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How close is FaZe to an era?

@RNach_ 2022-08-20 07:57:51
  With the win in front of Cologne's roaring crowd last month, FaZe Clan reaffirmed their position as the best team in world Counter-Strike. The victory also regained them the lead in head-to-head series (3-2) against Natus Vincere's core, in what is shaping up to be one of the all-time CS:GO rivalries. What's more, FaZe lifting yet another high-profile trophy -- Cologne hasn't been a Valve Major since 2016, but it's the next most prized title in the esport -- in the span of five months has raised an exciting question: Are we observing an era, or at least the dawn of one? ...And what's an era anyway? Simply put, the term is used to describe a run of dominance by a five-player lineup that defined a period of CS:GO history. Glossing over established eras suggests statistical attributes can help ascertain whether a specific run deserves anointment. However, the conspicuous exceptions to each would-be statistical requirement (more on this later) hint that there's more to an era than astonishing stats and a breadth of accomplishments; that they merely serve to establish a track record of quality.
.Related: ClipZ on the genesis of FaZe: a happy accident
Some additional context tends to be present too, a narrative if you will, ofttimes explaining why the run of dominance is even more impressive than it looks on paper. Last but not least, an era is a rare honor in the sport of Counter-Strike. Only three runs in CS:GO's ten-year tenure are considered an era unanimously, and one of them belongs to the Astralis -- the single greatest lineup since CS first came out as a mod in 1999. A team with an established era has essentially proven it's about as good as anyone's ever been. Those don't come about very often. In an attempt to figure out how close FaZe is to belonging in such an esteemed company, the article will first go over the two other unanimously-anointed CS:GO eras and then the next best run, one whose status is in the eye of the beholder. Strong cases can be made for all three teams, but it's the lack of arguments against the first two that sets them apart from the latter. As for Astralis, whose reign is described better as an entire age anyhow, I've omitted them from this examination. The magnitude of the Danes' run is so great that its inclusion would tilt an already-high standard further up, to a near impossibility. Just like any other team in CS history, the international mix of FaZe hasn't done enough to enter that particular conversation.

Photo credit: Kelly Kline for ESL.

Fnatic 2014-2015: Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer Gustafsson, Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson , Robin "flusha" Ronnquist, Markus "pronax" Wallsten, Jesper "JW" Wecksell.
Before Astralis came along and showed everyone what's possible, Fnatic's run was deemed the unassailable standard of dominance in modern CS. In a year and change, the Swedes won 12 of the 22 tournaments they participated in, including two out of three Majors. Many of the event locations and the prize purses may not compare favorably to latter periods of CS history, but only two of the 12 were earned against lesser competition. The other ten are high-quality titles, a lot more often than not earned by besting multiple contenders. In addition to the trophies, the team made four more finals and lost to a team that went on to win the event three more times. This leaves a total of three events the side didn't win or lose to the winner, again, out of 22 LANs over the course of just under 13 calendar months. During the entirety of their time as a five-man lineup, the Swedes failed to reach the semifinals of a tournament twice, finishing 5th-8th on both occasions. One was after their reign of dominance was over, the last tournament before pronax parted ways with the rest. The other -- the only time the team finished outside of the top four during its era -- was when Fnatic withdrew from DreamHack Winter 2014, following the announcement that the (in)famous 'Olofpass' map against LDLC will be replayed. In not so many words: pronax and co. never actually lost a tournament before the round-of-four for over a year! The mind-boggling consistency was, at least partially, a result of Fnatic's ability to play on all eight of the active-pool maps during its reign. The team's lowest win rate on an individual map was 65% in 34 games on Cache. The lineup even won five out of the six on its least played map, Nuke. Overall, olofmeister, KRIMZ, flusha, pronax, and JW won 72% of the 197 LAN maps they played during one of, if not the, most competitive periods of the esport. Even among top teams, the only squad that beat Fnatic with any sort of consistency was TSM. After karrigan joined, first as Dignitas and then as TSM, the Danes' record against the Swedes was a decisive 4-2 in series and 15-9 in maps. For comparison, Fnatic averaged a win rate of 73% in 91 maps against the rest of the title contenders during the era. The matchup with TSM is one of the two black marks, to the degree that they can be considered such, against the Fnatic era. The other is that they didn't win too much in a row, which naturally leads us to…

Photo credit: Kelly Kline for ESL.

