FaZe's PGL Major Antwerp 2022 victory was historic. It was the team's first CS:GO major victory, the first major victory for an international squad, and the first major victory for all the players: Finn “Karrigan” Andersen, Havard "rain" Nygaard, Helvijs "broky" Saukants, Robin "ropz" Kool, and Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken. For Karrigan and Rain it was particularly poignant. The two of them teamed up in 2017 and put international teams onto the map. Together they had a heartbreaking loss at the Eleague Boston Major 2018. They split apart, then later reunited, and have now fulfilled their ambitions of winning a Major five years after they first played together back in 2017.
It feels like ancient history now, but it was only five years ago that Astralis benched karrigan from the line-up. It was the most impactful roster change in CS:GO history as it set Astralis on a course to eventually became the greatest team of all-time and it set Karrigan on a path to change the CS:GO scene as we know it.
If we delineated the CS:GO timeline in terms of general management, this was the turning point. Before the karrigan kick and after the karrigan kick from Astralis. Before the kick, international teams were largely theoretical. There were historic examples in past CS iterations of mixed line-ups working, but they were the exception. National line-ups were the standard and it stayed true for the first half of CS:GO history where national lineups dominated the scene: Swedish Fnatic/NiP squads, Polish Virtus.Pro, French EnVyUs/Titan teams, Danish TSM, and eventually the Brazilian LG/SK line-ups.
Before the kick, the best teams assumed the national model was the best. Karrigan looked around the field and decided that his best shot at the top was to join an international squad. He wanted to prove that he could make it work and said as much to Duncan “Thorin” Shields in a reflections video.
“I want to prove people wrong that you can have an international team with different superstars as long as you have the right set of roles for every player.”
The team he joined was FaZe Clan. FaZe had acquired a mix of left-over international stars from G2 in 2016. They had slowly upgraded the star and firepower during their stay in CS:GO, most notably Rain, Fabien "kioShiMa' Fiey, Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad, and Alkeski "allu" Jalli. FaZe had good firepower, but needed someone that could unite that firepower into a greater whole. Karrigan was that someone. After playing with the team for a few weeks, Karrigan turned FaZe from a team with upset potential to get out of groups into a consistent top 10 team in the world. During this period, Rain was the best player on the team.
In an international line-up, change isn't only inevitable, it is constant. The primary advantage of having a mixed line-up is that you can always swap players in and out due to performance or fit issues as there is a larger pool of players to recruit from.
It is a testament to Rain that in this myriad chaos, Rain has been FaZe's eternal constant. Rain has been there since the beginning and he is there now. His roles have changed. During 2017 he was the star player of the team and showed his versatility as a rifler whether it was as entry, a lurker, or closer. This versatility and willingness to sacrifice for the team made him a perfect partner for karrigan.
Rain slowly moved away from starring roles into more sacrificial and supportive roles as FaZe introduced new players into the squad. The most common role Rain has played for the star-studded lineups was hard entry. From that role, his performance has gone up and down, but even to this day, at age 27, he can be the X-factor that pushes FaZe over the top and be the biggest deciding factor in even the highest staked matches.
Even so, there is a difference between being an X-factor and being a superstar. By the end of 2017, FaZe were a top 10 team, but they needed a superstar, a prodigy that could be the best player on the server on any single day on almost every single day. They needed a Prodigy.
Nikola "NiKo" Kovac is one of the three most talented players to ever play the game. His entrance into FaZe pushed FaZe from a top 10 team into title contenders almost overnight. With no practice, FaZe made the finals of IEM Katowice 2017 and lost to Astralis 1-3.
It was a sensational performance from all of the players and shocked the world. FaZe lost the finals, but they had already proven themselves. Within six months, FaZe had gone from a mediocre team into finals contention. International line-ups had gone from theoretical to reality. This started to create changes within the scene as teams became more open to trying mixed lineups, to bringing in players outside of the normal national lines. This coupled with the online scene allowed a new generation of players from smaller regions to not only compete, but thrive. Players like ropz and Tomas “oskar” Stastny could now find ways to become title winners rather than just brilliant star player stuck outside of the major CS regions.
CS had truly gone global and at the nexus of that change was the core trio of Karrigan, NiKo, and Rain. Not that any of them knew it at the time as they were busy fighting for the world. In 2017, they got into a three way war for the top with SK and Astralis. Everything was going well for FaZe until the PGL Major Krakow where the team bombed out.
