Photo: By Adela Sznajder for DreamHack
Sweden is one of the premier esports countries in the world. They’ve produced great players and teams across a wide array of different esports, most notably Counter-Strike. In studying Sweden across these different games it becomes clear that they are a hotbed of talent that regularly produces amazing teams. If is often the case that their team cohesion and team play comes from their emphasis on the social aspect. This cultural aspect has pushed them to the absolute heights of the esports world. That very same team unity has also given birth to their greatest weakness as they have ignored problems in favor of keeping that social aspect together. This has plagued Swedish esports in three different games: Overwatch, Dota2, and CS:GO.
The Disaster in Florida
Among the three examples I’m bringing up, the Florida Mayhem have the least relevance. Unlike Dota2 or CS:GO, there was never a point in time when someone could realistically say that a full Swedish team was the best team in the entire world. Secondly, Overwatch is an esport with heavy Korean participation. Third, it is a franchised league model with a heavy emphasis on coaching. Finally, the game itself has radical meta shifts which makes it hard to compare to a game like CS:GO.
Even with all of those caveats, it’s worth looking at Florida Mayhem’s first season in Overwatch League. It provides an additional data point about Swedish team esports and sheds some light into the inherent problem that will be mirrored in the later examples. Florida Mayhem went 7-33 in the first season of Overwatch League. They were the second worst team in the league and were an unmitigated disaster. Their only saving grace was that they were in a league with the legendary 0-40 Shanghai Dragons, which drew all of the attention.
There are a lot of reasons as to why the Mayhem failed. They didn’t have enough players at the beginning of the season. Outside of the roster, they had underestimated the amount of resources needed to compete in the league. By the time they fixed those issues, they were already weeks behind the other teams. Additionally, one of their key players, Kevyn “Tviq” Lindström had elbow problems that flared up midseason.
Among the various issues, the most relevant that problem that echoes into other esports is team harmony. While it wasn’t the biggest issue (or even top 5), it is the denominator between the Florida Mayhem and the other Swedish esports teams I’ll look at later on.
“Without going into naming people and pointing fingers, I would say our problem with our first season roster was that we didn’t mesh well with how the meta had turned out. We didn’t put in enough practice time inside of scrims or outside trying to learn and get better at it as. Outside of the game as individuals I believe we meshed really well with each other as we were always having a laugh and being good teammates overall.” – Tviq, from an interview with VPEsports
Swedish teams are famous for having a strong social setting in the team. This particular social aspect allows them to control the mood of the team. That in turn means that the Swedes are calm, composed, and consistent when they play their game. This is one of the critical components to their success and is something that Patrik “cArn” Sattermon, former CS 1.6 in-game leader, often emphasized when analyzing CS:GO teams on [POD]cast.
In the case of the Florida Mayhem though, the social aspect was what kept them from dealing with critical issues. They all got along outside of the game, but were unable to have the uncomfortable or harsh discussions needed to force the team to learn or get better during their practice. It is potentially also why they didn’t make harder roster changes considering there was a wealth of talent in Korea and Europe that they could have recruited.
Once season one ended, Florida Mayhem burned everything to the ground and went almost full Korean. While the Florida Mayhem aren’t comparable to the teams I’ll be talking about, the social aspect will come up again as we move forward.
The Fall and Reunion of [A]lliance
The next team we’ll look at is [A]lliance from Dota2. Like the Florida Mayhem, there are extenuating circumstances that have to be taken into account. Sweden is not a big Dota2 country. The talent pool in that game is far smaller than in CS:GO. Secondly, Dota2 has a far heavier emphasis on strategy. That is why the in-game leaders of Dota2 are correlated with the best results rather than the superstar players. Finally, there is less individual carry potential in Dota2 compared to CS:GO. While it’s possible to have a fantastic performance in Dota2, one man cannot carry by himself, even on the tier two level. Conversely, this also means that teams are punished less for having mechanically inferior players relative to the competition.
