Who were the winners and losers of the last off-season?
With another player break upon us, it is time to evaluate the teams that made changes coming in to 2022.
Roster shuffles are a common occurrence in CS:GO. The game operates in an ecosystem that often sees mass changes of personnel, and the last off-season was no different. A plethora of teams revamped or tweaked their lineups in an attempt to change their fortunes, or in the case of many their eyes were gazing towards the kings of 2021 Natus Vincere, trying to put together rosters to match the CIS giants.
This article examines some of the headline names from our 2022 rostermania recap, and asks a simple question: after the first season of this year, who are the winners and losers of the previous rostermania?
A no-brainer here. When FaZe announced the signing of the world-class Robin "ropz" Kool, a favourite of Finn "karrigan" Andersen, everyone knew this was a team that had tantalising potential. Finally it seemed we had a team that might be able to challenge the juggernaut of Natus Vincere, with a core trio of ropz-Helvijs "broky" Saukants-Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken that rivalled the firepower of any in history, and a supporting cast of Håvard "rain" Nygaard and karrigan who are some of the most experienced and decorated players in CS:GO. They delivered on that promise and then some, winning the three biggest events of the year so far in Katowice, the Major and Cologne, as well as picking up the ESL Pro League Season 15 title and second place in the online Roobet Cup.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the European powerhouse, a two-tournament wobble around IEM Dallas and BLAST Premier Spring Finals saw some ugly results, but they were ultimately the best team of the season by some distance despite a late resurgence from Natus Vincere. ropz has provided the level of play that he was brought in to produce, his highlight moment on Inferno in Katowice the pinnacle, broky has developed into a menacing threat with the AWP and was arguably the second best player of the first part of the year, Twistzz has provided some incredible impact, particularly in the last couple of months, and rain picked up the MVP award for the Major victory, a momentous achievement for a player supposedly past his best. ropz was the catalyst for a dominant and inspiring run of form, and his teammates have spoken at length about his contributions outside of simply fragging.
What is maybe most impressive about the ropz move is that it has somehow not taken away space from FaZe’s other players. FaZe have shown time and time again in their runs so far this year that every single player can contribute, with even karrigan grabbing some player of the match awards in Cologne, and the sheer depth their squad has in terms of fragging ability makes them a frightening opponent even if one of the stars is not at their best; someone else is more than capable of taking up the reins and carrying the team when needed.
karrigan and co. will be tough to surmount next season, regardless of the changes teams around them may be making in an attempt to catch up. Natus Vincere showed at BLAST Premier Spring Finals that they can do it on their day, albeit with FaZe in something of a rut, and will be favourites to knock their European counterparts off the pedestal they currently reside upon. For now FaZe are not just the biggest winners of the off-season, but the winners of the first season full stop.
ENCE may be the team that came out of the 2021 winter player break as the biggest winners of them all, outside of the season-defining team FaZe. Already a team on the rise at the end of last year, they made the seemingly bold decision to swap out Joonas "doto" Forss for Pavle "Maden" Bošković, and it was a move that almost immediately bore fruit. A short adjustment period saw them place well in a couple of tier-two online events and crash early out of Katowice, before they went on a streak of results that saw them take second at ESL Pro League Season 15, win the BLAST Spring Premier Showdown, place top-four at the Major, and take another second-place finish at IEM Dallas with a stand-in. This excellent run of form saw ENCE rise to #2 in the HLTV rankings, matching the feat performed by the all-Finnish lineup in 2019.
Maden has added a dynamism and aggression to ENCE that was sorely needed, particularly considering the style employed by IGL Marco "Snappi" Pfeiffer. ENCE are an assertive team that gives room to their individuals to make plays, with Chad "SPUNJ" Burchill recently opining in an episode of Confirmed that Snappi "gives Spinx the world", and having Maden taking space and creating opportunities for players like the aforementioned Lotan "Spinx" Giladi and Paweł "dycha" Dycha has turned that team into a real powerhouse.
As is always the case with teams of a slightly more modest budget than big boys such as G2 and Vitality, there are rumours circulating that the team may end up being picked apart in the current off-season, with G2 supposedly sniffing around Maden and Snappi and Vitality taking an interest in Spinx. Of course, in return there are also suggestions that the current lineup would prefer to remain together. It would be a shame for this current iteration of ENCE to break up before the team has really run its course, a shame for the lineup to not make a real go of taking a big event trophy and seeing how far they can push their newfound ceiling. However, esports is a fickle mistress, and times move fast in the world of CS:GO, so let’s wait and see if ENCE can fend off the sharks that are circling and keep the team together for the next season.
