'I think it's really hard to focus on CS2' Fnatic's dexter & mezii on Cologne, UKCS, and international rosters
With less than a month away from IEM Cologne 2023, Fnatic made the bold decision to switch things up, benching Nico "nicoodoz" Tamjidi and bringing in both Aurélien "afro" Drapier and Christopher "dexter" Nong.
Change is always a coin flip in Counter-Strike, as you can never truly be sure whether a move will be a success until after the dust has settled - especially when changing such a fundamental part of a team's structure like an in-game leader (IGL).
However, Fnatic aim to be proactive, and on the eve of what could be CS:GO's last tier-one tournament before we move into the Counter-Strike 2 era, this could be the move that plants their legacy within the game's last moments, and sets them up for success in the future.
We had the chance to speak to both dexter and William "mezii" Merriman during their boot camp at the Red Bull Gaming Sphere, discussing every from Cologne to CS2, and even their favourite moments in CS:GO history too.
Building for Cologne
One of the biggest questions surrounding Fnatic right now is whether they'd have enough time to properly practice ahead of IEM Cologne. Bedding one player into the ideas and strategies of a team takes a while but with two players - including an IGL - it could perhaps be seen as not enough time.
Thankfully dexter sees things in a more positive light, putting particular emphasis on the difference between Fnatic and his former team MOUZ.
"It's very different for me from my last team, based on the experience level and how people deal with a lot of things. Everything has its own positives and negatives, so I just have to use everything for the positive and try to adapt my own style around it."
It also appears to be a positive move for mezii, who appears to relish in the stylistic similarities he shares with the Australian.
"I think we are very much on the same page. I wouldn't say we've overhauled our overall style - I think it's more that he's brought another style and backup plans that we can fall back on and add to our playbook.
"For me, it's extremely important that everyone's on the same page - at least in terms of foundations. When you get into the micro-details you will get different opinions from each player, and if people have different opinions it makes it easier to fix or come to a common ground," he added.
The challenge of international rosters
International rosters seem to be all the rage now, with two consecutive international Major winners, and both dexter and mezii have had plenty of experience in multi-national teams.
"I would say [playing on an international roster] is pretty relaxing," dexter detailed, "I think everyone's more used to different cultures and ways of thinking, so everyone's more forgiving and keen to learn off of each other. I don't see too many downsides apart from some language barriers, but it gets overcome very fast."
Cultures and systems between international rosters can also be incredibly different, and dexter certainly realised that after his switch from MOUZ to Fnatic.
"Everyone is a lot more of their own IGL here, and I don't want to try and force too much, but the last team wanted me to force a lot of things on, so I don't think I should be doing that so much.
I prefer people to do their own thing, especially if it makes them happier and enjoy the game a lot more. I think I need to know when to step in and force anything, just to make it very clear how we end rounds, as it makes it a lot easier just to win sometimes." Dexter explained.
The state of UK Counter-Strike
The United Kingdom hasn't had the most abundant representation when it comes to Counter-Strike, but it finds itself in the middle of a rise, with a number of players competing around the top of the scene.
One player that has been very central to this rise is, of course, mezii himself, and we asked him what his thoughts on the scene overall are, and whether he thinks it will continue to grow in Counter-Strike 2.
"I think we're definitely at one of the strongest points [for the UK scene] at the moment. I think we're moving in the right direction where more UK players are getting noticed and picked up.
Over the years there's only been a few of us that have been in the tier one scene, but we're seeing more and more get noticed that are performing in the tier two/three scenes and it can only be a positive thing."
With a relative lack of high-profile organisations within the UK scene, however, it can be quite challenging for players to make that next step and reach wider recognition. While he quickly found success once he finally broke out, it was certainly tough for mezii to initially get noticed.
"It took me a while to break into the top part of the UK scene. I think I played with a lot of friends at the start, and then getting into the top one or two UK teams like CEX and then Endpoint, it was tough to get there.
