The rise and fall of the Fnatic Empire

An empire long divided must unite. An empire long united must divide. Thus it has always been.” – Mao Lun

From June 2014 to Nov. 12, 2015, the greatest CS:GO lineup roamed the earth. The roster consisted of Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer Gustafsson, Freddy “KRiMZ” Johansson, Jesper “JW” Wecksell, Robin flusha Rönnquist and Markus pronax Wallsten. No CS:GO team in history was as hated as this version of Fnatic. Fans flamed them for their “boring” domination of the scene. Accusations of cheating abounded. The infamous boost at DreamHack Winter painted them as villains. Even in Sweden they had no home-country advantage.

Likewise, no CS:GO team in history has forced as much grudging respect as this version of Fnatic. When they hailed themselves as the greatest team to ever play the game, no one contradicted them. How could they? Fnatic built an empire on the fans’ shattered dreams. They claimed all their trophies and results through right of conquest. By the time the lineup was finished, it had accomplished the following:

2 Major titles

13 International titles

18 International finals

24 International top 4s

26 International top 8s

More than a year later, the reverberations of Fnatic’s collapse can still be felt in the CS:GO scene. No other lineup assembled in its wake could match its greatness, not even the teams built around the cores of this lineup. With the greatest lineup in history split across two teams, the ELEAGUE Major has potential to be the battleground of a Swedish Civil War among the empire that once ruled the earth. To understand the enormity of history behind their names, we have to start at the beginning.

An Empire long divided must unite

The powerhouse Fnatic would become formed from two cores, Epsilon’s Swedish team and the first version of LGB. The former, which consisted of flusha, JWonderchild, Andreas “MODDII” Fridh, Jonathan “Devilwalk” Lundberg, and Andreas “schneider” Lindberg, had broken away from Epsilon on peaceful terms and was calling itself SY_b as it searched for another organization. (This was actually the second incarnation of Swag, yolo and bitches, which demands a retrospective article for entertainment’s sake. Suffice to say schneider and flusha were present for both versions, and the original squad was the first team to beat Ninja in Pyjamas online.)

Fnatic signed the entire team in the summer of 2013 after parting with its Danish squad a mere month before; in a bizarre twist of fate, MODDII found himself on the same team he had left for Epsilon a week prior to the rest of his teammates’ release. JW and flusha were considered online warriors at the beginning of the year but slowly proved themselves through the latter half of 2013. The initial team didn’t gel due to the lack of a strong leader, and Fnatic eventually added pronax to replace MODDII. Pronax had been a respected in-game leader in CS 1.6 but never reached the upper echelons of competition, as his star players were constantly poached. According to flusha, the introduction of pronax brought in a big motivational boost, structured practice and a dedicated in-game leader. This culminated in a surprise victory at the first CS:GO Major, DreamHack Winter 2013, where the team rose the trophy.

The other core was LGB, a forgettable Swedish team that employed players who later became stars. LGB had players like olofmeister, KRiMZ, Simon “twist” Eliasson and Dennis “dennis” Edman. They were a run-and-gun team based on individual skill that reached the quarterfinals of DreamHack Winter 2013; in the following Major, they defeated Fnatic in the quarterfinals before losing to Virtus.Pro in the semifinals. By May 2014, the players left LGB and played under the moniker TEAMGLOBAL.

The key moment that brought these two cores together came about in DreamHack Summer 2014. Fnatic failed to reach the playoffs after losing to SK Gaming in an elimination match. It served as the catalyst for change. Fnatic realized it needed firepower. In a move that had profound impact on the CS:GO scene, Fnatic snatched up olofmeister and KRiMZ in a signing Tomi lurppis Kovanen retroactively dubbed “the heist of the century.”

Choosing olofmeister was a no brainer, but KRiMZ didn’t stand out during his tenure on LGB. He was a support player who helped facilitate the stars. Furthermore, it was olof’s recommendation that secured KRiMZ a spot on Fnatic, and his future teammates didn’t have much initial faith in him. Pronax thought twist was the better candidate; Flusha and JW were more convinced that the fifth should be a passive player that filled the roles (they suggested Martin cENTRYZ Brandal). Olofmeister was adamant, though, and told them KRiMZ was the best team player he had ever played with.

Photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com

Photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com

 

Domination

This was the perfect five man mix at the perfect time. KRiMZ became the bedrock of the team and proved olofmeister’s judgment correct. His synergy with olofmeister has become legendary, and he was the main star of the team at the end of 2014. JW was the insane aggressive AWPer who could take even more risks because of how well the team played around his aggression. He consistently pulled out strong performances in big games and was the other star in Fnatic’s early part of their career.

