April 21, 2022
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The qualification circuit for the upcoming Counter-Strike Major is still going on. Yet, we already have plenty of results to discuss. From Evil Geniuses failing to qualify to 9z and Eternal Fire coming for their first Majors ever, a lot has happened in the past weeks. However, one major development will certainly get more attention than others. FNATIC has failed to qualify for another Major. PGL Major Antwerp will be the third Valve Major without the orange-organization taking part in it.

Now, while FNATIC has been through some highs and lows through their incredibly long history in Valve’s FPS franchise, this slump is one of a kind. Since the second half of 2019, the organization failed to host a consistently good roster. It doesn’t help that Maikil “Golden” Selim roster was critically impacted by the pandemic back in 2020. Still, even now, with an almost completely different team, FNATIC is still struggling, and their future is unclear.

Nonetheless, FNATIC missing another Major is a big blow to their fanbase, and it deserves to be discussed. So, let’s look back at what happened to the team since they failed to qualify for Stockholm last year to this point, as well as what are their options for the future.

HITTING THE BOTTOM

Summer, 2021. FNATIC hit a new low. The team failed to qualify for the yearly IEM Cologne event, a first in the organization’s history. In an historic move, the organization decided to go international during the player break then and brought in two players from England while replacing Golden and legendary player Jesper “JW” Wecksell. These players were Alexander “ALEX” McMeekin and William “mezii” Merriman, from Endpoint, although most known for their time at Team Vitality and Cloud9, respectively.

Initially, the results weren’t great, but the biggest issue within that roster was easily identifiable. Jack “Jackinho” Ström Mattsson wasn’t working in ALEX’ system, and as an AWPer, he was impacting the team too much for the to become real contenders. A glimpse of hope would come at ESL Pro League Season XIV, though, as FNATIC managed to survive a group with Natus Vincere, MOUZ and FaZe. They were eliminated in their first match at the playoffs, but the improvements were already being seen by then.

Unfortunately, FNATIC were in their way for the biggest blow the organization would take in quite a while. FNATIC qualified for IEM Fall 2021, the final RMR event for the then upcoming Stockholm Major, by beating Eternal Fire. Yet, the team got demolished in the actual event. ALEX and his teammates ended IEM Fall in last place after losing all their five matches in the group stage. With that result, FNATIC hopes of attending a Major in 2021 were gone.

CLIMBING UP

After being eliminated from IEM Fall 2021, and consequently, from the Major, another roster move was in the workings. Jackinho was benched from FNATIC, and the organization tried out two players afterwards. Owen “smooya” Butterfield attended the qualifier circuit for IEM Winter with ALEX, and he was a standout. The Brit brought some much-needed firepower for the team, and FNATIC finally seemed to have found the player they were searching for.

Still, FNATIC also gave a chance to their academy player Iulian “regali” Harjău, too. Unfortunately, regali wasn’t quite ready to step-up back at Elisa Invitational Fall, and by mid-October, FNATIC announced that smooya entered the team in a trial basis. With their new AWPer, FNATIC became a mostly British team for their first time in Global Offensive, and for the first time in a while, the team’s future wasn’t bleak.

From October through the end of 2021, a series of good results would be achieved by FNATIC’s British team. Not only they qualified for IEM Winter 2021 and DreamHack Open November, but they also won two events in a row: the aforementioned DH Open November, and REPUBLEAGUE Tipos Season 2. While these saw FNATIC mostly facing lower tier teams from the European scene, it’s important to remember that in the past months, FNATIC wasn’t even able to do that.

To close off the year, FNATIC went to IEM Winter 2021. IEM was that roster’s first LAN, and while they didn’t win it, their performance there was commendable. The team failed to beat Gambit in their opening match but eliminated ENCE and BIG afterwards. In the final match of their group, FNATIC pushed Gambit but ultimately was unable to keep up. Still, putting a fight against the second-best team in the world back then was an accomplishment.

NEW YEAR, NEW HURDLES

After closing 2021 in good spirits, FNATIC was expected to reach even higher highs in 2022. Unfortunately, though, ALEX and his team failed to do so after a disappointing last-place finish at their first showing of the year and an incredibly disappointing match against a weaker-than-usual Astralis. Next on their schedule was the playoffs stage of Pinnacle Winter Series, and FNATIC got immediately eliminated by Apeks then.

