They're electric. They're breaking convention. And, at least according to the general consensus a month ago, they weren't supposed to be here.
Their surge to the top has been so sudden that they're even surpassing some of their own expectations.
“I knew we were capable of [this kind of success],” FaZe IGL Jimmy "Marved" Nguyen said. “But I didn't know it was gonna happen so fast.”
When FaZe Clan's finalized roster made its debut on August 6, the team struggled to stay on par with the top of North America. “In the beginning, obviously, there were growing pains because we never played tactical shooters before, other than like younger experience,” FaZe captain corey said.
The one exception to that lack of experience was Marved, who played Counter-Strike competitively before entering Valorant. But the rest of the team came from the Overwatch League, a game very different from CS and other tactical shooters.
“They had to learn the Counter-Strike fundamentals because that's important to know — even if we're not playing that style, we're going to have to understand how other teams are playing,” Marved said.
But even while his teammates were still trying to get their feet on the ground, Marved had confidence there was something special about the team.
“The way they just thought about the game and the way they function in a team environment is really important. What I mean is, they know how to fix problems,” he said. “They know how to overcome certain things, and they know how to work as a team. And I think that's very important. You can have five really good players, but if they're all hating on each other while they're giving criticism, it will not work out.”
And yet, it took awhile for it to work out. Sure, FaZe saw flashes of brilliance here and there, but for a time they seemed destined to forever remain just outside the highest echelon of North American talent. As recently as Challengers 2, they were being swept out of the main event without winning a map.
But suddenly, as if there was a shift in the timeline and we were watching an entirely different FaZe, something changed. They were fixing those problems Marved said they knew how to fix. They were rolling through teams who previously rolled them (FaZe beat XSET 2-0 less than three weeks after XSET beat FaZe 2-0 in their last defeat). And they weren't just beating teams, they were beating teams with a playstyle that was distinctly FaZe.
FaZe has always appeared mechanically strong and always played with an aggression that contrasted the playstyles of many of North America's top teams. But it used to be their matches looked messy — in part because FaZe played messy and in part because most of their opponents didn't adapt to their play very cleanly. Eventually, FaZe would run into a team that could execute their gameplan against them and exploit FaZe's weaknesses, and their tournament run would end. Now, FaZe is just as aggressive as before, but with a kind of purpose to their aggression that was missing before.
“Legitimately, everything we do is a plan,” Shane "Rawkus" Flaherty said. “It doesn't seem that way, but like, all of our aggression, our duels, our fights — they're all planned out. And we practice that same exact way. We don't actually just do anything randomly.”
“We're honestly just ahead of other teams when it comes to playing aggressive.”
Rawkus described the importance of gathering information to executing their plans, and went over how that could determine whether they rush a team down or let that team fall into a trap.
What Rawkus is saying might come as a surprise if you all know about FaZe Clan is that they hold W while Andrej "BABYBAY" Francisty just dashes on top of people. But that's the thing: FaZe Clan isn't just blindly running onto site to take duels and plant as soon as possible. There are layers to their aggression. It has a complexity to it that makes it so you can't expect them to do the same thing every round.
It might be easier to understand by watching it. FaZe's attack against Envy on Icebox showcased this playstyle well. FaZe were no doubt aggressive on that map, quickly taking space on A site and forcing duels, but they also did a lot of waiting.
FaZe walked forward, took high ground, and then just held angles. They wanted space, but they slowed down and kept quiet to deny information. For a team of Overwatch players, they displayed a surprising ability to just hold still.
In interviews directly after that match, both Victor "Victor" Wong and Anthony "mummAy" DiPaolo essentially said they needed to review the match and go back to the drawing board to figure out how to play against them. “I'd have to watch it back to know exactly. It's all just a blur right now,” food said. mummAy said because the game is so fresh, there's still a lot the teams who play conventional Counter-Strike playstyles can learn on how to beat a hyper-aggressive team like FaZe.
Many people attribute FaZe's turnaround to the addition of the team's new coach, Thomas "Trippy" Schappy. And the players have made clear he has definitely been a driving force in their recent surge to the top. But he didn't come in and just tell them how to play.
“The biggest thing for us is that when he came, it kind of showed what we needed in a head coach,” corey said. “So basically, when he came, he was somebody who helped us facilitate conversations and get everybody on the right track to keep improving.”
“So the main thing that we realized was we don't really need a coach that comes in and has all these strategies and uses us kind of like chess pieces.”
Much like Trippy has FaZe making the most of their strengths, he is coaching the team in a way that makes the most of his own strengths. Trippy doesn't have deep CS experience. He doesn't even have much coaching experience prior to working with FaZe. So instead of working on the team's strategies, he has essentially enabled the players to work on their own strategies.
“It's just his personality and how a team should run. I think that's very important,” Marved said in reference to how Trippy helps the team. “It's more about leadership and things like that.”
On top of his strengths as a leader and facilitator, corey also referenced Trippy's scouting ability. And with the addition of a coach that excels in scouting, you would think a large part of FaZe's success comes from their ability to counterstrat. But that would run contrary to FaZe's style.
Before last weekend's match against Envy, corey said the team would prepare by doing a scouting report to learn their tendencies. But that's where their prep for an individual team stops.
“Honestly, we don't really think too much about our opponent,” he said. “We kind of just go into the game, see what the game feels like and what it looks like to us inside when we start playing — because anyone can change their stuff at any minute. So, I would say we're pretty good at kind of just figuring out a team inside the game. And either abusing that or figuring out what works for us against them in time.”
Sure enough, FaZe played around Envy's tendencies on that fated Icebox game, but it wasn' like they tailored a strategy particularly to playing Envy. FaZe was going to take space aggressively and force duels, and that's what they did. And there's a reason for that philosophy.
“What I've noticed from CS is that a lot of CS teams try to counterstrat people and then you get caught in a loop of thinking about what they're going to do and not really what you're gonna do,” Rawkus said. “And yeah, you might be right some rounds and you'll catch them off guard. But it's not consistent. You have to guess right every time based on your, you know, your counterstratting.”
The maps in Valorant, according to Rawkus, just don't work like that. And good luck counterstratting FaZe.
“If we play fast, they don't have enough time to counterstrat, you know? So, like, counterstratting doesn't really work,” he said. “So we're just gonna prepare what we want to do against Sentinels. And also we're going to be really oppressive and dominant like we like to be.”
“And that's probably what's going to work in our favor. So we're just gonna keep doing what we're doing.”
There is one wrinkle to Rawkus's plan. Over the course of the FaZe interviews, all of which were before Sentinels had actually cemented their place in the Upper Bracket Finals against FaZe, Sentinels were picked out as the one team that plays differently from the rest of North America's top tier.
They are perhaps the one team that FaZe isn't too fast for. They're aggressive, too. Their mechanically skilled, too. Who else but Tyson "TenZ" Ngo can match BABYBAY's insane dashes that lead into kills with his own?
Sentinels aren't too worried about this match. Neither is FaZe. BABYBAY would likely say the match will come down to who can smeag better. But TenZ went on record to basically say the same thing.
“I think the match against FaZe will come down to who's hitting shots at the end.”
Sounds like we're in for an FPS game at its purest.
bleghfarec contributed with interviews for this story.