The year 2016 began the way 2015 ended for professional Counter-Strike: with Fnatic winning a championship over Na'Vi in the finals of a major tournament, only this time it was in pure, dominant fashion. While the previous meeting between the two went to a five-map thriller at the ESL ESEA Pro League Season II Finals, Fnatic took home the StarSeries XIV title with a clean sweep over the Ukranian squad on the backs of team stalwarts Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer and Freddy "KRiMZ" Johansson.
Most notable was a breakout finals performance from the Fnatic's newest member, Dennis "dennis" Edman, who replaced team captain Markus "pronax" Wallsten in November. Edman likely played his best game since joining the team, and his pistol round triumphs in the finals, including eight kills on the opening map Dust2, helped secure the victory for the Swedes.
Even as Fnatic took home its fourth straight major event win -- another first for the team that won 14 LAN events in 2015 -- Kajbjer admitted the addition of Edman and appointment of Robin "flusha" Rönnquist as team captain relieved some internal pressure.
"Since i joined the chemistry in the team has been great. Everyone's having fun when we're playing and all of us loves to win. I guess thats why we're so motivated. We are the best team in the world and we want everyone to see that."
Kajbjer emphatically praised Edman after the games. "Well, I think that our roster change with Dennis coming in helped us a lot, mainly bringing in some new ideas but also a lot of motivation, which we were lacking in the end. And with that said, we got a lot of our confidence back that we were missing. Yes, Dennis is the man."
Although the finals were a one-sided affair beyond the highlight reel that is Na'Vi's star AWP player, Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács, the road there was not easy. Brazil's Luminosity, who put on one of the best tournament runs in Counter-Strike history at the FaceIt 2015 Stage 3 Finals, took Fnatic to the limit in the semifinals, behind team captain Gabriel 'FalleN' Toledo and rookie Marcelo 'coldzera' David. Fnatic and LG locked horns in a tense but thrilling third map affair, and Fnatic squeaked out a 16-14 win in the end. Fnatic might have gone on to win, but LG cemented themselves as one of the premier Counter-Strike teams to contend for a title.
"I think we are improving enough, and I have so many talented players with me," Toledo told ESPN. "With more events and more practice, we can be considered one of the best teams in the world. We still have to win a big title to be compared with the big teams, but I'm sure sooner or later we will achieve that. Fnatic overall just make the best decisions in game of all teams. They have so much experience and talent. That sums them up pretty well, but we are getting closer."
Fnatic is the best Counter-Strike team in the world right now, but as scary as it sounds for everyone else, there's still room for improvement. Wallsten's parting ways with the team after two successful years and two major titles left a hole that only time will fill. Fnatic has stayed a step ahead of all other teams the past few months, but the gap might not be as big as they would like it to be.
"Well, I don't know if we are that far ahead of everyone else. We lost a little bit of the tactical part in the game since Pronax left, and we have to go for a more loose, puggy style, as we didn't have that much time to practice yet," Kajbjer said. "So we will probably have a mix of the two styles, and choosing which one to play against certain teams and times. It's something we will have for sure after this tournament."