Roaring Fire to Dwindling Spark: The Post-Major Direction of Copenhagen Flames

The PGL Stockholm Major brought about amazing storylines and accomplishments including the highest prize pool ever at a Counter-Strike tournament, NaVi winning it all without dropping a map, and s1mple winning his first-ever major. However, other fascinating storylines came from the underdogs, the teams who were never supposed to make it in the first place. Teams like Movistar Riders, ENCE, and Copenhagen Flames were never expected to qualify for the Major, but with astounding performances, they were able to exceed expectations. Yet still, they were doubted coming into the most important tournament of the year. While most cracked under the pressure, Copenhagen Flames roared and soared through the Challenger Stage undefeated, overpowering hefty opponents.

While they were unable to secure playoffs, the Flames shattered everybody’s assumptions and emerged from the Major looking like a team that could trade blows with the best. However, ever since their incredible pop-off at the Major, the Danes have been unable to maintain their world-beater results. The question then arises, what happened? What made Copenhagen Flames so impressive at the Major, and what changed to snuff out their fire?

Grinding in the Dark

Like most exciting teams that seem to come out of nowhere to shake up the scene, Copenhagen Flames were grinding in the dark, slowly improving their placements in tier two and three tournaments before the Major. In the few months leading up to IEM Fall, the tournament which qualified the team for the Major, the Flames won the Pinnacle Fall Series Regional, secured 2nd place in Elisa Invitation Fall 2021 and Nordic Masters Fall, and finished in the top four at Malta Vibes and Funspark Ulti Europe Series 3.

These results are not too impressive given the caliber of teams at these tournaments, but they still show the growth that the team was able to achieve just before their run. Lest we forget, Gambit also ran through lower-tier tournaments at the end of last year and the beginning of this one before they eventually won IEM Katowice. Now though, Gambit is a solid second fiddle in CIS behind the behemoth of NaVi and a staple in the world’s top five. Copenhagen Flames, as we know, have not achieved the same level of success. Recently they have bombed out in three tournaments since the Major including a 2-0 loss to TTC, a team just inside the HLTV top one hundred. So while yes, the Flames did accrue a meaningful set of victories coming into the Major, it’s still staggering that after their stunning performance they manage to lose to teams they should have easily defeated even in their pre-major form.

Forged Through Fire

One of the most interesting aspects of the Flames’ run is their astonishing path. The Flames ran through some of the most competitive teams in the entire tournament. In the Challengers Stage, they defeated Astralis, an eventual playoff team, BIG Clan, arguably the best team to miss out on the Legends Stage, and Heroic, the highest-ranked team in that stage. Not only that, their victory over Heroic came in a best of three match, so it’s even harder to argue that their performance was a fluke.

Even in the Legends Stage where they eventually succumbed to a 2-3 record, missing out on playoffs, their three losses were to G2, NIP, and Heroic, all of which went to the playoffs themselves. Their performance was admirable, taking a map off of the Ninjas and Heroic who exacted revenge for the Challenger Stage defeat. They even stomped FaZe 16-6, who although they didn’t make the playoffs, were another team not to be taken lightly. All this begs the question, how did Flames beat such world-class teams only to immediately lose their stellar form?

Playstyle

One explanation for their fluke run might be their playstyle. After all, it’s not unheard of for lower-tier teams to create upsets through wacky strategies which the favorites are not expecting. Such strategies can be easily figured out by watching demos after the fact. So, surprising game plans like those can only be used in one tournament before opponents figure them out. If a team had such a strategy, it of course makes sense to use it at the Major. However, the Flames don’t play a “flukey” style of Counter-Strike.

As mentioned by talent repeatedly during their run, Copenhagen Flames didn’t do anything special compared to other teams. In an HLTV Confirmed episode with Copenhagen Flames in-game leader Rasmus “HooXi” Nielsen, Chad “SPUNJ” Burchill noted, “The type of Counter-Strike you were calling, the type of Counter-Strike you were playing is on point with the current meta one hundred percent.” They played the same game but hit a few better shots, and called a few better tactics. If Copenhagen Flames beat their opponents in a way that can’t be quickly anti-stratted, there should be no reason that they suddenly get worse after a single tournament. Sure teams now have more film over CPHF to analyze, but there aren’t any obvious set pieces or unmistakable aggression to punish. So with that said, it seems unlikely that playstyle was the sole reason for Copenhagen Flames’ surprise success story and subsequent flounder.

Caught Up in the Hype

Perhaps the reason the Flames’ are unable to keep their form is that their accomplishments at the Major were not that impressive to begin with. It’s a dull explanation, but it really could be possible. This major had not only the largest prize pool of any Counter-Strike tournament but also the largest view count. With so many eyes on the tournament, many of which don’t tune in to any tournament other than the Majors, it’s possible that their mythical run was just exaggerated by the fans.

