Many lows, few highs; FaZe Clan 2021’s retrospective

January 2, 2022 | 0 | 166| |

If you are a fan of FaZe Clan’s Counter-Strike division, you know how much of a roller-coaster these past years have been for this team. From leadership changes to roster moves that didn’t work out, it have been rough.

However, 2021 saw an even weaker FaZe Clan, and it was the first year since 2017 that the organization didn’t win a tournament. But why this happened? It’s time to take a look back at FaZe’s journey during last year, and hopefully understand what happened.

ROCKY START

FaZe Clan started 2021 with an interesting roster. Back then, Marcelo “coldzera” David was leading the team, Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjærbye still was an active CSGO player, and Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer Gustafsson had just returned to the team’s active line-up. Håvard “rain” Nygaard had just completed his fifth year with the organization, and Helvijs “broky” Saukants had consolidated his place as the team’s AWPer.

As interesting as this roster might’ve been, it wasn’t working out. FaZe closed 2020 after placing in 9 – 12th in DreamHack Masters Winter, and their other results after losing Nikola “NiKo” Kovač to G2 weren’t any good. After NiKo left, it’s no exaggeration to say that FaZe was in shreds. Coldzera just didn’t work out as a captain, olofmeister and rain both were underperforming, Kjaerbye never recovered his star form and broky alone couldn’t carry this team. It was a roster full of holes, and if FaZe wanted to be a contender once more, they would need to rework it.

Twisting it up

Fortunately, FaZe fans didn’t had to see much of the mess that was the post-NiKo FaZe as changes didn’t take long to come. Just before FaZe’s first tournament in 2021, the organization announced that Kjaerbye was on his way out. To replace him, FaZe brought in Team Liquid’s star Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken. This move was seen in a positive light as Twistzz had the much-needed consistency and fragging power that the leaving Dane lacked.

Unfortunately, Twistzz alone wasn’t enough to turn the tides. His first tournament with FaZe, cs_summit 7, saw the team finishing in dead last as FaZe was eliminated in the group stage after losing to MOUZ and MiBR. Next on the schedule was the small SteelSeries Invitational, a four-team event which saw FaZe finishing in second as they won over Nordavind in the opening game, but lost to OG in the grand-final.

LOOKING FOR A LEADER

It was a busy start of the year for FaZe, so the team didn’t have a lot of time to prepare before their next event. This time, it was BLAST’s Spring Groups. There, FaZe managed to beat Team Liquid in their opening game, but fell to Natus Vincere after a disputed game. In the loser’s bracket final, FaZe defeated Liquid once more, but Natus Vincere was, once again, too much for them, and this time, Na’Vi defeated coldzera’s team much more comfortably.

By the end of Spring Groups, it was clear that this FaZe team wasn’t complete. Coldzera himself had mentioned that the organization was on the lookout for a captain, and it didn’t take long before they got one. Rumours pointed that FaZe’s old captain that led the team to the finals of the ELEAGUE Major Boston, Finn “karrigan” Andersen, was on his way back to the team from MOUZ, and these proved to be true. With Karrigan back, FaZe would’ve solved one of its biggest issues since 2020 – the lack of a proper captain. As coldzera would later admit, he struggled leading the team due to language issues, and NiKo, FaZe’s previous captain, wasn’t a proper leader either.

In mid-February, the Karrigan move would be announced, and he’d replace olofmeister, who had a series of underwhelming performances to that point. So, FaZe had a proper captain, a strong player in Twistzz, and coldzera, who fans were hopeful about a possible return to form. FaZe didn’t had a coach then, but fans were still expecting good things from the team in their next showing at IEM Katowice.

UNINSPIRING

Much like what happened with Twistzz, Karrigan didn’t had the best first tournament with FaZe after his return. The team lost their opening game to Liquid, survived their first lower-bracket game by eliminating OG, but got sent home by FURIA. It was a quick run, and not a very inspiring one.

Still, hope was high. After all, Karrigan didn’t had any time to prepare the team, and they didn’t have a coach at the time. It wasn’t a good result, but it was understandable. After getting eliminated from IEM Katowice, FaZe would finally have some time until their next tournament, ESL Pro League Season 13, which would start in March.