There were various speculations made by the community as to why FNATIC wasn’t on the same level they were back in 2021. Owen, their AWPer entered a slump possibly due to personal reasons, for one. While one player going through a slump might not seem big enough to justify a series of underperformances, Owen was their AWPer, again. Just like Jackinho held FNATIC down in the past Summer, the same could happen here.

In any case, Counter-Strike wouldn’t wait for FNATIC to figure themselves, and the first premier offline tournament of 2022 was in the horizon. IEM Katowice, as always, is the one event earlier in the year that no team wants to miss, and FNATIC had to show some good things then. And while they weren’t perfect, they fared well.

KATOWICE, WHERE DREAMS BECOME REALITY, AND PLAYERS ARE KICKED MID-TOURNAMENT

FNATIC started Katowice with a loss. The team were sent to the event Play-In stage’s lower-bracket after being beaten by Copenhagen Flames. Fortunately, thanks to a strong performance by veteran Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson, FNATIC eliminated Wisla Kraków. Next, in the decider match, Ludvig “Brollan” Brolin stepped-up and sent BIG packing.

At IEM Katowice 2022’s main event, FNATIC would give fans a very pleasant surprise. In their opening game at the group stage, FNATIC defeated Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen’s G2, one of the event’s favorites. This win wasn’t luck-based, either. FNATIC managed to outclass G2 when it came to calling. Also, the trio of ALEX, KRIMZ and mezii gave G2’s a run for their money.

Unfortunately, FNATIC failed to beat FaZe Clan – which eventually would proceed to win the tournament – and felt to the lower-bracket of their group. There, FNATIC put a fight against Astralis, but the Danes ended leaving the server with the win. While a group stage elimination is nothing to be thrilled about, Smooya was clearly leaving his slump, and if ALEX kept working in the roster, their future was bright. Or so we thought.

Shortly after FNATIC being eliminated, Smooya started dropping hints on Twitter about big news coming. Unfortunately, these wouldn’t be great news, as he learned that he was benched from the organization, and the decision was made even before the team was eliminated in Katowice. Now, the community can only speculate about what truly happened then, but the most accepted theory is that the British AWPer simply didn’t mix with the Swedish players. He gave further details about how the team worked in livestreams and interviews, but in any case, the decision was already made. Smooya was on FNATIC’s bench.

WAY DOWN WE GO

Shortly after benching Smooya, more rumours about FNATIC’s line-up would surface. This time, trustworthy sources pointed that Brollan was in NiP’s eyes for a transfer. While these rumours weren’t immediately confirmed, Brollan didn’t play with FNATIC for their next events. Instead, the organization fielded two of their academy players, Peppe “Peppzor” Borak and regali for late February and early March.

During that time, FNATIC went to the open qualifiers for the Europe RMRs. The Regional Major Rankings events are part of the Valve’s Major circuit and failing to qualify here would’ve meant that FNATIC wouldn’t have a chance to qualify for the Major. Yet, out of four open qualifiers, FNATIC had failed to qualify for three. Something was not working, and if a change wouldn’t come, they probably would have missed the RMRs.

But changes came. Ahead of the fourth open qualifier, FNATIC replaced regali with ex-Complexity AWPer Valentin “poizon” Vasilev. It wasn’t an easy tournament, but ultimately, FNATIC survived a scare by FATE, and qualified for the Europe RMRs. But before the RMRs started, FNATIC had an important event to take care off.

BEFORE THE RMRS

FNATIC’s next stop would be at the first group of ESL Pro League Season XV. This time, the team had to field three stand-ins, as KRIMZ was also out due to testing positive for COVID-19. In his place, Matias “Banjo” Kivistö attended, and FNATIC was heading for an uphill battle. One that they would win, though.

In their first match at EPL, FNATIC was beaten by NiP, but they would change the tides right after. ALEX and his boys would win three matches in a row, including victories over MOUZ and G2. They lost their final match in their group, but once more, FNATIC qualified for EPL playoffs. Once again, FNATIC would be sent packing in their first match of the playoffs, though. And this time around, FNATIC wasn’t showing the signs they did at the fourteenth season of EPL.

