The Thorin Treatment: FaZe's Gimmies
ECS S4 Finals and the ELEAGUE Boston Major are must-wins for FaZe in as much as they are presented with a chance to win two significant titles, one being a much coveted and ever-illusive major - effectively Counter-Strike's World Championship analog, without any of the dangers which have prevented FaZe from winning five of the seven offline events they have competed at with this line-up. Bizarre as it might sound to describe a major as "a gimmie", for a team of FaZe's ability and trajectory, it is not only a gimme but a must-win.
The power to dominate
FaZe's primary strength has stemmed from the star value they brought into their team during the player break and has culminated in a squad with one of the highest ceilings in the game, manifesting most notably on their three home maps (inferno, mirage and overpass). The multi-national squad dominates their opponents on the basis of abusing their mechanical advantage, which is significant against the majority of other teams they face, and a mass of individually-inspired plays, courtesy of having so many players who have been stars and play-initiators in past teams.
Throw in an uncanny ability to win pistol rounds, thus neutralizing their less structured T side, and karrigan's mastery of the pick-ban, which keeps opponents a little off-balance and ensures FaZe doesn't face pure anti-stratting as often, since the other team can never be certain which maps will be played in the series, in contrast to facing teams like Astralis and North, who are much easier to predict in this respect. The resulting package is far from a complete and well-rounded team, but rather a high powered rocket which, if pointed in the right direction and launched correctly, can destroy almost any target, with a small handful of notable exceptions.
Where are the trophies?
Despite being such a strong stream, FaZe have failed to win a title in their last four outings, despite reaching the final in two of them. The primary reason for FaZe's lack of titles across this span of events has been SK Gaming. The Brazilian side not only carries on the legacy of FalleN's unbeaten offline streak of series play against karrigan's teams, going back to his days with Astralis and the previous FaZe line-up, but also represents the position of the best team in the world right now. There have been many periods of time in which being the number two team in the game still meant you were in prime position to win titles, even if facing the top ranked side, but unfortunately for FaZe that does not seem to be the case.
Certainly, it is too soon to write off their match-up against SK as an inevitable loss on each and every occasion, with the two sides having faced off with these rosters on only two occasions: a group stage Bo3 at EPICENTER and the Bo5 final of EPL S6. The former saw FaZe facing an SK who were using boltz for the first time offline and thus rendered a lot of scouting information from their past line-up irrelevant, while the latter integrated additional factors of the pressure of playing in a big final, which clearly affects players differently than even a semi-final, and the Best-of-5 (Bo5) nature of the map, which places more stress upon the map pool width of the teams, an area in which FaZe has been shown to be vulnerable against teams with wider and deeper map pools.
Nevertheless, as it stands right now FaZe have a very difficult problem to solve in SK, not least with the Brazilians have won on overpass, one of FaZe's key maps, every time they have faced, despite FaZe being imperious on the map against practically everyone else, and the edge outside of the shared maps (mirage and overpass) heavily skewing to SK. FaZe's most clear path to winning titles involves avoiding SK, hard to do when they have reached the final of three of their four offline events with boltz. At ECS and SK, though, FaZe can do that in two key respects.
Firstly, SK Gaming did not qualify for the ECS S4 finals, so their prime opposition is not in attendance. Secondly, the roster lock scenario has meant SK will not be able to field boltz at the major, meaning FaZe will not have to face this SK there at any rate. For a team as powerful and dangerous as FaZe, that makes victory at these two tournaments imperative, both for their legacy and psychologically. Winning those titles would again put them in position to be considered the world's best team, while failing to win either, particularly the major, would erode some of their boisterous confidence in facing everyone not called SK. It's easier to reconcile losing to one team, especially if they are the best team in the world. Losing to other teams, as FaZe did against Gambit, VP and NiP—none of whom are considered elite sides—would call into question more about FaZe's game and trajectory to become the best team than simply their match-up vs. the Brazilians.
