Fnatic are synonymous with CS:GO. They won the Major in 2013. From 2014 to the end of 2015 they had the greatest lineup of all time. From 2015-2016, they had one last glorious run into the sunset with the Dennis “dennis” Edman lineup before it all broke apart. From that point on Fnatic has oscillated between keeping the glories of the past and trying to reach a new future. It was a second puberty for the organization and it’s core players as they struggled to try to find a lineup that could once again take them to the heights of the CS:GO world. Nearly all of 2018 was a year of discontent as they struggled to find their way to the top and it was only at the end of the year at IEM Chicago that hope sprang anew.
To understand how Fnatic got there though, we have to start with the PGL Krakow Major 2017. That was the tournament where the old Fnatic lineup of: Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer, Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson, Jesper “JW” Wecksell, Robin “flusha” Ronnquist and dennis played together as a five man unit. It was the team’s last hurrah as they were unable to duplicate they had in the early part of 2016. Soon after olofmeister joined FaZe. Dennis moved to GODSENT. The core of KRIMZ, JW, and flusha stuck together and decided to build anew.
This time they recruited a new in-game leader and young talent: Maikil “Golden” Selim and Jonas “Lekr0” Olofsson. Golden had come out of the Fnatic Academy team while Lekr0 was the man who kept losing his chair in the Swedish shuffles between Fnatic and GODSENT in 2016. The team grew in form through the online stages of 2016 and by the end of the year, looked to be one of the better teams in the world as they top four placings at ESL Proleague Season 6 Finals and ECS Season 4 Finals. The structure of the team resurrected KRIMZ as he became the superstar of the team and put Lekr0 on the map a legitimate secondary star of the squad. The squad had a heavy default style that characterized the top Swedish scenes.
All of that growth wasn’t sustainable. After getting top 8 at the ELeague Boston major, the team teetered on the brink of destruction. Rumors of Golden being kicked spread through the scene as Fnatic bombed StarLadder i-league Season 4. Despite those rumors, Golden was still able to lead the team to two more tournament victories at IEM Katowice and WESG. IEM Katowice was a brilliant return to form from flusha in the final map of that finals where he single-handedly broke the FaZe squad in that finals. After that two tournament run, Golden tweeted, “I stay.”
What he didn’t realize was that it wasn’t going to be for long. On May 25th, Lekr0 transferred to NiP. This is one of the moves where it’s hard to know if Lekr0 was kicked or if he tried to leave the team to join NiP. Whatever the case, Lekr0 left the squad and in his place, Fnatic recruited Richard “Xizt” Landstrom.
On paper, the move made no sense as there were now two leaders in the squad and they had just lost a key piece of firepower. In a direct comparison, Xizt was the more skilled player between the two and was more experienced. However, that also meant that he had less years to give to the org and less potential for growth. He was set in his ways and that was likely part of the reason as to why NiP removed Xizt from their lineup. Fnatic for their part, still believed in Xizt as an in-game leader and so they decided to build the team around him as their in-game leader. To make room for him, Golden was moved to the entry role.
Predictably, Golden was incapable of playing such a role and was eventually replaced by William “draken” Sundin. Draken was another player that was removed from NiP. He had joined the team back in 2017 as an aggressive flicky AWPer. When looking through his time on NiP, he never turned into the star AWPer they needed. He was inconsistent at the best of times. He could pull off brilliant clips or plays, but rarely got the stable AWP shots that were needed to stabilize a team’s structure on the CT-side.
So when Draken joined Fnatic, I was skeptical. Among the various moves that Fnatic tried to pull off in 2018, this had the least amount of reasoning behind it. Draken was essentially a weaker version of what JW already was. There was still a logic behind it. JW didn’t want to be bound to being the primary AWPer and became an aggressive playmaking hybrid player. By getting Draken, then plan was to free up JW to play the role he wanted to on the team. While JW acclimated to this new role surprisingly well, Draken was never the AWPer that could compliment that strength.
