FaZe’s performance at IEM Katowice was simply one of the best we’ve ever seen in CS:GO. It had a little bit of everything, from the squad’s drama both before and during the event, to the plethora of difficult opponents that FaZe had to overcome, to the simple fact that almost everyone had written them off as serious contenders (just see the HLTV Katowice playoff power ranking). Even though we didn’t get the full five games, every single map played went the distance, either to the full 30 or into overtime.
There were even compelling stories that were unrelated to the nature of the race itself. One was the story of a promise made by Finn “karrigan” Andersen upon his return to FaZe that he was able to fulfill a year later after reuniting with a star ex-teammate. Another was the first big event ever won by an Australian, Justin “jks” Savage, who brought a winner’s medal back to Australia — as a stand-in, no less.
So it seems fair to describe FaZe’s performance at IEM Katowice 2022 as a fairy-tale run, the likes of which make Counter-Strike simply the best esport to watch. This begs the question, however: is this the best fairy-tale run we’ve ever seen in our wonderful game?
The Brazilians arrived on the scene with a bang
Luminosity’s run at the FACEIT League Stage 3 Finals in 2015 was one of the first prime examples of a fairy-tale run in CS:GO. The Brazilians had already made a name for themselves thanks to performances like their showing at the previous Major, making the Cluj-Napoca playoffs, but they had struggled to go beyond promising tournament outings. By the time the FACEIT League Finals arrived, the team had replaced Lucas “steel” Lopes and Ricardo “boltz” Prass with Lincoln “fnx” Lau and Epitacio “TACO” de Melo, forming what would become a legendary lineup.
They were, however, far from a legendary team at the time of this tournament. They were viewed as promising upstarts from an underdeveloped and underrepresented region at the top level, blazing a trail by uprooting their lives and moving to North America in search of Counter-Strike glory. The story of the team itself was very compelling, and it is one of the reasons why their surprise run to the final of this event remains in the memory. It was the breakout event for a team that exemplified hard work and sacrifice, a team that served as a shining example for young teams everywhere, regardless of region. In this regard, Luminosity’s 2015 run has an advantage over FaZe, as the story behind the team could be lifted straight from a Hollywood movie script.
Not only was the story behind the team arguably more compelling, but there were also a couple of aspects to the run itself that may very well trump FaZe. First, Luminosity were far lower ranked and less popular than FaZe in Katowice, and this was at a time when the scene was more top-heavy overall. The Brazilians also had to overcome the psychological blow of a 0-16 thrashing in their first game, a defeat that Karrigan and company never had to endure in Poland. There are other aspects of the run that parallel FaZe’s, such as the fact that the Brazilians had to face quality opposition throughout.
Ultimately, Luminosity will have to relinquish the title of ‘best fairy-tale run’ due to the fact that they did not win the event; even if there are some aspects that seem to outperform FaZe, failing to bring home a trophy undoubtedly takes a large portion of the luster of the run away. They also did it with their main five-man roster and in a far less robust format; not to mention the sheer number of games FaZe had to win to claim the Katowice title, from the play-in all the way to the grand final. So, while it is undeniably a strong claim, the Brazilians come up short.
The battle of the stand-ins
Like Katowice, ESL One Belo Horizonte 2015 featured a team in turmoil, with Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer having recently extended his break from the competitive scene, forcing FaZe to play with a stand-in. Jorgen “cromen” Robertsen, the stand-in, rose from obscurity and has since faded back into it, making it all the more impressive that FaZe managed to get anything done at the event with him in the lineup. The team also had to endure an even more grueling and difficult grand final, going all five maps with a Chris “chrisJ” de Jong led MOUZ, one that featured their own stand-in in the form of Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert.
This run ultimately falls short for several obvious reasons, the first of which is that the team FaZe defeated in the grand final was also not at full strength. Other factors affecting the Belo Horizonte performance include a weaker field (FaZe had to beat two teams outside the top 20 to make the playoffs), a less robust format, and the fact that this tournament lacked the prestige of a Major or an IEM Katowice. But it’s still worth mentioning.
North America finally wins the biggest prize
This section may be skipped by FaZe fans. Sorry, but it has to be said!
North American Counter-Strike fans have had to put up with years of hardship and ridicule. Throughout the history of CS:GO, a region that has featured some of the best players in the world has consistently underperformed. Of course, there have been moments of brilliance, such as Cloud9’s brief run as a true contender in summer 2015, Liquid’s two Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev-powered shock Major runs in 2016, and Complexity in 2014.
Cloud9 entered the ELEAGUE Major 2018 in Boston in a respectable position, but they were far from anyone’s mind when discussing potential tournament winners. They had some modest event wins in recent memory, including DreamHack Open Denver and iBUYPOWER Masters, but ended the previous year in underwhelming fashion, having exited the ECS Season 4 Finals prior to the playoffs; the American squad was so unfancied that there wasn’t a single mention of them in HLTV’s preview highlighting the key storylines coming into the event. It was not surprising, however, to see the team storm through the Challengers Stage of the ELEAGUE Major with a 3-0 record, given that they entered the stage as the second highest ranked team.
The miracle that followed was a sight to behold, especially given how it transpired. You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Cloud9 started the Legends Stage 0-2 after losing to G2 and Space Soldiers in their first two games. They not only recovered, demonstrating incredible mental strength, but they did so emphatically, winning their next three games by a combined score of 48-17 to secure their playoff berth. When the playoffs began, Cloud9 defeated three of the top five ranked teams in the world, including #1 SK and #2 FaZe. Few will forget the epic way they snatched the title from FaZe in the grand final, coming back from an 11-15 deficit on CT-side.
Finally, the tournament run that any one person considers to be the best fairy-tale run of all time is a matter of personal preference. Some will value FaZe’s adversity above all else, with not one but two players being struck down by COVID. Others will point to Cloud9’s Major victory as a watershed moment in CS:GO history, bringing the most prestigious title to North America for the first time. Others, for a thousand different reasons, or combinations of reasons, would prefer ENCE in Katowice, Gambit in Krakow, NIP in Oakland, or any other magnificent performance.