At both tournaments, FaZe get to dodge more than just their primary foils of SK. Only four teams have a winning record against FaZe: SK Gaming, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Virtus.Pro and Gambit. None of those four teams will be in attendance at ECS and NiP will not be at the major and SK are forced to use their previous player, felps.
One could certainly make the case that all of those opponents except SK are far from locks to defeat FaZe anyway. Gambit scored their key Bo3 series win early, at the first event for both team's new line-up (Dreamhack Malmo). Since then the teams are tied in map wins and FaZe won the one Bo3 between them, in the EPICENTER group stage. NiP lived up to the moment of the IEM XII Oakland final in epic fashion, beating out FaZe in a full five map series, but the much closer margins of NiP's wins, in contrast to their heavy losses, coupled with the Swedish sides complete inability to replicate anywhere close to that force before or since somewhat rules out FaZe needing to worry about a repeat of Oakland each time they face, in the same manner as they fine the game playing out in similar fashion against SK each time they battle.
Likewise, Virtus.pro's EPICENTER form was an outlier and the Polish teams fails to qualify for tournaments involving an online component anyway, so their fear of Snax and company is likely not significant to any future match-up. So for FaZe, it is not these teams missing the event which matters as much, but the lack of teams with any history of beating FaZe does heavily skew the likelihood of NiKo and the gang of taking ECS outright.
Throw in that Astralis, a team who were not beating FaZe with their main line-up but who were a side capable of joining that group of teams who have, cannot field device, their star player and primary AWPer, at ECS and possibly the major too, and FaZe's chances only increase.
Being considered the favourite or top ranked team at an event is no clear indicator a team will win it, but FaZe have plenty of numbers and factors on their side, a notable one being the afore-mentioned lack of teams with a proven history of having beaten them. FaZe over their seven tournament tenure together are an astounding 68.97% in maps won at 40:18. "Ah, yes" you might say, "but those numbers must be skewed by FaZe's two undefeated title runs at ESL One New York and the EL Premier".
Looking at the numbers only from EPICENTER onwards, when FaZe has not won a title, we see that they are still at a very solid 60.53% in maps won at 23:15. For the purpose of ECS and the context of this article in highlighting FaZe outside of their match-up against SK, over the same post-EL Premier span of four tournaments, FaZe are 16:6 (72.73%) in maps against teams not called SK Gaming.
Expand out to Bo3 series played and the numbers are similarly spectacular. Overall karrigan's men are 8:3 (72.73%). Again, if we isolate to the post-EL Premier period we get 4:2 (66.67%) and if we then remove SK games, we arrive at 4:1 (80.00%). SK's match-up against FaZe may have attracted the head-lines and taken place in the spotlight of being a recent big final, but take that team out of the mix and FaZe roll over practically everyone else. In 14 of 31 (45.16%) maps played against teams not called SK Gaming since the EL Premier, FaZe held the opponent to fewer than 10 rounds each time.
Refining FaZe's identity
FaZe have been a consistently excellent team since overcoming the growing pains of that initial tournament, reaching the final of four of the next six offline events and winning two of them. SK have clearly been a point of weakness for them, but with no SK in attendance at ECS and them unable to field the current line-up at major, FaZe can delay their solution to the SK problem a few events. ECS and the major are more about finding out just how dominant FaZe can be in a world without SK.
If they can take advantage of the external factors which have increased their likelihood of winning these two events and adding to their trophy haul, then when focus returns to the SK match-up it will be clearer that FaZe must find a way past SK or hope for other teams to beat them in order to be the best team of this era. If FaZe should suffer a fall and fail to win one of these events, then it we will learn a lot more about their weaknesses and limitations as a team, which have rarely been on display previously, and not least since at ECS the upset will have to come from an entirely new angle of a new challenger besting them.
ECS and the ELEAGUE Boston Major are must-wins for FaZe and as close to "a gimmie" as any elite team will get in the modern era of Counter-Strike.