Fnatic and NiP have divergent ways of roster construction, and both will be tested this year

Ninjas in Pyjamas and Fnatic are the two greatest lineups in CS:GO history. Both dominated their respective eras and were widely acknowledged as the best teams in the world. They found unique paths to retain their supremacy during their eras — moreso Fnatic when taking its challengers into account. What is perhaps the most intriguing aspects of both rosters is the opposing philosophies by which they decided to deal with roster shuffling. On the surface, both rosters have stuck with the same core four lineups, but the motives behind the changes couldn’t be more opposite. Those rationales were influenced by the successes each team had when they were the best in the world.

The original NiP lineup was Patrick “f0rest” Lindberg, Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund, Adam “friberg” Friberg, Richard “Xizt” Landström and Robin “Fifflaren” Johansson. They dominated the first two years of CS:GO as they had f0rest and GeT_RiGhT, the two best players at the end of 1.6, and stuck to their general philosophy from that version of the game. NiP defined the beginning of CS:GO and became one of the most beloved teams in the world. Most telling, they never had to change who the primary star of the team was. Everyone had their specific role and through sticking to them, NiP became hailed as the best.

The original Fnatic lineup that formed the 2014-2015 dynasty was Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer Gustafsson, Freddy “KRiMZ” Johansson, Jesper “JW” Wecksell, Robin “flusha” Rönnquist and Markus “pronax” Wallsten. They dominated one of the most competitive eras ever, which saw perpetual runner-ups in LDLC, Team SoloMid, Virtus.pro, EnVyUs, and many others. Four out of Fnatic’s five players were the primary stars depending on the period or tournament. KRiMZ and JW were the stars in the beginning; Olofmeister later became the best player in the world when KRiMZ retreated from the spotlight and JW lost his confidence on the AWP; flusha was famously known for being fantastic at Majors. Fnatic was one of the most hated top-tier teams in history due to its inhuman resilience. The players didn’t get fazed by underperformance and displayed a casual confidence that bordered on arrogance. As a result, they had no home crowds, no sixth man and for a brief moment in time, they all thought about quitting. Instead, they let the fires of hatred forge them into something more and took the crown for themselves. “If they can not love us, they will respect us,” went the logic. They were never hailed as the best team in the world; they took that title by force and no one could gainsay them.

When NiP slowly fell off, Fifflaren retired and the fifth spot has never been permanently filled. Instead, NiP fell into a routine where it would bring in a fifth player who briefly energized the roster and pulled them out of stagnancy. The team enjoyed a honeymoon period where it was briefly good again, then slowly returned to the mean. After a while, the fifth would be dumped and the cycle restarted

When Fnatic fell off, it replaced pronax with Dennis “dennis” Edman and went on to win six tournaments in a row. Unlike the previous version, this team wasn’t head and shoulders above everyone else. You couldn’t quite explain why they were winning, only that Fnatic could pull off some random bullshit at the most necessary times. Like EnvyUs, Fnatic became infamous for force-buys whenever the opportunity was available; unlike EnvyUs, they pulled off the force-buys with miracle headshots and inexplicable timing. They always came through in critical rounds and proceeded to win. But once olofmeister took a temporary break to treat an injury last April, Fnatic never returned to the same form. He quickly recovered, but the world seemed to have moved on. Fnatic was still an incredible team and reached the finals of ELEAGUE Season 1. But it wasn’t enough, and internal conflict tore the roster apart into two weaker halves, with neither side ever getting even a portion of the success the original roster enjoyed. After months of failure, the team reformed after the ELEAGUE Major.

Comparing the histories of NiP and Fnatic side by side, a strange duality becomes noticeable. NiP became victorious by having GeT_RiGhT and f0rest carry them to trophies, backed by a wonderful supporting cast. Fnatic won it through a combination of shifting stars and incredible teamwork. NiP had multiple chances throughout its history to change the lineup when performance tanked, but they banked their hopes on rediscovering form via changing the fifth player. When Fnatic started to lose, it immediately changed players to find a solution. The main core of NiP has stuck together through thick and thin, both because they believe they can still win as an unit and because of friendship. The only thing keeping Fnatic together was the promise of victory. When that went by the wayside, they imploded; after both sides met disastrous results, they reformed. This team didn’t stick together because of friendship, but because they wanted to win.

NiP magic, Fnatic bullshit. NiP friendship, Fnatic ambition. It’s strange to think that two of the most successful Swedish rosters ever could come to such fundamentally different philosophies on how to approach the game.

In an era of super teams, the community argues whether it is better to stick together as a five-person lineup (like Virtus.Pro) or to shuffle players around in order to find the perfect match. This dilemma is playing out in the Swedish scene with NiP and Fnatic.  We are now headed into an era where these philosophies will be tested to their very limits. There are no easy runs to the finals anymore. Magic and bullshit will not be enough to win a Tier 1 event. This era of CS:GO will be a crucible, and only the strongest will survive. Sweden has assembled its two best teams: it is time to see if they can match this era’s level of competition or be left behind.

Cover photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com

Slingshot senior columnist. StarCraft and CS:GO expert who pushes narratives over numbers.

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