Calling and fragging, mezii is at center of fnatic's bid to return to a Major
The Briton took over as IGL when fnatic built a team around him and Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson. Now they have a chance to get the famed organization back in a Major for the first time since IEM Katowice 2019.
It was 2015 when fnatic made history at ESL One Cologne. The Swedes took down the Frenchmen of Envy 2-0 in the grand finals to take home back-to-back Major trophies — their third in CS:GO. Jesper "JW" Wecksell was at the front of his pack, the world-renowned sniper gripping the silverware tightly with two hands as he hoisted it upwards in front of a packed Lanxess Arena. It was a feat never before seen, and one only bested by Astralis in the seven years since.
The years that followed weren't always kind to fnatic, however, and the legendary organization that has had a constant presence in CS:GO's ten-year history has been without a Major appearance since 2019.
The three-year absence from the most prestigious events in Counter-Strike's calendar wasn't for a lack of trying. In July 2021 fnatic secured the services of both Alex "ALEX" McMeekin and William "mezii" Merriman, the two Britons joining KRIMZ, Ludvig "Brollan" Brolin, and Jack "Jackinho" Ström Mattsson at a time of deep disappointment for the London-based organization. The previous all-Swedish roster had fallen to a historic low of 38th in the world ranking after finishing 17-20th in ESL Pro League Season 13 and joint-last at Flashpoint 3 — a far cry from their heights of first-place finishes at both IEM Katowice 2018 and DreamHack Masters Malmö 2019 in the years prior. The move to reinforce their ranks was unsurprising, but it marked a monumental change of tack for the team as it was the first time since their 2013 entry into CS:GO that the squad pivoted from a Swedish-speaking lineup to an anglophone one.
Things looked positive early on, the new squad got some wins and placed 9-12th in their first outing at the 24-team ESL Pro League Season 14 before going on to qualify for the all-important IEM Fall 2021 RMR event, a stepping stone in their quest for PGL Major Stockholm qualification. The addition of the two Brits also marked the duo's reunion as the pair had previously represented Cloud9 together in the organization's short-lived "Colossus" project from November 2020 to May 2021, something mezii attributed to the team's early success when talking to HLTV.org ahead of the IEM Rio RMR, "I think it was always a lot easier for me to work with someone I had previously worked with in Cloud9 — especially when it's an in-game leader, where I know how he wants his players to play and the ideas that he has."
The team's goal of returning the fnatic banner to the Major circuit at IEM Fall 2021 failed to materialize in spite of their initial successes. They bowed out of the event in joint-last place, a final overtime loss to SKADE sentencing the lineup to a 0-5 showing and forcing the squad to watch the Major in Stockholm — a home-turf championship for the majority of the roster — from the sidelines. The ALEX-led lineup's Major woes continued as the Counter-Strike world geared up for PGL Major Antwerp several months later, when their star-player Brollan opted to fly the nest in search of greener pastures with Ninjas in Pyjamas. Peppe "Peppzor" Borak received the call-up from fnatic Rising to replace him and Valentin "poizon" Vasilev also came in to fill the void left by Owen "smooya" Butterfield, who had taken over AWPing duties from Jackinho briefly but was suddenly removed from the roster.
Try as they may, this hastily put together fnatic squad failed in their bid to make their way through the RMR, a 1-2 loss to Eternal Fire putting the final nail in the coffin after four matches in the Swiss system qualifier. The organization missed out on their third consecutive Major appearance, while their first international roster's days were well and truly numbered. It was another disappointing setback for the black-and-orange, and it showcased how mighty a fall they'd suffered, going from three-time Major winners at the top of the Counter-Strike food chain to fielding a roster that was just not competitive enough to fulfill expectations.
