What just happened?
In the two weeks after ELeague ended, the professional Counter-Strike scene has been shaken in a way possibly never seen before. This comes despite the much-awaited 2016 French shuffle not taking place at all. Well, not yet at least.
First it was Na`Vi, which recruited Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev from Team Liquid two weeks ago to replace Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko. To fill the void left by s1mple's departure, Liquid confirmed that Jacob "Pimp" Winneche will indeed be joining the team, despite its grand final run at ESL One Cologne without him.
This week the Swedish scene was shook. Godsent, per Fnatic's official statement, traded Simon "twist" Eliasson and Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson to the Black and Orange side for the trio of Robin "flusha" Rönnquist, Jesper "JW" Wecksell and Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson -- though "trade" might be putting it lightly. Highway robbery is more like it.
In what stands as of writing as the latest change, FaZe finally let go of its sole Portuguese member Ricardo "fox" Pacheco to pick up ENCE's star player and former Ninjas in Pyjamas member Aleksi "allu" Jalli. Let's also not forget the first roster change prior to ELeague ending: SK Gaming's coach Wilton "zews" Prado returning as a player in the second best Brazilian team, and DreamHack Summer champions, Immortals.
So, who came out on top of the silly season?
To complete Fnatic's roster, the team also added John "wenton" Eriksson, who was its temporary stand-in during Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer's time off. For a team that relied on simple tactics but high individual skill, it seems they would need to re-invent themselves entirely -- regardless of how good twist may turn out to be once given a chance.
Meanwhile, Godsent obviously won that trade, and in my opinion look better going into the rest of 2016. The group should rebuild around Markus "pronax" Wallsten's leadership, and should boast enough skill with DreamHack Winter 2013 champion Andreas "znajder" Lindberg having also leveled up his play in the past year.
The odd team out is NiP. It's fresh off missing the playoffs at the major, and was sent packing in the quarterfinals of ELeague. It's hard to believe it did not want to pick up any of these players, especially given the rumors that JW would be joining team. This suggests no one wanted to join the team. It is a sad time for NiP, but it makes sense given the team's continuously deteriorating performance and the organization's issues.
The Swedish scene seems badly diluted overall. Question is, is it too diluted to compete? Splitting the talent into three parts, it runs the risk of ending in a North America-type situation where no team can contend for titles. A lot of it will come down to player development and how well old stars like flusha adjust to taking on larger roles.
Liquid may become more consistent with Pimp, and could remain competitive, but I have a hard time imagining them ever making the semis again without s1mple's explosiveness. Josh "jdm64" Marzano will need to step up, and Pimp must avoid the pitfalls that saw him removed from previous teams due to personality issues -- not unlike s1mple's troubled past.
On the other hand, Na`Vi is easily the biggest winners of the offseason, though that comes with an asterisk. It added a player with potential to become the world's best, and replaced an aging member. The honeymoon period could see Na`Vi dominate, but what will determine this roster's success is how well s1mple fits in during the longer term, whether the issues that plagued his previous teams will continue, and if his respect for the Na`Vi players is enough to help him move past it.
Similarly, SK will benefit from its main competitors making changes, allowing the team extra time to get back on track once Fernando "fer" Alvarenga is back from his surgery. This is valuable time Fnatic could have used to catch-up; now both parties have to start again from scratch.
Down a couple of notches in the world rankings, FaZe also came out better than it went in, having been mostly a forgettable team thus far in 2016. We saw allu perform well in the grandest of stages in CS:GO last year with NiP, and his presence will be an improvement over fox in the sniping department. Leadership issues persist, but at least FaZe will have more skill, which has been its game plan since the team was put together, at the expense of teamwork and tactics.
The most curious move of the off-season was zews's return as a player, and to Immortals no less. The Brazilians failed to qualify for the major -- again -- but had beaten Godsent and NiP to win DreamHack Summer shortly after winning CEVO Professional Season 9 Finals over Virtus.pro. It was a very good team, and on paper this seems like a setback. Perhaps zews's intangibles and leadership will be enough, but frankly it seems like a massive gamble from a team who did not need one.
Finally, as with NiP, it is curious to see EnVyUs hold the fort despite such a long run of disappointing results. The French shuffle never materialized -- which is likely smart of G2 -- but why would not Vincent "Happy" Schopenhauer's team at least make a change with another team? Beats me.
In terms of roster changes, Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný is expected to join mousesports as soon as his contract runs out, reportedly sometime in September. It is another move that, on paper, should improve the team; it takes some pressure off of Nikola "NiKo" Kovač's burdened shoulders. Still, I am not convinced it's enough. Oskar shined as the team's number one option in HellRaisers, but will not have such luxury in mousesports. Only time will tell.
The rest of 2016 seems like a waiting game. The first major is expected in the first quarter of 2017, and many contracts will expire come Jan. 1. To me this part seems like a limbo -- a temporary state where teams play out the rest of the year, and then see what's what.
I would not be surprised if more changes took place before the next major. One team forcing a change at an inconvenient time -- in the middle of the year, whether it is during a break or not -- can set off an avalanche of roster move, rolling down the scene likes dominos.
For more CS:GO commentary, follow Tomi on Twitter: @lurppis_