Thorin's Esports History: f0rest and FNATIC's 2007 Ascension
Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg and FNATIC are legendary names across Counter-Strike 1.6 and Global Offensive, but it was not always so. Once upon a time both were rising through the ranks and it was not until 2007 that they together asceneded to the status of the world's best, as player and team.
Despite their Polish rivals in Pentagram winning two of the year's three majors, FNATIC would take over the latter half of the year and consistently grind out world class performances which saw them winning six of the last eight tournaments they competed in, becoming the dominant force in Counter-Strike. 2008 was rung in with FNATIC as the best team in the game and f0rest as the premiere star.
Reset after climbing the learning curve
f0rest had broken out as a talent in 2005, surprising many as his Begrip team won the second season of the World Esports Games (WEG) in Korea. The year had ended with a solid sixth place finish at CPL Winter, the last major of the year. For 2006, f0rest moved over to FNATIC, a squad which had only entered the CS scene the previous year and without any placings of note. The new line-up of f0rest, Tentpole, cArn, dsn and Archi featured the veterans of cArn and dsn, who had famously fallen short in big competitions prior to the end of 2004, and the newer talents of f0rest and Tentpole, alongside Archi, a fresh face.
This FNATIC would find winning tournaments to be a very difficult task indeed, as one of the most competitive and tournament-packed years in Counter-Strike saw them constantly roaming the globe in search of a big tournament victory. Early on they were repeatedly slain by Ninjas in Pyjamas, the team of the year, and their deep runs into tournaments always seemed to finish with them coming up short. In all of the years majors they had managed top three finishes, but the trophy always went to another. Finally, at CPL Winter 2006, the last major of the year, f0rest and FNATIC seized the crown and won a notable international competition.
No sooner had they ascended the mountain than they faced an immediate set-back, as Tentpole, one of their stars and a phenomenal all-around player, decided to step back from the line-up and leave, citing the heavy travel load of the year as being too much. To replace him, FNATIC brought in ins, one of the support players of rivals NiP, who had disbanded at the end of 2006. The adjustment period in adapting to a new player and a new balance of roles, as Tentpole had been one of their stars, would force FNATIC to yield the top spot and return to being a contender who did not win.
The difficult days
The first event of the year for f0rest's men was shgOpen in Denmark, where they would play as a semi-mix-team, due to using Red as a stand-in for cArn, their team captain and in-game leader. Losses to NEO's Pentagram and a Begrip side filled both with up and coming talents and their former team-mate Tentpole, eliminated FNATIC in only 5th-6th place.
The Samsung European Championship (SEC) was the European answer to the World Cyber Games (WCG), gaming's Olympics. FNATIC defeated the new NiP line-up, but lost out in a surprising upset at the hands of SpawN's SK.swe, who would also go on to win the main event itself in a shocking one-off run of form. SEC was held at CeBit, the same location hosting the first ever Intel Extreme Masters event. This would become a familiar major in the coming years, as IEM became the key brand in Counter-Strike esports, but this first event was not a global affair, featuring only teams from Europe, admittedly the world's premiere region.
FNATIC would reach the upper bracket final only to see the nightmare scenario for any such team, losing twice to finish in third place. In the upper bracket it was the Danish H2k of whiMp who felled them, on a miracle run, and their elimination came at the hands of Pentagram, who had also beaten them in the group earlier in the tournament. During FNATIC's CPL Winter championship run in late 2006 they had bested Pentagram in a Bo3 series and the two would meet frequently over the coming years, particularly in 2007, as they split titles and had many a war. That the two's primary stars, NEO and f0rest, would become the dueling monsters of the game is no coincidence in light of this.
Weeks later, at the beginning of April, FNATIC went to the NGL-One Season 2 Finals. The competition was comparable to the Starladders of early CS:GO, where four teams qualified for the offline finals and would battle in a double elimination format for the prize pool. FNATIC finished second overall, losing their opener against lurppis's 69N-28E and again in the final to the very same Finnish side. That victory, along with some tournaments to follow, would initially establish the Finns as the best team in the world. For FNATIC, there were still some kinks to be smoothed out.
