The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive world-first entered its online play era as the globe rapidly shut down following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a shock to the system for plenty of orgs and fans alike, with giant killings becoming pretty prevalent across the board.
However, it was during this time of mass uncertainty that Esports giant Fnatic seized an opportunity and netted the first S-Tier event of the online era, ESL Pro League Season 11.
Beating established sides such as Mousesports, Natus Vincere, and Astralis, all ranked higher than them in the HLTV World Rankings at the time, it was the capping off of a run that had seen them finish in the top five for their past six events prior.
Going from CS: GO’s nearly men to finally topping the best CS:GO odds and grabbing hold of a trophy of their own was supposed to be the start of an era of dominance for the Swedish org; Astralis was about to undergo a period of huge uncertainty, Natus Vincere are always prone to the odd implosion, Faze Clan and Mousesports had struggled with inconsistencies since the turn of the year and Team Vitality was again going through a roster transition.
But, nearly six months on, Pro League Season 11 is still the side’s latest tournament win and has been followed by a run of form that has seen the side just about cling onto their top ten status in the world rankings, but eliminated before the semi-final of every single competition they’ve played in since.
Their confidence looks shot, the desire doesn’t seem to be all there and things have gotten so bad that they were priced as evens for their ESL Pro League Season 12 opener against lowly Spirit, easily the lowest-ranked side in their group.
So where and, more importantly, why has it gone so wrong for Fnatic?
Lack of Motivation
As mentioned earlier, Fnatic are hardly the only team in the world struggling to adapt to the online era of Counter-Strike. BIG were ranked as the world’s best side for nearly two months, Vitality have enjoyed a resurgence of form not seen since the departure of ALEX, Complexity defied all the odds to win BLAST Premier Summer and the prestigious ESL One Cologne tournament was won by Heroic late last month.
Not only is it a disadvantage for sides used to playing on Local Area Networks to come up against a team that already plays the majority of games online anyway, with mixed frame rates and lag drops stopping in game leaders from employing the tactics they would normally, but it’s also exceptionally hard for big org players to be motivated about playing on what is largely seen as a mode reserved for A, B and C-Tier tournaments.
Everyone, not just CS fans, wants to see a return to LAN events. One look at Brollan, Krimz or Golden’s social media will tell you just how badly they are missing the studios and big stages of before, and there’s this sense of just waiting for all of this to be over still.
That makes it incredibly hard for a team like Fnatic to pick themselves up and perform at a level they usually reserve for a big grand final with twenty thousand people roaring them on, especially when it’s just them in their bedrooms.
Not Seeing Calls Through
As we mentioned, online CS changes the very nature of how top tier players read, call and interact with the game. It might not look very dramatic to a spectator, but when you’re an in game leader and you can’t make those inch-perfect calls that separate winning and losing a clutch round because one of your players is struggling with lag, the pressure mounts up to a new level.
Fnatic have always been a side that have relied less on grand strategic plays, but thrived when their individuals are allowed to have their own slices of a map and let their own individual brilliance shine through. Think of Brollan in toilets on Overpass, Golden on Site B on Nuke or Flusha on Banana on Inferno and think how unique that is to Fnatic, for example.
Online CS really does restrict, and even punishes, that sort of playstyle. There has been a counter to this by Fnatic in more recent times, with Golden calling more conservative plays, pushing through more save rounds and encouraging more lurking, but the end result is just too many instances of the side getting into important winnable positions but ultimately just not seeing it through.
A Return To The Top?
Fnatic, and all of its players, have not suddenly become bad on the back of a few months’ performances. In fact, I bet if you stuck this Fnatic side back onto the stage at Katowice or Cologne, it would have no problem reaching the top 8 minimum.
The side just look a bit downtrodden and fed up of playing online CS. Instead of recognising that this is the way things are for the time being and making the best of it, it’s beginning to look like a bit of a self-fulfilling propechy for the Swedes now. Bemoaning online CS, playing in a way that doesn’t suit them, either grinding through a result or losing another shocker to an online side, and then bemoaning online CS on social media again.
We’ll see what the future holds for the org, however it’s hard to see Fnatic returning to the top table of Counter-Strike whilst this online era continues to persist.