This forced changes into the team and at this point FaZe decided to try to break the world. They replaced allu and KioShiMa with Olof "olofmeister" Gustafsson and Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovacs.
This was the most extreme line-up ever assembled in terms of name power. NiKo was one of the greatest prodigies in the game. Olofmeister was the previous number one player who defined an era and while he had come back from injury, he was still a great player. GuardiaN was one of the all-time great AWPers and while not at his prime, he was still one of the best in the world.
It looked like FaZe could break everything. At their first outing in ESL New York 2017, that's exactly what happened as they steamrolled their way through. The firepower was there and the leadership was there, but there was a certain intangible that was missing and could only be seen in high pressure situations.
In the final events of 2017, FaZe lost a few critical finals, one to NiP at Oakland 2-3 and one to SK 1-3 at EPL 6 Finals. There was a certain pressure, perhaps due to the sheer weight of their own names that seemed to make FaZe brittle in the finals. Whenever this FaZe made mistakes, they let those mistakes linger on into future rounds.
This uncertain element popped up twice more. Once in the finals of the Boston Major Finals where Cloud9 pulled a miracle to win the Major and again at the IEM Katowice finals where Fnatic won 3-2. The consecutive close losses were too much. That alongside olofmeister's need to take a hiatus eventually broke up the FaZe line-up as we knew them.
By the end of 2018, everything had fallen apart. NiKo and the team no longer trusted Karrigan to be the in-game leader. At this point FaZe had to pick either the prodigy or the leader. FaZe went with NiKo and Karrigan went to Mouz.
From there, their fortunes changed. FaZe had the superstar but could never find a leader that could replace Karrigan. Rain went so far as to say that, “We should have never kicked him” in an interview with VPEsports.
As for Karrigan, he joined the Mouz project. Mouz was another international line-up in the same vein as FaZe, but more focused on younger star prospects. This culminated in a brilliant run from 2017-2018, but by 2019 they needed to rebuild. In the rebuild they got three young stars with: ropz, David "frozen" Cernansky, and Ozgur "woxic" Eker. With Karrigan at the head, the time started to slowly build back up again and by the end of 2019, Mouz became a consistent title contender as they won EPL 10 Finals, CS Summit 5, and got to the finals of EPICENTER 2019.
Soon after, Covid hit the scene and everything went online. Both FaZe and Mouz had up and downs during this period. The NiKo-centered project ended after G2 acquired NiKo from FaZe and FaZe needed to rebuild. In the rebuild, FaZe acquired Twistzz. So their lineup at the time was: broky, Marcelo “coldzera” David, Twistzz, and Rain.
Both Mouz and FaZe were struggling, but both team had strong firepower with the FaZe players having more experience. In the end, Karrigan decided to go with FaZe. This reunited Karrigan with Rain.
Unlike the other times, the startup of the new FaZe project was hard and the online nature only exacerbated the process. 2021 was largely a stalling year as Coldzera didn't mesh well with Karrigan or FaZe. Eventually, FaZe had to bring back olofmeister where they had a great performance on LAN at IEM Cologne 2017. The final piece that FaZe needed was a versatile superstar player that could balance out Twistzz and broky. FaZe got that player as ropz joined in 2022.
The current FaZe is both similar and divergent from the FaZe Clan of 2017-2018. It is still a skill line-up that plays around it's star players. Outside of NiKo, the firepower here is better than the 2017 line-up with: allu, kioShima, and NiKo, but weaker than the all-star line-up.
On the other hand, the current line-up complements each other better than the all-star line-up. Twistzz and ropz are both adept at playing the lurk and entry styles (I'd say Twistzz is better in the entry, while ropz is better at deep lurks). This allows two strong flanking points for FaZe's T-side as the enemy can't ignore either Twistzz or Ropz. Both players usually play a more passive style so it's hard to punish their play without comitting a lot of resources (nades, time, players) to their positions.
Broky is a stable AWPer with superstar potential. He doesn't have quite as many crazy highs like Tsvetelin “CeRq” Dimitrov, but he can still play at that level. What's more, his standard game is solid, so he's never a liability for his team and when he is feeling it, he can take over the game as the best player on the server.