Luck wasn’t on FaZe’s side when the group drawings were done, though. Placed in group B, the tournament’s group of death, FaZe would have to play against G2, NiP and Vitality most notably. Even then, some were hopeful. After all, Karrigan had more time to work with the team this time around, and the favorites of the group weren’t in perfect shape.

So, March 13th came and so did FaZe’s opening game in EPL 13. Their first match was against Vitality, and FaZe actually started well their series. Unfortunately, coldzera and rain both lost their momentum after a strong first map, and with that, FaZe lost that series. Karrigan would come back on the second day as FaZe defeated MOUZ, but they lost their next two games against NiP and G2. On the last day of FaZe’s group, the team managed to win over ENCE, but it wasn’t enough to secure them advancement. EPL 13 was over for Karrigan and his teammates.

ROCK BOTTOM

We would only see FaZe again in late April. Then, the squad played at the closed qualifier for IEM Summer, and they didn’t do much there. After losing to OG in their opening series, they eliminated FURIA in the lower-bracket, but got beaten by G2 next.

That wouldn’t be the only negative result FaZe would see in that period of time, though. After the closed qualifier, FaZe headed to DreamHack Masters Spring, were they finished in last place after losing to Virtus.Pro and MOUZ. The same happened on the first European RMR event of 2021, Flashpoint 3, as FaZe failed to G2 and then got eliminated by Sprout in a major upset by the Germans.

Back then, things were looking dire for Karrigan and company. Back in February, FaZe didn’t had a coach, but Robert “RobbaN” Dahlström was back with the team since mid-March. Earlier on, the team didn’t have a proper captain, but now Karrigan was there, and he had time to work on this team. You could even argue that coldzera was in a better form than the one he was back when Karrigan joined. Even so, the results just wouldn’t come.

OUT WITH THE COLD

Summer was approaching, and in June 1st, FaZe Clan announced that coldzera was benched. The Brazilian was one of the most underwhelming players on the roster, so the news didn’t come as a surprise. However, when FaZe announced that olofmeister would be returning to the team, reactions were mixed and it was an unforeseen move for many.

Olof’s returning debut was at BLAST Spring Final. Unfortunately, just like Karrigan’s return, olof’s was spoiled by another last place finish, to complete FaZe’s third in a row. Surely, FaZe had to face Natus Vincere and G2, two of the best teams then, and it was understandable that olof would take sometime to return to form. Even then, finishing three events back-to-back in last place just sound awful when you’re a team of such caliber.

Before FaZe’s next big stop, the team went to another tournament in June: Games Without Borders. The charity-focused event is seen as a “friendly-tournament”, and there’s no reason to delve on FaZe performance there. Even so, it was a fun tournament to watch – and one that FaZe didn’t finish in last place. Still, all eyes were on IEM Cologne.

Cologne

For various reasons, IEM Cologne was one of the most important events since the online era started in early 2020. Not only it was the first international LAN in over a year, it would also see major clashes between the best teams in the world. The rivalry between Gambit and Natus Vincere had reached its climax, MOUZ and OG both looked promising teams after recent results, and it was the final event before the player break. There was plenty on the line for every team.

FaZe, however, started their run in Cologne with humble expectations. Before reaching IEM Cologne’s main event, they’d had to go through the Play-in stage, which is always dangerous. Fortunately, Twistzz and rain made quick work out of it as they defeated both Evil Geniuses and Complexity in a confident fashion. It was then time for the main event.

LIVING UP

Cologne’s main show started with FaZe falling right into the lower-bracket as they got defeated by Astralis in their opening game. With just one life left, FaZe would have to go above and beyond to reach the playoffs.

FaZe’s first game in the lower-bracket saw them facing Team Spirit. The CIS squad had been a dangerous underdog all year long, and FaZe could be another victim of theirs, but Twistzz didn’t let that happen, and sent the CIS team home.

Next, it was Vitality. Much thanks to an off-day for ZywOo, and a strong combination by rain, Twistzz and broky, FaZe sent the French packing too. Heroic, their final lower-bracket opponent who had just won EPL Season 13 were the clear favorites and FaZe biggest challenge to that point, but while the Danes put up a fight, broky had an stellar performance, and led FaZe to the playoffs – FaZe’s first playoffs run in 2021.