This may seem controversial to some, as BIG have been a little bit all over the place this season, and have had to battle through multiple COVID-related absences where Nils "k1to" Gruhne has had to step in to the lineup in place of Josef "faveN" Baumann and Karim "Krimbo" Moussa. Still, the additions of the latter two youngsters does seem to have been a step in the right direction for the Germans.
If we filter for big events, BIG have already produced a placing which surpasses anything they managed last year, taking a top-four at IEM Dallas; the best the squad managed in 2021 was 7-8th in Cologne. They also won Roobet Cup, which is a far more impressive feat than the online Gamers Without Borders and Funspark ULTI Final trophies they secured last year. It seems that, particularly with Krimbo in the squad, BIG are able to hit a higher ceiling than was previously possible.
With the rumours that Johannes "tabseN" Wodarz might head over to G2 apparently quelled, BIG will be hoping they can keep the squad healthy and tackle the next season without the disruptions that marred their campaign in the first half of the year.
Being brutally honest, MOUZ set themselves a pretty low bar with their performances in 2021. Outside of Flashpoint 3, it was a year of consistent immediate tournament exits and mediocre to poor showings. As such, their 5-6th place finish in Cologne eclipses anything they managed last year, and is enough to declare the changes at least a modest success.
Perhaps one could argue that, since Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt was almost immediately ditched after being brought in during the last off-season, their last revamp was partially a failure. Equally, the fact that MOUZ moved early to bring Jon "JDC" de Castro up from their academy into the squad could be seen as rectifying that failure, and the German had produced some notable high points, particularly in Cologne. The other man who was promoted from the academy, Ádám "torzsi" Torzsás, has been an unqualified success, their highest rated player overall for 2022 so far and posting the best opening kill statistics, taking nearly 20% of the opening duels with an excellent near-65% success rate. On balance then it seems fair, considering the Cologne result that ended their season, to slot MOUZ into the winners column.
With a very young squad, a recent improvement in fortunes and form, and Christopher "dexter" Nong having seemingly found an effective way to call on T side, MOUZ are well poised to push on next season.
FURIA are the hardest team to rank as either winners or losers, because it has pretty much been business as usual since the addition of Rafael "saffee" Costa. They have shown glimpses of their best, taking top-four at ESL Pro League and IEM Dallas, but they have also shown an alarmingly low floor at times, particularly during the recent ESL Challenger Valencia event, where the team were eliminated without a single map win to their name as by far the best-ranked team participating.
As a team it is still the Kaike "KSCERATO" Cerato and Yuri "yuurih" Santos show, with the latter producing much of the fragging for the first season overall, particularly considering the former’s patchy form close to the player break. In fact, so key is KSCERATO to the Brazilian squad that his dip in form has coincided with FURIA's rough end to the season; his rating dropped to 1.05 and impact to 0.97 for the last three months, a stark contrast to his 1.17 and 1.15 for the whole of 2021.
As for the rest of the squad, André "drop" Abreu has developed into a solid anchor player, an effective man in many of the unglamorous roles and positions of CS. The new signing saffee has been largely underwhelming, struggling to break 1.00 rating in the big events, although his performance in Cologne was most definitely an improvement. What about Andrei "arT" Piovezan? Well, he is still arT, one of the most thrilling and aggressive players in top-tier CS.
Finishes have pretty much been comparable to 2021; they made the playoffs of the Major and as previously mentioned achieved notable top-fours at ESL Pro League and in Dallas. These results are in contrast to two disappointing Challenger events, particularly the woeful Valencia performance, and a failure to make BLAST Premier Spring Finals, being pipped in the NA Showdown by paiN. Both of the latter finishes came at the end of the season, during KSCERATO's dip in form, along with an early exit from the Roobet Cup.
As it would be boring to cop out and provide no answer, FURIA will be placed in the losers column, purely because the changes don’t appear to have brought about a significant improvement, and if anything their floor may have dipped slightly with the change in personnel; Vinicius "VINI" Figueiredo was a consistent player, the type who gives a six or seven out of 10 every game. It feels like if FURIA are to push on with the current roster, saffee will have to find a way to provide more output next season, and their star man KSCERATO will need to be revitalised after the break.
Vitality put together the Franco-Danish superteam with the ambition of winning trophies. "European super teams capable of winning the most coveted trophies in esports," is the mandate that Vitality as an organisation have set themselves. More specifically about the CS:GO roster, Co-Founder and Esports Director Fabian "Neo" Devide said “dupreeh, Magisk and zonic have what it takes to move us from not just being a strong contender, but the best CS:GO team in the world.”
