ESL One Road to Rio has brought along more than its fair share of surprises and upsets so far, with many big-name teams missing out on the playoffs across a variety of regions. Though the transition to online play coupled with the Krieg nerf was definitely more than enough to scramble the playing field, FaZe Clan’s overperformance so far in the tournament warrants a deeper analysis. Has NiKosports 2.0 finally turned a corner, ready to challenge for the top spots, or is this just a false dawn?
The only team with a flawless record at ESL One Road to Rio’s European bracket was the onewith seemingly the most issues from the top ten of the world rankings. FaZe have been stuck in limbo basically ever since the tail end of the karrigan days, and even if you agree that a change was needed, the fact that the star-studded lineup has only managed to win a handful of BLAST events going all the way back to ELEAGUE’s CS:GO Invitational in January 2019 (against BIG, Cloud9 and Complexity) is a dire look for such a project.
And yet, they were the ones who shone the brightest so far on the Road to Rio. Not only that, but their previous showings this calendar year were also promising, reaching the second group stage of ESL Pro League Season 11, giving two good games to eventual winners Na’Vi at IEM Katowice, plus a comprehensive group win at BLAST Premier Spring 2020 without a single map dropped. So what’s happening with this side? Like a submarine approaching the convoy, they snuck up on the field without warning, and now, the wolfpack is loose. Though their uptick has begun on LAN, there’s a good argument to be made that they’re also one of the biggest beneficiaries of the current CS:GO environment, warts and all.
It’s not like we have a choice about the matter right now, but there’s no denying that an online environment has a direct impact on competitive CS:GO. LAN events are almost always considered more prestigious than the ones played from the comfort of one's home, and this is only partially due to psychology. The added concerns and discomfort, the non-stop travel and the higher “maintenance” in general will always take a toll on teams who are new to this kind of an environment or tend to buckle under pressure. By the same token, low pings and uniform machines also help smoothen out any wrinkles in the competitive experience. At the later stages of the tournament, the crowd aspect and the added stakes also help separate the wheat from the chaff, and it’s very different to take a timeout for a piss break in the middle of your FPL-C match compared to doing the same in the middle of a stadium.
These are the aspects most commonly discussed when it comes to the difference between online and LAN play, but it also has a significant impact on the tactics too. The role of the coach becomes very different when they can’t directly screen all five viewpoints at the same time throughout the whole match, and the players themselves also miss out on an easy and straightforward method of gathering information by being unable to simply look at their fellow players’ screen in real time. This also makes it more difficult for hands-on in-game leaders to micromanage their soldiers on the battlefield. It’s not to say that there’s anything on LAN that becomes impossible to do online: rather, the time dilation makes them undesirable and unwieldy in that kind of an environment.
Luckily for FaZe, their tactical setup lends itself quite well to the current situation. An approach focused on calling around your star player – and using him as the IGL of the team – makes it a lot easier to manage these newfound communication barriers and the loss of added information when playing online. There can also be no doubt that the more relaxed nature of playing from home has eased many of the tensions and frustrations of such a prolonged period of underperformance – clearly a part of the uptick in broky’s individual performances, so significant it was more than enough to make up for olofmeister’s prolonged freefall from grace.
The long-awaited Krieg nerf has also benefited the team – and it makes sense considering NiKo was never really willing to embrace the gun the way most other top players have. Notably, FaZe’s other players are all fairly proficient on the AWP, and the removal of the scoped rifle has made it even more convenient to push double-sniper setups for the side. Their Mirage winrate is an eye-popping 90% over the course of the last three months (nine wins and a single 14-16 loss to Vitality), with Nuke and Inferno rounding out their top three. Their win over mousesports also has to be considered a watershed moment: it was their first best-of-three win over their ex-IGL’s side in six attempts, and a convincing one at that.
If there’s any credence to the notion of team identities in CS (where cores are routinely transferred across cores and carry their following with them), like Fnatic’s balls-to-the-walls aggression and mousesports’ rosters built around a rag-tag-group of rejects, FaZe’s tenure in CS:GO has always been about star power and individual prowess on the servers. Pointless experiments with AdreN and NEO have lengthened their time in purgatory, and there’s a good argument to be made that olof will eventually have to follow GuardiaN out the door, but the team’s in as good a place as it’s been in a long while, and they could very well be one of the big winners of how the calendar was scrambled amid the unfortunate global situation.
Photo credit: HLTV