"It's always going to hurt and be frustrating when you don't make the Major," mezii admits, "it was definitely within our expectations that we could have made it even though we didn't have the lineup that everyone wanted and it wasn't going so well. It's always hard when you think you could make it to the next stage, and when you play for an organization like fnatic, who have definitely made it before and won these Major tournaments, and they expect to be there. It's always tough when you don't make it and you feel like you can do it."
At this point, with fnatic now absent from three back-to-back Major championships, it was time to start a rebuilding phase. ALEX and poizon were moved to the bench and Peppzor was sent back down to the developmental roster. It was a chance to start anew, a chance to build the lineup from the ground up with the two best players from the previous iteration of the team as the foundation: mezii, who sported a 1.11 rating, and KRIMZ, averaging a 1.09.
The Englishman was a stalwart for his team in the nine months with fnatic, dipping into the red at just four events — the worst was in a 9-12th place finish at IEM Katowice 2022, where he averaged a 0.92 rating. His solid performances were a surprising feat to most pundits given he was still regarded as a rookie in the eyes of many. fnatic's manager, Andreas "Samuelsson" Samuelsson, acknowledged that the new recruit was an "up-and-coming player" when he first spoke about the team's English signings. The choice to rebuild the roster around him spoke volumes and was a testament to how integral he had become to the organization's entire Counter-Strike project in such a short period of time.
Together with KRIMZ, the pair were seen as the prime candidates to lead the ambitious black-and-orange brand as they sought to return to winning ways. It was also a chance for mezii to progress his career even further and dabble in the often barren world of in-game leading, something that the Briton considered in the past but was still unsure about. "For me, I needed to think about it and make sure it was the right step," mezii explains, "I'm not a player that can go from just focusing on individual things and maybe a few ideas as a second-caller to full IGL, trying to micromanage and focus on loads of different things, because it's going to affect me too much."
mezii jumped into the world of helmsmanship at a pivotal time for fnatic. The organization was doubling down in their bid for a title-contending roster, but the Englishman still wanted to make sure that he had all the pieces in place before trying his hand at being captain. "If I am going to do it, [I need] to make sure we have the correct players in place in the next lineup for me to thrive and be able to do this," he said.
Those vital cogs in the fnatic machine were Nico "nicoodoz" Tamjidi, Fredrik "roeJ" Jørgensen, and Dion "FASHR" Derksen, all putting pen to paper and signing contracts with the black-and-orange; the pieces were all falling together for mezii's dream roster. The trio that was brought on weren't blockbuster signings, but ones that were made to steer the sinking ship back on course — ones that mezii felt comfortable in leading and ones that fit into fnatic's core ethos.
"They [the fans] just want to see big names and that's not how it can always work. We just spent a lot of time to make sure we have a good core of players that are really on the same page and that it makes sense role-wise... there were a lot of talks with Keita, our coach, Samuelsson, our team manager, and a lot of focus on that side of things to tell me what I do well and all the qualities that I have to be an in-game leader, and also what I need to work on."
fnatic performed well following their roster overhaul, the European mix ended their debut tournament with Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg as a stand-in in 5-6th place after taking a map off of Heroic at Pinnacle Cup Championship 2022. It wasn't a podium finish, but it was a step in the right direction for the young roster, and a welcome sight for mezii as he began his time calling at a high level. This strong start for the new squad was one mezii attributes to both strong communication and confidence in the team's play. "It's never me focusing too much on what we have to do from start to finish on every single detail because everyone takes initiative and everyone can give ideas when we need to."
What's more, the Briton's own form has actually improved even with the change in roles and personnel, going from a 1.10 rating in his year-long stint with the organization to 1.12 in the past three months, an indicator that the close attention paid to building the roster has seemingly paid off in that department. Alas, mezii is still aware of the long road he has ahead to improve as a captain, an even more tumultuous journey as he seeks to lead his newly-built squad through the RMR and into the Major itself. "It's obviously a continuous path and I just need to focus on improving," mezii admits, "I'm never going to be perfect at it [in-game leading], but it's just working at that and just really focusing on getting as much as I can from outside the team and feedback overall."
