As FaZe announce the departure of allu and his replacement with GuardiaN many find themselves pondering why the squad would consider roster moves. While GuardiaN was at one point the world’s best player, albeit around a year and a half ago, the previous line-up of FaZe had accomplished a level of form which made inarguably one of the world’s best teams.
karrigan’s team had won an international title at StarSeries S3, reached four finals total in a row and managed a streak of five straight top four finishes. In their first five offline tournaments with NiKo the multi-national team either won the tournament or only lost in the play-offs to eventual champion.
Following a single disasterous finish, failing to reach the play-offs or even win a single game at the PGL Krakow major, FaZe have immediately pulled the trigger on one roster move, with rumours of another to come.
Here are seven reasons why FaZe needed a roster change.
1. They didn’t win enough titles
Winning an international title with as diverse a multi-national squad as FaZe boasts was a historic accomplishment in its own right and would have been considered a career peak for many, but in the context of who they showed themselves to be it was not enough to justify ignoring the potential of upgrading a position or player.
Sure, it’s not as if FaZe were Cloud9 of 2016, winning a single international title and failing to legitimately challenge for the others before and after. Even so, if a team can make four straight finals at tier one events and leave with only a single title then they have serious questions to ask themselves.
FaZe had the potential to legitimately win at least three of those titles, giving them an out for the first final – an IEM Katowice event where they had barely had NiKo for enough time to put in proper practice and were facing the best team in the world and in a Best-of-Five. Indeed, rain and company were a single round from winning two of those finals, reaching championship point against SK Gaming in the third map of the ECS S3 final and yet failing to close the deal.
Finishing up with only a single title is not enough for a team who had proven themselves as good and as capable as FaZe had. As much as they may bemoan their narrow defeat at the hands of SK in the ECS final, they should equally celebrate their come-from-behind effort, down 7:13 in the deciding third map, to defeat Astralis in the StarSeries S3 final. In that game it was FaZe who found themselves a round from defeat and escaped with the title.
There is a world in which only a single round need be changed and FaZe would have two titles to their name, but there is also a world in which only a single round need be changed for FaZe to be the owners of a barren trophy cabinet. All in all, having that one title seems a fair average between the two scenarios and indicative of how good FaZe were at playing in the championship moments over their run at the top.
For a line-up like FaZe’s it is not enough to contrast yourselves against other teams, many of whom would love to be in their position and reaching finals and top fours with such regularity and seeming certainty. FaZe must judge themselves against their own potential, opportunities and the greatness of the best teams to ever play the game, such was the body of work they put forth right up until the final rounds which decide the champions of tournaments.
2. The majors matter the most
It may be a cliche to point out that the major, effectively Counter-Strike’s world championship, matters the most – not least since your author is in the camp of thinkers who often considers them to be unfairly construed as being all that matters or overvalued to a drastic degree – but it is undeniable that the majors are the most important tournaments in not just the Counter-Strike calender but history itself.
The further we get away from a period of history the events which stand out the most remain the majors, with other tournaments gradually fading into the background according to their relative stature and the passing of time. The greatest teams in history must win more than just majors, but it is hard to argue that they must win majors, with very extreme circumstances – such as unbelievable excellence and championships accrued at non-majors – to justify such a ranking without the most important trophies to their names.
Winning StarSeries, or indeed even ECS S3, is a notable accomplishment worth celebrating, but victory at the major, most especially for a team who has the resume, as FaZe undoubtedly did, of excellence elsewhere, ensures legendary status for a squad and a prominent place in history.
What’s more, opportunities to enter majors as a favourite, assured of a good chance of lifting the trophy, are rare and represent windows which must be capitalised upon before they close. Ask teams like VeryGames/Titan and Na`Vi what happens when you don’t win the majors taking place during your windows of highest form.
Those windows close not simply due to the rise and fall of rivals and peers, but also as the components of a squad no longer operate in the same manner at the same peaks of form. karrigan is arguably at his height as an in-game leader and has played for many years, so it cannot be taken for granted that he will be around and at this level of mastery at his position for many years to come.
Even in the event he is, with his importance to the team being a primary condition for potentially winning a major, there is no way of ensuring he will have a player like NiKo performing at the god-like level the Bosnian had displayed at those first five tournaments in a row with FaZe. Such a player of world class IGL and monster star player talent is rare in the game’s history and must be capitalised upon lest end up as another “what if?” story, as the aforementioned VeryGames (Ex6TenZ-shox) and Na`Vi (starix-GuardiaN) line-ups bear witness to.
