I wrote four months ago that Nikola “NiKo” Kovač had no outs. Despite being considered among the best players (if not the best) in the world, he had no chance to win a big tournament. He had done everything he could. He dragged a team to heights farther than anyone could imagine. He pulled off impossible rounds against some of the best teams in the world. He AWPed when he had to AWP, he led when he had to lead, he did everything in his power.
But that wasn’t enough.
For NiKo, it was a battle against his team, a battle against time, a battle against the world. Mousesports without him was never strong enough to contend with the Tier 1 teams of the world either in tactics or firepower. Time itself was against him, as very few players have held peak form he had for long periods of time — the usual amount lasting between three to six months. NiKo has gone for eight and still hasn’t slowed down. But neither has the world, as teams have gotten more competitive as time has passed.
For eight months, NiKo tried to escape the prison that had become his reality. The closest he got was when mouz reached the semifinals of ELEAGUE. In that tournament, NiKo put on a superlative performance that took them all the way there. Other important factors that led to that performance was Chris “chrisJ” De Jong’s rising form as well as help from new coach Aleksandar “kassad” Trifunović. ChrisJ was playing at a consistently high level, and the team was coordinated, especially with flash grenade usage. Kassad showed he was able to handle the highly emotional team and keep everybody on track during games.
But none of that was enough against the Virtus Plow, and at the apex of that run, NiKo faltered and put up the worst performance of these past eight months. It was his first chance to get to the finals of a premier tournament and he failed. But when we look at it in retrospect, it seems doubtful Mouz would have won, even if NiKo played his best. That tournament seemed fated to go Virtus.pro’s way.
Their very best still wasn’t enough, and is also required some luck and a superlative performance to even get that far. Cédric “RpK” Guipouy wasn’t even at the last chance qualifier, but it still required NiKo to drop two 40 bombs to defeat G2. Something had to change.
Someone had to change.
If there was one other player in the world who could understand NiKo’s plight, it was Tomáš “oskar” Šťastný. The star AWPer for HellRaisers has been an incredibly consistent player, and many have likened him to a mini-NiKo. Both were star players. Both were on teams that had consistency and communication issues. Both missed out on results despite putting in star-level performances.
For oskar, the last straw must have come at the major qualifiers as his team lost to Flipsid3 despite being man-for-man the higher skilled team on paper. Not long afterward, oskar stepped down from the lineup, the burden perhaps too heavy to bear.
And now he finds himself with the one man who did carry that burden, who carried and lifted it further and longer than anyone thought possible. And together, this is their chance to break free. Separated there were too many factors that stopped both players from getting the results they wanted. But now everything is coming together.
NiKo is the superstar player. Oskar is a consistent star player. ChrisJ has risen his level recently and works as a less consistent third star player with Denis “denis” Howell and Timo “Spiidi” Richter filling whatever roles are needed. Kassad will bring emotional stability and tactics to the group. While this doesn’t necessarily make Mouz a Tier 1 team, it no longer needs a 40 bomb from NiKo just to have a chance. This is no longer a one-man show.
Is oskar the key NiKo needs to escape his personal hell? Is Mouz the team oskar has been hoping for all of this time? Is this the combination of players Mouz needs to break into the next tier of competition? I don’t know, but I can’t help but get excited at the prospect of these two teaming up to escape from the purgatory that has been their 2016 careers.
Photos courtesy of HLTV.org.