Before the EPL playoffs, FNATIC attended to two other events, though. The team was in the pursuit a spot in BLAST Premier Spring Showdown, and for that, they had to go through the FantasyExpo circuit. They then attended the British qualifier for the main FantasyExpo event and guaranteed their spot there. At the main event, though, FNATIC failed to advance from the group stage after losing to HEET in overtime in a decider match.

THE RMRs

By the time that the first European RMR kicked off, FNATIC’s roster was in a slightly better place. Valentin wasn’t just a stand-in anymore as he was – and is – in a trial. KRIMZ would also attend the event from the start. Unfortunately, though, that wouldn’t be enough for FNC to get back in a CSGO Major.

Set to face GamerLegion first, FNATIC started the RMRs well. They managed to best Alfred “RuStY” Karlsson’s team with a 16 – 5 score line thanks to a strong showing from poizon. Unfortunately, though, the Bulgarian AWPer failed to follow up his initial showing, and instead proved why he’s considered one of the most inconsistent players around. FNATIC failed to upset Heroic after a disappointing showing from everyone in the team, and things didn’t get better for them.

Next in line was SAW. The best Portuguese team were considered complete underdogs by that time, and FNATIC should’ve won that. Yet, despite ALEX and KRIMZ best efforts, they failed to do so. Thanks to a terrible start and SAW’s impressive CT-side, FNATIC ended the first half of their game with a 4 – 11 score line. In the second half, FNC managed to recover, but ultimately, SAW closed the game with the victory.

With that defeat, the squad saw themselves with their backs against the wall. Losing would mean going home, but fortunately, every match from that point onward would be best-of-three series. If anything, that would make upsets less likely, and hopefully FNC would be able to recover from any possible mistakes. Unfortunately, though, after a long battle, FNATIC felt for the Turkish powerhouse of Eternal Fire then. ALEX and KRIMZ gave everything they had, but unfortunately, peppzor and poizon failed to do the same.

THE OPTIONS GOING FORWARD

With PGL Major Antwerp, FNATIC has now missed three Majors in total. For an organization that won three Majors in the past, and one of the leading brands in esports, this downfall is simply unacceptable. Yet, it’s perfectly understandable why this happened. FNATIC’s Counter-Strike division seems to be lacking direction, and the team doesn’t know what they want for their future.

Let’s assume for a minute that the Swedes didn’t mix with Smooya and were the reason that the organization benched him. They did so, but Brollan still left the team immediately after. Then, let’s not forget the timing. Smooya learned that he was getting benched while preparing for a match. Furthermore, FNATIC attended one of the most important events of the year with a stand-in from their academy team. As good as Peppzor might be, he is not ready for the highest level of competition.

Now, it’s time to get back to the drawing board, and this goes for both ALEX and the division’s management. First and foremost, the team needs to decide if they are going to keep ALEX in charge. The Brit didn’t do a poor job leading FNATIC so far, but it’s important for everyone involved that he is sure that the organization got his back.

Then, it’s time to work on the roster itself. Valentin’s performance was a disappointment for the squad at the RMR. Now, the team needs to decide whether they will keep his trial going or not. Also, who will be replacing Brollan? If FNATIC is serious about wanting to compete at the highest level, Peppzor won’t do. Finally, will KRIMZ remain with the organization? The veteran could be on the lookout for offers.

FROM SOMETHING TO 0, AGAIN

FNATIC future is once again, unclear. Differently than last year’s Summer, though, it’s harder to see what will take them out of this slump. Especially since we don’t know what the organization plans for their CSGO division. Are they willing to change in-game leaders again? More importantly, do FNATIC want – and are willing to invest into – a premier squad? Or are they happy betting in up-and-coming talent and unproven players, and aiming for a team that can compete in smaller tournaments? Also, how can the division avoid the situation around Smooya from happening again? We don’t have the full picture, but a team needs to have staff prepared to help the squad go through issues outside of the game like this.

So, before doing any roster moves, FNATIC needs to answer these questions. After that, it’s up to the division managers to get together and plan how to take the team from the ground. Maybe they will even keep this exact same roster but the stand-ins, and as long as everyone trusts the project, it’ll be a step in the right direction.

Until then, FNATIC will remain as a hard-to-watch roster. We’ll probably be seeing this roster at least one more time as they are heading for the European closed qualifiers for IEM Dallas 2022. Afterwards, though, FNATIC will have some time in their schedule to work their roster, and hopefully, they can make the most out of that opportunity.

@mjunior