Seventeen-year-old Rasmus "Caps" Winther's journey through the European League of Legends professional circuit has been filled with successful moments.
As a 16-year-old, he was among the top prospects emerging from the Challenger solo queue circuit. He played in the Turkish Champions League and won the summer cup while on Dark Passage, and after, he helped Dark Passage qualify for the International Wildcard Tournament alongside Andrei "Xerxe" Dragomir. He vividly remembered the moment of his first stage experience, as the crowd reacted to Dark Passage's beatdown of SuperMassive Esports.
"Whenever you went for a play or something, I would just wait for a second and then stop playing the game, but I would just listen to the crowd, and you could just hear them go crazy," he said. "It was an insane feeling."
Once he became eligible to turn pro, he joined Fnatic and has since helped it recapture some of its past glory. This includes helping the team find a semifinal berth against G2 Esports.
Indeed, he had been on Fnatic's radar -- but not solely because of his success in Turkey. Fnatic's team manager and interim head coach, Finlay "Quaye" Stewart, recalled a time when former head coach Nicholas "NicoThePico" Korsgaard had his eye on Caps, but there was more.
"Caps is someone that we used last year to test matchups with Febiven in the mid lane, so he was doing one vs. one's during playoffs," Stewart said. "In a lot of the one vs. one's, Caps was winning against [Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten], so we were like, this guy actually looks pretty good. When it came to looking for mid laners for this year, we had Caps pretty high on our list for tryouts."
Caps had gained recognition for his skills, especially on Taliyah and Aurelion Sol, two champions who shaped the meta near the end of the 2016 summer split when he was on Dark Passage.
"Everyone thought they were really bad, and they were solo queue champions, but everyone started playing them in competitive," he said. "Suddenly, everyone went to me because I had the most games on them.
"Particularly when I helped Fnatic, it was testing certain matchups that maybe Febiven hadn't tried enough in solo queue or scrims. I was just trying to help out in any way I could. At the same time, I was practicing against good mid laners, so it was a win-win situation."
Getting into Fnatic might have been the easy part, considering the trials that awaited the squad. With Caps, Paul "sOAZ" Boyer, Martin "Rekkles" Larsson, Jesse "Jesiz" Le and Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider on board, Fnatic was poised to make a splash in the 2017 EU LCS spring season, and many had seen G2 Esports as its sole competition in Group A.
However, Fnatic's inability to break through against other top teams had taken its toll emotionally.
"The problems come from the fact that we were a top-six team if you look at both of the groups, but we wanted to be at the top," Caps said weeks later. "People were really frustrated. When people start getting frustrated, we only become worse. I realize there's more than just the team's performance: the team's mood, my teammates, how they feel."
Throughout the split, the player many dubbed "Baby Faker" after his dazzling displays in Week 1 had awakened to a realization. If the team's individual components falter, so does the team. Despite performing changes in the jungle (with Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen's arrival) and letting go of Nicholas "NicoThePico" Korsgaard, the team was dangerously close to missing the playoffs as a surging Team ROCCAT grew more and more threatening to its playoff spot.
The team lacked decisiveness at times, and that led to slow and grueling losses. In addition, losses caused undesirable side effects on players; some took it upon themselves to solve a team problem single-handedly in a '1v9' manner.
But as Fnatic neared elimination from playoff contention, a sense of urgency set in.
"I think we just acknowledged that, right now, we just want to win," Caps said. "We are not capable of doing things for the long-term, improvements on things that will take a long time to improve."
Negative feelings within the team also dissipated as fan support surged down the stretch.
"The fan support has been really nice during the last couple of weeks," Caps said. "That's helped a lot on the mood as well since people are starting to become more happy as well. So I want to thank everyone for supporting us."
So it was that Fnatic prevailed against Misfits in Week 10. Had it lost, the squad would have missed the playoffs for the first time in LCS history. Mouse issues had hampered Caps in the first game, as he was unable to control it with precision while playing LeBlanc, finishing Game 1 with a 1/2/4 KDA. A quick equipment substitution and improved drafting on Fnatic's part were all that he needed to shine, with a 4/0/6 KDA on LeBlanc in Game 2 and a 2/0/9 score line on Game 3.
The mid laner had learned much throughout the season, but if there is one lesson he would tell his past self from early in the season, it would have to involve decisiveness. Decisive teams might win or lose from time to time, but indecisive ones reliably falter.
"A lot of our losses against mostly the top teams had just come because we didn't do anything," Caps said. "We just sat back, waited, and then we lost because we didn't do anything. What we have started doing now is that we just force things."
He would tell himself to be as decisive as he is in scrimmage sessions.
"I would probably tell him to play, no matter what happens, just play like it's scrims," he said. "Even if you play against weaker teams, it's good to play somewhat volatile and ... play like you're comfortable instead of sitting back. There's a chance we win, there's a chance we lose. If we lose, so be it, and if we win, we won. I would just tell myself to play for the outplay."
And so Fnatic did in a stunning 3-0 victory over H2k-Gaming, leaving no stone unturned, and now Fnatic rolls on to take on EU's juggernaut, G2.