There’s a good reason why the Swedish organization has sometimes been dubbed as the Manchester United of CS:GO – at least when it comes to the majors. Despite the roster changes and the many ebbs and flows inside and outside the org, they have remained the last man standing: the only team that has managed to keep its Legend slot throughout the topsy-turvy period starting from that unlikely win at DreamHack Winter 2013.
Formats, times, prize pools may change, stars may come and go, but one thing seems certain: Fnatic will receive an invite to the next CS:GO major. No other team has managed to equal the astonishing accomplishment of getting to the final round of every Valve showpiece event to date – FACEIT London will be lucky number thirteen later this year –, not to mention the fact that the organization also tops the medal table with three wins, a silver and two bronze medals. They weren’t always winning line-ups, they didn’t always get far, sometimes they were just a mangled mess as part of roster rules, but they always seemed to find a way. There are only seventeen players who were present at every major so far – a number which could conceivably drop down to twelve by the time the next one rolls around. Somehow, by hook or by crook, Fnatic always found at least three of these names to be a part of their rosters when the big payday was coming up.
Four and a half years ago in Jönköping, a phenomenon was born. Counter-Strike’s long and storied history was never in doubt, but CS:GO itself had fairly wobbly beginnings, and the first major dedicated to the game turned out to be a watershed moment which kickstarted of the scene’s rapid and glorious growth.
It all began with an upset. Everyone knows the hero and the villain of this particular story, but most of the supporting cast has faded into obscurity by now. Scrolling down the list of the participants is not just a trip down memory lane but more akin to getting a glimpse of the TARDIS in action: it’s a testament to the open and dynamic nature of the CS:GO that only five of the sixteen organizations are still active in the scene today. Two teams were towering over the field: Ninjas in Pyjamas, still close to the top of their powers, in a time when their infamous 87-0 map streak wasn’t just an interesting statistic or an anecdote, but very recent history. That never-to-be-replicated performance came between August 2012 and April 2013 – only half a year before the first major.
The other titan of the scene was, well, not yet called Titan, but it was essentially the same elite line-up that would later join the ill-fated French organization, competing under the VeryGames banner at the time. They were the perennial second-best that could somehow never deliver against GeT_RiGhT and his merry men, and their brawl in the semis seemed like the textbook example of an early final. NiP triumphed in the clash once more after another trademark comeback on the first map, and the rest really seemed like a formality.
Enter pronax. It was the first of the Swedish IGL’s three major triumphs, this being perhaps the most impressive of them all. A massive comeback from 12-3 on Dust 2 seemed like a glitch in the Matrix as basically everyone had this locked down as a straightforward 2-0 win for the Ninjas, and NiP’s swift 16-6 crackdown on Inferno felt like a harbinger of things to come. Turns out was anything but: Train was a massacre, but in the complete opposite way than how it was expected to be. 16 to 2 – cue bedlam.
ESL One Katowice was next, and you could argue that it was perhaps more representative of the roster’s strength as it only got out of the group in second place – losing their first match to Reason Gaming and successfully taking revenge on them in the decider match –, falling to LGB eSports in the quarter-finals. Their opponents fielded KRiMZ, olofmeister, dennis, twist and cype in their close 2-1 victory. Do any of these names ring a bell?
By the time the third major rolled around, the first two were a part of the Fnatic line-up after LGB’s implosion, replacing znajder (AKA schneider at the time) and Devilwalk who picked up a coaching position instead, making Fnatic one of the first orgs to establish such a role on a regular basis. 16-7 over iBUYPOWER and an overtime win against previous major winners Virtus.pro marked an excellent start, followed by wins against Na’Vi and Team Dignitas in the knockout rounds. Once again, it was NiP that stood between them and the trophy, and the original titans of Sweden managed to avenge their defeat nine months ago, taking an extremely close and supremely entertaining three-map series.
The story of ESL One Cologne 2014 will always revolve around the infamous boost on Overpass that seemed to be the spark of yet another infamous comeback from Fnatic but quickly led to petitions and a public relations disaster, eventually leading to the Swedes forfeiting the series against their main rivals in the competition. They could have perhaps had an eaiser route if they hadn’t dropped the first-place seed with a 14-16 loss to HellRaisers on Mirage – whose roster featured Dosia, markeloff and s1mple at the time – but their next Legend spot was never in doubt as they swiftly dispatched Cloud9 and absolute minnows Bravado Gaming. Still, this major was all about the success of the French shuffle in the end: the Fnatic story had to take a step back for the time being.
Hear me roar
At this stage, majors were coming thick and fast: three in 2014 and another trio the next year led to a bit of fatigue, perhaps at least partially due to Fnatic’s growing domination of the scene. ESL One Katowice was a bloodbath: they they only dropped a single map in the final to NiP, and no one even managed to get a double-digit score against them until VP forced them to overtime on Cobblestone in the semi-finals, only to subsequently lose 16-8 on Mirage as well. ESL One Cologne was the next one in August and the title holders had a minor change to deal with: Devilwalk walked, and vuggo came in as a coaching replacement. Again, they only dropped a single map, but there were more close calls this time around: two 16-2 wins saw them advance from the group stage, then one of their many infamous battles against the then-Luminosity line-up ended in a 2-0 in the quarterfinals as they barely clinched the second map with a 16-14 score.
