Na’Vi vs. FNATIC – Ready For War

Published on SK Gaming in July of 2010.

Tomorrow marks the first day of GameGune and the most significant storyline which can be woven around that tournament is that it marks the first opportunity for the ‘new’ fnatic lineup to meet Na’Vi on LAN. Beyond just GameGune, which is a medium sized LAN in terms of prestige and its team list, this marks the beginning of what some would hope will become the next big power struggle in competitive Counter-Strike: The best team of 2010 against the best team of 2009, the story begins to write itself.

Comparing the great teams

There are in total three opportunities for these two teams to lock horns within the space of one month as we have GameGune tomorrow, IEM Shanghai in just over a week and then e-Stars Seoul in less than a month. The implications of these battles may echo not just across the Counter-Strike world but even backwards into time. One of the problems of comparing the truly great teams, the legends who have accomplished so much, is that almost by definition they have not faced one another in their primes.

Typically these teams became so highly regarded by virtue of dominating their opponents so it’s very rare that two teams who are both great exist within the same time period without either diluting one another’s greatness or one rising up in strength while the other’s powers are decreasing.

The anti-climactic last clash: mTw vs. fnatic

A simple example of the latter scenario is mTw of 2008 and fnatic of 2009. mTw were a truly great team in 2008 and thanks to the Danes keeping their lineup together for the first three quarters of 2009 we did get to see them face off against the dominant and incredible fnatic 2009 lineup. The problem was that it became clear after the IEM III Global Finals that the 2009 mTw might have had the same lineup as 2008 but it was not the same team in terms of how it could perform.

ImageIt’s not simply that fnatic improved and mTw stayed the same, across the board one could see that mTw struggled to beat teams they were beating the year before. mTw went from being the best team in the world to being the third or more likely the fourth best team in the world. The drop in placings and performances was not simply attributable to fnatic’s rise following the creation of their Swedish superteam. Rather a key factor was that it was the end of the road for that mTw team in terms of winning titles.

mTw were still good enough to battle for 3rd place but the dynamic that made the team so successful in what they did strategically and the level of teamplay they had accomplished seemed to be breaking down. Whether that was due to a shift in the metagame, teams figuring out and countering their overall style, or whether it was the motivational issues which led whiMp and MJe out of competitive play it’s not vital to know, rather we can be satisfied in seeing the overall trend.

The mTw example is rare enough because there was a team who had been very clearly at the top and yet held out for as long as they could before it became obvious to everyone that their time of being champions was past them and roster changes would be required if they hoped to get back to that level. Typically a team will change players after only a couple of bad events. The small niggling internal issues in every team can be solved and filled in with enough success but once success is eliminated from the equation these become genuine problems to be addressed, cracks in the very foundations of the team that open up.

The end of the fnatic 2009 lineup’s era

fnatic may have seemed to have followed that last trend in as much as their decision to change the lineup came following essentially only two less than ideal results. They lost to AGAiN at the WCG and finished 5th-8th at DreamHack Winter. These really weren’t acceptable reasons to break up the team though, especially not a team that great in terms of its personnel and how its parts fit together.

Firstly their loss to AGAiN was undoubtedly devastating in the way it unfolded but taking a grander view of the situation fnatic won a silver medal, a first for all the players involved, and it’s simply a fact that no team is going to win every single tournament regardless of the era. Even back in the days of only three to four big tournaments a year nobody could manage it, it’s not going to happen in an era of between five and eight big tournaments a year. It’s also the case that the first map of that WCG final, nuke, was one of the closest ever played and so it’s not a huge stretch to suggest fnatic genuinely could have won that gold medal on a different day.

Likewise the DreamHack result looks lousy on paper in terms but one has to place it within the context of the opponent who beat them. That loss came to an mTw team who were playing out of this world Counter-Strike and with a stand-in, making it difficult to adapt to their free-form style. mTw had one of the best leaders of all time at reading an opponent through scouting pre-game in ave and they were employing a more intuitive and impulsive playing style than normal to accomodate their newer players. mTw showed in every playoff round of the tournament that they were playing some of the best Counter-Strike that had been played that year. Even in spite of all of those factors fnatic were still a hair away from winning that series. They lost the second map by three rounds and the third by two.