At the end of April f0rest and company flew out to China, a country where their core players had frequently seen disappointment previously. Playing in an event featuring only the top Chinese teams they were understandably expected to take their first title of 2007 with ease, as China had not sent out a truly elite level team since 2005. The first shock came as wNv.cn defeated them in the upper final. Battling through to the grand final, FNATIC were again upset by the same Chinese squad.
wNv.cn were not to be confused with wNv.gm, the Chinese side which had once been the best in the world. The latter squad was competing in the same competition and while Sakula had played in that squad, his new wNv.cn was a different core entirely. This loss in China not only called into question FNATIC's nerves late in tournaments, but set in place a trend of often being beaten on dust2, the map they would come to view as a nightmare weakness as the year progressed.
Qualifying for ESWC and WCG in Sweden was always a tough affair, as Sweden still harboured many skilled players and with the potential to upset the bigger names of SK, FNATIC and NiP. FNATIC were upset by Blank in a tight game on nuke in the group stage of the ESWC Swedish qualifier, but returned to battle the same team in the final, where both had qualified for the main event already, and overcome then in a full three map series.
At ESWC itself, f0rest and his friends cruised through the two group stages to bracket play, their only road bump being a tie with Alternate aTTax on nuke. In the quarter-finals they faced ROCCAT, the new name for the 69N-28E line-up which had beaten them at NGL-ONE and who were the placeholder world number one team. After making it through another tight nuke game, this time an over-time win, the Swedes easily swept aside the Finns on inferno to secure a semi-final spot.
A familiar foe would stand between them and the final in the form of Pentagram. Another chapter in their history unfolded and for yet another time this year it would be NEO and company the ones smiling at the end of it, moving on to the final where they would win the major. At this point, with the Finns cast aside and the Poles having secured two majors that year, Pentagram were the top team in Counter-Strike and f0rest looked to again be on the outside looking in at someone else gathering up all the glory for themselves, as he had been with NiP and zet for most of 2006. Little could anyone have guessed that this would be the turning point for FNATIC and f0rest's fortunes.
Less than two weeks after ESWC was the GameGune event in Spain. This had always previously featured the odd tier one team and mainly tier two competition, often by nature of it being a CPL qualifier in years gone by. This year, however, marked a drastic shift, as the event somehow attracted practically every top team of the time, making it an event lacking in historical prestige but stacked competitively. Despite a draw against an infamous group of onliners in the group stage, FNATIC would suffer only a single map loss en route to victory.
France's emuLate, led by the monster individual skills of mSx, took them down on nuke, but f0rest's boys would get revenge later in the competition and in the final face MiBR, the team whose core had denied them the ESWC title just over a year prior. Close wins on nuke continued to be a trend for FNATIC and they took the title, marking their first big win of the year with the new line-up.
A couple of weeks later they flew out to Korea to compete in the WEG e-Stars tournament. This event lacked top Western competition, largely thanks to being a four team exhibition tournament and MiBR, one of the elite Western teams, being unable to play with their real line-up, thanks to troublesome teenage talent fnx refusing to board a flight. The Brazilians were forced to use a stand-in, Norwegian commentator and ex-pro bsl, who admittedly had played with an entirely different MiBR line-up four years earlier. Despite such trying circumstances, MiBR would steal a map from FNATIC, beating them on dust2 but splitting the two map series overall.
The other teams to make up the four were top Asian sides X7-Hacker, from China, and Korea's eSTRO, led by the star player of the world famous solo. X7-Hacker managed to also steal a dust2 game from FNATIC, but the Swedes took down eSTRO 2:0. The final would be a rematch against the Chinese squad and this time FNATIC won 2:0, including a clinching over-time win on dust2, their trouble map.
Taking care of business at home
The next few weeks would see FNATIC playing regularly as they had two domestic qualifiers and another NGL-One finals. At the WCG Swedish qualifier they went unbeaten, defeating GeT_RiGhT's NiP in the final. NGL-One S3 came a week later and saw FNATIC making up for the previous season, going all the way to win the title. The format had switched to full Bo3 series for every round of the play-offs and FNATIC would beat out SK in two 2:0 series. SK were not an elite side at the time, having struggled to get anywhere close to the form of earlier in the year, when they had won SEC, and going through a number of trial players, with this event seeing them use striker as a stand-in. In the upper bracket final, FNATIC had played an equally troubled mouz line-up, losing a close dust2 but winning the series.
