Fnatic have been a long way from the top of the Counter-Strike world for a long time. It feels like it has been forever since we have seen a respectable placement out of the iconic Swedish side, but DreamHack Masters Malmo was their swan song, as the team decided to reunite some old teammates and pair them with some younger talent; to form a Swedish death squad that absolutely steamrolled the competition.
How was Fnatic able to pull this seemingly out of thin air? Well the Swedes had a few things going in their favor.
Going For Gold
Much like Evil Geniuses at ESL One New York, Fnatic had the advantage of the crowd. Unfortunately for neutral fans, the crowd was extremely one-sided (in favour of Fnatic) rendering some moments by opposing teams (such as Vitality) dull because of the lack of enthusiasm. The link between home advantage and better performance is still tenuous at best, but it has to be factored here considering Fnatic have not been at a top LAN in quite some time and are debuting a relatively fresh lineup.
That fresh lineup is part of the reason why the team was able to find success. Is the team actually new? No. All of the players have had some considerable tenure on Fnatic at one point in their careers, but this current lineup is something entirely "new." Fnatic have always been better with Malik "Golden" Selim as their in-game leader (in my opinion of course), but for whatever reason, the team has had internal conflicts about his leadership even after big wins (IEM Katowice 2017). Hopefully, that is all in the past because Golden is one of the few IGLs who has proven to be able to take the best out of this lineup of individually skilled Swedes and make them relevant on the world's stage.
Even without a talented IGL, Fnatic are individually a skilled line-up on paper. Robin "flusha" Ronnquist has seen some peaks and valleys in his personal skill, but much like the other players (outside of Brollan) he is a consummate veteran of the game that excels in his role. This stacking of veteran talent has led to Fnatic being able to mount epic comebacks, and not be fazed if they collapse on a map in a grand final, against a good team (Vitality). Fnatic also have really really good chemistry because they all know each others roles and playstyles, which gives the team a lot of flexibility in playing defenses or hitting sites.
The veteran talent also benefitted by peaking all at once. This event would not be won by Fnatic under normal circumstances because players such as flusha and Golden overperformed compared to their typical performance. Fnatic will certainly regress to the mean as teams find their strengths and weaknesses and as Fnatic develops a more concrete map pool.
Sure, Fnatic beat top teams in Astralis and Vitality in their playoff run, but Team Liquid and Evil Geniuses had some uncharacteristically early exits. There have been reports of faulty headphones and teams were coming off of limited rest after ESL One NYC. This was certainly an event ripe for fluke results and EPL will really tell us how all the top teams stand going into the new year.