Fnatic were once the pre-eminent organization in CS:GO. They dominated the scene, had an era, and were the benchmark of greatness.
However, those days have passed, and from August 2017 to 2019 they have become one of the most frustrating teams to watch. They oscillate between extreme poles in roster changes and results. Sometimes they recruit a young up-and-comer, other times they reach back into the past and recruit a veteran.
They have had incredible highs and terrible lows. They can be in a grand final one moment and then lose in the first round of group stages in the next. This inconsistency comes from their contradictory philosophies of how to build their CS:GO team. In order for Fnatic to get back to the top, they need a consistent methodology that informs how they want to go forward in the future.
First, I’ll explain why I started the examination of Fnatic’s roster shuffles from August 2017. At that period of time, Fnatic had just ended the first reunion. To recap, the lineup of: Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson, Jesper “JW” Wecksell, Robin “flusha” Ronnquist, Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer, and Dennis “dennis” Edman broke up at ELeague Season 1 in 2016.
The prolonged stay in Atlanta broke the team apart and caused the Swedish schism. JW, flusha, and KRIMZ went to GODSENT while olofmeister and dennis stayed in Fnatic. KRIMZ later rejoined the team on October 24th, 2016, and eventually the team made a full reunion on Feb. 4th, 2017 as all five players reunited.
The team stayed together through most of 2017. They had decent results, with their best being a second place at DreamHack Summer 2017. After getting top 8 at the PGL Krakow Major, the team broke apart. Olofmeister joined FaZe and dennis went to GODSENT.
The reason I’ve chosen to start at this point is because the direction of Fnatic’s roster choices fundamentally changed at this point in time. From 2013 to 2017, the roster changes had a clear direction. Fnatic wanted to build around young Swedish talents. They started with Epsilon Esports, which had flusha and JW. They added Markus “pronax” Wallsten as their leader. After winning the DreamHack Winter 2013 Major, they eventually recruited olofmeister and KRIMZ from LGB eSports.
Once Olofmeister and Dennis changed, roster construction became more inconsistent and incoherent, often with moves that seemed to directly contradict each other.
Fnatic 2017-2019: One Step Forward, One Step Back
There are two themes that characterize Fnatic’s roster moves from 2017 to 2019. The first is a forward-looking approach as they continued to aggressively try to recruit young up-and-coming players. The latter was a reactionary approach. Each time Fnatic hit a hard wall, whether internally or in results, they tried to revert backwards in time. They looked to past players or periods of time and tried to resurrect past glories.
We see the first philosophy come into play on August 20th, 2017 with their first two pickups: Maikil “Golden” Selim and Jonas “Lekr0” Olofsson. Golden was the in-game leader of Fnatic’s academy squad and Fnatic promoted him into the main squad. Lekr0 showed potential in his debut with GODSENT, but was an afterthought during the Swedish shuffles of 2016.
In the ensuing months, Fnatic grew in stature as they started to do better in online leagues and then started to qualify for LANs. This culminated with a very strong run that ran from the end of 2017 to the beginning of 2018. They got Top 4 at ESL Proleague Season 6 Finals, top 4 at ECS Season 4 Finals, and Top 8 at the Boston Major.
Cracks started to show in February 2018 when Renegades eliminated them in the group stages of StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 4. At that point in time, rumors started to circulate that Fnatic were kicking Golden. Despite the internal issues, Golden led the team to three more big finishes as they won IEM Katowice 2018, WESG, and got top 4 at DreamHack Marseille.
After that period though, things started to break down. Lekr0 was benched as he was moving to NiP. Richard “Xizt” Landstrom joined the team as the new in-game leader. To avoid public backlash, Fnatic transitioned Golden out of the team slowly. They moved him from in-game leader to entry-fragger, which was a terrible fit for Golden given his individual skill. After failing as an entry-fragger, they replaced him with William “draken” Sundin.
This second series of roster changes made the least amount of sense. From the outside, Golden looked to be doing a fine job as in-game leader, as the team had a consistent system that was getting them results. In contrast to that, Xizt had failed to make his system work in NiP. The internal issues must have been serious as Fnatic went against the objective results of what each leader had done, and decided to go with Xizt over Golden.