The fnatic 2009 lineup was not a team who ran out of steam and had seen their level begin to dip in a direction which was going to become the trend from there on out. Rather fnatic ran into a couple of close situations where the other teams elevated their own play and came out ahead by a nose.

Changes in the competitive level from year to year

It’s also worth considering the change in the competitive level over the course of 2009. 2008 had been one of the most competitive years ever with the elite teams all winning titles, which made mTw’s four titles even more impressive.

During that period one could narrow down the elite sides to mTw, mouz, fnatic, and SK Gaming. mTw’s gradual decline has already been noted and mouz underperformed to the extent of not even qualifying for the IEM III Global finals and in June traded veteran gore for newcomer cash. no longer had the ESWC Grand Finals to accomplish something great at and were also unable to attend some of the year’s events due to sponsorship issues. With those other teams dropping off and fnatic rising up the only team left vaguely the same early on was SK Gaming and perhaps one could argue they improved a little as zet continued to get his feet under him in 1.6 and adapt to playing with the team.

Even so that same SK Gaming team, which had placed 2nd back-to-back at ESWC Masters Cheonan and Kode5, was hardly a team who were genuinely capable of bringing home titles. At times brilliant play from tentpole aside that was a flawed unit and when roster changes were made, bringing in face and kHRYSTAL, the difference was immediately noticeable. When one considers that that was the second best team in the world for the first two thirds of the year it becomes clear there was a dropoff in overall competition amongst the elite sides from 2008 to 2009.

2009 improved as the year went on as far as that aspect of competition went. AGAiN got back into the swing of things with their 3rd at IEM IV Dubai and that eventually springboarded into their WCG gold medal performance. SK Gaming elevated their level and won IEM IV Chengdu and Arbalet Cup Europe. mTw’s ailing team changed from a side struggling to break the top 3 into a collection of new players and stand-ins who managed a bronze medal, 2nd at DreamHack and 2nd at Arbalet Cup Europe between them. As the competition level went up fnatic’s dominance and titles went down.

With all of this backstory and context in place it is now possible to head forwards into the present and put together the pieces of what many expect to be the next big story in Counter-Strike: fnatic vs. Na’Vi. fnatic have always been one of the top teams and in terms of consistency always one of the great teams but when it came to winning major titles it wasn’t until the 2009 lineup that they truly put together a team worthy of saying they could be the greatest of all time. When that lineup arrived, dominated and then lost one of its key components in such a short space of time it felt like the spectator had been robbed somewhat.

Especially when the next year along came a new team capable of dominating the scene. Not just any team but one from a region of the world which had never had a dominant team before, or one even consistently in the top 3. Not only that but as this team began to accrue titles we saw that they were doing so in an era of increased competition again. 2010’s competitive level has had more in common with 2008 than the 2009 which saw fnatic running rampant. mouz re-emerged with roman to win a title, fnatic consistently made finals and mTw broke through a poor period following Sunde’s return to the other side and returned to being one of the elite sides who were genuine favourites to win titles. Add in SK Gaming, thanks to Gux’s play, returning to top 3-4 status and the competition began to look very healthy.

Questions and answers

With Na’Vi winning four titles already in 2010 against elite international competition, two of which were as big as majors come, they’ve put themselves in the conversation for greatest team ever and are well along the way to one of the best years ever. Still the question lingers: since fnatic’s 2009 was so incredible how would they have fared against this Na’Vi lineup? With Gux off playing in SK colours that seemed like a question which would always remain a hypothetical but now it is one we will get a chance to test in the field. In a month there won’t be a vast nebulous cloud of ambiguities and different contexts surrounding answers to it, there’ll be cold hard results to look at and demos to study. The fnatic 2009 lineup and the Na’Vi 2010 lineup can now potentially meet, multiple times.