But I think after that I took the decision to try and go into European teams because I felt it was my best chance to make it within a tier-one space. I think luckily for me it went pretty fast, but I think it's tough. But now with how many online tournaments there are, I think it gives a lot of UK players and teams the opportunity to get noticed on HLTV."
Following the same path as mezii, dexter also made the jump to Europe from his native Australia, similarly finding that it was a necessary step to progress his career.
"I don't think people in the Australian region itself are that professional when it comes to CS," he stated, "It's not like they have a choice because there's not many orgs supporting the scene right now, but for me, I felt like it was really necessary just to step up my own level and get a proper foot in."
A mix of new and old in the core of Fnatic
Arriving with dexter, of course, was afro, who takes his first step into an international roster and the tier-one scene after completing his move earlier in the month. Thankfully, he appears to have had a really positive effect on the team, as dexter detailed the qualities that he brings to the team.
"He's a big nerd, I was very surprised! He's bringing a lot of raw talent and also a lot of ideas. I've yet to see a player like him where he brings in so much for himself and the game, and his attitude around that is really good. It was a big surprise for me actually 'cause I really didn't know too much, and when we started I was like, well damn."
On the flip side, Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson is a player who could not be more familiar with the Fnatic organisation, having been in the team for over nine years now outside of a short stint in GODSENT, and mezii certainly appreciates the experience that brings after playing with the Swede for nearly two years now.
"I think especially when you get on LAN he's invaluable. With the experience that KRIMZ brings - especially in international lineups when communication can get really chaotic - I think he's someone who can really calm the team down and focus on what needs to be done.
"You can only gain that from multiple LAN wins and tournaments where you're making playoffs and encountering those chaotic situations. I've learned a lot from him and it's definitely helped me as a player, and I think it can only help other players like afro who have got a little less experience."
Counter-Strike 2 still has to wait
The elephant in the room for a lot of teams right now is Counter-Strike 2, as it is available and coming soon, but the key tournaments are still being played on good old CS:GO. We asked mezii whether he had dabbled in CS2, or whether it was still full steam ahead for CS:GO.
"I think, at least for me, it's very much full focus on CS:GO for now. I think it's really hard to focus on CS2 or at least put time into it when all of the tournaments at the moment from what we know are going to be on CS:GO.
We want to make sure that we're putting 100% focus into one game and not splitting it up because that's when you can make it tough for the team and your own performances. For us, we're going to focus on CS:GO until we get more of an indication of when CS2 is actually going to come out, then we can focus on it from that point."
Favourite moments in CS:GO history
Of course, the arrival of Counter-Strike 2 denotes the end of CS:GO, and within its decade-long lifespan there have been countless iconic moments that we won't soon forget.
While both dexter and mezii are still early in their careers, they still took great pride in being one of the few players from their respective nations to make it to the playoffs of a Major tournament, cementing themselves within the history of the game.
When considering their favourite moments outside of their own play, however, both players provided some really iconic plays. It just so happens that they each picked a play where Fnatic was on the losing side.
Dexter in particular remembers a certain Swede's play in the ESL One Cologne 2014 grand final, acting as a key moment in some of CS:GO's earliest years.
"I think it was a 2014 Adam "friberg" Friberg clutch against Fnatic. That was just like a moment for me that I always remembered, but there's just so many to actually think about."
For mezii though, it was another play against his current side that many of us might opt for - so much so that it was one of the few graffiti moments immortalised across the maps.
"I think the one I would say just because I'd like to annoy KRIMZ because it was against him, was when Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyljev dropped on Cache and no-scoped two players. I think KRIMZ loves that one so I think I'd go for that play, it's just iconic overall."
Both dexter and mezii will be looking to make their mark in what is likely to be the last IEM Cologne for CS:GO, so make sure to check them out in Fnatic's first match of the tournament against Complexity on July 26, at 2:45 pm BST.