Luck once again wasn’t on FaZe side as far as drawings go, and Karrigan was set to face one of the favorites, Gambit, in the quarter-finals. Once again, however, broky stepped up, and thanks to him and karrigan’s key plays, they actually won over Gambit in a major upset. FaZe were on their way to the semi-finals.

Natus Vincere, the best team in the world at that point was FaZe’s next opponent. Unfortunately for Karrigan and his teammates, Na’Vi was in top shape, and they demolished the Europeans. FaZe run was over, but it was an incredible run, and a much-needed positive result. Things were finally looking up.

AFTER THE BREAK

With IEM Cologne 2021 over, FaZe entered the player break. During that time, some rumours popped up, pointing that Astralis support player Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth could be on his way to the team. Whether or not discussions happened at some point – and most likely they did – the move didn’t happen, and FaZe returned with the same roster they had before the break.

In any case, FaZe first post-break tournament, ESL Pro League Season 14, saw them in group C. There, they’d have to survive against Natus Vincere, the new FNATIC, MOUZ, BIG and a broken Evil Geniuses. FaZe performed well, only losing two games to Natus Vincere and FNATIC. Unfortunately, FaZe tied-up with FNATIC for third-place by match-wins, but due to how the tiebreakers work, FaZe ended in 4th place, and their run in EPL was over.

FaZe would then attend to Pinnacle Fall Series in early September, where they started playing from the quarter-finals. The squad eliminated Dignitas there, but felt to Virtus.Pro in the semi-finals. In mid-September, Karrigan would attend another smaller, but critically important event – the closed qualifier to IEM Fall, the final RMR event that would decide if FaZe would go to the Major or not. Fortunately, FaZe only had to win one match – against the Danish squad OPPA – to qualify, and they managed to do that.

FIGHTING FOR A TICKET TO STOCKHOLM

Winning over OPPA meant that FaZe had their spot in IEM Fall. This didn’t mean that they had already qualified to the PGL Major Stockholm, though. Since they finished last in Flashpoint 3, FaZe would have almost no room for mistakes.

Before IEM Fall, though, FaZe players had another stop in their calendars: BLAST Fall Groups. There, the objective was to finish at least in 6th place, and Karrigan managed to do that. The team started slow as they got beaten by Complexity, but bounced back in the lower bracket, eliminated both OG and Complexity and booked a spot to the Fall Final event. With that done, FaZe could fully focus on IEM Fall.

IEM Fall was an important event, and one that, again, FaZe couldn’t afford to have an off-day. In the group stage, all matches were BO1, and even though FaZe escaped from the death group this time, they still were in a dangerous group. Just like in EPL 14, FaZe won three matches in their group, but their loss to Fiend costed them a direct spot in the Major. Instead, the Europeans would have to fight in the 9 – 12th decider bracket – and then count on luck to get a spot.

Fortunately, FaZe gave their opponents hell in that bracket. Twistzz and olofmeister both shined against OG, and then, against BIG, the entire team rallied against their opponents and crushed the Germans. After winning over BIG, FaZe just needed to sat down and wait for the remaining games to be played. Thanks to G2 defeating Fiend in the 5-8th decider bracket, FaZe booked their spot in the Major.

THE BIG ONE

It was time for the first CSGO Major in over two years, and FaZe had to start from the bottom. The squad started their run at the Major at the Challengers Stage, and they first faced Spirit, which proved to be no challenge to Karrigan, broky and Twistzz.

Next, it was ENCE. The Finnish put up a fight, but thanks to a stellar performance from Karrigan again, FaZe took care of them. With a 2 – 0 record, FaZe only need to win one more match to advance to the next step of the Major. Their opponents? Virtus.Pro.

VP is an always dangerous team to play against. However, they had just done a last-minute roster move. Karrigan took advantage of this, and after a strong performance by Twistzz and olofm, defeated VP without dropping a map.