Ninjas in Pyjamas 2012-2013: Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund, Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg, Adam "friberg" Friberg, Richard "Xizt" Landström, Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson.
The NiP roster formed at the very beginning of CS:GO and ran the scene to a degree no other team has since or ever will. In just over a year, the Swedes won 18 of the 21 events they entered. This includes the famous streak of 87 consecutive map wins in a row, which resulted in sweeping 27 series and ten titles. In the other three, they reached a final, a quarterfinal, and a third-place finish in the tournament that signaled the end of their dominance. In terms of raw statistics, it's easily the most extraordinary era with (and I kid you not, I triple-checked) an 87% win rate over 159 maps. Sheesh! However, the Ninjas are the one team to whom context isn't particularly kind. For starters, they reigned during the least competitive period of CS:GO's ten-year history. Due to a variety of factors, it wasn't until halfway through NiP's 87-0 that most of the established talent from earlier CS versions had finally transitioned to CS:GO. This, coupled with the economics of the scene, meant that the bulk of NiP's competitors were either late-comers to the game or glorified amateurs with limited experience. Furthermore, the Swedes earned a minimum of six of the 18 titles at low-profile events that didn't feature top teams. The other 12 came from LANs at which either Very Games, the clear-cut #2 at the time, or at least two other top teams were present. This is about as tough as tournaments got at the time, accounting for NiP's own presence. Compared to the rest of CS:GO history though? A lot of the wins don't stack up nearly as well. To top it all off, the map pool comprised of only five maps for the entirety of the NiP era, as opposed to the seven in later years. With all the nitpicking in mind: winning as much as NiP did is never a small feat. Teams like Very Games and Western Wolves were in positions to take maps from the Ninjas long before #88. A lesser squad, or one that didn't possess NiP's clutch factor, would've yielded a loss earlier. Their longevity as one of, if not still the, best teams in the world past their period of domination affirms that the reign was more than a case of was-there-first. GeT_RiGhT was as far ahead of the competition as anybody has ever been in CS:GO at first; but he was also the best in the world all the way through 2014. Even at the tail end of their time together, the five had enough magic left to beat the Fnatic-era roster for the Cologne trophy in 2014, the first seven-map Major. And despite the advantages the Swedes had going for them, the situation between the players and the organization was far from rosy. For all the period-related blemishes and the lack of a within-era Major, NiP's consistent degree of dominance and the quality of its individual players have remained just as impressive as they were at the time.

Photo credit: ESL.

Luminosity and SK April-July, 2016: Marcelo "coldzera" David, Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo, Fernando "fer" Alvarenga, Lincoln "fnx" Lau, Epitácio "TACO" de Melo.
Author's note: for the sake of clarity, I've referred to the team only as SK, even in regards to events in which they competed under the Luminosity tag. The quintessential Brazilian CS:GO lineup won two Majors, one significant trophy, and a minor title against American competition in the span of just over three calendar months. Additionally, SK finished second at the ECS S1 Finals and bombed out of another big event. The early exit from DreamHack Malmo 2016 is notable as it happened at the hands of the NiKosports-era MOUZ and a Bo3 series to TYLOO. Two squads who were fighting for playoff berth, not trophies, respectively #11 and #18 by HLTV. The meat of the era is, of course, the wins in Columbus and Cologne, the two Majors. However, the briefness of the reign and the low floor of performance suggested by the losses in Malmo have led to retrospective doubts about whether the run was strong enough to be considered an era. The argument in favor is similarly straightforward: only two other five-man lineups have won two majors in a row in the game's ten-year history; both of them had an era. (SK's map win rate of 74% over 72 maps is also very much in line with Fnatic's.) More than any other team here, the case for FalleN and co. relies on the context. SK didn't go up against any all-time greats at their peak, but it beat a number of championship-level rosters to its titles. Some analysts and pundits speculated that a reign of the duration of Fnatic's and NiP's would be impossible to replicate in the modern game, as six teams had won major tournaments in five months. Astralis has, without doubt, eviscerated the notion since. Nevertheless, SK being the team during the esport's most unruly period is a notable accomplishment in and of itself. Another boon to SK's era claim is that it ushered a lot of the meta developments, which modernized the game. Their free-flowing style was arguably the first time a top team played anything close to resembling contemporary CS:GO. Ultimately, regardless of whether one shuns or embraces the idea of a Brazilian era, it's clear that the SK reign isn't quite in the ballpark of Fnatic's and NiP's. Even as an era, it is in a lower tier than the Swedes', akin to how theirs, in turn, are compared to Astralis'.

