Starladder: Why FaZe is still the story

In their first tournament appearance since losing the Major final to massive underdogs Cloud 9, the superteam playing for FaZe Clan were eliminated in the semi-finals of the SLTV Starladder iSeries finals on the weekend. They were defeated in the third-place playoff by Team Liquid in the buildup to the Grand Finals on Sunday, having already secured their spot in the less glamourous game by losing to Natus Vincere in the semis.

It should probably be mentioned, before we go any further into this piece, that the event was won by Mousesports, who took a close final 2-1 over a Na’Vi inspired by what can only be described as the world’s most dangerous player. FaZe not winning the event is as much a testament to the quality of Mous, Liquid and others as it is a sign of the extreme strength in depth of the scene right now, but their MO means it will always be a story, if not the story.

For those not in the know, FaZe is something of a new experiment in CounterStrike, being an international team comprised of superstars only, almost. We’ve seen similar things attempted on a national level before, most notably by G2 Esports with their French superteam, but never with five different nationalities. Nevertheless, aside from their in-game leader Finn ‘karrigan’ Andersen, the other four FaZe players have all been considered top-five talents worldwide for some time, with two having enjoyed periods as the world’s ‘best’ player.

For most teams, a second-place finish in the Major and top four at the Starladder event would be a great achievement, with Na’Vi as an example of a team that did well at both without winning either and is clearly making progress. However, FaZe are constructed on a different blueprint, with different goals, and have already won a large number of tournaments like this one in far more impressive fashion.

This is obviously a subjective measure in a team game, but Nikola ‘NiKo Kovač, Ladislav ‘GuardiaN’ Kovács and Olof ‘olofmeister’ Kajbjer Gustafsson have all got the pedigree that lets you know they can perform, and on top of that Olof has actually already won Major titles. As a result of all this awkward history, the team therefore has far loftier ambitions, and what would otherwise be a needlessly harsh assessment of their performance becomes more fair.

In fact, like the Major, this was an event where FaZe had already had their kryptonite removed from consideration, as SK Gaming had once again been eliminated by a North American side. This is significant as FaZe’s in-game leader karrigan has something of a mental block against SK, but even with that not a factor his team were still not able to cross the line. As a result of all these factors, the event that should have been about getting back on track became instead another competition that highlighted some pretty glaring flaws.

Part of this is due to the outrageous talent on some of the lesser teams, and we don’t just mean Na’Vi. Oleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev was comfortably the best player at the event, and still only managed to carry his team to second, but all of the top four had incredibly talented young men for NiKo and co to cope with. Be it Robin ‘ropz’ Kool, Russell David ‘Twistzz’ Van Dulken or s1mple himself, even the teams from the lower half of the top ten team can frag with the very best, hitting the sort of shots that seem basically impossible.

Still, however good the pack might be, FaZe are going to be considered ahead of it by the fans, and their results have to reflect that. Mousesports won the Starladder event fair and square, and s1mple was the best player to appear in it, but FaZe will always be the story if they lose. How to fix those issues is a deep conversation, but this sort of scrutiny comes with the choices they have made, and won’t go away.

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