I bring all of that up to establish the context of [A]lliance’s dominant period in Dota2. They were the best team from mid-2013 to the beginning of 2014 and won The International 2013. Their only rival was Na`Vi. Outside of Na`Vi, no one else was close. [A]lliance’s victory was predicated on a unique style of play that was built on Henrik “AdmiralBulldog” Ahnberg’s carry potential as a split pusher, Jonathan “Loda” Berg as a secondary star, and Gustav “s4” Magnusson as a space-creating mid player. While it was brilliant for that period of time, it soon became obsolete.
The patch had come and [A]lliance were nerfed. Some teams had come to understand and break the [A]lliance style of play. Others pioneered a new style of play which emphasized the mid-lane as the hard carry position rather than as a space creator. By the time TI4 came around, [A]lliance were an aging beast. Their inherent teamwork and playstyle meant that they could still pull off fantastic finishes, but they were slowly declining. At TI4 they crashed out of group stages.
Soon after s4 and Jerry “EGM” Lundkvist left the team. S4 went on to join Secret while EGM went ot Team Tinker. In addition to that, AdmiralBulldog took a break from play. [A]lliance went on to try different players, but were never able to recreate the same magic. S4 played a fantastic year in Secret, but crashed out at TI5. Once Secret died, s4 decided to return to [A]lliance. In the interim, AdmiralBulldog came out of retirement. After S4 joined, Soon after, the gang got back together with EGM rejoining the squad at the end of 2015.
This entire episode is to illustrate the biggest downside to Sweden’s esports culture. While it gives them an edge in teamplay and can create historically great teams with incredible unity, it also means that the Swedish players try to run back the clock. They are unable to identify when a lineup has run its course. In 2014, [A]lliance was already an aging team that wasn’t close to being the best in the world. From 2014-2015, Loda and Joakin “Akke” Akterhall were unable to make any of the different stacks work. AdmiralBulldog was inactive. EGM was on tinker.
There was no reason to believe that the reunion could have been gotten them close to being a world contending team again. Despite that, the [A]lliance guys reunited. While it’s hard to speculate on the motives behind the move, it is likely that it comes down to one of two things. Either they truly believed that this was going to work and they were going to be a great team again or they valued the team/social dynamic of the lineup over any kind of individual success they could have gotten by joining other teams. Their team unity helped elevate [A]lliance to dominance in 2013 and it also gave them the lackluster 2016.
The Swedes in CS:GO
The biggest Swedish game is CS:GO. This game has had the largest Swedish participation since the inception of the franchise. Through all of CS 1.6 history, they were always the strongest region in the world. That carried on into CS:GO where they had two lineups create dynastic eras of dominance: NiP and Fnatic.NiP peaked from 2012-2013. Fnatic were the best from 2014-2015.
Once their peak eras were over, both teams committed many of the mistakes I’ve described throughout this article. Let’s start with NiP. The original lineup of NiP was: Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg, Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund, Richard “Xizt” Landstrom, Adam “friberg” Friberg, and Robin “Fifflaren” Johansson. By the end of 2014 the lineup was doing badly, but it showed no signs of wanting to change any of the players. On November 3rd, 2014, Fifflaren realized his time was up as a player and retired.
In the ensuing three years NiP had a revolving door for the fifth player on the squad. The first player they had was Mikail “Maikelele” Bill. Among the various lineups they had during this time period, that had the most explosive dynamic to it. With Maikelele they reached two big finals. One at the DreamHack Winter 2014 Major and another at MLG X Games Aspen. NiP then summarily kicked Maikelele because of the social aspect.
That essentially sums up the problem of NiP during that entire time period. Like [A]lliance in Dota2, they were locked into the idea that they had to use the original four. When they didn’t get the results they wanted, the removed the fifth. Like Florida Mayhem, the social aspect made it so that they were unable or unwilling to see the cracks in the team moving forward. If they had realized what was going on at the time, perhaps we’d have seen Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer and Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson join NiP instead of Fnatic.
Instead we got the same four NiP players with a revolving fifth. The team declined in results year upon year. It took years for the NiP team to realize that they needed to move on and by that point the damage had already been done.