From March 2015 onwards, olofmeister became the world’s strongest player and one of the best in Counter-Strike history. He could — and did — do anything. He was simultaneously one of the best riflers and one of the best AWPers. His pistols were out of this world; at times, Fnatic sometimes paused in a game, and the only necessary adjustment was having Olofmeister buy a deagle in the next eco. Flusha was the fourth and became known as a big tournament player. More specifically, he was a Major tournament player. He rose to peak form at every Major and his sheer game sense often became the deciding factor.

This was all under the leadership of pronax’s structure. He was one of the best leaders at making mid-round calls and added a little bit of extra impact that could secure Fnatic a critical round in an important game. The Fnatic squad was a perfect balance of aggressive and passive roles and was the single best squad at team play.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Fnatic’s reign was that the team was constantly challenged and never failed to overcome all of them. Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans led teams that were the bane of pronax’s existence. Olofmeister was the best in the world, but even he admitted that he was afraid of Kenny “kennyS” Schrub. In addition to them, the LDLC/EnVyUS French squad constantly challenged them for a shot as the world’s No. 1 but was constantly smashed like a baguette against a desk.

Other top teams continued to challenge Fnatic: NiP magic, the Virtus.Plow and the rise of TSM as a championship contender. In a time when Fnatic was hated for being a boring winner, fans were desperate to crown any team that could usurp the Swedes. It is a testament to Fnatic’s dominance that they were the undisputed No. 1 for a large majority of their run.

Three Minutes

Incredible players, team play, maps, composure — there are multiple reasons why Fnatic was the greatest team its era. But if there was one tournament run that could distill the very essence of what made Fnatic unique, it was the victory at the ESL Cologne 2015 Major.

In the playoffs, Fnatic had to play Luminosity, Virtus.Pro and EnVyUs. The match that always stands out is the second map against Virtus.Pro on inferno. Game 1 had been a blowout, with the Poles winning in emphatic fashion. They were in pure plow mode, that special moment of peak power where VP appeared as if nothing in the world could stop them from claiming the trophy.

Well, almost nothing. In the latter stages of Map 2, Virtus.Pro looked set to win. The score was 13-8 in VP’s favor and Fnatic had yet to win a round on CT side. It felt like Fnatic would be overthrown, and at that moment, they took a legendary pause. In those three minutes, Fnatic got a chance to find what was wrong, figure out a solution and talk about what to do next.

They said nothing. They only recomposed themselves and remembered what they were. One map and five rounds down, only three rounds away from elimination. Only two rounds to give. That proved more than enough. Once the game resumed, Fnatic adjusted perfectly and put in the right amount of aggression to keep Virtus.Pro from completely taking the map. Fnatic made the triumphant comeback and closed out the game on the 30th round, 16-14. They went on to win the third map and then played EnVyUs in the finals. They repeated the feat on the first map, taking a pause when down 14-7 before winning 19-15.

Those moments showed what Fnatic embodied during its period of dominance: Victory. That was their everything. Nothing else mattered. Fans and organizers love to talk about the “sixth” man effect of the crowd, how they can increase the pressure of a match or give teams momentum. If you believe that, then you also have to admit Fnatic was the most clutch team to ever exist in CS:GO. They were the away team in every tournament and stadium they played in. Fans reviled them. And yet, Fnatic never blinked and won enough gold to fill up Fort Knox. Fnatic was, in a sense, the purest distillation of competition. Nothing mattered except victory. Neither the fans, nor love, nor hate, nor money, nor the story mattered. All that mattered was who was the best on that day, and none proved it as many times as Fnatic.

The word Fnatic became a tautology for the way they won. NiP had magic, Virtus.Pro had the plow and Fnatic won because…Fnatic. They won because that was who they were. Flusha put it best when he asked lurppis, “Why should we stop winning more?”

The greatest StarCraft II player of all time, Jung “Mvp” Jong Hyun, put it best when he said “Winners just win.” In CS:GO, there has been no bigger winner than this Fnatic lineup.

The Dennis Era

Competition and victory kept Fnatic’s roster together. They weren’t incredible friends outside of the game, but they understood they needed each other. This squad could accomplish more through professional courtesy than chasing friendship. But that all changed when pronax ran out of motivation. After going out in the quarterfinals at the Cluj-Napoca Major in late 2015, pronax left/was removed from the squad. He cited personal motivation issues and that his fire for competition had run out. So the remaining Fnatic members did what they always did: chased victory.

