Tension & Evolution: FaZe stumble through the Summer gauntlet

Xizt, cromen, or lack thereof. FaZe are going to look great.

JUL 31, 2018

As the first significant stint of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s 2018 season dies down, FaZe stumble over the finish line. A team who has played at two 250k+ LANs every month since March will now have a well-deserved break. Their competitive struggle, at least, for the moment, can be forgotten about and substituted by the normalcy of day-to-day life. It’s fitting rest for a group of players who’ve been pounded by circumstance and forced to defiantly push through barriers with a grit rarely seen in esports.

While Astralis would skip events to prevent burn-out and increase preparation, then blitz through the group stages they did attend, FaZe found comfort in trench warfare. From doing hand-to-hand combat in the lower bracket of IEM Sydney 2018 to grinding out a full five-game Bo5 against Mousesports at ESL One Belo Horizonte, FaZe’s drive can’t be reproached. Since the first big event post-ELEAGUE Boston, StarSeries S4, FaZe have the most amount of maps played on LAN in the world at 94, with Mouz trailing closely behind at 90.

Across this body of work, we saw three distinctly different FaZe rosters, characterised by the stand-in performances of cromen and Xizt or lack thereof. Despite posting the most amount of maps amongst their peers though, with so many changed looks, it never felt like we saw the realised evolution of post-ELEAGUE FaZe. In the densest time of competition, and a clear top dog to best, FaZe’s game remained hinged, at its core, on their individuals. While Astralis and Na`Vi structured their stars, tightened offensive plans and flesh-out win conditions, FaZe plugged and played riflers.

It feels as though FaZe have sat in a strange elite limbo. Their resume, CT-side depth, and firepower put them above Mousesports, Liquid and MIBR. A lacking cohesion, certain linearity on T-side and a missing poise in utility usage however, puts them firmly behind both Astralis and Na`Vi. They boast superstar force, NiKo proved as much at ELEAGUE premier, but with the likes of s1mple, device, electronic, and Magisk dominating scoreboards above them, a depth of elite, and consistent firepower was, and still is, needed. A desire that Olofmeister return, optimistis say, will fulfill.

FaZe could very well be the most resilient and dogged out of all the 2018 campaigns launched so-far, but they’re no-less ‘stuck’ between the elite and the dark horses as a result. At least, for the moment.

With so many games, intense emotional turmoil, self-evaluation and big series in 2018, FaZe aren’t going to be acquiring Olofmeister at a regressed level. But they haven’t exactly evolved into a different side either. The different flavours both Xizt and cromen brought to FaZe in his place has instead created an interesting tension of reference points within FaZe’s core game.

They’ve somehow managed to cheat on their relationship with Olofmeister twice, learning a lot about themselves and then being allowed to pick it back up where they left off

This plug and play of two very different players in a system that didn’t fundamentally change, but still operated at an elite level and over an incredibly long time is an interesting system to analyse. It can also inform us of just how dangerous FaZe may be headed into the major in-spite of their underwhelming finish to the season at ELEAGUE Premier to Fnatic and Mousesports.

We might’ve had the most opportunities to watch FaZe out of any team in the world, but we could still very well be caught-off-guard by what they bring in a months time given what we’ve seen with and without Olofmeister.

Replacing a former king with flashbangs, then confidence

Xizt and cromen each brought a different characterising force FaZe had to manage. On one hand was Xizt, the veteran with a flexible game that sought to emphasise the strengths of those around him. On the other, cromen, a last minute call-up from the top of regional scoreboards and stat-lines; a brooding star at home forced to keep pace with international forces of nature.

When the Swede’s swapped, with Xizt stepping over from NiP, he posted some of the highest flashbangs thrown on the team. While his ability to force advantages on CT-side was a far cry from the pressuring movement of Olofmeister, he instead looked to structure the play of NiKo and karrigan. He could find a similar amount of openings by virtue of a more punishing, than forcing style, while also carrying his weight elsewhere.

