In many ways, last night’s CS:GO grand final at IEM Oakland was a battle between two opposing philosophies on how to build a top-tier esports team. On one side of the match you had FaZe Clan, a team created by buying out contracts from other top teams and assembling an all-star roster of talent from across Europe. Playing against them you had Ninjas in Pyjamas, a Swedish team with three veterans of the game who have been playing together for years, and two young up-and-comers who they’ve scouted from lower-tier teams and given a shot at competing in the highest level of professional Counter-Strike.
On paper, it didn’t look like much of a matchup. FaZe Clan’s dazzling roster of star talent has been consistently winning big events over the last few months, while the new NiP lineup has struggled throughout the year, culminating last month in a failure to qualify for the next ELEAGUE Major in Boston. Before the match got underway, NiP was being sold by the analyst desk as an underdog with a slim chance at making it through all five maps, and judging by recent performance, this was a fair assessment.
There was, however, some early warning signs that this wouldn’t be the walk in the park for FaZe that many were predicting. Throughout the group stages it was clear that NiP had found a new chemistry with their recently-acquired young teammates, and any remaining doubt about their competence should have been expelled when they walked through the #1 team in the world in the semifinals.
Through all five maps of the grand final, the old guard of NiP proved why they’ve been at the top of the game for so long, landing incredible shots and making smart position plays that kept them winning rounds even when outnumbered or outgunned.
Many of the rounds were so closely-contested that huge individual efforts were required from virtually every member of both teams to keep the games close, which resulted in some exciting Counter-Strike to watch, and a handful of stellar highlight-reel plays.
After trading map wins back and forth, it all came down to the fifth and final game on Cache, where a close first half lead into a handful of back-and-forth rounds, leaving the score at 10-9 in favour of NiP. Then a gap began to appear. The Swedes began to pull new tactics out of their deep repertoire, like having REZ flank through mid with some excellent timing, and sending GeT_RiGhT up into the A site boost spot to wreak unexpected havok.
All of a sudden the score was 15-9 courtesy of a string of inventive rounds from NiP. After a brief rally due to a big play from karrigan, FaZe was defeated 16-10. One of the most severe slumps we’ve seen a top-tier team go through in modern recollection was at an end, and NiP’s new lineup proved themselves to be a potent combination of old-guard experience and tactics, and new-school talent and energy.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the tournament was the performance of 19-year-old REZ, the newest addition to the NiP lineup and a new face in the upper echelons of CS:GO generally. He was consistently a top performer for his team, dropping 24 frags in the first game against FaZe and earning himself HLTV’s MVP award for the tournament.
The Swedish team still won’t be attending the Boston Major in January, but they’ve shown that they still have the potential to compete at that level with their new roster, and the $129,000 they’ve taken home this weekend should be an effective salve for the pain of their weaker performances earlier in 2017.