JW: "I built teams for fnatic for such a long time, maybe it's time to start my own organization in Sweden"
Sweden, the original bastion of elite Counter-Strike, has long been losing ground — to the point that one of the most iconic teams from the Nordic country, fnatic, went international in 2021. JW now wants to buck that trend by promoting his country's next young talents alongside longtime friend and teammate Robin "flusha" Rönnquist, another fnatic alumnus.
The beginning of the end of fnatic’s Swedish roster can be traced to flusha’s departure from the team in January 2021, but to understand how he came to take his leave, the tape has to be rewound even further, to when he decided to join back up with JW and Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson in the black and gold after a stint leading Cloud9 in late 2018 and early 2019.
Initially, the idea was that flusha would continue growing as an in-game leader and JW would hand sniping duties to Tim "nawwk" Jonasson, who was then in GamerLegion, but an exorbitant buyout for a still unproven player at the time saw fnatic scramble to find other options as a deal couldn’t be made for the AWPer. Eventually, Maikil "Golden" Selim’s name was floated and he was happy to join the team, although structural plans changed with the addition of another in-game leader. "We felt like if we were going to have Golden on the team he'd have to call and lead because that's his kind of thing," JW says, "so we moved flusha to more of a second-caller."
The team bloomed quickly, as the roster was nearly the same as the 2018 fnatic that won IEM Katowice and the WESG World Finals, albeit with young star Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin in lieu of Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson, as they won their first event together, DreamHack Masters Malmö 2019, and then went on to finish most of the tournaments they traveled to in the top four. When the COVID pandemic first hit and the online era began the Swedes were able to keep their momentum to win ESL Pro League Season 11 Europe, but from there on out they would fall into a downward spiral, never to recover.
"Most of it was the online environment itself, we lost to a lot of frustrating plays we weren't expecting because the majority of us were used to playing big LAN tournaments in front of crowds and we took a big hit in the online part," JW recalls, "but it was that way for everyone, so we can't just blame that — we couldn't adapt to it and that's the hard truth." The cracks which had been appearing since the dawn of the online era caused enough damage by the end of 2020 to collapse the project and flusha was on his way back out of fnatic.
But why was flusha the one to make his leave? In end-of-the-year meetings between players and management, the former IGL brought up that he wanted to lead again, as that was the initial idea stipulated before Golden was brought on, and in returning to the original plan the team should look to replace the Swedish in-game leader of Iraqi descent to get a sharper aimer. Things didn’t go the way of the three-time Major winner, however, and management decided to keep Golden and instead bring on a young AWPer in Jack "Jackinho" Ström Mattsson, which ended with the team and flusha parting ways due to discrepancies in the server.
"We weren't always on the same page. Sometimes flusha saw the game one way and Golden saw it another way, or sometimes they saw it the same way but couldn't find a connection and were working around each other," JW says. "The problems were always in the game, it was the best team we had when it comes to the vibe outside of the game — we did a lot of things together and we had a lot of fun, it was kind of this ideal family."
JW started to go downhill at the same time as flusha departed the team, according to the AWPer himself. "I got a call from Samuelsson and he told me they were picking Golden over flusha and that they decided to sign a new AWPer," he recalls as fnatic shook the order in the team, "that was right after we played Flashpoint, which had been one of my best tournaments in recent years and I felt like the way I worked for that tournament and approached the game was really good and was how I'd do it moving forward. I basically told them that I understood them but that it wasn't really what I expected. I didn't say I wanted to continue straight away and took some time to think because I've given up the AWP plenty of times throughout my career but it had always been on my terms and this time I felt like it wasn't."
Ultimately JW decided to keep the AWP and the incoming youngster was not only moved to a new role and position but had to do so with a different weapon. "The whole situation just got very, very messy," JW says. "A lot is on my shoulders because I was the one who wanted to keep the 'big green' and they signed a pretty fresh AWPer from the Swedish scene and made him a rifler, so it just ended up being a shit show. The whole year after that we just hit new low after new low."
The team continued to flounder and management eventually benched Golden and JW, who by then had given up the AWP to see if the team would do better with Jackinho manning the sniper rifle to no avail. The roster was revamped not long after, in the summer, going international with the additions of Alex "ALEX" McMeekin and William "mezii" Merriman, who were later joined by Jamie "keita" Hall and Owen "smooya" Butterfield.
Having been on the bench since summer, by the time JW and fnatic parted ways in October nobody was taken by surprise, but the way in which the British organization let go of one of its longest tenured and most iconic players was perhaps not to the standards for such a momentous occasion. "Parting ways with fnatic was expected, but also unexpected," JW says. "Sure, at first I didn't expect myself to be there that long, but I felt like the longer it went on, that it was where I was always going to play and retire and I'd keep working in the organization with other stuff like coaching, management or whatever.
