Fnatic's golden handshake problem

Last week, news broke over on flickshot.fr that fnatic would be replacing their in-game leader. Maikil ‘golden’ Selim, former academy player and the man handed the reins and tasked with reviving the old gods was set to be replaced, and in his place would be Richard ‘Xizt’ Landström, or maybe just a shadow of him. Today, Selim tweeted just two words, ‘I stay’, but the story goes far deeper than that, and may not be over yet.

The former Ninjas in Pyjamas leader had been kicked from that legendary lineup for falling below the required standard, so his addition to a fnatic team that was outperforming NiP at that stage certainly raised some eyebrows. To add insult to injury from Selim’s point of view, he had just led his team to victory at IEM Katowice, where they had beaten FaZe in the Grand Finals.

With this as the backdrop, Sweden’s pride travelled out to China to compete in the much-maligned World Esports Games, a tournament with more prize money than any other in Counter-Strike, but without the prestige to match. Over the course of the event teams like SK Gaming, Cloud 9 and…EnVyUs (alright, we know) fell by the wayside, while fnatic soldiered on, before meeting all-Turkish side Space Soldiers in Sunday’s Grand Final.

In that game Selim was golden, playing with confidence, rallying his team when they looked set to collapse and buying audaciously at the end to win the biggest prize CS has to offer in style. The result meant that fnatic had won over $1m in prize money in the course of basically a month, and yet the expectation was still that he would be kicked in favour of the more famous, less dangerous Landström.

History of violence

Now, before we go any further, here is an aside for anyone not familiar with Swedish Counter-Strike. Yes, it is mad to replace a player with one older, less skilled, and less able to lead. Yes, it is even more worrying when the player losing his spot has already proven his ability to improve those around him, but there is a factor to be considered, and one that only really applies to NiP in Counter-Strike terms.

You see, the first truly great team in CS:GO was NiP, and the first gods of that game were GeT-RiGhT and co. Sure, Xizt might not have been the most golden of the Swedish golden group, but his clutch ability was undeniable, and his talent clear. For a demonstration of how powerful this glamour can be, check out Thorin’s Reflections with Jesper 'jw' Wecksell, filmed in 2014.

In the video, the player is asked about rumours that he tried to engineer a move to NiP at one stage, and basically confirms it to be true. What makes this story most curious is the fact that when this was going on, fnatic were already the best team, having surpassed their countrymen, and Wecksell was a huge part of that. So by his own admission, he was willing to give up being on the best team, with his best friend and the best players, just because of the heritage of the NiP brand.

There is also the fact that the three gods of fnatic did, at one point, just flat out leave and move to newly-formed VC-backed org Godsent with disastrous results. With all of this in mind, it’s not hard to believe the players might look at Xizt and see a desirable replacement for the man who has revived their careers, but at what point does the organisation have to step in and prevent good money being thrown after bad, especially when it looked like it might actually have been fixed?

Then, this morning the tweet from Selim appeared, with accompanying zephyrs that hinted at a change in attitude toward the move. Given that the transfer was allegedly over ‘personal issues’ rather than problems in server, it is remarkable that such a problem can be solved by nothing more than time and $800,000, and the atmosphere in the team should be an interesting watch in coming weeks.

While things are good, no doubt this new peace will hold, but the moment things go south, or even southward, the resentment will start to steam like yellow snow. There was no good CS reason for Selim’s kicking, and however much the apology does now, it is not possible for him to forget about what happened either, meaning the actions of the org or players have probably already doomed this line-up long-term.

In future, there will be more cases where teams hold a lure based on history, and possibly more cases like this, where moves are mooted to get in ‘names’, rather than wins. The solution is probably for organisations to become stricter about how they work in recruitment, and take the power out of the hands of the players themselves, but in this case the damage is already done, and Selim’s clock is ticking. Fortunately for him at least, he has very much earned an impressive golden handshake.