Everybody loves to root for an underdog so who can blame us when we get a bit too wrapped up in a storyline? Copenhagen Flames are a fun young team with unknown names that were taking scalps and having fun while doing so. The Flames were an easily marketable team with their slick logo and the organization’s knack for picking up young talent and selling them piecewise. In addition, they were always entertaining to listen to on the mic and several players even appeared on the HLTV Confirmed podcast. Speaking of marketing, I know I definitely enjoyed Fredrik “roeJ” Jørgensen’s Twitter feed during the Major. 

In addition, the qualification for this major was not particularly difficult with eleven spots open on the European side. Plus, the way the RMR points were distributed, the points from 2020 and Flashpoint 3 were almost obsolete. A team like Copenhagen Flames with zero points coming into the final RMR event, IEM Fall, only needed to secure top seven in that one tournament to qualify for the Major.

Even with that lenient system, the Flames only barely squeaked by in that last seventh place at IEM Fall. Even Movistar Riders performed better at that event than the Danes. Not to totally diminish their achievements, but the Flames did only win one best of three in the entire major. That best of three was against Heroic, a team they would then lose to in another best of three less than a week later. That isn’t even to mention that in national head-to-head competitions it’s not unlikely that the underdog comes out on top. Think of BIG and Sprout for instance. As awkward as it is to say, the Flames may have legitimately just gotten lucky. 

I don’t say that to completely ignore Copenhagen Flames’ performance at the Major. After all, roeJ led the Challengers Stage with a staggering 1.36 rating, which is nothing to sneeze at. Even in the Legends Stage where they exited before the playoffs, three of the Flames had over a 1.10 rating. They played and hung with the best of them, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been lucky at the same time. 

From The Horse’s Mouth

Everything above is simply speculation, though. I was intrigued with the Flames’ performance and wanted insight from someone closer with the team. As informative as SPUNJ’s slightly inebriated ramblings on HLTV Confirmed were, it just didn’t satiate my curiosity. So, I inquired into the perspective of Daniel Vorborg, the Director of Esports of Copenhagen Flames. He worked closely with the team all year and especially in the form of the team’s head coach after the Major.

Vorborg noted the unexpected pressure that other teams faced, which the Flames did not. “We didn’t really have any pressure on us. Seen from the outside, we were big underdogs, and didn’t really have anything to lose. That paired with our confidence from IEM Fall, knowing that we can upset these teams, made us into a dangerous opponent also.”

He also spoke of the team’s playstyle. While we’ve already discovered it wasn’t completely off kilter, he still believed it played an important role in their success. “I think we try to play smart CS:GO, and are one of the more versatile rosters. We can play very structured, and grouped up, but we can also play extremely loose, and try to catch timings. It all depends on our opponent, and I think that is something that sets us apart.”

Finally, he talked about the influence of nerves at the biggest event of the year. “Our focus throughout the tournament was just not to play scared. We didn’t focus too much on winning or losing, the focus was just that we needed to dare to play CS:GO. Worst case scenario was that we got scared, didn’t dare to play how we want to, and then end up both losing our games, but also not learning anything from those games. We were okay with a scenario where we lost, but we could learn a lot — and that gave us the freedom to play good CS.”

In summary, Copenhagen Flames had a culmination of effects that led to their amazing run. They played with confidence and with nothing to lose while other teams struggled to find their footing at the $2 million event. So while they played cool as a cucumber, their opponents would crack under the pressure and make a mistake. Then, the way the Flames played allowed them to catch any missteps the opposing team made. Altogether, that made a deadly combination which proved fatal to many aspiring teams as well as created a wonderful spectacle for viewers.

What Next?

What remains to be seen now is whether or not the Flames can regain their form from the Major and become threats once more to the top teams in the world. I can forgive a few weeks of poor play after their successful Major journey from the celebration or taking a well-deserved break. After all, Gambit lost to the Flames after winning Katowice because they hadn’t practiced since winning the enormous tournament. But, now a couple months later, it’s time for the Danish squad to get the fire back in their bellies and fix whatever changed since the Major. The easiest path to another tier one event would have been to win ESEA Premier League. However, the team only managed to finish 5-6th in Season 39 after losses to Gamerlegion and BLINK in the playoffs. 

The Flames have not been completely hapless since the Major, though. They did come away victorious from Malta Vibes Knockout Series 4 without dropping a single map. However, they were the only top twenty team attending that event. Nonetheless, they did defeat two top thirty teams in flawless fashion, which given recent results is nothing to scoff at.  

A Ship Without a Sail

Daniel Vorborg also wrote in a Twitlonger explaining the recent results of Copenhagen Flames. He notes that the team’s head coach, Faruk “pita” Pita departed for Dignitas immediately following the Major, and the team has been practically with no aid for the previous few months, “This has bascially [sic] left the team without any support structure throughout this period of time. I’ve done the schedule for the team, and I have been there some time – but compared to what I and also Pita usually did for the team, it has been next to no support.”

Clarifying for Rush B Media, Vorborg continued “Especially as negotiations dragged this close to the new year, I needed to be prepared with a new roster, and had to already start interviewing new players. On top of this I also had other obligations in Copenhagen Flames, as the year is coming to an end, and I’m part of running the budget etc. in our club. This paired up with Pita leaving for Dignitas, the roster had very limited assistance in terms of team management and coaching, which obviously isn’t optimal, especially for this young of a roster.”

