FaZe defied all odds at IEM Sydney, taking down Astralis, a team considered to be unstoppable in the lead-up to the event, 3-0 in the grand final (19-17 Cache, 22-20 Overpass, 16-14 Train). The team have been without Olof “Olofmeister” Kjabjer since the start of April due to personal reasons and have instead been using NiP legend Richard “Xizt” Landström. A poor start in the group stage for FaZe was quickly remedied by convincing wins against Cloud9, Fnatic and TyLoo on their way to the grand final.

I spoke to FaZe’s star rifler Nikola ‘NiKo’ Kova after he and his team claimed the IEM Sydney 2018 trophy.

FaZe is a lineup of so many incredibly talented players. How much freedom are you personally afforded in the system karrigan is calling?

I don’t have a huge amount of freedom according to the role. I’m the lurk player, so I’m not the guy who can afford mistakes. I have to play more safe than I did before. Nowadays, we have rain and GuardiaN as our players to go and make plays because they are in positions to do that. If I do it and I die, I could just lose one side of the map. I cannot afford that. I don’t have a huge amount of freedom in the team but it’s been working fine.

Olofmeister had to step down for personal reasons, with Xizt taking his place. Is he performing the same role that Olof did or did you guys change the system upon Xizt’s arrival?

Xizt basically took Olof’s role completely. We didn’t change much. Richard [Xizt] tried to adapt to Olof’s role and he did quite good. I’m really proud of him because he’s never done that before. He was always like a support player and supported the team, flashed for them, and stuff like that. Olof was one of the key players in our team as well, so it’s really good to see that Xizt is stepping up in his role.

IEM Sydney 2018 Champions – Photo by ESL

Xizt is a veteran in-game leader. Does he have much input on decisions the teams makes or is it all on karrigan?

He has input when it gets kind of close. Like, when we are out of options, he steps up and says something or gives a read. Other than that, it’s basically karrigan.

Your team’s run through the group stage was very uncharacteristic of the team, particularly in dropping Mirage to Grayhound. What can you say about that match?

Obviously, they played really good. I think they played the best they could, I’d say. We didn’t play good in the group stage. We almost lost in the group stage, so I can’t really say how that happened because we just played really bad. We started stepping up from that game. It went uphill since that game.

I was a bit shocked by the veto, where Astralis removed Mirage and opted to play you guys on Cache instead. Was that surprising to you at all?

We weren’t too surprised. We were aware that could happen, since their Cache looked pretty good against the teams they played. We knew that there’s be a chance that they’d ban Mirage and we’d pick Cache, which was fine for us. Cache is our best map.

Map to map in this final, all were close and all were characterised by high-scoring CT halves. Do you feel like your team were unable to do much on the T side or was it more down to how strong Astralis’ CT was?

On Train, we tried to do some stuff that they shut down instantly; whatever we tried would get shut down. Then we tried to improvise a bit, do some stuff together; we just needed a few rounds to work with as T. We knew that our CT side was really strong. We got a few rounds as T and we all knew that was enough if we won the pistol.

FaZe Clan’s NiKo – Photo by ESL

The narrative around FaZe for a long period back when Olof was in the roster was that the team choked in finals. After winning IEM here in Sydney, how much validity is there to that claim or can you put those wins down to teams hitting their peaks in the finals?

Whenever we played the teams in the final, they hit their peak: fnatic, Cloud9, NiP. They all hit their peak when we were in the final against them. But also, we always lost close finals. We never got crushed in the final. One round could change everything in those past events. That’s not a choke, one hundred percent. Teams were playing well in the finals against us. It was getting a bit in our head that we were losing finals – not because of choking – because we knew how close we were to winning them but we didn’t manage to do it. It’s good to finally win an event, so now it’s going to be much easier for us, I think.

Dust2 was set to be the fifth map of the series, but you guys kept the match from getting there at all with a 3-0 win. What are your thoughts on the map’s inclusion in the pool?

The map is pretty much the same. You can throw more nades with the opened skybox but it’s played the same way, I would say. We were ready on it. We played as much as we could. We won the event but we were ready to play it as a fifth map, so that’s why we decided to keep Dust2 in and ban Nuke.