Finn “Karrigan” Andersen is no longer the in-game leader for FaZe and hasn’t been for awhile. After FaZe had failed at ESL One New York, Nikola “NiKo’ Kovacs confirmed in an HLTV interview that Karrigan was unlikely to lead the team from that point forward. This was to be the beginning of the end as Karrigan was relegated to a support player and on Dec. 16th, was officially benched. As Karrigan becomes a free agent once again, the question is what kind of team or system should he join? The world is open to him as nearly every team in the world should want him to helm their teams. While there is no easy answer, we should ask ourselves what is it that makes Karrigan such a great leader? After reviewing his career, I believe that any org that is looking to hire him should enable the fact that he is the master of chaos.
When we look at Karrigan’s career in the last few years, there are two major arcs to it. The first arc is when he joined the Danish lineup that went from Dignitas to TSM to Astralis. The second arc was when he headed the international lineup of FaZe. In both arcs, we have had multiple lineups come and go. With each lineup, it has become more and more clear what Karrigan’s leadership style is, what his strengths and weaknesses are, and from those insights, a potential path he could create to stay at the top.
When Karrigan joined Dignitas at the end of 2014, the team was in a rut. They were a team that was renowned for their talent as their lineup was stacked. It had: Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz, Peter “Dupreeh” Rothmann, Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth, Rene “cajunb” Borg, and Henrik “FeTiSh” Christensen as the in-game leader. FeTiSh could not get the team to win on the T-side and the team had problems underperforming in big game scenarios. Because of that, Dignitas decided to go with Karrigan as their in-game leader.
Karrigan joined on December 9th, 2014. At their first event together in January 25th, at MLG X games Aspen they got 3rd place as they lost to LDLC in the semifinals. From that point on, Dignitas which later became TSM, improved throughout 2015 as it rose up in stature. They started to get the wins on the board, consistently placed highly, and were one of the few teams to have a good matchup against the greatest lineup of the era (and all-time) in Fnatic.
This level of form started to dip as the team went into 2016. The team eventually tried to change things as they removed Cajunb from the lineup and got Markus “Kjaerbye” Kjaerbye in his place. The move didn’t help as the inherent problem of the team was that they no longer had the same vision. After they hit their slump at the beginning of 2016, the team had a division of views as to how to go forward. They were at an impasse. Karrigan wanted to play more explosive and free form, whereas dev1ce and Danny “zonic” Sorensen wanted a structured approach.
In the end Karrigan was benched and Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander was brought into Astralis to replace him. After being benched, Karrigan was bought out by FaZe. This was to be a critical moment not only for FaZe, but the entire world. From this point on Karrigan was to forcefully change how all CS:GO teams considered roster making as he was going to prove the validity of an international lineup.
Some had tried this before, but no one had never done it to the extent that FaZe had. It was a project unlike anything anyone had tried to accomplish in the history of Counter-Strike. The team at that time had some skilled players. Players like: Joakim “jkaem” Myrbostad, Philip “aizy” Aistrup, Aleski “allu” Jalli, Fabien “kioShiMa’ Fiey, and Havard “rain” Nygaard.
While each individual player was good, no one had a viable solution on how it was all supposed to fit together. Because of the lack of synergy, the results of the team were a joke. They had done nothing of note relative to the top level of Counter-Strike for the entirety of 2016. It was clear that they needed a leader, but there was none on the market until Karrigan got benched.
On October 19th, 2016 Karrigan officially joined the team. However unlike his time with the Danes, there was no break. Karrigan had over a month to figure things out when he first joined the lineup. For this team, there first official match was at ELeague on October 21st. Three days after he had joined the team.
Without any practice, armed with only the knowledge of what he saw in the game and what he knew of the players, Karrigan delivered. He got the team up and running to a strong level, they qualified out of Group A, and Karrigan had delivered FaZe’s best result in all of 2016 in three days. He also had the foresight and ability to recognize and balance the team roster when he realized it wasn’t quite working. At the time, jkaem was considered a far better player than kioShiMa, but he realized that kioShiMa had the potential to be a better role player in the system he was building.
FaZe quickly became a top 10 team in the world and traveled from event to event without stopping. That is what makes this entire scenario even more remarkable. Karrigan was adapting on the fly, extrapolating real time data into theory and figuring out exactly what needed to be done to improve the squad, and how it would unfold in the map pool.