The tragedy of what NiP did during this period was that they needed to secure their future by giving younger players a chance to grow under them. This was what the Danish scene has consistently done and is part of why the Danes are now the strongest region in the world.
As for Fnatic, they went through a similar crisis in 2018. Initially, Fnatic looked to have avoided the pitfalls that NiP had. In 2017 the Fnatic lineup consisted of veterans and rookies. They had: KRIMZ, Jesper “JW” Wecksell, Robin “flusha’ Ronnquist, Maikil “Golden” Selim, and Jonas “Lekr0” Olofsson. Golden had been promoted from the Fnatic Academy to becoming the in-game leader of the main squad. Lekr0 had been tossed around in the Fnatic-GODsent shuffles as the extra player in those shuffles, but was now given star billing in this squad alongside KRIMZ.
The team gradually grew in strength and by the end of 2017, they were making semifinals. By the time 2018 came around, inner turmoil struck the team. They reached top 8 at the Major and then bombed StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 4. Soon after, rumors were abound that Golden was on the chopping block. Soon after, Golden extended his lifespan in the team by leading them to victories at IEM Katowice and WESG. This only delayed the inevitable as Lekr0 left to join NiP and Fnatic recruited Xizt as their in-game leader. Soon after, Golden was swapped to the entry role before being removed altogether.
What made this particular roster shuffle so inexplicable was that NiP had finally realized that Xizt was no longer the answer. That he couldn’t be the leader of a world contending team in CS:GO. Fnatic then fell into the exact same trap that [A]lliance and NiP had made by valuing the past too highly. They believed that Xizt could still be a top in-game leader in the world and so they removed their up-and-comer with Xizt.
Even so that move was justifiable if we are looking at Fnatic in the lens of a purely Swedish roster shuffle. Golden wasn’t playing well individually and he has yet to prove his worth on Cloud9 as he has had numerous health issues that have prevented him from playing in that roster. The big problem with both NiP and Fnatic right now though is that they are still looking at CS:GO through the lens of the Swedish scene.
After Finn “karrigan” Andersen led FaZe to the top from 2016-2017, the CS:GO world has followed his revolution. International mixed lineups are no longer a hypothetical, but the reality that we live in. Both NiP and Fnatic have gone through multiple roster changes in the last few years. They’ve tried multiple up-and-comers throughout that time period and by the end of that process, it’s clear that Sweden is missing two specific roles: an AWPer and an in-game leader.
Both Fnatic and NiP have tried using William “draken” Sundin as an AWPer to mediocre success. JW is no longer the AWPer he once was back in 2014. Xizt has shown that his leadership is limited. NiP are using Lekr0 as their in-game leader, but that will only take them so far. Both Swedish teams are trapped in a paradigm that makes them think that they must stick to an all-Swedish roster. If they had broken that paradigm, we could be seeing international players like Miikka “suNny” Kemppi, Chris “chrisJ” de Jong or Karrigan in their ranks.
As it stands though, the Swedish scene in CS:GO has been unable to take that final step. Even the lower tier players largely refuse to play in the international squads. This seems to be another effect of the Swedish esports culture. Their incredible team unity seems to have closed them off from the idea of picking up international players. In the past, that has given them the benefit of having spectacular teamplay in their best teams. In the modern day, it has crippled them in their ability to reach the heights of competitive CS:GO.
In all three games, I’ve shown examples of Swedish teams falling in the same way over and over again. Florida Mayhem all got along outside of the game, but were unable to make the hard actions they needed to save their first season in OWL. In Dota2, [A]lliance tried to rewind back the clock as they believed they could still make it work despite all evidence to the contrary. In CS:GO, both NiP and Fnatic have suffered from similar problems of overvaluing the past, being unable to identify problems in the team, or going international. While there are benefits to Sweden’s esports culture, there are also detriments. For CS:GO in particular, their future success will be dependant on how they navigate this problem moving forward. If they can’t solve it, then they’ll be the same as they’ve always been. Dependant on getting the right mix of players and roles at the right time. If they can, then we could see an evolution that could catapult Sweden back to becoming a championship contender once again.