Ice versus Fire: the dueling identities of SK and FaZe

The two best teams in the world clash as rivals and antithetical identities.

by WallabeeBeatle

(Photo Credit: Daniel Ranki)

Hot and cold are direct opposites, yet they each have the same basic character; they are relative descriptions of temperature. In the same sense,  a push is the exact inverse of a pull, yet they overlap in that they are both an exertion of force. Winter has properties and motifs attached to that directly counter to the ones assigned to Summer, but both are seasons. 

SK and FaZe are both champions. They are the world’s two best teams with the gap between them and everyone else too wide for even favoritism or faulty analysis to cross. Yet they are too bound by this interconnection of opposites, the ying-yang pattern. 

At first, all you have to do is look at them. SK is composed of five guys that are all from the exact same country, speaking the exact same language. Conversely, the five members of FaZe each have a different country of origin whether that be Norway, Denmark, Bosnia, Slovakia, or Sweden, and they each have to forgo their native tongue to speak to a shared second language in English. Additionally, SK have kept the same core four since November 2015, while FaZe on the other hand have changed 40% of their lineup in the last six months with four of their five joining the roster from disparate sources in the past year and a half. A family versus a cohort of mercenaries. 

But in terms of in-game player identity, SK more so seems to represent the traditional, while FaZe the hyper-modern. SK’s system works more within the framework of having a good mix of stars and supports. In the present iteration of their roster, the gameplan centers more heavily on Marcelo “coldzera” David and Fernando “fer” Alvarenga to carry them to championships while Epitácio “TACO” de Melo and Ricardo “boltz” Prass fall more firmly in the role player camp. In opposition, FaZe attempts to escape that orthodoxy by mashing together four international superstars or former superstars along with a high-tier, ronin in-game leader in Finn “karrigan” Andersen. 

And those antagonistic approaches have led to highly diverging, if not directly opposing, styles of play in-game. One one hand, SK can do it all. On the T-side, they have the tactics to open up bombsites and earn solid T-halves again and again, but they also have a refined system of coordination between players with each working within a well-defined role to pull off their super-late retakes on the CT-side or defend the plant in the waning second of a T-round. And they have enough firepower to demolish lesser teams whether that comes from the nigh-unkillable Coldzera or the more flaring success of Fer or someone else as you move down the roster.

But SK is not the best at everything. They do not seem to succeed sheerly due to the quality of their ideas like a BIG or a North can (or formerly could). They only seem on-par or perhaps even a step behind the peek 2017 Astralis in terms of fundamentals or the quality of their coordination, and surely they don’t exceed the current FaZe in terms of raw firepower. 

In contrast to Cold and crew, firepower is the only aspect where FaZe separates from the pack, but this specific separation is extreme. Even in the past lineup (or the current Major lineup) with João “felps” Vasconcellos, no one but the hardest of Brazilian diehards could suggest SK’s raw talent matches up with that of the current FaZe and perhaps in recent memory only the previous Na’Vi lineup with Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács, Egor “flamie” Vasilyev, Denis “seized” Kostin, and Ioann “Edward” Sukhariev could come close but even then it’s only on paper. 

Right now, FaZe are a solid parsec away from the rest of the pack in this aspect. In the modern era of CS: GO no one has ever blown teams out of the water like FaZe did via their firepower at two straight tournaments, ESL One New York and ELEAGUE Premier, dropping 39 rounds total across seven games in New York, and not a single map at either tournament. Yet, the idea that they would become some transcendent, unparalleled team dissolved as soon as it came to be understood that A) most of their succession on the CT-side came from their early aggression not retakes or special setups B) their T-side could highly limited outside their main core of maps, and C) and the nature of certain maps does not allow for their specific CT-style to work.  

