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Inferno, mirrored finals and allu’s redemption — two years in the making

allu wins StarLadder FaZe Clan
The story of Aleksi “allu” Jalli begins on Inferno.

The story of Aleksi “allu” Jalli begins on Inferno.

Some maps naturally suit and accentuate a player’s strengths. Whether it’s the geography of the map, how the pace naturally flows from round to round or the type of angles/distances, certain stars have maps to fit them as snugly as a fitted glove. Snax thrives on Cobblestone. Dust 2 is shox’s playground. TaZ never fails to show up on Train.

Allu’s home turf is Inferno. He first made his mark on it after joining Ninjas in Pyjamas In February 2015. Allu  became the second replacement for the much-vaunted Robin “Fifflaren” Johansson, who opted for retirement. The first replacement, Maikel “Maikelele” was removed because he didn’t vibe well enough with the team. Allu entered his first tournament three weeks later at ESL Katowice. In the last map of the final against Fnatic, allu delivered 29 kills on Inferno in front of the world and against the best team in the world. Alas, NiP lost the game 16-13 and finished in second place.

Despite the loss, it was an incredible run. The NiP magic was in full effect, as the team effortlessly skated through its group. They beat Team SoloMid in the quarterfinals, EnVyUs in the semis and only narrowly lost to the legendary Fnatic squad in the finals. This was a great starting point for the revamped roster, and though you couldn’t say NiP was the strongest team anymore, it was good enough to win at least one big tournament that year.

That never happened. NiP ended up attending five different finals that year: Gfinity Spring Masters 1, StarLadder StarSeries XII, FaceIt 2015 Stage 1 Finals, Gfinity Masters Summer 1 and Fragbite Masters Season 5. In those finals they faced off against EnVyUs, TSM and Fnatic and lost every single series. There is a reason they call it magic in the first place: all of the stars need to align for it to have an effect. NiP was a strong team but never clutched the elusive trophy in 2015.

Heartbroken, allu left the team. He was lost thinking about what to do next. He considered Liquid for a bit, but eventually decided to head back home and play in ENCE. Allu was a world class player, and while ENCE was nowhere near his caliber, the foggy idea was he could elevate them to another level.

“I wanted to do something in Finland,” he told Slingshot in November. “I tried to build up a team there, so I went forward with that, especially because we didn’t have a good Finnish team for a while. It didn’t go so well.”

Along the way something got lost in translation. Perhaps he lost part of his individual identity sharing in the triumphs and failures of NiP, or confidence in his own ability diminished. Either way, his play was not reminiscent of the puzzle piece that completed NiP’s standing as a top team. Allu’s removal from the top tier of CS:GO and lost identity was mirrored in the map pool, as Inferno was removed and replaced with Nuke last April.

After spending eight months on ENCE, Allu decided that if he was unable to help his countrymen, he’d at least try to make a career for himself. He ended up joining FaZe in August. It was a step up from ENCE as it had a large roster of star players — granted, all of them from other teams that didn’t value them so highly. The problem was FaZe lacked a coherent identity, a leader who could mold them into a united team with shared goals. There were no prospects in sight, and it felt like the star players of FaZe were trapped in a gilded cage. They were treated well but had no realistic hopes to win anything.

That all changed when Astralis benched Finn “Karrigan” Andersen. This was the chance and FaZe swooped in to acquire him in October. Even then, the pickup was a gamble. The team was discombobulated in terms of roles and priority. Duncan “Thorin” Shields and Jason “Moses” O’Toole made the analogy that it was like Karrigan having to go to the junkyard. All of the pieces were there, but it would take a master craftsman to fit them together to make a car. Karrigan had three days before their first LAN. That short period was more than enough as Karrigan led FaZe to its best result in all of 2016. The trend continued as the team improved at every event.

By the end of 2016, FaZe looked to be hitting its limit. The team had three reliable fraggers in allu, Håvard “rain” Nygaard and Philip “aizy” Aistrup and a strong supportive staff with Karrigan and Fabien “Kioshima” Fiey. The problem was this concentration of talent wasn’t enough to guarantee the odd championship here and there. We were entering an era of super teams, and seven of them had been assembled prior to and after the ELEAGUE Major.

FaZe needed a superstar who could consistently match anyone on any day on any map. Separately, in early February, Inferno was reintroduced into the map pool. Last time it had symbolized allu’s retreat from top tier competitive play. Was the reintroduction coincidence or fate? Whatever the case, allu and his team entered the heavyweight division just as they found the missing piece to their conundrum.

Nikola “NiKo” Kovac joined FaZe two weeks later. With his signing, they became the eighth super team of 2017. The last time allu was on a team with this much potential to win was the old NiP. FaZe showed some of that potential at its LAN event. With a great group stage performance and a 2-0 victory against Immortals, they made the finals of IEM Katowice. But victory wasn’t meant to be. Allu tasted defeat in the finals for a sixth time at the hands of Astralis.

With one month to prepare, FaZe began the Starladder i-League 3 Finals with a portentous lack of form. The group stage was a mess as they barely scraped by with a 3-2 record. They were then paired up against G2, one of the most anticipated super teams in terms of roster. Based on form alone, G2 seemed to have the upper hand as all their members were performing at their peak. Meanwhile, FaZe owed their quarterfinals appearance solely thanks to NiKo’s strong back.