That ambition has fallen rather flat. Group stage exit after group stage exit has been punctuated by constant murmurings of language barriers, cultural differences and clashing playstyles coming out of the Vitality camp. There have been some significant lows, such as a failure to win a single map during Pinnacle Cup III, the team being invited direct to the quarter-finals only to be immediately knocked out 0-2 by a SKADE lineup 17 places below them in the world rankings. The only real highs have been a convincing 3-0 showing during the Challengers Stage of the PGL Major Antwerp and a run to the grand-final of BLAST Premier Spring Finals, although the latter was achieved with FaZe and ENCE both arguably out-of-sorts.
A struggle to develop a coherent identity and being devoid of high-output individual performances beyond Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut have seen Vitality slip as low as #11 in the world ranking so far this year, and their current ranking of 6th is more down to a lack of consistent teams at this very moment outside of FaZe and Natus Vincere rather than their own brilliance. Such is the extent of the disappointing performances that Vitality are already considering changes to this roster, with the perennially underwhelming Kévin "misutaaa" Rabier the man whose head is on the chopping block, and that alone is probably enough to say that Vitality were amongst the losers of the previous off-season.
You can rarely fault G2 CEO Carlos "ocelote" Rodriguez's ambition, that much is certainly true. He cracked out the chequebook and slapped a fat sum of money on the table when his CS:GO division needed revitalising over the winter break, splashing a reported $600k for hotly-touted AWP talent Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov. Brought in alongside the youngster was Aleksi "Aleksib" Virolainen, an IGL with reasonable pedigree, having been hailed as the driving force behind a breakout ENCE roster even if his time in OG was met with mixed reviews. Rémy "XTQZZZ" Quoniam too came in, with many hailing him as the best coach in the world.
For the briefest of moments, it seemed like G2 may have gotten the championship-calibre team they so desperately sought. Their first big LAN event after the changes, IEM Katowice, was a roaring success, a second place finish coming alongside some impressive series wins against teams like Natus Vincere and Virtus.pro (who at the time were #4 in the world). Since then progress has faltered, with multiple group stage exits at the biggest events like EPL, the Major and Cologne punctuated by the odd playoff appearance.
m0NESY has been good with flashes of brilliance, and his clutch potential is undeniable, but he is yet to discover the secret to consistency. Regardless, you would expect G2 to be seeing that signing as a success thus far. As for Aleksib and XTQZZZ, you would have to say that combined, they have been a failure. G2 have not managed the results they set out to achieve, and rumours behind the scenes suggest that that the trio of Aleksib, Nikola "NiKo" Kovač and XTQZZZ have not found a way to work well together. Unsurprisingly Aleksi appears to have lost that tug of war, and finds himself in the shopping window as G2 already are looking to pivot, and are taking stock of their options.
It would be generous to categorise G2 as anything other than losers of the previous off-season, but there seems to be a consensus amongst the analysts and pundits of the scene that the core trio is now solid after the addition of m0NESY. With the right IGL, maybe one who can create space for his stars, and a solid anchor player, surely G2 can kick on and contend for titles next season.
The Richard "shox" Papillon move was a complete disaster, Nick "nitr0" Cannella has come back from Valorant and struggled to find much individual form, and Liquid have generally underwhelmed and struggled in most tier-one events. In short, they are comfortably one of the losers of the previous off-season.
The changes weren't all bad, however. Josh "oSee" Ohm has been a great signing, and has shown he most definitely has the potential to step up to be an elite tier-one AWPer. Consistency has been lacking but his ceiling is high, he has shown he can have fantastic impact with both the AWP and rifles, and has been cool in the clutch.
We need to try and put the recent BLAST Premier Spring Finals out of our mind, because that was achieved with a yet again revamped roster. Prior to this, OG were pretty terrible. Outside of a brief flash in the first event with Nemanja "nexa" Isaković, the BLAST Spring Groups, there was not a single result of note. Katowice resulted in an immediate exit at the hands of Heroic and then MOUZ, and they were comfortably 2-0’d by Eternal Fire to crash out of the Europe RMR and not even make the Major. That’s it. OG barely played in the first half of the year, and when they did it was unremarkable, to put it kindly.
Maciej "F1KU" Miklas and Adam "NEOFRAG" Zouhar seem to suit the loose approach nexa favours better than Valdemar "valde" Bjørn Vangså and Nikolaj "niko" Kristensen did, and so it seems that they have a good chance to find themselves in the winners column for the next iteration of this article. Considering solely the addition of nexa for the start of the season just passed, they will have to remain losers for now.
Need I say more?
|Justin "FaNg" Coakley||20||0.99|
|Ricky "floppy" Kemery||22||0.97|
|Michael "Grim" Wince||21||0.83|
|Johnny "JT" Theodosiou||23||0.81|
|Paytyn "junior" Johnson||21||0.79|
IEM Cologne 2022 Play-in
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IEM Dallas 2022
PGL Major Antwerp 2022 Challengers Stage