The biggest test for the English rifler to prove he is capable of realizing the expectations fnatic has set came just recently at ESL Pro League Season 16 — his Big Event debut holding the reins. fnatic was seeded into Group A alongside the likes of Natus Vincere, Vitality, and Ninjas in Pyjamas. The new quintet instantly raised eyebrows despite being the second-lowest ranked team in the group, battering Hampus "hampus" Poser and company in two straight maps while the Swedes could only muster eight rounds across the series. The European mix did suffer two back-to-back losses to the titans of the group, Natus Vincere and Vitality, but mezii and his men stabilized, moving past the No. 14 ranked Spirit 2-0 before repeating this feat over the fnatic captain's former Endpoint teammates on their final day of group play.
The three victories were enough to earn a spot in the playoffs and while the European combine ultimately faltered once in the knockout stage, a hard-fought 1-2 loss to Liquid sentenced them to a 9-12th finish overall. It served as valuable experience for the roster to both practice and get used to the environment in Malta ahead of the upcoming Regional Major Ranking qualifier.
In their bid to get fnatic back into a Major, the international side had successfully secured their place at the Europe Regional Major Ranking in their second try through the often laborious and cut-throat open qualifiers that are prone to upsets, with Astralis barely locking in their place at the RMR and Movistar Riders failing all together. "It was just focusing on the job at hand," mezii said about the team's mentality during their online qualifying run, "because I think there's always going to be pressure and I think had we failed in the first three qualifiers and left it until the last one, then the pressure would build up."
fnatic almost had to wait until the third or fourth qualifier to get to Malta, their qualifying match against HAVU ending with a 28-26 scoreline in favor of the European mix in the final map of the 2-0 series. " I think the confidence was there to know we were going to do well in the second qualifier and just get the job done. We were bootcamping at the same point so it was a lot easier for us to minimize the mistakes and really bring that hype that you have at LAN."
fnatic's preparation for the RMR is well underway as they gear up for their opening matchup against Aurora. While they are focused on the job at hand, mezii understands the upset potential that is present when playing a lesser-known team. "If we let it slip or make some mistakes, or maybe we don't put the time into DM or warmup before, they can definitely catch you off," he says, "for us, it's just making sure we can do what we can do and focus on ourselves a bit more and do what we need to do at the best level we can." Regardless, the team will need to be firing on all cylinders and making sure they are at the top of their game once the Major-qualifying tournaments get going. Only eight spots are up for grabs for the event in Brazil and competition will be ruthless with no guarantee that this is mezii's time to lead fnatic back to the Major — which would also mark his own Major debut.
For mezii, it doesn't matter who fnatic play at the RMR or the path they have to take. It's simply about getting the black-and-orange back to their former glory, back to the Majors that have long been seen as the pinnacle of Counter-Strike, and the past three months with him at the helm have led up to this moment. Qualification would justify the overhauling of the roster, the investments the London-based organization has made into the Counter-Strike division, and it would be an important moment in also validating the Briton's leadership in the server. "It'll be my first Major to qualify for and there's not a better place for it to be than in Brazil," he says, "It's just our focus now and it would mean a lot for us as a team since it would show progress. And also for the organization, because they want to be back in the big leagues and make sure we're playing in these tournaments."
The past years have been a blight on fnatic's long and storied CS:GO history. Going from back-to-back Major champions to being absent from the past three Valve-sponsored events has been difficult to stomach, forcing the organization to go fully international. The first step in returning the esteemed brand to their former glory is by qualifying for Rio and putting an end to an extended period of time of watching the biggest events on the Counter-Strike calendar from the sidelines. It's a task of paramount importance for the black-and-orange, a task that has been delegated to the captaincy of the 23-year-old mezii, and the unlikely choice for a proven fragger with star power to become in-game leader could just be the one that helps get fnatic back on the biggest stage.