With BLAST Pro Series: Copenhagen coming up on Friday, it’s almost a shame that this FaZe roster will play again so soon after their surprise win at EPICENTER. While Olof "Olofmeister" Kajbjer Gustafsson has been in and out of the lineup, this five-man FaZe lineup has nominally been together for over 14 months. Their best days are behind them.
Long gone are the days where FaZe were blowing teams out the water game after game after game. After a disastrous first event with little practice, they first had their true scene-scattering debut all the way back in September 2017 at ESL One New York. Famously, there they only give up 39 rounds total as they pounded out nine straight map wins to take their first championship. Not long after they pulled off a similar level of show-stopping dominance at ELEAGUE Premier 2017, extracting two more best-of-one wins and three best-of-three victories without dropping a map.
For a moment, or for as long as a month, this super-star studded international lineup that looked like something straight out a HLTV poster’s wet dream, did not disappoint. They titillated any and all fans of high-octane, hyped-skilled play and clearly stood out as the game-defining world number one team.
Nikola "NiKo" Kovač maintained his level as one of the absolute best players in the world, despite fears that his new teammates would take up too much "space." Håvard "rain" Nygaard actually improved in terms of raw output as he added a fer-esque edge to his game with more CT-pushes and risk-taking, perhaps thanks to the cushion provided by all of the extra raw-aim on the roster. Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács likewise saw a regeneration following long idle period on Na’Vi as they limped on without a veteran in-game leader late 2016 and early 2017.
For Olofmeister, unlike the Snax-Styko situation we saw play out in mousesports more recently, he actually gracefully transitioned into a more supportive role, taking up small site anchoring positions that helping to buoy one of the most dominant CT-sides we’ve seen in CS:GO. Then, Finn "karrigan" Andersen held up his end of the bargain and continued to add or supplement some tactical element in FaZe even if this roster drew less upon that approach than the previous lineup with Aleksi "allu" Jalli and Fabien "kioShiMa" Fiey.
FaZe first showed vulnerability at EPICENTER 2017, dropping out in groups thanks to poor individual under-performances and a surprise loss to Virtus Pro, who had their final significant run as the classic five-man lineup at this tournament, but moving forwards FaZe never regained the exact same luster they showed in that initial burst though they stayed at the top of the world alongside the new SK-lineup with Ricardo "boltz" Prass. To close out the year, they placed second at IEM Oakland, third at BLAST Pro Series, second at the ESL Pro League Season 6 finals, and grabbed one more win at the ECS Season 4 finals.
Beneath the dazzling superstar veneer, the weaknesses of this specific FaZe lineup became visible in this second period of play. Their loss at IEM Oakland to NiP showed their sometimes vulnerable T-sides, especially on the last map of the series, Cache, and their loss to SK at EPL Season 6, established that other emerging skill-dense rosters such as SK and mousesports could be a legitimate threat to the briefly untouchable FaZe. More broadly FaZe looked especially strong on only four maps: Inferno, Overpass, Mirage, and to a lesser extent Cache, with next to no success elsewhere. Now that would change in 2018, as their Inferno fell off and Cache became a stronger map for them, but mostly this FaZe lineup never developed a truly broad map pool. Unlike a modern-day Astralis, who has much more versatility in their playbook, a broader spectrum of specialization across their five-man lineup, and a famously wide map pool, perhaps FaZe’s narrower but especially potent pool is a direct reflection of their own uniquely firepower-packed roster with the role diversity typically seen in national lineups.
FaZe, mostly keep up their level or declined just slightly for the first half of this year. After their slim defeat in the finals of the ELEAGUE Boston Major, FaZe placed top four or better at every premier tournament they entered all the way until July, save DreamHack Masters Marseille. While the mysterious exit and return and exit and return of Olofmeister loomed large in the public narrative surrounding the team, FaZe mostly looked the same with either Richard "Xizt" Landström or Jørgen "cromen" Robertsen. The removal of their permaban, Cobblestone and the addition of Dust2, a map you might imagine would be right in FaZe’s wheelhouse, couldn’t even disturb their flatlining trajectory.
