The Swedish Counter-Strike Shuffle

Written by: Richard Lewis
Twitter: @RLewisReports         

       It was midway through August when the Swedish shuffle occurred. GODSENT, the capitalized letters for emphasis of their divine skills, absorbed three of fnatic’s players to nearly bring about a reunion of the team that dominated 2015. Absent from the party was Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer, who stayed behind to welcome one of Sweden’s rising stars, Simon "twist" Eliasson, and the capable Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson. There was much discussion about who would become the best team as a result of this huge change. Now with a few tournaments under our belts, we can see who the loser was: Sweden.

       A nation synonymous with Counter-Strike excellence, the Swedes have produced some of the best players to touch the game, such as the first Counter-Strike inductee to the Esports Hall of Fame, Emil “HeatoN” Christensen. He’s likely to be joined by more of his countrymen shortly, as the Swedes have produced dominant, dynastic teams. During periods when a Swedish team isn’t the world’s number one, there was one making the tournament incredibly difficult for some other dominant force. Those periods never seemed to last too long before we were talking about an emerging Swedish super-team poised to take everyone’s prize money for the next year.

       For the first time in a while, this has to be the first time I look at the top four teams in the world and wouldn’t expect to see a Swede among them. We’ve got the Polish team Virtus Pro, an absolutely shocking team online, entering a period that makes them contenders for any tournament they enter. Next, the French team G2 Esports, a team seemingly content to be inconsistent and veer away from being an unstoppable juggernaut. When on form, there aren’t many teams that can contain them. The Brazilians, obviously, with SK Gaming are the number one team in the world right now for now. There are few that have their depth of talent and work ethic. Finally, undoubtedly, we have the Ukrainians and Russians. Na’vi delivered on my prediction to win ESL One New York, and I think if they don’t go on to take a run of notable tournaments in this phase of their development then the world is mad.

       Some of you, NiP fans most likely, have put them in that top four. We’ll see as there’s still a lot to be decided. You’ll know from my last article praising Mikail "Maikelele" Bill, I believe in this team as long as he’s a part of it. We don’t know if that is going to be the case, the organization strangely tight-lipped considering they couldn’t stop talking about him when he was originally cut from the roster. If Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi returns to duty, and this is no reflection of his ability, but I don’t think the team will be troubling that top four. They would lack that intangible spark Bill brings when the big games come around.

       Regardless, we can all agree (in the short term) that the Swedish shuffle has done little more than render both these teams as “also rans” for every tournament they attend. Fnatic’s online form was far from dominant immediately after the change, which is to be expected. Splitting series in ESL Pro League with G2 and Astralis is forgivable, but doing the same with FaZe and Hellraisers, not so much. Being dominated by a Dignitas team lacking an identity? Not a good indication of things to come, but hey, it’s just online. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and all that.

       I watched ESL New York with great interest, despite it landing right in the midst of my journey across time zones. I didn’t fancy fnatic’s chances going in, and it became fairly evident I was right not to from their opening game. Mauled by Virtus Pro, it wasn’t even close. It reminded me of our own Eleague finals that had supposedly been the last straw for Swedes.

Given a couple of lay-ups in the form of OpTic Gaming and Astralis, they faced Team Liquid, another team I have written about extensively. Now, you know that Liquid is still reeling from the loss of their own star player, Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev. As a result, the team has experienced some strange results domestically, including 2-0 defeats to Renegades, Echo Fox and NRG. It should have been straightforward.

       Instead, fnatic lost the first game 16-14, and in the immediate rematch on the same map, lost by an even bigger margin, 16-12. There were numerous factors, but one stood out above all others.  In the rematch, John “wenton” Eriksson, one of the team’s new recruits, went on to turn in arguably the single worst performance by a professional player I’ve seen for many years. Over 28 rounds, he recorded 5 kills, died 23 times and put up an ADR of 20.3. That’s the equivalent of landing one pistol bullet shot to the leg every round. This is one case where the numbers don’t lie.

       When Eriksson was first announced, I openly stated he was a “placeholder” for a better player, and many speculated that would be FaZe captain Håvard "rain" Nygaard. This tournament confirms that must be the course of action if fnatic wants to get back into trophy contention. You simply do not replace the caliber of the players they lost with players with almost zero international experience. You don’t cross your fingers and hope that playing among greats will lead to greatness. So Fnatic needs change, but what of GODSENT?  How on Earth has this move failed so spectacularly? That roster should easily be the number one team in Sweden, and has the skill ceiling to be a contender for number one team in the world. I still believe every word I said when they announced. However, they have looked absolutely downtrodden, prompting the fans to dub them “HOMESENT,” as they end up consistently exiting tournaments early.

       As a sample size of failure, theirs is certainly much bigger than fnatic. Their existence began with a notable defeat, failing to qualify for the ESL Pro League in a wild card match against Virtus Pro. From there, they were battered by NiP and Dignitas at Starladder, failed to make it to Eleague’s offline round at the hands of Alternate Attax, only took one map off mousepsorts in a best of five at Gfinity’s CS:GO Invitational, and so far have struggled in qualifiers for other events. Aside from that major spot in January they inherited with the fnatic players, there’s not a lot to look forward to, and if things continue, they might not want to look forward to that.

       How these two teams have failed to deliver so far is a mystery to me. I understand teams need time to find a system that works. This isn’t about impatience. This is about both teams taking sizeable steps backward in pursuit of improvement, something that should be a very rare exception when you are dealing with such incredible talents. If they don’t get their act together soon, the next six months could see Sweden’s fans with little to cheer about, something they haven’t been used to since the dawn of competitive CS.