As highlighted previously in my article, FaZe are Specialists not Superhumans, the international team has only found wins consistently on four maps out of the seven despite trying all the above out on LAN. Their leading four are:  

  • Mirage
    • Record: 16-3
    • Wins: mousesportsx2, Gambit, Renegades, Cloud9x2, Liquidx3, North, Virtus Pro, G2, SK, Astralis, Fnatic, Quantum Bellator Fire
  • Overpass
    • Record: 13-3
    • Wins: Cloud9x3, Liquidx2, EnVyUs, Astralis, G2, OpTic, Ninjas in Pajamas, HellRaisers, Fnatic x2
  • Inferno
    • Record: 11-4
    • Wins: Na’Vi, Astralis, Liquidx2, North, TyLoo, Gambit, NiP SKx2, mousesports
  • Cache
    • Record: 6-1
    • Wins: VP, Astralis, TyLoo, Gambit, Fnatic, SK with Felps

While FaZe have somewhat shored up their reputation on Cache since that article, defeating both SK with Felps and Fnatic on it, their Inferno has suddenly become a concern, losing three of their last five tries. That said, there is still this bewildering separation between their strong maps and their weaker ones.  

  • Train
    • Record: 6-1-5 (Win-draw-loss)
    • Wins: Renegades, Cloud9, Luminosity, Fnatic, Na’Vi, Vega Squadron
  • Nuke
    • Record: 1-3
    • Wins: EnVyUs
  • Cobblestone
    • Record: 0-2
    • Wins: none

While their T-side and overall record on Train has noticeably looked improved as of late, the quality of the wins and overall record still pales in comparison to their top maps. However, FaZe’s narrower pool with very intense strengths sharply contrasts with SK’s own wider one. With the Boltz lineup, SK has played all maps, sans their permaban Nuke, to some effect.

  • Train
    • Record: 5-1
    • Wins: VPx2, Astralis, NiP, FaZe
  • Cobblestone
    • Record: 5-0
    • Wins: VP, EnVyUs, NiP, G2, Misfits
  • Overpass:
    • Record: 6-2
    • Wins: FaZe, OpTic, North, NiP, Misfits, FaZe
  • Cache
    • Record: 4-1
    • Wins: Astralis, NiP, NRG, Misfits
  • Mirage
    • Record: 6-4
    • Wins: VP, FaZex2, Astralis, TheMongolz, North
  • Inferno
    • Record: 3-4
    • Wins: Virtus Pro, OpTic, Astralis

Like FaZe, SK has four maps where they seem especially strong, though Cache’s continued lack of popularity still gives pause on either side. Nevertheless, SK’s weaker two maps in terms of pure record are the two most popular two maps in the pool, Inferno and Mirage, which says something about the quality of competition on those maps. While SK’s Inferno is still hardly a standout map for them since the addition of Boltz, they have improved on it, while the opposite seems true on Mirage, yet it has to be said on either SK are still dangerous. They have taken two games of Mirage off of the world-leading FaZe themselves and have won Inferno games versus Astralis with Denis “denis” Howell and a peaking Virtus Pro at EPICENTER. Now perhaps, depending on your definition of the term, you could even say that FaZe and SK have the same size “map pool,” but the difference is SK with their broader skill set see far more capable on their off-maps which gives them the appearance of a wider pool.

And it’s this exact specific differential that has helped SK beat FaZe in both best-of-three series they have played against each so far. SK can go to Cobblestone(if Karrigan floats FaZe’s permaban) or Train and have a clear advantage over FaZe, while FaZe’s chances on Overpass or Mirage or Cache might not be much better than SK’s. Still, even if it was in a best-of-one with SK playing with a pseudo stand-in at the major, FaZe won the last bout, and have three premier-level titles of their own since the player beak to match SK’s own three. 

Beyond the simple issue of who is better SK or FaZe, Coldzera or Niko, this rivalry begs certain questions we can not help but mull over. Can make hand-crafted international super teams overcome the strongest national teams, are support players or role players necessary to the integrity of roster, and how many maps do you really need to be the best? But more broadly is the master of none be better than the master of one, can teamwork overcome talent, and will the new overcome the orthodox? The tale of these two diametrically opposed forces has spun together to form the central image and apex of the CS:GO competitive scene. It is this rivalry, not the present Valve major or anything else, that will foretell the future of the game.  

Do you agree about the SK Gaming and FaZe rivalry? Let us know in the comments below!