Nikola “NiKo“ Kovač has finally left mousesports after being acquired by FaZe Clan. NiKo has long been considered one of the strongest players in the scene, but he was unable to leave mouz because of his required buyout (which was reported to be $500,000).
The acquisition of NiKo is a Byzantine tale in itself. The ball started rolling when Ruben “RUBINO“ Villarroel asked to leave North; after the team’s disappointing finish at the ELEAGUE Major, he felt he lacked the motivation to remain a meaningful contributor to the team. It left an open spot and the best player North could acquire as a replacement was Philip “aizy” Aistrup. Despite aizy being on FaZe, the organization was fine with the transfer. FaZe had its eyes on Adil “ScreaM“ Benrlitom after he had been initially left out of the French shuffle, but ScreaM joined EnVyUs instead. That left FaZe, who arguably maneuvered itself into an upgrade to the roster, scrambling to find a player.
This is an extremely exciting move. NiKo is one of the top individual talents in the Counter-Strike scene. During the first half of 2016 he was considered either the best or second best player in the world by the community. That’s an incredible feat in and of itself considering the community generally rates players alongside the results of their teams. In NiKo’s case, mouz only hovered around the top 10 rankings solely due to his efforts. Whether his teammates were working in harmony or complete disarray, he had incredible games and clutched out rounds solo. With him, Mouz could upset any team in the world in a best-of-one.
In the history of CS:GO, I don’t think you could find many instances of a single team being carried harder by one person as we saw NiKo did to mouz in early 2016. He was Sisyphus heroically trying to roll his team up the hill toward glory. It was a titanic struggle, hilarious and pitiable in equal measure. He tried everything, but it always ended in heartbreak.
A Short History of Futile Attempts
At DreamHack Leipzig, mouz led 15-13 against Astralis in the group stage. Astralis was down 3-v-5 on a force buy, but Denis “denis“ Howell accidentally shot NiKo in the back as they attempted to retake the site. Astralis ended up winning that round and the next one to force overtime. On the verge of elimination, NiKo pulled out heroic plays to try to keep his team in it. NiKo opened up the B site of Mirage with a double kill and eventually won the round with a 1-v-2 clutch. Nevertheless, mouz went on to lose 22-19.
At IEM Katowice last year, mouz played Fnatic in the group stages. This was when Fnatic was in the middle of its six tournament heater. The score was 14-12 in Fnatic’s favor, but NiKo broke their backs by getting a quad kill to secure a round. The Niko-led mouz managed to get to 15-14 and put Fnatic on the eco, but Fnatic got an early pick on NiKo and the rest of the team crumbled like a house of cards. Fnatic went on to win the map.
At DreamHack Malmo, mouz was on the verge of elimination against GODSENT. Down 14-13 and down on eco, the round looked all but done as it was a 2-v-5 situation. Spitting in God’s face, NiKo got two initial kills with a tec9, picked up a rifle and got two more before being gunned down. His teammate then lost the ensuing 1-v-1. Mouz, per usual, lost the map.
Those rounds are a microcosm of NiKo’s career on mouz: maddening. Nothing NiKo accomplished was enough to get the results he wanted. It seemed to drive him insane as he tried everything to pull out victories. When Fatih “gob b“ Dayik left Mouz, Mouz was deprived of leadership. When his hard carry style wasn’t working, he tried to call around his team. That didn’t work. He tried bringing in a coach, but the Valve rule and mouz decided against it despite the ELEAGUE Season 1 result.
Now he has a chance to be part of a stable team with potential to go deep in tournaments. FaZe has everything that Mouz was missing: a great in-game leader (Finn “karrigan” Andersen), a team structure, and other star players to carry the load. On mouz, NiKo had none of those things. No leader, no structure, and no second star to help if he wasn’t on his game. By the time he had solid players around him, he had to sacrifice his own play to get them to work, all while ending up with the same results. This time, we get to see NiKo unleashed. This is the best chance he has ever had, and likely the best he ever will have. The majority of top European teams prefer to stick along national/language lines, making it unlikely for NiKo to jump ship if FaZe turns out to be a failed experiment.
Remember when NiKo said he was trying to be the best player in the world? I think he succeeded, if only for a brief time, but his team was never good enough to capitalize on his individual talent. This time, he has the components around him. It’s time to see how far NiKo can go with a good supporting cast, to see if he can recapture his 2016 form and show the world what it means to be the best.