Last Friday, FaZe Clan was upset in the semifinals of ELEAGUE. That I can write that sentence and have it be accurate is a testament to the miraculous work of Finn “Karrigan” Andersen.
Just two months ago, FaZe was a mess. It had been for the entire year. Attending eight different LANs throughout the year, FaZe had lost in the group stages of all of them except ELEAGUE Season 1, in which it made a small run in the last chance qualifier. In the last year, FaZe won only two best-of-three series against top 10 teams.
The first was against Dignitas in ELEAGUE Season 1, though it came against a weaker version of Dignitas with Jesper “tenzki” Mikalski in the lineup. FaZe’s other victory came against CLG. The one without Josh “jdm64” Marzano.
CLG’s main star Tarik ‘tarik’ Celik was blocked from switching teams because of the price of his buyout, so he was burned out from the game and wanted to be a streamer. Their coach and former in-game leader, Faruk Pita, was standing in. Then they switched all of their roles, which resulted in the wackiest team in ELEAGUE. You had a star who wanted to be a streamer, an AWPer who was put on a rifle, a rifler who was put on an AWP, a completely new leader in James “hazed” Cobb and a coach stand in. And FaZe needed double overtime to squeak by. FaZe won, but there was no dignity in doing so.
FaZe was a disaster. But the team had stars (or former stars) throughout the lineup. Philip “aizy” Aistrup, Håvard “rain” Nygaard, Joakim “Jkaem” Myrbostad, Fabien “k1oshima” Fiey and later on Aleksi “allu” Jalli. They had all of the pieces, but together they were weaker than the sum of their parts. They tried switching roles; they tried getting a coach to lead in-game, but none of it worked.
Then two things happened: First, Valve instituted a new coaching rule that disallowed coaches from speaking except during pauses. This forced FaZe to give up the idea of having five skilled fraggers and a coach trying to call for them and instead look for a proper in-game leader. Second, Astralis benched Karrigan.
This gave FaZe the correct mindset and the right opportunity to pick up Karrigan. While this was the right move, the question was could he do it? The only good thing that was in Karrigan’s favor was that months in the wild without a great leader had made them desperate and willing to listen to whatever he said.
“I come into a team who gives everything to me, believe everything I say, everything I do,” Karrigan told Slingshot during the ELEAGUE Season 2 playoffs.
Everything else was set against him. If Karrigan hadn’t shown up, this FaZe roster would probably have imploded by the time their contracts ran out. No one wants to be part of a losing team forever, no matter how well they are paid. Nearly every player on the roster could have left and found a spot on a stronger and better functioning team. Given what we know about their contracts, they were likely to end in early 2017. So when Karrigan joined he not only had to fix all of the issues, he had to do it fast before everyone jumped ship.
Duncan “Thorin” Shields and Jason “Moses” O’Toole put it this way: FaZe had all of the right pieces to make a high functioning car, but they were all disparate parts. Karrigan needed to make only slight adjustments to the old Astralis lineup to get them successful as they were already a strong team. In FaZe’s case, everything was in disarray. He had to make the blueprint, arrange the parts and complete the car in a few months time.
Karrigan didn’t have months; he didn’t even have a week. By the time the ink had dried on the contract, FaZe was set to play in ELEAGUE Season 2 groups that week. They were in a group with Immortals, Cloud 9 and mousesports. Afterward, the team was set to play in three more tournaments right after.
He then got FaZe its best LAN result of 2016 by getting best-of-three wins over Immortals and Cloud 9 at ELEAGUE season 2, effectively doubling the team’s total against top teams in 2016. Karrigan had not only conquered those two teams, but the hearts of FaZe.
“So coming into that, I think my fingerprint was set from Day 1, just taking over everything, calling a lot of stuff,” Karrigan said.
FaZe then went to ESL Pro League and dropped out of the group of death in narrow fashion. They then finished their campaign by getting top four at IBuyPower, which got them to IEM Oakland. There they won the group and narrowly lost to NiP in a best-of-three.
FaZe returned to Atlanta and upset Virtus.pro in the quarterfinals of the ELEAGUE playoffs. What had happened? What had changed? It’s hard to know the exact specifics about what he has told the team, but we do know glimpses. K1oshima stated that Karrigan was the strong unifying voice when there was previously none. At the same time, we can see from in-game that he widely expanded their map pool and was able to facilitate his star players in rain and aizy in having big games. Allu was used as a third stable consistent star that always output damage. The team was rounded out with Karrigan and k1oshima filling out the rest of the roles and sometimes having big games themselves.
Two months ago, FaZe was a joke. Today they are nearing the edge of a top-tier team and are have upset potential against any of the best teams in the world. This will go down as one of the best roster moves in 2016 and one of the most surprising stories this year.
Cover photo courtesy of Turner Sports/ELEAGUE