The first map of their best-of-three was Inferno. After a rough battle in the opening rounds where G2 and FaZe traded force-buy wins, FaZe eventually stabilized. The team looked completely different from the group stage as now everyone had woken up. Allu proved to be the leading man and destroyed G2 with 28 kills in 23 rounds. It was a masterful performance and a crucial turning point in FaZe’s fortunes, as they ended up winning the series 2-1. They then went through the semifinals with a strong 2-0 win against HellRaisers.

With that victory, allu headed into the seventh premier tournament final of his career. Among all of the ones he attended, this one mirrored his first the most. When NiP made it to the finals of Katowice in 2015, it felt like nothing else but destiny could explain their journey. When FaZe made it to the finals of Starladder last week, they had also done the inexplicable. Somehow they had won every pistol round in the tournament except one.

Both finals coincidentally occurred during periods highly touted as the most difficult in CS history. Katowice 2015 was in the middle of what many considered to be the most competitive era of CS:GO. Fnatic ruled the world throughout most of 2015 but held onto that spot by the slightest margin. EnvyUs, TSM, Virtus.Pro and others threatened to unseat them at every event. Last week’s event was played in what many consider the new zenith of pro play, as so many high-level teams have formed with the goal to win championships.

At Katowice 2015, NiP fell to Fnatic in the finals. That version of Fnatic earned the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) distinction and is remembered as the shining star of that era. At Starladder, FaZe faced Astralis in the determining series. Astralis was arguably one tournament win away from securing this era as its own. Astralis had taken second at ELEAGUE Season 2, won ECS Season 2, won the ELEAGUE Major, finished top four at DreamHack Las Vegas and won IEM Katowice. They were undisputedly the best team in the world heading into the StarLadder finals.

Both finals went down to Inferno as the deciding map. Both NiP and FaZe went down early against their opponents. NiP was down 11-4 by the half; FaZe was down 10-5.

It was the 25th round in Game 3. Fnatic led 15-9, one round win away from taking the Major. Fnatic lost the previous round after allu hit the opening pick and couldn’t overcome the subsequent 4-v-5. This time Fnatic were on a force-buy and decided to hit the B bombsite. Pronax went down early, but Fnatic traded him for three NiP members. It was all up to allu and GeT_RiGhT. Allu forced the 2-v-4 retake as he picked off three opponents and GeT_RiGhT finished off the fourth.

It was the 25th round of FaZe vs Astralis, Game 3 on Inferno to decide it all. Astralis led 14-10. FaZe managed to save one AWP and handed it over to NiKo. They force-bought around the AWP and NiKo found an opening pick to slow down Astralis’ T-side plans. Astralis tried to do a double fake, but they lost dupreeh to Kioshima. The rest of the team attempt an execute onto the B-site, where Allu critically killed two to secure the round.

Here is where the stories diverge. At IEM Katowice, allu’s heroics failed to stifle the Fnatic machine, and NiP eventually lost the game. At StarLadder finals, FaZe used his stellar play to energize the entire team. Whereas NiP ceded the series under Fnatic’s onslaught, FaZe battled back and forced overtime.

This is where allu got his second chance. In the most competitive era of CS:GO, against the strongest team in the world, he found a way to rewrite history. In the second round of overtime, Astralis tried to hit the A bombsite with a five-man rush. Allu stopped the execute cold with two opening kills to secure the round. In the final round of overtime on their T-side, allu got flashed into Banana and finds the pick onto dev1ce. That forced a large rotation from Astralis as dev1ce was holding the B site alone. Karrigan read the movement and FaZe slowed down; Kioshima sniped the remaining player on A and they ran back to secure the round.

Two years ago, allu’s introduction to the upper echelon of CS ended in heartbreak when NiP capitulated in the finals of IEM Katowice. Two years later, allu’s team ends a tournament in exultation as FaZe takes the finals of StarLadder.

The story of allu begins on Inferno. It is his home map, the one where we see his strengths as a player. He is great at hitting shots at mid-range from Arch; he loves to push the tight corners and challenge anyone foolish enough to challenge him. He will consistently leave his team in advantageous situations with the first pick off. But no single man makes a team alone. Fallen once said, “Players win maps, teams well-made take trophies.” No matter what level allu performed at, he needed a team, a lineup where he could fit in.

For years, he failed to find the appropriate team. The legendary NiP lineup was an aging beast. They were set in their ways, and that combination plus allu wasn’t enough to hoist the trophy. After he left NiP, allu was unable to make a significant dent when he returned back to Finland on ENCE. It was only here on FaZe, with outcast stars from five different countries, that allu found the team. This was the team that could elevate him as a player, and he in turn elevated them as a team. It’s fitting then that once allu found his team, his home map returned to the map pool.

It has been seven years since a Finnish player won a tournament in Counter-Strike. It took allu seven tries before he could finally win the final of a premier event. This victory is a landmark step for FaZe as a team and allu as a player. The story started on Inferno and now it ends with allu finding long sought redemption. And so the story will begin once again, but this time it will not be about absolution. This time, we will see how far allu and FaZe can go to become the world’s best team. The first chapter of allu’s story has ended. The second has just begun.

Cover photo courtesy of DreamHack/illustration by Slingshot


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