FaZe were phenomenal at all five tournaments they played at prior to the major, even with a few stumbles early in Cologne, but at the most important tournament in the six they played with NiKo they not only came up short but entirely disqualified themselves from anything approaching an acceptable performance. That finish can quite reasonably be considered the worst of a strong tournament favourite at any major in history, failing to win a single game, against far-from-elite competition and losing upon one’s strong maps.
3. They couldn’t beat SK Gaming
FaZe’s immediate rise to elite status occured in what would have been the era or age of Astralis, had the Danes won that solitary necessary round in over-time on inferno at StarSeries. At the time, defeating Astralis was the paramount condition required to become champions and eventually world number ones.
That FaZe overcame their initial series loss at IEM II Katowice to beat device and the boys twice in notable series, at StarSeries and IEM XII Sydney, might have been enough to put FaZe in the driving seat of the summer season of CS:GO. In fact, by their second victory had been accomplished, beating Astralis was no longer enough to ensure victory or the top spot.
SK Gaming applying the final fine-tuning to become a dominant championship side meant being able to beat the Brazilians became the new number one goal for any would-be champion and world number one, and FaZe proved unable to accomplish that feat on any occasion. While it’s true that FaZe came very close in two respects at ECS, both literally reaching championship point in the decider and playing a fantastic second map of mirage but failing to cross the finish line, the bigger picture is far less forgiving for the multi-national team.
SK hold a 3:0 series record against FaZe in their time with NiKo. The first victory was a convincing Bo5 win, taking them down 3:1, and the most recent was the clean sweep in the semi-final of ESL One Cologne, where SK even added emphasis to the win by taking overpass, a map the Brazilians have been shaky on, relative to their strongest maps, with this formation and FaZe had won clearly in their previous meeting, in the final of ECS S3.
Even in a world in which FaZe had secured the win at ECS, SK would still hold a strong claim to being the better team in the match-up with a 2:1 series lead, one being a Bo5 series win and the other a Bo3 sweep. SK are not just the best team in the world, but the best team at beating FaZe and with alarming consistency.
FaZe with their previous line-up may well have rebounded from their major disappointment and continued their march on to finals and semi-finals galore, but inability to SK Gaming, the odds on favourite to reach any final and win any title right now, would likely have meant many more campaigns of heartache and deliberation over what more could be done.
4. They weren’t the clear best in the world on any map
It’s no coincidence that a look at the teams who were the most dominant in history on specific maps yields not merely map specialists but in many cases the very best teams to ever play CS:GO and the most dominant overall. Dominance on a map at a world class level allows a team to establish it as their “home map” and assured victories upon said map can stand as the foundational base from which a dynasty can be established.
FaZe lacked that home map which ensured victory and forced opponents to fear them or respect said map in the veto, the psychological benefits and advantage in the pick-ban both being considerable edges at the elite level of play and in the series which decide championships. FaZe had one of the best map pools in the world, perhaps even the best, at least going into the major, but they never got any map to the level that it had the trajectory to one day enter the previously linked list of historically dominant maps.
The early strength of the team was train, which had helped them heavily en route to their lone trophy, at StarSeries. Despite such strong form at that tournament and generally showing a strong CT side in most outings, karrigan’s men also managed to lose the map on numerous occasions, both to the elite teams (SK and Astralis) and even underdogs (OpTic and mouz).
The epic comeback against Astralis on inferno at StarSeries seemed to provide hope that FaZe would become the world’s best on what was still largely a new map to the pool and one which lay unclaimed as far as a dominant favourite upon it went. Defeating SK on it in their sole map win in the Bo5 IEM Sydney final seemed to bolster such optimism, but the map betrayed them against SK in the ECS final and Big in the major Swiss system.
As SK’s cache showed us against Astralis at the major, having an impressive win-rate on a map is different from having the style to win with certainty on the map in the most important moments, a quality which typically defines the dominant home maps of the great teams.
5. They lacked fire-power for their style
Every one of FaZe’s non-IGL players was at one point in time a star player for a team which had played in the final of a big international tournament. Nevertheless, name value can never supersede current form and role. During this period, FaZe have been a team who relied upon NiKo and rain as their stars, allu and kioShiMa as stable role players and karrigan as the brains bringing together such disparate talents.
