sOAZ and the Seven Year Itch

Fnatic stands on the brink of history. Beat Cloud9 on Sunday and they could become the first western team to reach the final of the League of Legends World Championship since 2011. For one player, this could be their last opportunity to win the title which has alluded him for 7 years.

2011 was a very different time for LoL esports, one constant has been the success of current Fnatic top laner Paul ‘sOAZ’ Boyer. As a 17-year-old, sOAZ competed at the first Worlds tournament with French side Against All Authority. His team weren’t favourites, seen by many as inferior to the North American teams, they nonetheless beat TSM in two best of three series en route to the final. The Frenchmen faced familiar foes Fnatic in the final, but sOAZ and his team came up short.

AAA was unable to recapture the magic of their Worlds run in the coming months and disappointment led to roster changes. Soon, the French team found themselves well off the pace. The arrival of new powerhouses Moscow Five and CLG.EU was the final nail of the coffin and the team fell apart.

Life wasn’t much better for their rivals Fnatic, as the scene grew they found their star players from last year no longer cut the mustard. To bolster their squad for the Season 2 Worlds qualifier, Fnatic signed free-agent sOAZ but found they lacked the synergy of their contemporaries. An upset in the other half of the bracket meant that Fnatic needed to beat CLG.EU, who had just competed in the OGN final in Korea, in order to qualify for Worlds. It was a bridge too far for the new Fnatic lineup.

With the newly announced LCS looming, Fnatic had a few short months to finalise their roster for the qualifiers. They picked up former sOAZ teammate YellOwStaR and found instant success. They won the first three EU LCS splits, reached the finals of multiple international tournaments and the semi-finals of Worlds 2013. Their success was in no small part due to the consistency of sOAZ in the top lane.

Towards the end of 2014, Fnatic was struggling. They still reached Worlds but failed to make it out of groups as tensions rose within the team. Young marksman Rekkles attempted to force a transfer to Alliance and attempts from Fnatic to appease him alienated the veterans. When Rekkles left to join Alliance, xPeke left to form his own organisation. sOAZ soon joined him and Origen was born.

The experiment worked wonders, xPeke and sOAZ were able to create a team capable of challenging the very best teams in Europe. They quickly reached the LCS and finished runners-up in their first split. sOAZ had qualified for Worlds for the third time in a row. What’s more, for the second time in three seasons, he reached the semi-finals of Worlds but was unable to overcome the juggernaut of Faker and his SK Telecom team.

Heading into 2016, fortunes soured for Origen. xPeke had stepped down from the active roster and struggled to find an appropriate replacement. The team had good players but weren’t clicking in the way they had done in 2015. It wasn’t long until the deep chequebook of G2 Esports signed Origen’s bottom lane duo and, from that point, it seemed the experiment was over. sOAZ left Origen at the end of the season.

Meanwhile, Fnatic’s roster had all but disbanded. They turned to their former employee sOAZ as they sought to rebuild for the future. He was joined by old teammate Rekkles and up-and-comers Caps and Broxah. This lineup was slow to start, but once they got going, they proved unstoppable in their region. In 2018, Fnatic added a new substitute top laner to the roster, Bwipo. An unusual meta allowed the newcomer to force his way onto the starting line-up and showcase his distinctive champion pool and play style. As a result, sOAZ has found his starting role increasingly under threat.

Facing the prospect of becoming a back-up for his team, it’s entirely possible that this could be the legendary Frenchmans final Worlds tournament. How fitting it would be if he could break his semi-final losing streak and lead Fnatic, his one time rivals, to glory in Korea.