He then did it again. On Feb. 19th, 2017, NiKo joined the FaZe squad. Their first official match with NiKo was set to be played on March 1st. Only a week and a half later at IEM World Championship 2017. FaZe got second place and would eventually go on to stop the Astralis era of that time by beating them in the finals of Starladder i-League StarSeries Season 3.
Finally, we come to the modern lineup. The superstar lineup that replaced allu and KioShiMa with Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs and Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer. This lineup started a little bit slower than the others. Olofmeister was the last to join as he came onto the team on August 20th. Their first match was August 30th at DreamHack Masters Malmo. They ended up losing to the group stages to a still strong Gambit and an NiP in rare form.
Part of the loss came from karrigan’s slight misread of their own map pool where he overextended in believing that they could play the entire map pool. However they were quick to adjust. Their next event came right on the heels of this one at ESL New York on September 17th, 2017. At that event they dominated the world as they crushed everyone there.
The most miraculous part was that the team came together in a way you couldn’t foresee. While each of the names on paper were incredible, it was hard to imagine how the team was going to function. Olofmeister and GuardiaN were stars of their team. Rain and NiKo were stars of this team. Karrigan, however saw the shifting parts and how they could align. Olofmeister became a great role player for the squad and Rain became the impactful entry fragger and space creator that enabled the team. He not only had the skill, but he had the mindset for it.
These two roles shifts were completely unexpected because it went against the entire career of both players up to that point, but Karrigan on some level understood and realized the potential that was within the lineup. This team could have become something legendary, but a few things got in their way. SK rose up to challenge them and consistently beat them. On top of that, the team consistently broke apart in high pressure matches down the line at their biggest events. IEM Oakland 2017, ELeague Boston 2018, and IEM World Championship 2018 are the three biggest to come to mind.
After that, Olofmeister went on hiatus for personal reasons and FaZe were forced to use stand-ins. Even then the team was successful as they were able to win IEM Sydney against the dominant Astralis and get good placings. However they still suffered a bad loss to the hands of BIG at ESL One Cologne 2018.
That was the end of the stand-in period at which point Olofmeister came back. From that point onward, FaZe has struggled. They lost to Mouz at DreamHack Masters Stockholm in the quarterfinals and were nearly wiped out in the Legends Stage of FACEIT Major London. At which point NiKo took control of the leadership and they made it to the playoffs where they lost to Astralis.
Soon after, Karrigan became a support player in the squad and they were able to still get some good results as they won EPICENTER 2018 and got top four at IEM Chicago. At IEM Chicago, they even won a bo3 series against Astralis. However, something was inevitably going to break as the team was stuck in no-man’s land. They either needed to get a new in-game leader or all-in on NiKo as the in-game leader and get a better player to fill Karrigan’s roles. That seems to be the move forward as FaZe have now benched Karrigan.
Throughout these various different iterations and teams across the years, the strengths and weaknesses of Karrigan as an in-game leader become more apparent. As a leader, he does have some pressure issues. This can’t be denied as we’ve seen it during the height of the TSM days and at times in the modern FaZe lineup. On top of that, once his teams have reached the top, he has been unable to force his squads over the edge to become the de-facto best team in the world. TSM was close in 2015, but fell short. FaZe were close in 2017 and the beginning of 2018, but were unable to do it. Finally, both rosters eventually lost confidence in him as a leader after the results stopped pouring in.
While those are the criticisms that can be laid at Karrigan, the positives of his leadership are massive. The most obvious point to consider is that his startup time with any lineup is the fastest I’ve seen in any esports games, and especially in CS:GO. Most teams have an average startup time of around three months. That’s about how long it took for gla1ve to get Astralis to their peak both times. When he first initially joined the team and when Emil “Magisk” Reif joined the team. Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, another all-time great leader has had mixed success in that regard. Some of his lineups were instant hits and in others he had to grind out months for the team to reach the top levels of the game. The current Na`Vi squad under Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko over six months to get into shape.
Karrigan’s start up times average somewhere between three days to two weeks. His ability to assess players, figure out new roles that would fit them, create a working team, and how it all works out in the map pool is tremendous. There is no other leader in the world who has had to work with such a diverse set of players from so many different regions or countries. One of the reasons teams try to stick within one region is because they have a better feel for the players there and how they could fit.
