On Monday, the 21st of February, there was outrage in the CS:GO community as reports started coming out that Fnatic benched their AWPer smooya. Even though smooya is a polarizing player, to say the least, Fnatic fans were baffled about the decision to bench him. After an excellent start to his career with Fnatic, the brits performances started to worsen, ending in a 9th - 12th finish at IEM Katowice.
Fnatic decided to replace smooya in-house, bringing Iulian “regali” Harjău from their academy team. I have been following regali since his days in the Romanian CS:GO scene. He was an up and coming player for a young and ambitious team called Game Agents. Sadly, this Org moved out of the Romanian scene after many of their players got poached by other groups. After the team disbanded, regali was picked up by the newly formed Fnatic Rising. In his first tournament with the Fnatics academy team, he scored an impressive 1.25 rating and eventually finished 3rd in the We Play Academy league season 1. His performances dipped a bit after the tournament, but he consistently put up good numbers for Fnatic Rising, and now he gets his chance at playing Tier 1 CS.
Historically Romanian players never made it to the top of the CS:GO scene as they did in other esports like League of Legends. The closest one would be iM, who is playing for GamerLeagion and actually doing quite well. Fnatic showed with smooyas benching that they want immediate results and are not after rebuilding. This situation does not really fit regali as he is 19, and it is his first time playing in the first tier of CS. You could see that he bit off more than he could chew when he subbed in for Jackinho at the Elisa Invitational Fall in late 2021. He only played two maps but put in an abysmal 0.88 rating. The trouble with regali is that he can't concentrate fully on CS:GO because he is in his last year of high school. I doubt you can fit in a professional CS career by studying for your finals and working on a university degree. I don't doubt his commitment to the team and desire to make the most out of this opportunity. I hope that Fnatic doesn't throw him in the academy after one RMR tournament. To bring in another short-term replacement, they realize that they have a very talented young AWPer who, with the support of the coaching staff and the resources that Fnatic has at its disposal, can become one of their best players.
There were reports that the Team didn't really gel with smooya on the roster. It seems that the clashing personalities of him and IGL Alex and the general shyness of the rest of the team got in the way of success. After losing the first open qualifier to AVE, Fnatic is now looking to qualify for the first RMR event in Europe. These open qualifiers might be a good opportunity for regali to settle in the starting roster and build morale for the whole team. They will come up against significantly worse teams, at least initially. They will also be competing in the ESL Pro League Season 15 in early March. Their group is harder ones containing teams like NIP, MOUZ and G2. It will definitely be an uphill battle for Fnatic to qualify to the latter stages, but this might be a good thing, too, as being the underdog with relatively low expectations is always easier than being expected to win.
It is hard to predict what comes next for Fnatic; it depends on the Organization's patience with regali and their performance in the RMR qualifiers. I think it is a good and cheap replacement option for smooya. If this succeeds, we might see more teams adopting the Academy system, as more and more talents are making the step up to the starting line-ups and performing well. Examples include bit, monesy and torszi, but many more are just waiting to be discovered. This might be the beginning of teams building their players in their own academy instead of acquiring already proven talent.