FaZe are a bully from an era quickly slipping away from their control. In their prime, they were the knockout artists of international competition. Able to crush enemies into single digit score lines, flaunt players at the apex of their roles with a wide map pool to match, they helped defined the category of ‘elite’ teams. But the taxonomy of a side doesn’t preclude it from the pressures of the scene more broadly, as we’ve seen since.
Their once devastating presence on the CS:GO schoolyard has been steadily shrinking as their peers have grown in numbers and strength. No longer able to simply over power teams on a man-for-man level, FaZe have been regularly stunted in their international LAN runs since Olofm’s return. They are in-fact, yet to win a series on LAN against a top ten team since he came back at ELEAGUE Premier. But it mightn’t necessarily be olofm’s addition as much as the sides lack of evolution since that’s causing issues. With EPICENTER 2018 on the horizon, and a potentially tough group to climb out of with a hot ENCE and full-strength Na`Vi, these are dangerous times for FaZe.
Stylistically, FaZe fall into an awkward gray-zone. Traditionally, their game has been fuelled by the firepower inherent with having such big-time star players on board. The ‘dangerous from all angles’ characterisation was both popular and accurate in understanding how FaZe approached a game. The structure can’t lean too far into strategizing and a focus on executes - why would you need such big names in the first place if that was going to be the case? As such, FaZe have always done their best work when they have one or two of their primary T-players (generally Niko and rain) buying space. From any mid-round advantage, the experience and freedom on the rest of the players saw rounds intuitively closed off of advantages that seemed impossible to deny.
There’s little anti-stratting you can do to rain walking out of a spot dry and finding a headshot, less-so when Niko chooses to do the same thing out of another area simultaneously. Or at least so the logic goes.
Nowadays though, the notion of being ‘dangerous from all angles’ is hard to characterise as a strength when so many teams can claim a similar qualifier. If FaZe are so deadly from every role, then so is Mousesports, as Liquid, Na`Vi, NiP and especially Astralis. Each of these teams can, and has matched FaZe in a dominating man-for-man fashion over the last three months on LAN. They may have been the first kid to hit puberty and flex their muscles, but given enough time, they are no longer alone in their strength.
At ESL One New York 2018, we saw FaZe lose two Bo3’s to NRG and G2, bombing out of groups. In the NRG series we not only saw the North Americans raise FaZe on an individual level, but were able to out-bully FaZe as well. It wasn’t an out-classing on the mini-map, or falling to complex nade stacks, NRG straight-up dominated FaZe’s T-side. They were able to force CT aggression against their defaults, rotate more confidently and have Brehze earn more multi-kills on-site. FaZe were, on an individual, stylistic and mental level - outmatched by the second best team in NA.
The EPICENTER group will present an interesting challenge, and a chance to more firmly establish their place in the CS:GO schoolyard.
In ENCE, they are potentially confronted with the best of the tier two. The Fins represent what happens when a well-balanced roster prioritises structure and teamplay over simply stacking firepower, yet also have a top ten rifler in the world at their disposal. If there is to be an upset on this front for FaZe, it could very well symbolise the end of their time as an elite entity - no longer able to match the evolved win conditions of the up-and-comers of the scene. ENCE actually have a more proven map pool in recent time as well, posing interesting hurdles for FaZe in the veto process. The true nature of their game will be exposed in their series against ENCE.
A win over ENCE would also be their highest ranked series win since early July, and for Olofm, his most notable series win since early March. The sheer time between wins starts to get at the underlying problems with FaZe, and should they not conquer the Fins in Moscow, these will be brought out far more explicitly. They may not be able to run-over ENCE the same way they could’ve months ago. Instead we may need to see FaZe structure their game more efficiently, look more into their book of anti-strats, and in-general pressure ENCE in more ways than their individuals alone will allow.
The bully can only do-so if he to changes his tactics to the schoolyard he wishes to dominate. As of writing, there is no sign that FaZe can make that stylistic jump to the future. But that’s not to discount the inherent danger of an entity backed into a corner and with the firepower FaZe has at hand. Whether or not this danger will facilitate the long-term future of FaZe remains to be seen, because right now there are more intimidating figures throwing around their weight during recess.