Where Golden and Lekr0 characterized Fnatic’s forward thinking, Xizt characterized their reactionary approach. They didn’t believe that Golden was working, so they reached back to the past to see if there was any in-game leader that could. They decided on Xizt as he was the leader of the legendary NiP squad and still had good individual form.
The draken move made less sense than the Xizt move. Fnatic realized that there was no need to have both Golden and Xizt on the same team. With the draken move, I’m not certain what their plan was as draken and JW were the same type of player. Wild-card aggressive playmakers who usually excel with the AWP.
Fnatic came to this realization quickly as draken’s time on the team was brief. He played on the team for a little over three months. Fnatic then made a third set of roster changes. They benched Flusha, swapped draken for Simon “twist” Eliasson, and got Ludvig “Brollan” Brolin into the team.
All things considered, this was a good roster move. Fnatic needed more firepower and a role player. Brollan filled the role of additional firepower they needed, while twist became a role player for the team. The team then had their best result since the Golden period, where they got top 4 at IEM Chicago. It was a great result considering that they took Astralis to the very brink of elimination before losing.
They then followed it up with an okay top 4 at IBUYPOWER Masters, before bombing out of the IEM Katowice Major as VICI Gaming, Winstrike, and G2 all beat them. It was an embarrassing loss as they were ranked #1 in the Challengers Stage.
The time period together was short, but it looked like Fnatic had inherited the same problems that NiP had with Xizt’s leadership. Xizt runs a loose system that gives a lot of freedom to the stars of the team. When the teamplay and individual form was on point, NiP could pull out magical victories (most notably at IEM Oakland).
When they couldn’t, they were often mediocre. This pattern repeated itself in Fnatic and after the IEM Katowice 2019 Major, continued to repeat. Fnatic had great results at StarSeries i-League Season 7 and IEM Sydney where they got 2nd. They followed this up by bombing out of DreamHack Masters Dallas, EPL9, ESL Cologne, and the EU Minors.
This caused another round of reactionary changes. Fnatic have decided to re-recruit Golden and Flusha. Their current lineup is a repeat of their late 2017 lineup, except with Brollan instead of Lekr0.
The Price of Contradictory Philosophies
Fnatic’s almost bipolar approach has cost them in the long term. While most of the changes have some logic or sense in the context of the immediate present, the roster moves don’t have a lot of forward thinking involved.
For instance, it made sense in 2017 to combine the veterans with a new leader and young star player. Sweden had a lack of in-game leaders, so it was worth gambling the time to invest in one. There were no Swedish players during that period that could be stars at an elite level, so it made sense to get someone that could potentially develop into that one day.
What’s strange about Fnatic is that they never capitalized on that potential coming to fruition. They got rid of Golden after he had succeeded with the lineup in early 2018 and Lekr0 left to join NiP. Instead of trying to gamble on another pair of young players, they went for a lineup with a combination of players that had low growth potential: Xizt and draken. Xizt is fairly set in his ways as a player and in-game leader. As he is in his late 20s, it’s unlikely that he will make a breakthrough and completely revamp his game.
As for draken, he’s fairly young and can still develop his game. But the set of players that Fnatic had surrounding draken made that a low possibility. Draken had already played for 11 months in NiP with Xizt as a leader. Leaders are often the catalysts to young players improving their game, but in draken’s case his development in NiP was static. While it was possible that the other teammates could help draken develop, it seemed implausible. Especially when you consider that draken and JW shared similar roles as the aggressive wildcard player.
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Fnatic realized that Xizt as a leader was not going to work and have reverted back to Golden. So what did this realization cost? About one year’s time and a bunch of unanswered questions. Fnatic still don’t know whether or not Golden is the correct leader for them. Golden was kicked out of Fnatic before they could see whether he would continue to grow or decay. In addition to that, Golden likely hasn’t grown much as an in-game leader considering that he was playing for Cloud9, which resembled the world’s longest musical chairs game rather than an actual CS team.
