rocket League squad to finally have this chance to prove themselves again at the highest level.

“The mentality of this team is a really special one. Since joining our organization, there’s been a really positive and confident outlook when looking towards both Gfinity Elite Series and the RLCS. This is a team that feels just as comfortable closing out a 4-0 sweep as it does facing a 1-3 deficit, as we showed in the promotion tournament against EnVyUs,” he says. “As long as we continue that mentality and maintain the combination of fluid passing with moments of individual brilliance, the ceiling for this team is boundless.”

And for this roster, just having that opportunity means everything—and they believe that their frustrating journey the last few months has only strengthened them for what’s ahead.

“Very much so,” Snaski affirms. “We’ve all been to the lowest point of our careers together, and together we’ve built it back up. After such a ride, it is hard to not believe that you can move mountains.”

Photo Credit: Fnatic

Andrew Hayward will never be an amazing Rocket League player... so instead, he writes about it. He's been covering the pro scene since RLCS S1 for the likes of Red Bull Esports and Waypoint, and has interviewed dozens of the game's top players and personalities.