That five man lineup of: KRIMZ, JW, Xizt, Draken, and flusha was the lowest point of Fnatic in 2018. While JW showed some good impact in his new role, the rest of the team was in tatters. Xizt’s style of leadership is based around loose individual skill. The only two players that could accomplish that were KRIMZ and JW. While KRIMZ had been a complete monster during the period when Golden was an in-game leader, he had a slump during this period. As for flusha, he completely lost all semblance of form and because of that was the player that had to be put on the chopping block. On top of that, there had been internal issues such as motivation or team atmosphere that adversely affected the squad. Flusha confirmed this in his farewell statement to Fnatic and his plans for the future.
Soon after, Fnatic also removed Draken as well. The two players they recruited in their place were Simon “twist” Eliasson and later Ludvig “Brollan” Brolin. Twist was always an incredibly talented player in the Swedish scene who had all of the ability to play at the highest level of play in Sweden. However over the years, he has continually refused the call (except for a brief stint in Fnatic in 2016) and has seemed to prefer playing for teams like GODSENT or Red Reserve. So Fnatic being able to acquire him was surprising. As for Brollan, he was the new phenom in the Swedish scene. At the age of 16, he has impressed the entire scene with his talent.
We only saw the effects of this roster change at one event, IEM Chicago. After an year of struggle, Fnatic looked reinvigorated. They now had all of the individual talent they needed to make Xizt’s system functionale. KRIMZ came back to top form once again as the team cohesion looked fixed in the honeymoon stage of the new roster.
The most surprising change of all was how much better JW looked when Twist came into the roster. One of the reasons that Fnatic brought draken into the lineup was so that JW didn’t need to primary AWP and could go make aggressive plays as a rifler as well. The problem with that was Draken wasn’t a good enough player to truly enable JW. One of the reasons JW was a menace in the Fnatic days dating back to when Markus “pronax” Wallsten was the in-game leader was because the other four players on that team had incredible teamplay and cohesion, so JW’s wildcard style didn’t inhibit the others. Draken wasn’t that kind of player while Twist was.
Wherever JW decided to go, Twist could either directly support him or cover the area he was no longer playing. This was most obvious on Mirage where the two of them were often boosted up into window on the T-side to wreak havoc on the CT forces. While on the CT-side of the map, it was a loose system as Twist, KRIMZ, JW, and Brollan all took turns taking aggressive duels across the map dependent on reads and form. It didn’t look premeditated, but there was a certain instinct at play. The kind of ineffable play that Fnatic used to be famed for when they were at the height of their powers. When their talent, experience, game sense, and teamplay combined to form an electrifying display of Counter-Strike.
At IEM Chicago, this was displayed at full force as they were able to beat Liquid in a best-of-three series and took Astralis to the brink of elimination. They nearly took the comeback victory on Dust2 against Astralis and were able to convincingly win Mirage. By the time the second map ended, it felt like they had Astralis on the ropes. They pushed them to the brink of the edge as they were up 15-9 against Astralis on Inferno. It took a Championship quality for Astralis to bring it back and eventually win that series in overtime.
By the time that series ended, it had become the best CS:GO match in 2018. They had pushed Astralis to the brink and had forced Astralis to muster every scrap of will and determination. It was a heart wrenching loss for Fnatic and one that they will carry forward with them. In that loss though, I saw something else. A new vision of Fnatic had formed.
The new Fnatic roster has the requisite amount of skill across the board for Xizt’s loose style of in-game leadership to work. Between Twist and KRIMZ, they have two consistent pillars that have a strong all-around game and create a stable consistent output. With the two of them as the base, JW can now wield his wildcard style of aggressive rifling and AWPing with impunity as he can rely on them to clean up should he fail. Brollan is a rising star of the squad who currently sticks to his roles, but can take the freedom to take over the game if he is feeling it.
For Fnatic, the year of 2018 was a year of struggle and discontent. When they were doing well in early 2018, they believed that they could do better and made roster changes to make that happen. The roster changes didn’t go as foreseen and they plummeted. They were eventually forced to make harsh roster cuts, including longtime teammate Flusha. From that struggle and despair, they were able to find two pieces that could complement the existing core of KRIMZ, JW, and Xizt. With Twist and Brollan in tow, they have an aggressive natural style with incredible firepower across the board. Fnatic haven’t looked this exciting since the days when they were one of the best teams in the world back in early 2016. Fnatic’s year of discontent is over and at the very end of it, hope has sprung anew as they look to become a consistent force in the international scene once again in 2019.