Days later as the Wonderbase Swedish LAN which held a spot at KODE5, a big international competition, for the winner. FNATIC would win the tournament, but not without losing a dust2 game to both [P0D] and SK, the latter again suffering defeat at f0rest's hands in the final.
The costly slip-up
FNATIC were clearly in dominant form, having five offline tournaments in a row, admittedly two of them being domestic qualifiers and one being against less than elite sides, but the next tournament was the big one as the WCG represented the final major of 2007. An early tie against MiBR on dust2 didn't seem too ominous, but the group shook out to mean that FNATIC had to defeat Korea's eSTRO in the final match to secure a play-off spot. They failed to and solo's boys broke their hearts on dust2 and saw FNATIC's major run end before the series play had even begun.
Fortunately for FNATIC and their hopes of retaining the world number one rank, emuLate won the tournament in miraculous fashion, denying ESWC finalists NoA what had appeared to be an easy major title. The Poles of Pentagram had been beaten out by the Finns of ROCCAT and that very same team had then turned around and been upset by starix's relative unknowns of Amazing Gaming. All of those upsets combined to mean that FNATIC losing out at the major had not allowed anyone else to overtake them in the global standings, for now.
Cementing their status
Two weeks after WCG was a stacked IEM II Global Challenge Los Angeles event. FNATIC sent a message to the Counter-Strike world, winning without a single map loss. Beating SK in the final, who had now taken in a Tentpole who had decided he wanted back in to the top tier of competition, had to be satisfying. FNATIC had confirmed that they were still the world's best side. Dreamhack Winter would follow a few months later, but it was, despite quality teams in attendance, not considered a world class event and was also won in upset fashion, as bit took a rag-tag MiBR line-up to a surprising win. FNATIC were eliminated 5t-6th, with surprising losses to the aforementioned Brazilians and SK.
Consistency earns the crown
2007 had been a year of instability for the top teams, as those who took the top spot could not hold it for too long or with much certainty in their grip. The Finns had benefited from the vacuum left early by teams like NoA and FNATIC not being in their final forms. The poles had used the majors to pole-vault on top briefly, but could not stay there thanks to a slump over the latter half of the year.
When 2007 had come to a close, FNATIC could legitimately lay claim to being the best team of the year. They had won two stacked international competitions (GameGune and IEM II LA), a couple of decent international events (WEG e-Stars and NGL-One S3) and three domestic qualifiers. In addition, the Swedes had finished top three at two of the majors (IEM I and ESWC) as well as making the final of NGL-One S2. Nobody else could boast as many deep finishes, titles won or as much consistency in high level play.
From late July to the end of October, when FNATIC had won every event but WCG, they had amassed a 47 win, two draw and seven loss record, making for an 83.33% win-rate on maps.
The dubious dust2
Of their seven losses, six had come on the dust2 which had bizarrely haunted them throughout the year and even one of their two draws was on that map. They had seen successes on it, clinching the WEG e-Stars and NGL-One S3 titles on the map, but it had also cost them a shot at a wide open WCG gold medal. When one considers that 2007 marked the prime of f0rest, a fantastic dust2 player and perhaps the best aim talent in the world, it is surprising how often they fell on that map which has famously been the playground of elite and aggressive aimers who can destroy opponents in the mid area.
f0rest's final form
2007 also marked the year f0rest took a step forward as the best player in Counter-Strike. 2006 had been ruled by the hyper-aggressive style of another Swede: zet of Ninjas in Pyjamas, who had many times slain f0rest and FNATIC. Towards the end of that year, NEO had helped a new line-up of Pentagram win WCG and then go into 2007 to take two more majors. As FNATIC rose over 2007, f0rest became the monster he his now fondly remembered as. Tentpole's departure left more space for hard carry performances, with ins being more of a team-play specialist than a fragger, and f0rest obliged with elite level games on a frighteningly regular basis.
The following year would see the formula pushed to breaking point, with a more competitive circuit of elite teams and more skill pushed into the top sides highlighting a slight deficit in FNATIC in that regard, but for 2007 the blueprint was set in place and the machine became fully operational around the Summer to yield one of the great Counter-Strike line-ups. They may not have won the majors and Turtle's eSports Awards gave the trophy for team of the year to the Poles, but 2007 belonged to FNATIC and their star f0rest.
Photo credit: ESL, fragbite