In the semis, they had to bounce back from a 16-6 trashing on Mirage by Virtus.pro by making an incredible comeback from 13-8 on Inferno and then easily closing it out on Cobblestone. Again, the final gave us another phoenix-like performance by the Swedes who had to claw their way back from 12-6 on Dust2 against EnVyUs – and once more, their opponents crumbled after dropping such a massive advantage, making it yet another 16-7 affair on the map with the castle. Once again, Fnatic’s flag was rising high.
It was an incredible event, and it seems clear in retrospect that the chasing pack was getting ever closer. At Cluj-Napoca, Luminosity Gaming managed to finish ahead of them in the group, and Team EnVyUs got their revenge in the quarterfinals in a 2-1 affair, taking the third map in dominating fashion and a 16-2 scoreline. Once more, Fnatic failed to finish first in their group and promptly lost to the eventual winner in the first knockout round. Still, the Legend spot was yet gain secured, but an era has ended: ESL Cologne 2015 was the last major to be won by Fnatic to this day and also their last final appearance ever since. Pronax decided it was time to go after their failure to retain their title – still being the only IGL with three major titles to his name –, and a much different story began for the Swedish line-up. Of course, a perhaps even more impressive period of dominance would follow before their fall from grace.
Success and failure are both elusive and relative qualities. While it’s certainly true that Fnatic’s major dominance ended just before the events’ prize pool was quadrupled, it’s a testament to both the players’ skill and the organizations’s management that they didn’t completely fall off the wagon after they ceased to be the top dog – looking at most of the other major winners, this is quite a feat in and of itself.
The departure of pronax triggered a long-running IGL issue in the line-up, which still persists to some extent – Golden seemed like a permanent solution, but it seems like personal difficulties forced him out of the role recently. He arrived almost two and a half years after the triple-major winner’s departure: the results between those events saw Fnatic once again conquer the world and also fall into disarray.
The acquisition of dennis, olofmeister’s former teammate from G2 was a masterstroke. The team was dripping with individual skill and their raw ability carried them to six straight LAN wins that is one of, if not the most impressive periods of domination in the pro circuit to date. We will never really know what could have happened at the Columbus major if the team was firing on all cylinders. As it was, with olofmeister’s unannounced wrist injury, they finished second behind a Team Liquid line-up featuring s1mple in the groups due to a double overtime defeat and went out with a whimper against Astralis in the quarter-finals. They were getting found out and raw skill was no longer enough to carry the day.
Olofmeister’s temporary replacement was PlesseN, a player who failed to light the world on fire, then wenton, who also failed to make a lasting impact. 2015’s best player would return by ELEAGUE Season 1, leading the Swedes to a final appearance, eventually losing to Virtus.pro. Meanwhile, they finished second yet again in their group at the Cologne major behind SK Gaming, eventually losing in a massive 2-0 upset to Team Liquid in the semi-finals. Still, 16-7 and 16-9 map wins in the group stage decider meant that they have yet again easily secured their Legend spot and with it, the invite to the next major. Of course, things weren’t that simple: initially, their massive shuffle with GODSENT meant that they would lose their invitation after trading away flusha, JW and KRiMZ, but a set of mutual mediocre displays and some impressive contractual kerfuffle eventually led to the latter’s return in place of Lekr0, bringing the Legend spot with him.
Navigating the treacherous waters of the unseeded best-of-one Swiss system is never easy, but Fnatic successfully recovered after an early loss to G2, taking down Gambit yet again in the quarter-finals, then losing to Astralis in the semis. In what seemed to be a mirror of their previous triumphs, an overtime defeat on the first map led to a swift 16-5 collapse on the second. The Danes would, of course, go on to beat Virtus.pro in the final in extremely close fashion. Despite the decent result, Fnatic opted to re-create the line-up that terrorized LAN events at the end of 2015 - unfortunately, that turned out to be a dead end. The disappointing performance at PGL Kraków marked the end of this particular line-up as they barely made it out from the group stages with a 3-2 record in the “upset major”, losing the very next round to the eventual winners in the form of Gambit. Notably, only two teams managed to hold onto their Legend status in Boston: Fnatic was, of course, one of them as they started to integrate Golden and Lekr0 in the place of olofmeister and dennis, relying on a 3-2 scoreline once again to squeak into the Agganis Arena.
Top dogs came and went, and Fnatic hasn’t rediscovered the magic formula since their last period of domination at the end of 2015. Still, they are basically ever-present in the latter stages of the tournaments, even if it took them two years to finally win another title – infamously, their recent two triumphs at IEM Katowice and WESG yielded more winnings than their incredible run of form in the earlier years combined –, and despite the fact that Xizt’s shoehorning into the line-up at the expense of Golden’s IGL role doesn’t seem to be paying dividends so far, rest assured that they will be there or thereabouts one again. History has proven that Fnatic and the CS:GO majors are much like Rafael Nadal and clay: never to be separated from one another.