As none of the three stars are risk-prone, it is usually up to Karrigan and Rain to get the information, create space, and make the riskier plays. Both of them have good impact here. Karrigan's usually at his best on the T-side as a lurker who can read the cracks in the defense and then call the round. Rain takes the most aggressive hard-entry roles, but when he excels he can take over an entire series.
This is largely how we've seen FaZe operate in 2022. Karrigan and Rain make space and the superstars take over. What complicates the issue is that each of the stars is aggressive enough that none of them are predictable. This combined with Karrigan's natural calling style makes the team dangerous. GuardiaN described Karrigan's calling in a Reflections video, “Finn is the kind of leader that makes you play 100%. If you’re a sniper and good at entry-fragging, he will send you wherever you want to go. If I want to go pick B on Mirage, he will somehow know how to create a tactic on this call.”
The versatility, mechanics, and all-around skills of each of the players enables Karrigan’s mid-round calling. Karrigan gets massive flexibility in how he wants to setup and call the rounds. In the 2018 line-up, he had a lot of star players, but their best bet was to try to enable NiKo and GuardiaN.
Perhaps the biggest difference between this FaZe Clan and the previous ones is the mental makeup of the team. In an HLTV interview, Karrigan commented that,
“I don't think the old [FaZe 2018] team would have survived some of the rounds we threw at the Major. With the old lineup, we were overthinking stuff, and that’s something that RobbaN and I learned from those losses.”
“It may seem contradictory, but, in my experience, letting go of winning encourages victory.” - Daigo Umehara, from the Will to Keep Winning.
The Eleague Boston Major Finals 2018 was a great finals, but in the end it felt like FaZe had fallen to the pressure. Outside of GuardiaN (who had a historically great performance), none of the stars played to their expected level. FaZe couldn't figure out how to exploit Cloud9's banana control and while GuardiaN kept them alive, Cloud9 won the majority of the big moments that swung the game.
That iteration of FaZe had problems in the finals. That problem doesn't apply at all to ropz, broky, or Twistzz as none of them were a part of those finals, but it does apply to Karrigan and Rain. Both players were pivotal in FaZe's run here, so what changed?
For Karrigan, he told HLTV, “By telling myself I might never get a Major it just made me realize that I can win all the other tournaments and just make them as important as a Major”. This let Karrigan be a lot freer in his calling and playing, which in turn let him play at a higher level.
As for Rain, he played with a chip on his shoulder. When FaZe won IEM Katowice, Justin "jks" Savage had to stand-in for Rain during the play-offs due to Covid. FaZe won the tournament, but this also spawned a lot of comments about replacing Rain with another player. Rain took it personally, “"[I have] some extra motivation from all the hate I got, especially after Katowice. All of these people saying -rain +whatever, that was the motivation for me to play better.”
This change in mental attitude showed up throughout the tournament and in the final games against Na`Vi. On Inferno for instance, you can see karrigan adjusting his banana defense as the map draws to a close. In the 29th round, Karrigan and Rain take b early and this lets the team stack 4 on A which put Karrigan in position to get a 3k and end the round. On the 30th, they did a really aggressive pinch on ramp to break apart Na`Vi's round before it started.
As for Nuke, it was a showcase from Rain as he stomped Na`Vi into the ground. That was the map that clinched his MVP trophy as he completely dominated Na`Vi on yard and had a singularly great 23rd round where he and FaZe outplayed Na`Vi on a half buy.
It was a long five year journey. It started in 2017 when Karrigan and Rain joined forces for the first time. That move kicked off the start of international teams in CS:GO. Five years later, mixed squads are commonplace. In their first run together, they were always on the precipice of winning a Major and that culminated in the Boston Finals. After losing that finals and the dissolution of that FaZe line-up, it seemed possible that neither of them could win a Major. Karrigan's Mouz missed their timing window when they were a top team, FaZe without Karrigan was never good enough to make a run. Finally after all of this time, the ups and downs, FaZe has won a Major. This is an incredible achievement for broky, TwistZz, and ropz as it could be the first of many for the star trio. For Karrigan and Rain, this Major victory will always be special. For Karrigan, it is a capstone to a career. The only missing achievement for a player who was arguably the greatest leader for all-time before the Major began. For Rain it was just as meaningful. After the community had written him off, he came roaring back at 27 as the MVP of PGL Antwerp.
The Major has been won and now both players will push to see how much more they can add to their legacy before their time runs out.