They replaced pronax with dennis. Although the team changed only one player, it felt a lot different. The structure was more loose than before and relied even more heavily on individual skill and teamwork — two qualities the team had no shortage of. It revitalized olofmeister as the world’s best player and the team went on a six-LAN winning streak before he suffered a wrist injury.

After being eliminated by Astralis in the quarterfinals of the MLG Columbus Major in April, olofmeister temporarily left the roster to recover. After two stand-ins, he returned, but it was never the same. Olofmeister’s injuries might have recovered, but the player who once ruled the world with an iron fist was gone.

Fnatic remained a good team, as it took top four at ESL Pro League Season 3, ECS Season 1 and the Cologne Major. They then followed it up with a second place finish at ELEAGUE Season 1. If this was any other team, such results should have been enough to keep the roster together. But this was Fnatic, and every member of that team believed only in victory.

For them, this was failure. The lack of results, the shuffling of stand-ins and internal conflicts finally blew up, and the Empire collapsed.

Photo courtesy of Turner Sports/ELEAGUE

Photo courtesy of Turner Sports/ELEAGUE

 

An Empire long united must divide

The Fnatic-GODSENT split was one of the most dramatic roster changes of CS:GO history. The initial catalyst was discussion over JW’s future. The vaunted AWPer was not performing up to his 2014 form, and there was serious consideration whether he was a proper fit for the roster anymore. He seemed too timid to embrace his former reckless ways and shied away from the AWP, yet his rifle wasn’t strong enough to cement his place either. The question soon created a fissure separating olofmeister and dennis from JW and flusha. The initial plan was to replace JW alone, but flusha had his own issues. He had become tired of playing for Fnatic and decided to leave.

The swap, which happened in early August,  also boasted one of the oddly antagonistic narratives in memory. GODSENT was established in April as a player-run Swedish organization with the necessary talent to compete with Europe’s best. It was founded by no other than pronax, the former Fnatic linchpin who left because of burn out. Whatever his personal feelings toward his former team, he suddenly had an intriguing opportunity to create his own version of the star squad.

Olofmeister and dennis remained on Fnatic while KRiMZ, flusha and JW went to GODSENT. There they reunited with pronax and znajder (yes, that schneider from Sy_b). Olofmeister and dennis got the remaining players of GODSENT which included Jonas Lekr0 Olofsson and twist. Their fifth was former stand-in John “wenton” Eriksson.

Their initial forays in the competitive scene were disastrous. Fnatic failed to make it out of groups of both ESL One New York and EPICENTER. GODSENT went into freefall as they lacked firepower and KRiMZ was in the worst form of his career. They faced humiliation after humiliation, but KRiMZ had a backup plan. The team had secured their legend spot in the last Major by getting top four. The rules of the Major make it so that, in the case of a split just like this one, the team that had three out of the five players get the Major spot. Because of how the conflict started, KRiMZ got to play kingmaker as he was the only one in the middle.

He then took his ticket to the Major and forced another swap. KRiMZ returned to Fnatic and lekr0 returned to GODSENT. Fnatic replaced wenton with Joakim disco doplan Gidetun. They have been in hibernation ever since. They were forced to use their coach as a stand-in because dennis could not attend ELEAGUE Season 2, and Fnatic was subsequently eliminated in group stages. That was Fnatic’s last LAN of the year.

GODSENT has slowly climbed out of its ditch. After winning the European Minor, GODSENT qualified for the Major by beating G2 on Overpass, Dignitas on Mirage and HellRaisers on Train. It was an impressive performance that demonstrated a strong CT side and the possibility JW is returning to old form.

Thus it has always been

Nearly two and a half years ago, the cores of Fnatic and LGB united to become the greatest lineup CS:GO had ever seen. Now, the LGB team are now the Fnatic squad and the old Fnatic core has moved to GODSENT. Perhaps this was the way things were meant to be. They united out of a sense of ambition. To rule the world. To win. Once that had become impossible, they went their separate ways.

But that special quality that made them the most feared lineup in history lingers. They all have the capability of creating incredible plays and putting on performances that can make the world watch in awe. But this time they will not play as one team, but as two. The empire has ended, and the Swedish Civil War shall begin.

Cover photo by Patrick Strack/ESL, eslgaming.com. Illustration by Slingshot.

Slingshot staff writer. StarCraft and CS:GO expert

Facebook Comments