Karrigan’s region is the entire world and his ability to figure out how everything can work is probably the highest in CS:GO. He figured out how to use kioShiMa as a role player when everyone had thought kioShiMa was done. Allu returned to form after Karrigan joined FaZe. Rain found his role after playing with Karrigan. Both GuardiaN and olofmeister looked stronger after they had left their old teams to join FaZe.
Now consider a moment the strengths and weaknesses of Karrigan. He can use anyone, he can get them to a strong level within days or weeks. However he is not able to get a long standing lineup over the edge. He may also have problems dealing with pressure. If the results start to diminish, the players may eventually start rebelling against his orders and we end up in the TSM/FaZe scenario.
Among the differing problems, the pressure issue is the hardest to fix as sports psychologists may or may not be able to help deal with the issue. The rest of the problems though can be mitigated through strong infrastructure. The problem of having a long standing lineup not being able to go over the top near the end of their lifespan and teams rebelling essentially symptoms of the same problem. The team at those points in time have been figured out in terms of playstyle and tendency. Astralis and Liquid to a lesser extent have been able to stop this by consistently adapting and changing from event to event.
I don’t know how well Karrigan could fit into such a system, but I don’t necessarily think he has to. While the Astralis and Liquid systems are great, I think all systems have to be tailor-made for the specific members of the team. In the case of Karrigan, one of his greatest strengths is the ability to make something work instantly without much prep time with any players on hand.
In that sense then, I think he needs a general manager that will not only back him up in terms of making him the voice of the team, but will also follow his lead and be ruthless in making roster changes. They need to be on the same level as the LG/SK squads between 2015-2017. Every time one of those lineups hit the ceiling, the team switched players. This happened at the end of 2015 when his team got Lincoln “fnx” Lau and Epitacio “TACO” de Melo. When fnx stopped working, he got Joao “felps” Vasconcellos. When felps stopped working, he got Ricardo “boltz” Prass. When the Boltz lineup stopped working, they tried to change again.
The reality of CS:GO lineups is that for most teams, the shelf lifetime of a roster lasts between six to nine months. In both of Karrigan’s failures, the lineup lasted for over an year. At the end of both years, the players stopped believing in the system and took over the team from him. Part of it is tactical, as Karrigan wasn’t able to reinvent or recreate a new approach with the same five players in both cases. The other part of it was because of Karrigan’s democratic approach which has allowed him the ability to get far more out of star players than most other in-game leaders, but in turn has put him in hot water in those two instances. However if you combine that with a GM who not only buys into Karrigan’s system, but is willing to make the roster cuts informed by him and in a timely fashion, then all of these problems no longer exist. Karrigan will never have to reinvent a tactical system with the same five players as he will be changing the dynamic of the team through roster changes.
In some ways, Karrigan is the antithesis of Astralis. Astralis is a team that has built its cathedral on order and structure. They have balanced roles, a strong team identity, tactics, and skip events to get stronger. In the case of Karrigan, his last few years under FaZe have shown him to be an agent of chaos. It doesn’t matter how little time you give him or with what disparate parts. He can make a ferrari out of pieces from a junkyard and bring up teams to the heights of CS:GO near instantaneously.
However once chaos has ended and the system has become static and rote, that is when Karrigan’s problems with his team’s seem to arise. When we consider FaZe, they looked the strongest when they wholeheartedly believed in Karrigan and the weakest when they tried to implement a structured style of play that didn’t fit the lineup they had. If Astralis is the master of order, then I believe Karrigan is the master of chaos. Give him the right players and he can take any team to the top. Give him the right system with the right approach and he could potentially become even greater.
In any other lineup, the idea of actively trying to change rosters instead of working through the problems seems the wrong move to do as there is an inherent gamble and risk involved in such a move. No one can consistently make a new player work in the system and every other leader needs around two months of start up time before the team starts to become good.
However Karrigan is different. He’s done it with every player under the sun. He hasn’t only just done it once, he’s done it four to six times (depending on if you count the stand-in scenarios or not). He’s figured out a working system within days or weeks of coming into contact with a new lineup. I believe that is his greatest strength and thus he should embrace it. If Astralis are the masters of order, then Karrigan is the master of chaos. Where they have created a system that has allowed them to adapt from event to event, Karrigan should create a system that allows him to create chaos. One where they can draw from players all over the world, one that is changing players at a rapid pace so that they don’t fall into a rut, and one that uses his processing speed as a leader to its maximum effect.