"I had a hard time when I heard the decision. I felt appreciated, but I also think that they didn't do my legacy justice in the farewell. I got a goodbye tweet, basically, and that's it. They made a video for Golden when he left, but I didn't even get that, so I felt a bit hurt during the whole process because we had done so much together. I thought at least I deserved a fancy video highlighting everything we went through."
No longer tied to fnatic, JW started to think that after spending so many years working for someone else, he now had nothing to show for it other than the stability and security offered during his time in the organization. "At some point I started to realize that I want to do something for myself," JW says, "I built teams for fnatic for such a long time, but I always built it for fnatic, and so I started to think that maybe it's time to start my own organization or my own business in Sweden.
"The first thing that hit me was that I wanted to prove to everyone, and most importantly to myself, that what they've seen from me is not what they should expect from me because it's not what I expect from myself," JW says of his first thoughts that flooded him after his release. "I just felt hunger for revenge, to prove it to myself and to the world. I haven't gotten the chance to do that yet and I'm still looking to build that."
But before jumping into any personal projects JW hooked back up with flusha, who had been struggling for months in GORILLAZ, a team that on paper had potential with the likes of Miikka "suNny" Kemppi and Jere "sergej" Salo on the roster — and even a Anton "supra" Tšernobai that JW was very impressed by —, but that was unable to catch flight and lurched down in the depths of the lower tier of European competition, unable to clear the surface.
"You have all of these pieces so how the fuck can they be doing what they're doing," JW thought at the time. "After talking to flusha a bit I told him to let me try and see if I could do something good with it, since I certainly wouldn't do anything worse than what they were already doing, but it was really just a mess. The players were trying really hard, even when I joined like seven months into the project, but you could also feel that all of them were dead inside after all of the [bad] results.
"The first qualifier I played with them, we lost in the third round or something, without any practice or anything, and I was pissed because I always want to play better, but I could feel that the others had been in that situation so many times that they just didn't care. They had no feelings, almost. I didn't have anything else to do so I told them I could help them out for the rest of the year, but I think that it was the same as with the ending of fnatic, new problems were creeping up all of the time. You fix one problem and three new ones come, then you fix one of those and five new ones come."
During his time in GORILLAZ, JW was reminded of the intricacies that go into making a good Counter-Strike team, and how signing big names may not always make for a winning combination at the end of the day as the sum of all individuals may not add up. "That project should be good when you look at it on paper, but I also feel like it's a good reminder that you don't always get a good team because you have good individual players," JW says.
"So even if I was disappointed, it was also a valuable experience for me in the project that I want to build." Another thing JW realized was that he didn’t believe an international team could be as good as one with all players coming from the same country. "I still believe that in the most pressured situations you have to have that strong bond that you can only get by having the same culture, the same nationality, and it shows in the Majors, the event with the most pressure, where no international team has won."
NIP signed two Danes and fnatic three Brits in 2021, diluting the two elite Swedish teams, although based in Stockholm and with an academy team feeding local talent to the first team, the Ninjas are still very much involved in the Swedish scene, whereas the black and gold, based in London, have made it clear that by bringing on British players they are opening the team up and following the trend of fielding an international roster. Seeing as the Swedish scene no longer carries the weight it once did, and many have turned their backs to it, JW wants to go back to basics with his longtime friend flusha, who stepped down from GORILLAZ’s active lineup in late 2021.
"We want to make this Swedish team because everyone else is leaving Sweden and we see that the potential is there, you just need to take care of it," JW says. "The worst case scenario for me is that we become a farm team like Begrip was in 1.6, but even if that’s how the project fails, it would still be a huge win for the Swedish scene, and that's where I'm at right now. I still want to compete, but I also want to show Swedish Counter-Strike's true face in the process."
JW sees himself and flusha as two veterans that could show a new wave of youngsters the ropes, even though at 26 and 28-years-old they are still in a good age bracket to compete at a high level if they can get back on the horse, and for JW this has happened at a perfect time, as he sees the possibility of merging his entrepreneurial spirit with continuing his playing career by starting his own organization with his longtime friend and teammate to help bring up a Swedish team that can try and compete to make it into the top 30.
"Creating my own organization has always been a dream of mine, which is also one of the reasons we left for GODSENT when we did, because we were going to be co-owners of the organization," JW says of the short stint in 2016-17 in which he and flusha transferred away from fnatic for several months before making their return after unsatisfactory results. "But it's just also me as a person, I'm very entrepreneurial and I always like to have a lot of stuff in the air and do a lot of work inside and outside of the server."
