The Death of a Dream - FaZe's Monkey Paw
Have you ever tried to explain a dream to someone?
What was the most exciting thing in your dormant mind sounds so dull out loud it numbs the lips, trailing off into the distance. You can see the energy drain out of the other person, their eyes desperately flicking to the edges of the room, looking for anything else to think about. You can’t explain dreams to someone who wasn’t there, and the thing about dreams is, good or bad, they’re never real.
Explaining the fetishisation of FaZe to an outsider is so difficult - to them, the idea of a super-org buying all the best players and putting them on a team is synthetic, rather than alluring. They’ve seen the relative failure of the ‘Galacticos’ in football - Real Madrid’s attempt at breaking the modus operandi of competition. They’ve experienced the monotony of the Golden State Warriors. Yet, to a fan of Counter-Strike, the international super team was mouthwatering; nothing similar had ever been tried. This, was a realised dream.
Ladislav ‘GuardiaN’ Kovács and Olof ‘olofmeister’ Kajbjer joined an already star-studded roster and crafted potentially the most anticipated line-up of all time. International teams were a pipe dream - an international team with three of the biggest names of all time, led by a respected IGL? Madness.
The first big tournament was so suspiciously easy it felt like Finn ‘karrigan’ Andersen was piloting a lucid dream, as FaZe coasted through the opposition without dropping a map. ESL One New York was even easier, as FaZe barely lost a round. Counter-Strike’s Galacticos were on top of the world, and there were murmurs of them breaking the game. How could you beat them? If you kill Nikola ‘NiKo’ Kovač, you face GuardiaN’s AWP. If you beat him, Håvard ‘rain’ Nygaard will be there. Even then, there’s one of the titans of Counter-Strike, olofmeister, and karrigan waiting in the wings, who is no slouch himself. It was the perfect team, and they would never be beaten. So said the dreamers.
In an era of tactical dominance, FaZe serve as a reminder that meta is cyclical, and just because today’s behemoths are tactical does not mean loose teams can’t dominate. Through the sheer firepower of FaZe they broke teams down - they weren’t tactically outplaying you because you weren’t alive long enough to rotate out of position.
Not only that, but they proved to the world that international teams can work. It was a fantasy for many come to life, and being able to watch this ridiculous FaZe team felt like a cold glass of water to a hungover mouth. We always knew it would come to an end, but all dreams do.
karrigan, it seemed, had beaten the system. Just get four of the best players in the world, and put them on the server. Simple, right? karrigan’s wishes had been fulfilled, but fulfilled by a Monkey’s Paw. The catches for those three wishes were not immediately apparent, but they never are.
If you’ve never had a lucid dream, one thing that many people report is that it’s impossible to see the time in a dream. When you look at your watch, it’s blurry, like a Picasso painting. You don’t know what time it is, but it’s time to wake up. That’s what the time was for FaZe in November 2017. Time to wake up, and wake up in a post-slumber haze they did.
IEM Oakland 2017 was the first time we really saw the cracks be pulled apart, as Ninjas in Pyjamas put up a legendary performance to take the final 3-2. Even the best teams lose finals they should win, it was a fluke, no biggie. Right?
‘Sure, you can have NiKo’ says the Monkey’s Paw, giggling. Under its breath, it whispers ‘but he’s not going to be as great in finals’. In the ELEAGUE Major final, NiKo spluttered and fumbled as FaZe couldn’t stumble over the line. karrigan, it must be noted, should not be exonerated. In overtime, his previously robust calling collapsed beneath his feet, and FaZe allowed Cloud9 back in.
What was a dream became a nightmare, quickly.
FaZe were falling, and the ELEAGUE Major was the floor that woke them. The FaZe dream wasn’t over, but the fibers of reality were quickly becoming untwisted. Shortly after, the Monkey’s Paw laughed in karrigan’s face once more. Olofmeister, a rock in the team and an experienced head, announced he would be taking a step back for personal reasons. Despite this, FaZe showed glimmers of hope, as with stand-in Richard ‘Xizt’ Langstrom, FaZe managed to smash Astralis 3-0 to take IEM Sydney, and a few months later, with Jorgen ‘cromen’ Robertson, took home the ESL One Belo Horizonte trophy too.
Even though they had some good results, it wasn’t enough to satiate FaZe, and with olofmeister eventually coming back, there were hopes of a proper resurgence. But it wasn’t to be. FaZe’s swansong, EPICENTER 2018, was a false dawn. Despite overcoming NaVi 2-0 in the final, it’s been all downhill since.
The Monkey’s Paw had its final laugh. “Yes, karrigan, you can have NiKo, olofmeister, rain and GuardiaN; but eventually, they will turn on you.”