Photo Credit: Adela Sznajder for ESL.

FaZe Clan February-now, 2022: Finn "karrigan" Andersen, Robin "ropz" Kool, Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken, Havard "rain" Nygaard, Helvijs "broky" Saukants.
Since February, FaZe has taken home the three biggest trophies on the CS:GO calendar in the Antwerp Major, Cologne, and Katowice. They also won the EPL S15 Finals and exited two more events 5th-6th, losing to the eventual winners of both BLAST's Spring Finals (NAVI) and IEM Dallas (Cloud9). This amounts to four high-quality titles in six tournaments -- all of the major international LANs so far this year -- over five months of active competition. The statistical profile isn't as impressive as the tournament record: 70% win rate over 91 maps and strong, albeit not quite dominant, 32-20 (62%) against teams ranked top4 by HLTV since Katowice. (After the win in Cologne, it now includes a 3-2 record against the NAVI core in series and an 8-6 lead in maps.) The discrepancy between the superb tournament record and its so-so percentages reflects that the team has played a few more decider maps than is customary for a lineup bound to put together an era. FaZe has come up clutch in big games on multiple occasions and it's made for entertaining series. But from the perspective of era hopefuls, it is somewhat alarming that karrigan and co. have had to dig deep to secure a number of their wins. Fnatic was famous for its big-game performances too. Quite often though, the Swedes just won on their opponent's pick to sweep the series. NiP rarely lost maps at all; and SK, for all the qualms about its run, dropped a grand total of two maps en route to their two Major trophies. All of this is to say that FaZe isn't as much ahead of its challengers as the has-been-era rosters. Given the semi-lackluster opposition, it raises some questions. Admittedly, it's more so a concern for the future, rather than a blemish against what the international side has shown so far. On the topic of the latter: The trophies speak for themselves. The Major and the stature of Cologne, along with two more big titles, catapult FaZe's run ahead of other relatively short-lived reigns by teams who failed to establish an era; e.g. the Fnatic with dennis, the Liquid of 2019, and last year's NAVI. (Some may argue that NAVI's superior degree of dominance was better and it certainly has its appeal. I'm inclined to side with FaZe doing everything on LAN, mostly in front of crowds, without skipping events, and against a stronger field.)

Photo credit: Helena Kristiansson for ESL.

The next team up is SK. As significant as Cologne is, a Major is the single most prestigious win on the CS:GO calendar. Moreover, as brief as the reign of the Brazilians was, during it, they played in the same number of tournaments against better opposition and won the same number of events FaZe has this year. Ultimately, FaZe has been about as shaky as the Brazilians, and it doesn't have quite enough on its resume to surpass the two Majors of SK, whose own era status is dubious anyway. So, to answer the question in the title: FaZe is about as close as anyone's been to an era without establishing one. However, this doesn't make it an inevitability. Longevity as the best tends to be what separates the greatest ever from many others. The longer a lineup reigns, the more opportunities its challengers have to probe for, find, and exploit a weakness. How the would-be-era hopefuls respond is part of what establishes their greatness. The Ninjas being nigh-bulletproof for the longest time is why their era is still impressive, in spite of all the criticism and the lack of a Major. pronax and co. came back with a vengeance any time somebody toppled them, adapting their game when an opponent found a large enough gap to steal a trophy. On paper, the Brazilians didn't measure up to either of the aforementioned, but the two Major trophies and their narrative coalesce into a je ne sais quoi that makes up for a lot of the briefness of their run. And FaZe? Well, it's still up to karrigan, ropz, Twistzz, rain, and broky to write their own ending.

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Cover image credit: Helena Kristiansson for ESL.


All stats are based on data and records by HLTV and Liquipedia.

 

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