Plans have been brewing for months now, as JW was hoping to be able to maybe have something to announce at the beginning of the year, but with flusha still contracted to GORILLAZ and the search for funding ongoing, the Swede hopes things will work themselves out in the coming months. "I think it would fit me really well and I have a good plan for it, but obviously this is esports so we'll need some funding," he says, "that's the hardest part right now because you want to work with people that you know are true and good, which is one of the harder things in esports, to find these honest and good people. I've been here many years now and there are a lot of ugly fish in the waters."
One way to clear flusha would be to buy him out of his contract, and JW hasn’t ruled out partnering up with someone, although the dream is for it to be just the two of them starting out and building things up. "I think flusha is a huge key in this whole thing, I still think he's the smartest player Swedish CS has produced and his experience will be invaluable when it comes to passing it down to others," JW says. "We will find a way somehow, I hope, because I think the two of us have always worked really well together and I look forward to continuing this journey that we started together and to keep doing it together and perhaps even finishing it together."
Figuring out the details with GORILLAZ could prove challenging, however, as the yet-to-be-revealed organization made an investment into flusha as part of their team and he remains under contract until the end of 2022. "flusha is contracted to the investors right now and they only see money," JW says, "they just want their money back, which is the hard part because, being completely honest, flusha’s stock has fallen a lot during his time in GORILLAZ, so the price they paid when they got him, they can't expect that back.
"Investors don't really see it that way, which is kind of hard in esports right now with all of this investment coming in. They just see esports is booming and they want to throw money at it and hope that it'll boom even more, but it's the same as with stocks — you can make a bad investment and that's how it is."
In regards to the team itself, nothing is set in stone, although JW already has his eyes peeled and his ears to the ground to know what’s what in the Swedish scene, where if all goes well he hopes to recruit several players to join him and flusha in the near future. The 26-year-old has been scouting talents and has even signed some of them up to play open qualifiers and the upcoming Elitserien in Sweden, where they hope to rotate through some of the youngsters they have their eyes on in hopes that once things settle a roster of five will be ready to go.
Two names stand out to JW as of now. "Svedjehed, who used to play in Lilmix, the team that was always the best in the tier below the top teams," is one, JW says, "he has a really good understanding of the game. Not the sickest stats all of the time, but if he has that understanding we can teach him a lot because if there's something you can't learn it's that — you have to see it’s there already, which is something you can only get by grinding. I got it by grinding my whole youth in 1.6 and playing in tournaments, cups, ladders, whatever. There are no shortcuts, nobody can teach you that, it's all just a grind.
"The second very prominent name is Sapec from Young Ninjas, I'd love to work with him based on what I've seen and analyzed. The guy is something we really need in the Swedish scene, he doesn't care at all about himself or his stats, if you tell him you'll flash him to go first into a site, he'll do it, and that's so important and very underrated. Anybody can look good in the stats section if you play the right way, but a guy like apEX always going in first, that's so rare and very needed. So that's a player I would love to help develop even further."
Would Young Ninjas let a player like Anton "Sapec" Palmgren leave? It remains to be seen, but it makes sense that the player would want to move to a team that will hopefully compete at a higher level, bridging the gap between an academy team and a top flight squad. "NIP have done a lot for the Swedish scene with the Young Ninjas project, but I think that now it's up to someone else to keep taking the next step," JW says about the hypothetical situation in which he would have to negotiate for players.
"I think those two players are the two most prominent I have, but there are a lot of interesting names that I keep looking at and that we'll keep trying out in qualifiers. Should there be any contract negotiation problems that people can't get out of, well that's life and I'm used to it, but in the end I would say that it's just a player getting stuck because if I were in a players' position to get this opportunity, there would be nothing more valuable to me."
The groundwork is being laid, and although money and figuring out contracts as well as setting up the infrastructure to launch an organization takes time, a plan has been made, a name is already picked, and inspiration drawn. G2’s branding and commercial work mixed with Astralis’ ethos of bringing esports to the mainstream in Denmark are JW’s influences when he envisions his own project.
For now, though, all there is to do is keep an eye on the two veterans as plans are volatile and still in the air. "The team doesn't exist yet, but should we go that route and finalize everything you will not miss it," JW says. "Right now we're signing up to play all of the open qualifiers we can and we're going to start playing Eliteserien, the biggest Swedish national league. We bought into the league with the idea of making the organization, although we’ll play as a mix for now, but if it finally happens we’ll take over the spot next season."