It was announced that karrigan would be leaving, with NiKo taking over full time In Game Leader duties. Since then, FaZe have disappointed over and over, with Dauren ‘AdreN’ Kystaubayev being unable to fully reignite the flames as stand in.
Now, FaZe are in a sticky spot. Murmurs of discontent around money seem to be backed up by the transfer targets - AdreN was a free agent, and Markus ‘pronax’ Wallsten’s name was also thrown around - another free agent. The lack of a long term plan is quite apparent, as AdreN is not a young player, and with GuardiaN and olofmeister both being over 25, with GuardiaN especially talking about retiring in the not-too-distant future, FaZe are left with an expensive, aging roster that has stopped winning. The philosophy was alarmingly Mourinho-esque - win now, worry later. The idea that results justify anything - not having a consistent process or long-term plan is fine as long as you win - and for a while, all was peachy with FaZe, but now, they have reached the end of the cul-de-sac.
With no recognised in-game leader, a style of play that can only be described as mythical and a seeming lack of emotional and financial investment, it seems the FaZe dream is about to end, and we’re all waking up.
Where do we go from here? There are so few IGL’s available and even fewer that are strong enough to lead a gang of superstars trying to get back to the top. Realistically, you’re looking at either a ‘lesser’ but recognised in-game leader, who is unlikely to have dealt with superstars and superstar egos the size of the FaZe players, or someone like Robin ‘flusha’ Ronnquist, who is a pseudo-leader but someone who commands more respect. When FaZe were at their best, it should be remembered, they weren’t exactly tactical giants, so I would lean towards a flusha-type figure. That said, if I’m FaZe, I either blow it up and start again, or wait for someone else to do the same.
Creating the ‘Galacticos’ was prohibitively expensive, and that concept is unlikely to be fulfilled again. FaZe are hemorrhaging money in Counter-Strike, and are certainly not going to invest the amount needed to rebuild a ridiculous squad. If there is to be a new FaZe-style team, it would have to be under a different organisation.
So that leaves the idea of choosing one or two players, blowing up the team and starting again. NiKo is the obvious choice, but he has shown something of an unwillingness to work with an IGL and has taken over duties himself, which hasn’t worked spectacularly well so far. You could allow him to stay as IGL in order to keep one of the most dangerous players in world Counter-Strike, but if you’re going to build a team almost from scratch, it makes more sense to have a ‘real’ IGL to build the structure. As mentioned, those IGL’s aren’t really available at the moment, but if you’re starting again you can build around a leader who you don’t think would have worked with NiKo. Having waited far too long, however, at this point praying that NiKo’s leading works out seems the best option. Outside of that, FaZe could allow their players’ contracts to run out and keep only rain - as NiKo seems to want to lead, and GuardiaN and olofmeister are significantly older, rain is the most obvious player to keep out of all of the FaZe squad.
With contracts running down, FaZe will have a decision to make. Sticking with the core that got you this far is a romantic option - GuardiaN can finally cement his legacy as a great by finally getting that Major victory, Olofmeister could put down another argument for himself as the greatest CS:GO player of all time, NiKo can prove he can lead - but as I’ve learnt in the past few months, the romantic choice is often not the smartest one. The team is increasingly looking dead in the water and being reverse swept at StarSeries isn’t a good look for one of the most expensive rosters of all time. Whilst many of us would love a resurgence of a team who were so rewarding to watch and stacked to the rafters with talent, their swansong Major story ended, as the Monkey’s Paw prophesied, with a humiliating loss.
Creating another version of this team, however, is far too expensive to expect from a team who already seem sheepish to spend too much. My gut feeling is that when their contracts end, the players will leave, FaZe will not create a new team, and we will see NiKo and rain on new teams.
Whether NiKo will stick to leading or form a new team with a more traditional IGL is interesting - there are obvious options for rain and olofmeister, whilst one would expect GuardiaN may retire, but NiKo may have to create something new for himself if he wants to lead - possibly with rain joining him. That said, NiKo would surely not struggle to attract players to play with him, such is the pull of the Bosnian, and with MiBR’s continued struggles it wouldn’t be out of the question for the fabled Coldzera/NiKo duo to be a reality. The pair have mentioned that they would love to play together, and there have been rumours of Cold’s discontent for a little while, most notably from neL.
FaZe will stick together for the near future; like a marriage staying together for the kids, it will be in the knowledge that the dream has died and now when they look at each other, they see only sadness and the end of their relationship, but if NiKo is smart, he could build a new superteam when his contract is out - as long as other players run their contract out too.
Some dreams are recurring - maybe NiKo isn’t ready to wake up yet.