If Fnatic had stuck with their initial idea of building around young talent, they’d have a better understanding of whether or not keeping or kicking Xizt is the right move.
While Fnatic have a set 5 now, their biggest concern is figuring out a consistent approach to how they want to build their team. This bipolar approach they’ve had for the last two years has not been working and has yielded less returns as time has gone on.
What Fnatic need to figure out
Before Fnatic can figure out what direction they want to go, they need to answer some difficult questions. Is it possible for an all-Swedish team to become the best in the world? If so, what are the conditions for that to happen? Does Fnatic have the correct players to fulfill those conditions?
Let’s first assume that it’s possible that an all-Swedish team can become the best in the world. What are the conditions for that to happen? If you look at all of the best Swedish teams in history, they played off of great teamplay and individual form.
They often used loose systems to enable their individual skills. As that’s the case, the biggest problem that faces Sweden is their lack of in-game leaders. Pronax is no longer good enough to compete. Xizt is static and has inherent problems. Lekr0 hit a roadblock leading NiP. Golden has only had success with the Fnatic squad of late 2017 to early 2018. None of his Cloud9 rosters showed any promise. The most successful Cloud9 roster was actually led by flusha and flusha doesn’t have the rigor to do in-game leading full-time.
Given the situation, Golden seems to be the best bet that Fnatic can make. If he doesn’t develop into an in-game leader, then Fnatic will have to question the validity of whether or not it’s possible to win with an all-Swedish lineup. Even if Golden does become that leader, Fnatic have to figure out what players they need to surround him with.
This comes to the next problem, individual skill. While Sweden has plenty of talent, no one stands out as a world dominator. The last time Sweden had a player at the top five level was KRIMZ in 2018. As that is the case, it seems like Fnatic’s best strategy currently is to gamble on Golden and hope that KRIMZ can regain that form.
The final question they have to ask is whether or not JW can be part of such a team? We’ve seen brief moments and runs of vintage JW and we’ve also seen JW be largely ineffective. If Fnatic believe that JW can be part of such a team, then they also need to build a team around his particular characteristics as well. JW works best in systems that have a solid and flexible framework.
The Fnatic of 2014-2015 had impeccable teamplay and consistency that let JW go rampant. Earlier this year, vintage JW returned as he found ways to be the aggressive wildcard player with the rifle as well as an AWP. For JW to succeed at the highest level, he needs room to take aggressive gambles. In order for that to be possible, the team needs consistent firepower and flexible role players that can fill the gaps.
Fnatic’s second chance
The time for Fnatic to act is now. Their current lineup gives them a second chance to do it all over again as they have: Golden, Flusha, KRIMZ, JW, and Brollan. In terms of timing, this is a great chance for Fnatic to answer all of the questions I posed above.
Right now, Fnatic should be in an extremely powerful position in the Swedish scene. They are the best team in that scene and their closest competitor is NiP. NiP’s stock has dramatically fallen in the last few months and this leaves Fnatic with the option to get first pick at almost all of the talent in the Swedish scene.
If you look at the in-game leader situation, Fnatic have the two best candidates for leader in their team: Golden and flusha. They can figure out if either of them has the necessary qualities it takes to lead a Swedish team to the top.
In terms of skill, the timing looks pretty good. Brollan is still developing and looks good given the context of his career. While KRIMZ has fallen off from his early 2018 form, that incredible form came under the Fnatic period when Golden was in-game leading.
It’s within reason to assume that KRIMZ can get back to that level. The same could be said for JW as he has had some vintage performances in 2019. The only question mark is flusha, but he showed a renewed form after Fnatic benched him and he moved to Cloud9. While he’s coming back from hiatus, he’s shown an uncanny ability to regain peak form.
All things considered, the biggest hurdle that Fnatic has right now is their methodology. If they can figure that out, they can systematically answer all of the questions. They can know if Golden or Flusha can be the leader of a top team. If Sweden has the talent to build another world dominator. If JW can fit into such a lineup. If Fnatic do it correctly, they have a chance to get back to the top.