The factors really go back and forth as one puts this story together. fnatic will be coming in with a new lineup in terms of practice and rebuilding their chemistry but at the same time they’ve, in theory, been capable of practicing since two days before Arbalet Cup Dallas. Na’Vi on the other hand played Arbalet Cup Dallas and then are headed straight to GameGune and then from there to IEM Shanghai. So the learning curve for fnatic in adjusting to their lineup change comes at the same time as Na’Vi are candidates for fatigue and also incapable of solid practice prior to the events.

One of the knocks on fnatic’s 2009 was the level of their competition but now they get a chance to show what their team is made of in one of the most competitive eras. That factor was no fault of fnatic’s as a team can only beat the opposition put in front of it but how would they have fared against elite competition in a more competitive era? Now they get to go up against those sides and prove they are capable of dominating and winning multiple titles under such circumstances, as Na’Vi have done thusfar in the year.

Likewise there was the valid issue of the prestige and fields of the titles won. In 2009 fnatic won some events which were smaller in terms of overall prestige and how stacked the fields were. Again, that’s no fault of fnatic’s as a team can only win the events which are held during its era. Still one could wonder: how they would have fared against stacked fields and events with more prestige attached to them? Now they will get the chance to test exactly how they could perform in those events.

That point is less relevant for the immediate period of the three upcoming tournaments, though IEM V Shanghai as a tasty field, and two of the biggest events of the year are behind us in the IEM IV World Championship and the ESWC Grand Final. Still there will be the WCG Grand Final, which admittedly they may not make it to, and assuming the lineup can stay together through to next year they will be fully practiced and capable of runs at those IEM and ESWC titles.

The incredible fnatic 2009 lineup

Everyone knows fnatic’s 2009 lineup in-depth. Winning five events will get you that kind of name recognition like little else will. On paper and in practice they had one of those teams which one can look back on now and say was an almost perfect composition of players. f0rest, Gux and GeT_RiGhT were, without any exaggeration, three of the top five players in the world in 2009. With cArn having proven himself to be one of the best tacticians to also possess an individual game and dsn a former star player of the team who was needed less and could turn up as and when he felt himself getting into the groove the luxury of having that trio of players can never be overestimated.

f0rest had carried fnatic through so many big games over the years in terms of the raw numbers needed and skill level required at times to get past the other big teams. In 2009 he could have an off game and in would step two other rifle assassins to ensure the team still came out with the victory, and the same applied to the other two. f0rest and GeT_RiGhT’s profiles, thanks to fan support and movies, were so large that many times Gux was the member who seemed to not get his full due in proportion to his contributions.

ImageIn that fnatic lineup Gux really did a bit of everything and was by far one of the best all around players in the world. If you needed him to put up raw numbers he was ready and willing. If you needed him to help break open a site with entry killing he was more than capable. If you needed him to win a 1v2 he was in position and in possession of the requisite level of calm and intelligence to do so. Gux was always the X factor for me.

I gave the analogy to someone in 2009: in the SK Gaming team face had to win 1v2s quite frequently to keep SK in big games or keep them close to their opponents. When Gux won the same kind of 1v2s he put fnatic over the top and won them games. 2010 has borne out just how great a player Gux is as he helped SK to a number of big wins and without the other two fnatic greats one really got a chance to see his talents in each aspect of the game.

In 2010 fnatic have needed Gux whether they knew it before or not. GeT_RiGhT has played some of his best Counter-Strike ever, this might even be his best year individually, and yet the team has only won one title. f0rest’s greatness has been more intermittent than it ever has in past years when he was a solid lock for best or second best player in the world and of all time it seemed. dsn has stepped up his game to fill some of the gap and his AWP has become a noticeable asset for fnatic again but even so the drop in the team’s overall level from the Gux era to the threat era has been significant.