THE MAJOR RUN

FaZe did a clean sweep in the Challengers stage and advanced to the New Legends stage. FaZe started it well by defeating Evil Geniuses in a quick fashion. However, they lost two matches back-to-back, first to Copenhagen Flames and then G2. With a 1 – 2 record, any other loss would send FaZe packing, and all matches onwards would be BO3. FaZe survived their first elimination trial by beating Team Liquid 2 – 0, but Virtus.Pro was next, and the CIS powerhouse was looking for revenge.

It was an incredibly disputed game. FaZe took the first map of the series and VP’s pick, Inferno, with a 16 – 13 scoreline. Unfortunately for the international mix, VP came back and took FaZe map pick, Ancient, in an incredibly close map again. On the final map of their series, Overpass, Virtus.Pro shut down FaZe’s T-side and closed the game in their favor. It was over for FaZe in Stockholm.

CLOSING THE YEAR

With the Major done, FaZe only had two more events booked. First, it was the BLAST Premier Fall Final which they qualified for earlier on. Then, in December, it was time for IEM Winter.

FaZe performance in both events are unremarkable. FaZe won two matches in total. One against BIG in BLAST’s tournament, and another in IEM Winter against Heroic, which fielded a stand-in at time. After being eliminated from IEM Winter by Gambit, FaZe closed 2021.

It was a disappointing end to a lukewarm year, but not one that surprised FaZe fans. As I’ll discuss below, FaZe never seemed like a complete team this whole year, even after bringing back Karrigan and adding Twistzz. Before that, if you want a quick sum up of FaZe’s 2021, you can say that it was underwhelming besides a few highlights. Their performance at IEM Cologne was the stand-out run in a positive way, but their three back-to-back last place finishes still hurt even now. Overall, the negatives outweigh the positive results.

WHAT WENT WRONG, AND WHAT’LL HAPPEN NOW?

Make no mistake, finishing in 3 – 4th place in IEM Cologne, and then reaching the New Legends stage of the Major are results that many teams can only dream of. However, when one remembers of which organization we’re talking about, it’s easier to understand why they’d consider 2021 bland. After all, they had to go through three last-place finishes in a row. Surely, they qualified for the Major, but they didn’t reach the playoffs. They didn’t win a single event last year, which is a first for the organization since 2017.

Having said that, it’s also clear that FaZe struggled with their roster all this time. First, coldzera never really returned to form. Then, olofmeister returned. While it’s always good to see the legend in the server, he just isn’t the strong player he once was. 2021 wasn’t the worst year in his career, but he still closed it with a negative 0.96 HLTV rating. That just isn’t enough for a team like FaZe.

And this takes us to the most recent roster move FaZe did. After months of speculation and rumours, the organization has finally brought in ex-MOUZ star and Karrigan teammate Robin “ropz” Kool. The Estonian player is reportedly replacing olofmeister this year.

BACK IN CONTENTION

With ropz being brought in, 2022 will finally see FaZe with a strong line-up in all fronts. They’ve a world-class lurker, a strong AWPer. Then, two veterans leading and supporting the squad, an incredibly strong rifler to close it out. Bringing in ropz can be the missing piece of the puzzle that will unlock all potential in this squad.

There’s a world where ropz alone doesn’t fix FaZe, though. It’s a fact that rain isn’t the always reliable support player that would step up when needed like he could in the past. 2021 saw some of his worst performances to date after all. One could hope that ropz will lift up this team, but we might see the Norwegian out in 2022. It’s just speculation, but it’s a possibility that can’t be ignored nonetheless.

In any case, 2021 is a year in the books for FaZe. Hopefully the team will take this small break to do a mental reset and come back stronger this year. So far, FaZe is scheduled to attend IEM Katowice, which starts in February 15th, but it’s possible that we’ll see FaZe before that as BLAST still has to announce dates for their Spring circuit.

In order to not miss what’s next for FaZe Clan, or anything esports, make sure to follow us here! More retrospectives are on the way, and so is a shuffle season recap. You will be fully up-to-date for when CSGO returns to the big stage!

The author

My name is Marcos, I have been following the CSGO pro scene since 2015 but really got into in following games and pro teams in 2016. Used to bet a lot, stopped a bit but never stopped following the esports scene. I'm a student right now so I got a lot of time to keep with it and discover new things.

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