They took a rare wins at IEM Sydney and ESL One: Belo Horizonte 2018, but mostly they either fell to elite opponents in the playoffs (Liquid at StarLadder & i-League StarSeries Season 4, Fnatic at IEM Katowice, Astralis at Marseille, the EPL Season 7 Finals, and the ECS Season 5 Finals) or to teams in the middle of a strong one tournament run (VP with Michał "MICHU" Müllerat V4 Future Sports Festival and BiG at ESL One Cologne).
Their run as an elite, but not championship-favorite level team only ended at ELEAGUE Premier 2018 after Olofmeister fully returned to the active-duty lineup. As Olof struggled to come back online, and FaZe’s showed increased vulnerability on both sides of the map, suddenly the international lineup had some of their worst results yet as since their original formation the previous August. They didn’t make it out of groups at ELEAGUE Premier 2018, placed 5-8th at DreamHack Masters Stockholm, and came to the brink of elimination at the FACEIT Major. After their first two games of the New Legends Stage Swiss, FaZe sat at 0-2 thanks to a T-side that won just seven round in 28 tries.
It was at this low-point that NiKo famously took the reins away from Karrigan and took over as the in-game leader as he had done previously in mousesports. While ballsier, fast-paced T-sides helped reinvigorate FaZe and make the Major’s playoffs, it didn’t stop them from being swept by Astralis in the quarterfinals, nor did it save them from a group stage elimination at the hands of NRG a week later at ESL One New York.
For anyone paying attention, it looked like the end of mostly successful run, only marred by the impossibly lofty expectations set by the hype of their initial efforts. Yet as we all now know, FaZe bucked this trend last weekend at EPICENTER as they tore through the playoffs, 2-0ing two worldwide top-three teams in Liquid and Na’Vi.
Taking up a pace on the T-side that teams struggled to team up with and showing off some vintage CT-sides thanks to some superlative performances by NiKo and GuardiaN, suddenly you could see more than just a glimmer of their former greatness. At the same tournament that cracked open their imperfections a year prior, FaZe looked resurgent.
Unfortunately, I think the result is fool’s gold, a false promise.
There’s no getting around the fact moving in-game leading duties from Karrigan to NiKo adds inevitable inefficiencies to the lineup. They are burdening your best player with additional responsibilities that could easily take away from his near-world leading level. While Niko’s EPICENTER form might suggest he would be better or equally effective when calling this specific style on the T-side around himself, we didn’t see the same flare from him at ESL One New York or the Major and there's no guarantee he could maintain this level for any stretch of time.
Then there is the issue of Karrigan. Why he still provides a more supportive element to the team he doesn’t provide more to FaZe as strictly an individual player. And even if you want to see the NiKo as IGL experiment last long, surely FaZe could find a better player to fill Karrgan’s current individual role. And there remains the more macro problems we’ve throughout FaZe history together such as their limited map pool, that probably won’t change with the new tactical head and only will become a larger weakness as more teams figure out the exact dynamics of this iteration’s pool.
When Cloud9 defeated FaZe in the finals of the ELEAGUE Major: Boston to cement their Cinderella run, they likewise won a lot of games on Mirage and employed roughly similar T-side style. But they never repeated that feat or anything remotely resembling it. They broke up just a few LANs later, and the remainder of that roster has been deteriorating ever since leading to the recent departure of Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham.
Yes, our own curiosity almost demands a few more viewing re-stylised FaZe, but do we really expect this more imperfect composition to dazzle us the way FaZe did a year ago or maintain an elite-light anywhere near as long? Instead of emulating Cloud9 who stayed together until they sunk, perhaps they should instead look back one Major further, at the Krakow winner, Gambit. If it will only last a moment, maybe it is better to go out on top or however near it you can still get.
Do you believe FaZe should put this team out to pasture or should they stay together? Comment below!