A New Home

Perhaps most importantly, on the 21st of October, Dexerto reported that Copenhagen Flames, the organization, was fielding offers for the whole squad of five with a buyout between 500-750 thousand dollars. Later, Dexerto revealed that Complexity were one of the organizations interested in the team. Copenhagen Flames is more used to selling individual players who have proven their worth in the tier 2 scene such as AcilioN, Farlig, and TeSeS, but they have sold an entire team before to x6tence. As Daniel Vorborg wrote, “The reason for us not offering more salary, is not that we’re greedy. It’s simply because we are a small club, with a small budget compared to the teams we are competing against. I wish we had the budget to always keep our best players, and to be able to match the salaries.”

Over half a million dollars would do wonders for the organization which has been developing talented players for almost five years now. But, if they do manage to sell their team, whoever is buying them wants the roster that earned in-game stickers and pushed Astralis, Heroic, and NIP to their limit, not the roster that loses to HLTV top 100 teams. 

No Change of Plans

On December 23rd, in an interview with Dexerto, Daniel Vorborg then revealed that the deal with Complexity had completely fallen through. In addition, he clarified that CPH was no longer in talks with any other organization regarding the transfer of their players. He admitted that some players were disappointed with not joining an established organization. In particular, he noted that joining a team like Complexity would give the players direct invites to Blast and ESL events. This would be a sharp change from where Copenhagen Flames lie as a tier two team that needs to win qualifiers to enter tier one events. On top of that is the obvious salary bump that would come from an organization with bigger funding.

Copenhagen Flames in the past has been a feeder organization destined to sell their biggest stars to prestigious teams with larger coffers. Now though, they seem determined to build a contending team based on these five players. In his explanation for the Flames’ recent performance issues, Vorborg said that he didn’t look for a coach to replace Pita because it wouldn’t make sense in the event of an incoming sale. However, he has since begun accepting applications for both head and assistant coaches. That serves as evidence for the organization’s commitment behind this roster.

In an interview with Rush B Media, Daniel Vorborg stated that the strategy of the club had shifted from selling players before they signed this version of Copenhagen Flames, “We want to try and hold on to our best players for longer, and establish ourselves as a club that can compete among the best. There is a common understanding between us and the players, that we’ll constantly do everything we can to improve the resources we can provide the players, and we can develop together.”

When asked if this would be a challenge for the organization, he answered, “I don’t really see it as a new challenge. We’re only happy that we can keep our roster for longer. It makes it easier for our content department to build a story around the team, makes it easier to connect with more fans, and it certainly also makes it easier to build a great team.”

“We want to try and hold on to our best players for longer, and establish ourselves as a club that can compete among the best.”

Daniel Vorborg, Director of Esports and Co-Owner of Copenhagen Flames

Vorborg is taking the Major success in stride and is clearly glad he’s kept his roster. While the post-major woes obviously aren’t an ideal scenario, he is confident that in the new year he can build an international challenger.

For the Future

On that note, personally, I hope that Copenhagen Flames do revitalize themselves and manage to prove themselves on the big stage once again. For one, I’d love to see another team competing in the upper echelons. Two, it’s always exciting seeing new prospects in the big leagues taking names and providing interesting spectacles. In our interview, Vorborg stated, “The players can look forward to a salary increase, as they’ve deserved it with the effort they’ve put in.” So of course, it’s always delightful to see players be rewarded for their hard work and successes.

Copenhagen Flames have taken a new direction from a feeder organization into one that supports a single roster. This has proven fruitful for them so far and despite the opportunity to sell individual players and the whole team, they stuck together under the banner of the Flames. It’s slightly disappointing to lose one of the best development hubs, but if the team can transition their development program into one of sustained progress, the future of the Flames looks very bright indeed.

The next opportunity the Flames have against the world’s best is at IEM Katowice. First the Flames will need to prove their worth against other hungry teams in the Play-In Stage before facing off against tier one opposition in the main event. This will serve as the true test for whether the Danes have the skill to compete at the highest level.

When asked about the team’s goals at Katowice, Daniel Vorborg replied, “We are not going to go into the tournament and say we need to finish in X place. I don’t think that would do us any favors. We’re going to set expectations of how we want to play, and the effort we need to put into the tournament. If we meet those expectations, we will be happy. If we meet those expectations, either we will also do good in our games, or we will walk away with some important lessons. We’re still a young team, and we are still new to these big tournaments, so the most important thing is just that we keep learning and improving. 2022 is going to be an exciting year for us.”

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to know for sure why Copenhagen Flames performed so well at the Major but have dipped in form recently. What we can do is appreciate the stellar run that the Flames had and witness the skill that they performed at. It’s possible that as fans we got caught up in the hype of the Major and put world-class expectations on players, some of whom have never competed in an international LAN. Nonetheless, Copenhagen Flames played some great Counter-Strike at the Major and provided an entertaining storyline to follow. It remains to be seen whether they can play at such a high level again, but one can only hope.

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