The difference between making the final of an event and winning the final can sometimes be huge. Just take a look at the 2007 NoA team which took seconds in the majors, changed one player and became the 2008 mTw team which dominated. It’s not even just that threat is not a good enough player in comparison to Gux, though I think that’s definitely the case also, but that a player’s performance has to be effective within the overall team and have an impact on whether they win or lose.

The impossibly successful Na’Vi 2010 lineup

I’ve already written at length about why I think Na’Vi is the best team in the world and well on their way to being one of the greatest ever, even before their ESWC and Arbalet Dallas victories. Still there is some more which can be added which is relevant to the story at hand and updates the situation a little in light of recent events.

markeloff has continued to dominate like few individual players have ever done in this game. I’ve written already in this piece about the incredible fnatic trio which seemed to take turns at deciminating their opponents and winning the team titles. In markeloff’s case he also has a great team and yet he has also done so much individually that it is still staggering for me to try and comprehend his ability to rise to the moment. Every single major final Na’Vi have won has been accompanied by a huge markeloff performance. He has so consistently been great in the biggest matches for Na’Vi that it’s easy for me to call him the most important impact player in the world right now.

In the threat fnatic lineup GeT_RiGhT was capable of producing equally incredible performances consistently in terms of the raw skill on display and the numbers on the scoreboard but nobody in 2010 has had the impact on the outcomes of games that markeloff and his unique AWPing style have had.

Up until Arbalet Cup Dallas my thoughts on the other members of the Na’Vi lineup basically ran along very similar lines to the piece mentioned above but following the Texas-based event a little more needs to be added. Before that event starix had been the only player in the lineup who hadn’t truly had a defining moment in the biggest games for his team. He had had some games at Arbalet Best of Four and Arbalet Cup Europe in which he got numbers and in which he played well as his team cruised to victory but his performance at Arbalet Cup Dallas was on another level completely in terms of impact.

starix pretty much saved Na’Vi at times in their very closely fought series against mTw in the quarter-finals. Then in the semi-finals he unleashed upon EG at a time when the Americans were already struggling and would have had a hard enough time figuring out how to counter markeloff. With starix in the mix winning big rounds his team blew right past EG in the final two maps. There were times when starix won rounds starix not only shouldn’t have won but damn near ever player shouldn’t have won. It was one of those performances. In the final against mouz the show didn’t stop as he continued to make crucial kills and show that while his style of AWPing is far from as aesthetically impressive as markeloff’s it can be bordering on a similar level of impact when his game is on like it was those two magical days in Dallas.

Add that starix to the already incredible other four players of Na’Vi and not only are they still the best in the world but you could even make the case that they have improved as the year has gone on. No team wins every event, it doesn’t matter who you are or when you play. Even so Na’Vi’s record is still mindblowing as it is. At ESWC and Arbalet Cup Dallas they struggled at times in the second group stages only to flip the switch and come out with their absolute A games in the playoffs. The theme of this Na’Vi team’s success is not as superficial as pointing to markeloff’s AWPing or Edward’s pistol rounds, it best summed up as: a team who find a way to win no matter the opponent or the event or the circumstances.


If all goes to plan the next month will give us three opportunities to see two of the greatest teams ever go head-to-head. This is not like other eras where one great team rises as the other falls. This is not an era of weaker fields and less events. This is not a time when excuses need to be wheeled out for this team or that team. Now is our chance to see what happens when you put these two dogs in the cage and let them go at it. Now is the time for war as the old gods return, looking to reclaim their thrones, while the new gods sit at the peak of their powers and awaiting all challengers.

fnatic were once the best team in the world, the most dominating by far, but there’s a new sheriff in town and his colours are light blue and yellow. f0rest and GeT_RiGhT once battled within the same team to see who was the best player in the world. Now markeloff already has more major titles in his back pocket than both of them combined and the rest of his team take turns joining him at the peak of competitive Counter-Strike performance from final to final.

GameGune, IEM Shanghai and e-Stars Seoul. A lot can happen in a month. A single roster move can change everything. A single event can shift the balance of power entirely. fnatic and Na’Vi are both ready for war, so let’s have three.