Håvard "rain" Nygaard is a Major winner and MVP, and no one can ever take that away from him.
But I'd be lying if I told you I had ever expected to have said he was one of those things.
Sure, I expected FaZe Clan to win PGL Antwerp 2022. They're by far the best team in the world, and their closest rivals in Na'Vi are falling apart at the seams. We all expected them to win.
But hands up, who had a rain MVP on the cards?
You'd expect it to be Robin "ropz" Kool, the one-time wunderkind has transformed FaZe into a monster even Astralis 2018 would be fearful of. It could've been Helvijs "broky" Saukants. The Latvian is one of the pioneers of redefining the AWP meta. They both had good tournaments too.
We were all wrong, though, because, in a team full of young stars, the veteran Norwegian stepped up to decimate their opponents in the final and claim the crown.
Before we get there, though, let's go back a few years to the last Major final rain was a part of and why I'm surprised we're here at all.
One Night in Boston
I shouldn’t need to remind you, but just in case: never forget that FaZe Clan choked a 15-11 lead on Inferno in Map Three of the Grand Final of the ELEAGUE Major 2018 to Cloud9, gifting the organization and North America its first Major.
Right, now that’s done.
This would be an Earth-shattering loss for any ‘favorite’ team. Not only had you been defeated by the underdogs, but those underdogs had also written history for their region.
You also have to consider that the eventual losers of Boston weren’t just any team - They were the Superteam. Not the French Superteam. The Superteam.
A team so good that its most iconic player was its Support.
Formed in the wake of a PGL Krakow 2017 that saw them bomb out 0-3 with questionable losses to BIG, ‘budget FaZe’ MOUZ, and… Flipside. It was the greatest roster ever assembled. Boston was the time to cement it in terms of achievements.
Maybe it was the fault of Nikola "NiKo" Kovac, who undoubtedly shit the bed in the final. Most of the blame was put on Finn "karrigan" Andersen however, the Danish IGL whose torrid T-side calling soured his reputation for the next year of his life.
Rain, alongside Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács and Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer, had pulled them through on Mirage against the weight of a thunderous North American crowd. He was their best player on Overpass too.
But still, not being bad in the final didn't stop rain from having the worst year of his career. Confidence broken by the loss in the final, and by the end of the year, NiKo ousted karrigan first from the IGL position and then the team.
As the year went on, rain's head was also often called for the chopping block by fans and analysts.
But fortune favors the bold.
Escaping the Executioner
Before the Superteam, before even NiKo, rain was the star of FaZe Clan. In fact, rain was FaZe's first star when the organization acquired the roster of G2 Esports back in 2016. That's longevity.
The last few years of rain's career haven't been his greatest. Before very recently, you'd have been forgiven for saying that rain's peak was in 2017 and everything after that was borrowed time.
It's not all his fault. Some of what happened probably favored him.
During his initial downturn in 2018, when calls for his head were possibly at their loudest, olofmeister was gone on a leave of absence for most of the year. FaZe cycled through stand-ins, with both Richard "Xizt" Landström and Jørgen "cromen" Robertsen pulling on the jersey and even winning events.
This instability never really disappeared, arguably even until 2022 when ropz joined. Karrigan was never properly replaced, a remark I mean in full disrespect to NiKo's ability as an IGL. Minor achievements aside, let's not pretend he's ever been good at the role.
Olofmeister continued to damage his legacy through lackluster performances, repeated removals, and subsequent additions to the roster. Half of these benchings were self-inflicted. He was as dedicated to the good old -olofmeister +olofmeister as Chris "chrisJ" de Jong was to -chrisJ +chrisJ on MOUZ.
Even GuardiaN - legendary AWPer of the CIS scene - declined as more players came and went.
Old-school veterans such as Däuren "AdreN" Qystaubaev and Filip "NEO" Kubski both went through the team in 2019, and Markus "kjaerbye" Kjaerbye was chewed up and spat out. Even the former best player in the world, Marcelo "coldzera" David, couldn't help FaZe.
“Even former best player in the world Marcelo “coldzera” David couldn’t help them.”
Rain outlasted them all, all the way to 2022, the point where the roster finally seems stable.
The Norwegian was never fantastic in that period. Consistent, but never the game-changer that FaZe so often needed as NiKo bogged himself down with shot calling.
He was so average that despite undeniably being one of the best in the world in his role, people were even calling for his removal in 2022 when Justin "jks" Savage stood in for him at IEM Katowice 2022 - and went on to win.
The calls for his head never ceased. Until now.
So why was he kept? How was he saved?
As I said before, there is some element of fortune. Rain was always considered stable when the rest of the team fell apart. As coldzera arrived, so did broky, a relative unknown. Maybe lack of investment played a part in rain's staying too.
However, I'd be willing to bet there's another reason, more to do with the man himself. He's probably just a bloody good teammate.
There are plenty of players like it. Olofmeister and chrisJ are both examples, and so too is Audric "JACKZ" Jug for G2. Good blokes out of the server are worth more than just what they offer inside one. Olofmeister once said that rain was his 'funniest teammate' - let's consider that evidence to the claim.
Rain needed ESL One Pro League Season 15 to prove his worth, for FaZe to win and for Katowice not to be a freak showing based on a team that didn't actually exist.
He got what he needed, with FaZe winning and cementing their position as world number one, but the job was not done.
But there was one more thing needed to light a fire under rain.
Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis is an opening kill machine. Young, hungry, and a fan favorite. His availability becoming a question raised the biggest reason for rain's removal yet.
FaZe is a team of young stars, and the Latvian is one of the brightest young stars in the Counter-Strike sky. With the current star trio being arguably the best closers the game has ever seen, it's only fitting they have the best opener.
So that's what rain became.
Rain romped for most PGL Antwerp, being FaZe's key player in the semi-finals against Team Spirit.
But it wasn't until the Finals themselves did rain save his best performance.
Natus Vincere were their opponents. The current Major champions had looked to nail 2022 down as their own, catapulting themselves forwards from their successes in 2021.
Fortune - I suppose - was in rain’s favour again then, as sure enough, the new GOAT team candidates were presented with obstacles of incredible difficulties.
On the other hand, FaZe were favourites even despite the presence of Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev. It was time for rain and karrigan to make amends for years prior.
Inferno was a shaky affair. After a solid start, there were echoes of Boston as FaZe seemed to choke on their CT side. Ropz secured overtime and eventually FaZe the map.
Going into Nuke, rain seemed entirely done with the whole thing. He put in an all-time great performance, a 30-15, 18.5 rating masterclass that cut down the CIS giants on CT-side and mauled their defence on T-side.
Thorin even suggested that such a display should be commemorated with a Major graffiti, portraying his 3K on a Na’Vi team attempting to scramble down his position, Secret.
Not only did rain’s performance secure the map and Major. It finally silenced the call for his removal.
More importantly than that, he secured his organisation’s redemption in Major tournaments, a repayment for all the loyalty they have shown him.
It might only be for one tournament, but rain displayed a peak level he had never shown before.
A level no one could have predicted.
Every head must bow, and every tongue must confess.