Cromen, by contrast, had to have much of FaZe’s game structured around him. Lacking the same seasoned, supporting mindset of one of the scene’s most infamous ‘glue’ players, FaZe sought to play to cromen’s rifling. With a lack of time or room to pivot their game, they worked around the lowest common denominator. Instead of having Xizt to flash the usual stars into aggressive picks, cromen was given the opportunity to step up in big moments and proved himself to be a serviceable international calibre player. There wasn’t that same unrelenting forward decision making or assertive duelling that olofmeister flaunted with ease, nor supportive mindset of Xizt, but an admirable confidence that slotted in nicely to FaZe’s game.

But serviceable riflers can be found a dime a dozen in the current era of play, especially when you have the space afforded by histories most stacked side. Cromen was a man of the moment, but that’s not to say he was unique in his impact. Xizt’s mindset, skillset and international tenure in contrast though, was incredibly valued and rare at the time. At least, before his comrades in support, TACO, STYKO, NBK-, and boltz were all left out in the dry.

NiKo’s frustrations over the difference between what cromen and Xizt bring to the table can be heavily implied from his interview with HLTV at ESL One Cologne 2018:

“Playing with cromen was something new for us because now we have rain and him who kind of have a similar role, they run first and they shoot, and what we need is an experienced player who is going to play the role we really need, that is going to play it smart, basically kind of a lurk role, but who is also able to adapt to any situation we are in. That's what we are looking for right now and cromen is not that kind of a player, I think. That's why we are looking for other players, but I think he is going to be a stand-in for us for ELEAGUE as well.”

Acknowledging the difference between cromen and Xizt, and also what NiKo (and likely, the team) wants, begs a conclusive question.

Can Olofmeister marry the strengths of his former self and the teams freshly found desire for more supportive elements manifested by Xizt’s impact?

I think so.

Eyeing a once comfortable throne

Based on his first event back with FaZe both the stat and eye test suggest that he’s being geared in the right direction. At ELEAGUE Premier, despite bombing out in the group stage, Olofmeister didn’t miss a step walking onto FaZe for the first time in months. Posting an insane 60+ headshot percentage and 1.16 rating, Olofmeister put up the big numbers but with important nuance. Unlike where he’d traditionally sit with a high rating, Olofmeister had the lowest entry attempt % on his team.

We normally think of Olofmeister as a more aggressive, opening duel hunting sort-of player, one who can sit alongside rain on T-side. One of his most famous runs with FaZe being at the ELEAGUE Major, where he posted a 1.2 rating at a 22 entry attempt percent (around that of tarik and ChrisJ). Or at ESL One New York 2017, where had had 1.27 rating and an 18 entry attempt percent. In contrast, at ELEAGUE Premier he had a 1.16 rating, but 12.2 entry attempt percent - literally the lowest of the tournament.

This is an important change-up when we consider the tension that comen and Xizt’s style difference had on the team. At ELEAGUE Premier we saw Olofmeister playing far more in-line with someone like Xizt, trading out openings and working off the insane pressure NiKo created. He might not have had the high flashbangs, but made up for it with the bully-like CT play that has always been consistent of FaZe’s style.

It wouldn’t be unsurprising to find FaZe launching into the back half of 2018 with a tamed Olofmeister and far more active NiKo working in a more structured system.

Without the burden of having to call around a changing 5th and time-off, FaZe have the opportunity to rebuild the framework of their T-side, opting away from the looser approach that they peddled with cromen. In a more structured environment, and with Olofmeister giving up space on T-side to NiKo in, one can see a slightly evolved, but still intrinsically FaZe, FaZe rise once again to glory.

Olofmeister’s role seems to be one that is informed off the success of Xizt’s time in the roster, but still based around his core strengths as a player, and the overall pressuring mindset of the team.

This realisation and re-jig of team structure only really happened via the incredible circumstances FaZe have experienced this year so-far. Without the tension of attributes between cromen/Xizt, or the intense workload, or the honest, gritty self-evaluation from defeat, FaZe could’ve easily gone back to what had been working at the start of the year.

But instead they’ve opted to slightly adjust based on the pressures around them and tension internally while also not running away from what took them to the dance in the first place. Rain still entries, NiKo can still multi-kill on CT-side, and Guardian doesn’t need to start running ChrisJ style around CT-side. We aren’t looking at a FaZe weakened by conflict or with a diminished mission.

FaZe have run the gauntlet and come out a stronger, albeit scarred team as a result.

The fallen king has rested and bled long enough. The throne is soon to be divided once again.

Photo Credit: ELEAGUE