NiKo more than lived up to his part of the equation, playing a level garnering MVP nominations at seemingly every event and only being outdone by the occasional peak performance of device, the uncanny consistent dominance of coldzera or the fearsome inferno of fer’s fragging power. Most tournaments were a battle between NiKo and coldzera to decide who would leave with the MVP award as well as the trophy.
rain was a much more up and down player. Despite excellent performances in most tournaments, the Norwegian could not deliver the level of fire-power that fer complimented coldzera with on SK and underwhelmed, in contrast to expectations, in two of the finals FaZe failed to secure – IEM Katowice and ECS S3. In a team with a strong third best player, capable of picking up the slack or taking over the game himself – felps from SK coming to mind as an obvious modern day example – rain’s performances would not have been a tipping point, but alas that is not the kind of team FaZe has shown themselves to be.
allu is an inconsistent performer in terms of fire-power, yet, perhaps counter-intuitively, a stable role player. The Finn is cool under pressure and plays a measured and disciplined game, allowing his team-mates to predict what he will do and where he will be, ensuring a consistent outline of behavour from which they the team’s style can emerge. As a source of fire-power he has too often struggled though and requires the most expensive gun in the game, on a team famed for force-buys and pushing the economy to the low end limit in many situations.
kioShiMa played an impeccable and admirable role within the team for most of their tournaments, establishing the supportive base of the squad, in conjunction with karrigan, which helped anchor the stars’ fire-power with someone willing to do the dirty work. That he became an anchor in a metaphorical sense, weighing down the team’s chances of victory, at the major was a tragedy in its own right and your author hopes will not mire memories of his strong play in the previous events.
As much as individual maps of carrying have built karrigan a perhaps undeserved reputation as an IGL “who can frag too”, the Dane’s numbers show that for every individual map of excellence, regression to the mean of being a low-fragging IGL is as certain as the descent back down to Earth of a ball thrown up in the air. The former Astralis head honcho is a fantastic leader and thinker, particularly for his at times brutal but necessary realism, but a strong fragger he is not.
FaZe are a team caught between two places, struggling to play loose enough to allow NiKo and rain freedom to operate as individuals and playing structured enough to build upon the team-play and reliable strengths of allu, kioShiMa and karrigan’s roles. The balancing act was enough to go deep in big tournaments routinely and almost claimed them two titles, but it was pushed to its limits against SK and ultimately has left FaZe wanting for success which might have been theirs and left empty-handed at a major where the team-play core fell apart entirely in the fragging department.
SK Gaming are a far strong fragging team, with what looks set to be one of the best trios of stars – coldzera, fer and felps – ever assembled, and Astralis showcase a better structured approach, with players who all suit their roles and all, barring their in-game leader, capable of being the MVP of their team at a given tournament. Whether it is force or finesse, FaZe are spread thin reaching for the two ends of the spectrum.
6. They had hit their ceiling
After Katowice the narrative was that the team would only improve with NiKo’s further integration into the team and a proper practice period leading up to future events. In fact, the team looked at their best in their first two tournaments with NiKo and, by their own admissions, were not a team who excelled in the practice room, contrasted with official matches.
NiKo was already a near deity in the server and rain played at the level we have come to expect of him over the last few years. The stars were very much set and playing well. allu and kioShiMa were solid role players, but could not deliver the fire-power of years gone by and were more important for their decision-making and positioning than their skill levels. Finally, karrigan was entirely set in stone as an IGL and player. Where was the room for improvement without a roster change?
Say what you will about GuardiaN’s form in the last year, which has rarely been close to the imperious level of late 2015 to early 2016, but he is a player who is very much, for his standards, in a slump but with flashes of his former brilliance. GuardiaN is a player who offers FaZe a potential for a higher ceiling of fire-power and overall team success, both in terms of what he brings at the AWPing match-up and the potential for him to return to anywhere close to his former glory, a level allu could not hope to match or achieve.
7. GuardiaN changes the game
GuardiaN is not just an AWPer of supreme ability and experience, but a match-up nightmare when on form. He changes the way opponents must play at certain positions on the map in a way that allu’s presence could not. The most important degree to which this can positively impact FaZe’s chances at success is in their map pool, suddenly the possibility of becoming the world’s best on maps like mirage, overpass and train is again an exciting and real prospect. The search for that dominant home map may find itself over shortly after beginning. All three have been historically great and dominant maps for the near-mythical Slovakian star.