In the current age of Counter-Strike, I believe only four players are playing at superstar level status. This isn’t to say that no other players haven’t played at this level before or that they won’t get to that level in the future. But for now there are only four players who can dominate an entire game with a good level of consistency. They are Richard “shox” Papillon, Marcelo “coldzera” David, Oleksandr “s1mple“ Kostyliev and Nikola “NiKo“ Kovač.
Now if you look at that list of four names, you will notice NiKo is the odd man out. Shox is on G2. Coldzera is on SK. s1mple is on Liquid. Those are all extremely good teams. G2 got to the finals of two big tournaments and won the Esports Championship Series. ColdZera is on SK, the best team in the world. S1mple was on Liquid’s temporary lineup that made it to the finals of ESL One Cologne, and if it had continued on could have been a world contender. They are all on or were on excellent teams. And NiKo?
NiKo is on mouz, a team that has struggled to stay in the top 10 at any given point. And that is the tragedy of NiKo. He can do everything. He can pistol, deagle, AWP, rifle, even in-game lead if he has to. He can entry, he can lurk, he can clutch. Whatever needs doing, he can do. If you need an impossible retake on the B site against Fnatic, NiKo can make it happen. If you need an eco deagle Ace against FaZe, NiKo is the man for you.
Yet despite all of that skill, all of that talent, he has never been on a world class team. At least in s1mple’s case, he found Spencer “Hiko“ Martin and Hiko found a way, however brief, to get s1mple on a great team. NiKo is stuck on mouz. Now mouz is a good team that can sometimes make a playoffs. The problem is that NiKo himself is one of the best players in the world and should be winning or getting close to championships.
The tragedy of NiKo is that he’s stuck. He can’t leave the team; he can’t bring anyone on. He just has to hope his god-like skill can stay on top in hopes that one day his team will get a new player, one day his team will find a way to improve, one day his team can possibly win.
While I don’t think his team can win ELEAGUE, this is the first time in a long time I’ve seen a ray of hope for NiKo. Last month, mouz hired a trial coach in Aleksandar “kassad“ Trifunović. Kassad hasn’t had the most time to change anything as the Cologne Major was coming up, so a revamp in the leadership and system was too radical a change to make before such a big event. All he did was adjust a few things and try to keep them mentally calm. It didn’t work out and the major was a flop.
It was after the major that things started to change. It has been a very very small amount of time and an even smaller amount of games they’ve played. In total it’s been six games. The first three against a G2 that had a standin and three games against a FaZe that almost lost to a limping CLG.
Yet inside of those two precarious series, there was hope. Not the hope to win a championship, but the hope to improve the team. They started having maps where the frags were evened out between the team, where the team was successfully trade killing into sites and showed a bit more diversity in tactics. But the real big changes have been Chris “chrisJ“De Jong and Kassad. ChrisJ has started to become more consistent on LAN with good performances at the major qualifiers, the major itself and at ELEAGUE. Overall, he seems a lot more reliable than he was in the past.
The biggest change was Kassad’s mental game. Before Kassad, mouz were infamous for tilting, doing stupid decisions in pressure situations and giving up. They just didn’t have any kind of mental fortitude as a team. With Kassad, the mental aspect of the team has changed. The overaggressive peaks are still there and there are still some stupid decisions in pressure situations. The difference is these mistakes are no longer tilting the team into oblivion. Perhaps more impressively, they are now strong enough to make comebacks when down a significant margin.
In the third game of the Last Chance Bracket against FaZe, mouz down 14-6 on cache. If this was old mouz, what would have happened was NiKo could have gotten them a few more rounds off god-like play before the entire team crumbled. In this iteration, they slowly clawed their way back. NiKo was still a god, but now the rest of the team was strong enough to hold its ground and even when FaZe got to matchpoint, mouz still made it to overtime and won.
Before Kassad, NiKo could become a god and the game would still be lost. After Kassad, NiKo was a god and the game was finally won. Perhaps I’m being too hasty, perhaps I’m reading too much into too little because I want to believe. I want to believe in a mouz that can help NiKo, I want to believe in a NiKo that can win a tournament, I want to believe in a world where NiKo battles Coldzera or s1mple or shox in a finals.
I want to hope and as Janko “YNk“ Paunović once told me “Hope dies last.”
Photos courtesy of HLTV.org