Before the StarLadder Star Series Season 2 LAN began, there were four favorites to take the title. The first was Virtus.Pro, the recent winners of ELEAGUE, which had shown remarkable form to win that event and was the team that’s given SK Gaming — undisputed world No. 1 — the hardest run for its money at the ESL Major in July.
The second was Natus Vincere. They were always a Tier 1 team, but they had improved the roster by bringing in superstar Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev. With that move, they were getting ready to usurp the throne from SK.
The third was Godsent, a team that had four out of the five players from the greatest lineup to have ever played CS:GO. They were Markus “pronax” Wallsten, Jesper “JW” Wecksell, Robin “flusha” Rönnquist and Freddy “KRiMZ” Johansson. They were only missing Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer to complete the set. But even without olofmeister, the lineup on paper seemed like it could compete for a top spot in the tournament.
The fourth team was G2. They had been a burner after swapping Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans for Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro. They took second at the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals to SK and won the Esports Championship Series against SK. G2 fell out of groups in the Major but was stuck in the hardest group in CS:GO history with Fnatic and SK. Its next tournament was a loss at ELEAGUE, but that was excusable because of the use of a stand-in for Cédric “RpK” Guipouy.
The results didn’t go quite as planned. VP dropped out in last place with disastrous results in Group D losing to EnVyUs and VG.Cyberzen — once again proving that you really can’t predict how well VP will do on any given day.
Na’Vi got counter-stratted by TyLoo and fell to the lower bracket, where it met Astralis in an incredibly tense and competitive game before eventually falling in overtime.
Godsent lost to NiP and Dignitas in Group A in similarly disastrous results. The loss was particularly bad for them as they lost to aTTax for an ELEAGUE Season 2 spot a day before.
The only team that fit its billing was G2. Richard “shox” Papillon was the standout player, though everyone played at a high level. They cleared through the groups and once the playoff bracket was made, the tournament looked to be theirs for the taking.
Unfortunately for G2, their rivals from a bygone age were making a comeback. Going into this event, Ninjas in Pyjamas had multiple things going against them. Björn “THREAT” Pers couldn’t go as their coach. Jacob “pyth” Mourujärvi was suffering injuries. With no obvious choice, NiP decided to go reach back in time and bring back Mikail “Maikelele” Bill as a temporary stand-in until pyth recovered. The last time Maikelele had played for NiP was nearly 18 months ago, and he had only stayed for a few months as the NiP players didn’t think he fit the team.
Even the start of their run was inauspicious. NiP went 1-8 in the first nine rounds against HellRaisers before fighting back to win the game. Afterward, though, it was smooth sailing as it cleared out Godsent, Astralis and Cloud9 on the way to the finals.
NiP hadn’t played this well since their DreamHack Malmo victory earlier in the year. Every player was doing well, with the most outstanding being Patrick “f0rest” Lindberg. It was hard to describe exactly why NiP was doing so well after months of lackluster performances.
In the end, it came down to three factors. The honeymoon period, the return of Maikelele and the Aufheben of leadership styles in Richard “Xizt” Landström and THREAT. NiP has historically always had a honeymoon period each time it switched out the fifth player before falling back to the mean. For whatever reason, every player on the team plays at a higher level. The second was the return of Maikelele.
When Maikelele was on the team, NiP had reached three out of four finals in the tournaments they attended together. Despite the team feeling he didn’t fit, Maikelele could have very well been the missing element the team needed. He brings a level of the impact and volatility as an AWPer. This play style was something NiP needs and hasn’t had ever since his departure a year and a half ago. And the same was true for Maikelele. When he switched teams, he was never the same AWPer as he was on NiP. And that form returned for StarLadder, as he made big contributions towards the NiP side.
The last reason was the Aufheben of Xizt and THREAT. Aufheben is a German term that means the unification of two contrasting ideas that lift each other to a higher concept. In this case, Xizt and THREAT’s leadership are on polar sides of each other. When NiP was under Xizt, they were very loose and skill based. When they were under THREAT, they were extremely controlled and patient. Both styles became predictable over an extended period and became part of why NiP fell from the perch as a top team.
The recent Valve ruling to restrict coaching has meant a change in the structure. THREAT will still create the setups and the strategies, but Xizt does the in-game calling itself. This situation has coincidentally created a balance between these two contrasting ideas and reached to a higher plane. Along with Maikelele, it was enough to take NiP all the way to the finals.
And there they met G2. This was a rivalry that had gone on for the entirety of CS:GO’s history. Before the modern era, before skins, before everything, NiP once ruled the world. And the second best team that could never beat them was VeryGames. This eventually changed once shox joined the team and eventually VeryGames overtook NiP and shox himself on various teams has beaten NiP in the finals.
Before the StarLadder finals began, shox was 7-0 in all time against NiP in LAN finals. They last time shox had played NiP in the finals was back at the finals of Gfinity Summers 1 last June against the Maikelele lineup where LDLC had barely won the game against them.
This was a rematch from a bygone era, recreated in the modern day. And it delivered. After a crushing defeat on Cache, they played a monumental map on Overpass. NiP had returned to the primacy of their powers. Even Adam “friberg” Friberg had a part to play as he put out the best series of his career in the last 18 months. It was an incredible back and forth affair that tested the limits of their skill, tactics and nerves. Just when NiP had gotten up 15-12, G2 forced it back to overtime. Just when NiP were about to win overtime, G2 forced it back into double overtime.
It was as if history and G2 rebelled against the thought of such an incredible match to end so prematurely, but in the end, G2 ran out of answers. NiP had won and for at least one last night, they could make the world remember of a time when they once ruled the world.
Photos courtesy of HLTV.org