What ESL Pro League taught us about fnatic's new roster
fnatic's performance might have come as a surprise to many, as the newly formed roster was not expected to perform at this level from day one. This adventure at EPL gave us an insight into a new, yet familiar fnatic — for better or worse.
After a disappointing 2020 and 2021, fnatic decided the best course of action to maintain a competitive CS:GO roster was to partially move away from their Swedish identity and embrace an international roster, something becoming increasingly common amongst teams that had fielded single-language rosters such as G2 and, until recently, BIG.
What has changed?
After careful considerations and three rounds of interviews with fnatic management, it was decided that Alex "ALEX" McMeekin was the best option to lead the team's new era and alongside him, it would be compatriot William "mezii" Merriman who would round out the roster. Jesper "JW" Wecksell and Maikil "Golden" Selim were moved to the bench after both players had underperformed for some time and no change in setup was able to turn their form around.
One of the most significant results of this change has to be shifting communication from Swedish to English. It seemed like a serious move for a core of players that had never been on an international roster before, but the team claim they don't see that as a big issue. "I wouldn't say we had big struggles... I feel we are getting more and more comfortable every day," said Jack "Jackinho" Ström Mattsson in during a press conference ahead of the EPL playoffs. "It's always easier to communicate faster in Swedish, I guess, but I wouldn't say it has been a problem so far."
A visible shift could be seen in fnatic's map pool, with ALEX seemingly adopting his repertoire from his Cloud9 experience. The Swedish-British team have strayed away from their old home of Inferno, a map where they had put up good performances even at their worst patches of form, ending 2020 with a 64.6% win rate. Instead, ALEX has elevated Overpass and Nuke at the center of the new fnatic map pool, playing the two maps eight times out of 13 at ESL Pro League. With victories against BIG, FaZe and a close game against Natus Vincere it can be said that the boys in black and orange look more comfortable on Overpass than any other map.
Nuke has been the second most played map over the last twelve months across top 30 teams, so any team that wants to compete at the highest level would need to have this map nailed down, and ALEX understands that. It is one of the maps that the Brit tried to master with the Cloud9 lineup and looks to be giving it another go with fnatic. However, so far they have lost the majority of their games on Nuke as they struggled on their T sides, rarely being able to build an advantage on the offensive.
So far fnatic have yet to play any games on both Vertigo and Ancient, with the latter being first-round banned in all their group stage vetoes.
As predicted, it seems that fnatic attempted to approach their EPL group games with more structure compared to the previous iteration of the roster, which thrived in fast-paced environments and individual flair. The new structure seemed to benefit their CT sides, where they showed flashes of brilliance, especially on Overpass during the group stages. Despite this they are still clearly a team in transition and yet to reach their full potential, and their issues can mainly be seen in their T sides.
fnatic left a lot to be desired on their offensive sides during EPL, most notably against FaZe on Overpass and Liquid on Nuke, but those were not isolated incidents. fnatic displayed a lower than average percentage of T rounds won on almost all maps they played, for example winning only 31.4% and 42.7% of offensive rounds on Overpass and Nuke, respectively.
One possible explanation for this poor offensive record is their inability to get opening kills, with the team only being able to find the first kill in 38.2% of Terrorist rounds. To put it into perspective, Complexity have recorded a 47.7% opening duel win rate during the same period of time, while fnatic themselves won 43.8% of their opening duels on the T side with the previous iteration in 2020.
The difference comes mainly in personnel. Last year most opening duels were taken by Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin and JW, whereas the new lineup has ALEX and Brollan attempting the most entries. Similar to previous teams, the British IGL has been the main entry for fnatic, with Brollan taking the second most opening duels but a slightly higher success rate. In line with other AWPers, Jackinho displays the best record in the team by winning 72.5% of duels but attempting fewer of them overall.
Of course, this underperformance on the T side can just be the result of the recent changes, with both the coach and IGL changing. It will take time for the squad to adapt to ALEX's calling and integrate new strategies into their playbook.
Now let's talk about some positives
The IGL being more involved in playmaking is not unusual these days, as players such as Hampus "hampus" Poser and Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen like to perform aggressive maneuvers to gather information or find opening duels. ALEX's contributions when leading from the front seemed to create some of the best moments for fnatic during EPL, most notably on Mirage where he would push B apartments on the CT side.
Speaking of the British additions, mezii seems to have integrated well into the squad and comfortably made the step up into the tier 1 scene. His performances against Natus Vincere, BIG, and FaZe were commendable and key to his team's success in reaching the playoffs.
Brollan ended the tournament as fnatic's highest-rated player alongside mezii, with the young Swede also recording the highest impact rating in the team, showing that he is still capable of being the star player. Meanwhile, the ever-reliable Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson did not play his best tournament, but the Swede has proven multiple times that he's able to come back into form, so this event should not be cause for concern.
What can we expect from fnatic?
While their presence in the knockout stages at EPL against Liquid might have seemed underwhelming, it must be recognized that the team was able to finish in the top three in what people had defined as the "group of death." With drastic changes in the structure and composition of the team suggesting that this project would not be able to bring success from day one, the fact that fnatic made it through by itself needs to be considered a success.
The more time ALEX and keita have to build their system and the longer the Swedish core spends communicating in English, the better the team will become. fnatic play like a top 20 team now, and if Jackinho becomes more consistent, KRIMZ finds form again, and the team is able to improve their T sides, then the top 10 is a realistic prospect.