“How many tirades did you throw after games?”
“Did I lose? Probably so. Then that means I didn’t get the ball enough. If I’m the go-to guy, if I’m the playmaker on my team, then I did not get the ball enough.”
That excerpt was from a discussion between former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens and Skip Bayless on First Take about Owens not being a first-ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bayless argued that Owens wasn’t a team player and often acted selfish. Owens countered by saying his demands reflected self-awareness of his role on the team. He was the best player on the team, and the best way he could contribute to winning was being thrown the ball as as often as possible and carrying the team’s offense.
I don’t follow football, but Owens brings up a valid point and one I have struggled with since I’ve started to watch team games: What is the role of the superstar in a team? If the superstar is the best player on the team, theoretically the best type of teamwork is to facilitate greatness and help that player win the game. But if that does happen, the superstar is accused of being selfish, and sometimes the team breaks down because of the drama and pressure surrounding the situation. This is the problem that faces Nikola “NiKo“ Kovač and Oleksandr “s1mple“ Kostyliev.
At the beginning of the year, NiKo was considered among the best players in the world. This was an incredible feat considering his team was on the fringes of the top 10 and his rivals were all on championship caliber teams. At that time the mousesports roster around him was Chris “chrisJ“ De Jong, Denis “denis“ Howell, Timo “Spiidi” Richter and Johannes “nex“ Maget. The current roster is the same except it includes Christian “loWel“ Antoran instead of nex.
On paper, it seems stronger. ChrisJ is better and more consistent than he was a year ago; loWel is a much more consistent player than nex was, especially on LAN. Yet when we compare results, the former was much scarier than the latter. The old mouz had potential to upset the best teams in the world in a best-of-one (and they nearly did so against Fnatic at IEM Katowice). The latter version routinely struggles to get out of group stages. Mouz dropped every game at IEM Oakland, and though the team qualified for the ELEAGUE Major, it had an easier route with two wins coming against Spirit and TyLoo. The earlier edition of mouz was a much scarier team to play despite having a roster with less overall skill.
That’s because of NiKo. His presence has changed the roles on his team and the way the team functions. He no longer goes solo, finding entries alone, but he tries to stick to his teammates helping them. The team play has improved, but at the end of the day, the results seem less impressive. NiKo needs to understand that though ChrisJ and loWel are good players, he is the only one on the team that can elevate himself to best-in-the-world level. He is the only one who can face off against the monsters of the world. He has gone too far into playing for the team, and that has made them less effective as a whole. With the ELEAGUE Major being Swiss format, mouz will not advance from its group unless NiKo returns to superstar status. And nothing in the latter half of 2016 suggests NiKo wants to embrace that role.
S1mple has a similar problem, but rather than playing too much for the team, he plays too little for it. It is public knowledge that s1mple is a weapon of mass destruction. He knows it, his team knows it, and his opponents know it. Intuitively, Natus Vincere should organize its gameplay around s1mple, but as a roster they are stacked. Both Ladislav “GuardiaN“ Kovács and Egor “flamie“ Vasilyev can be the best player in the server, and sometimes s1mple needs to facilitate their gameplay. Conversely, if s1mple is having an incredible game, they need to help him maintain that momentum. Although the majority of the burden should be on Denis “seized“ Kostin and Sergey “starix” Ishchuk for making a system that can incorporate all of their stars, s1mple needs to channel the wild beast within at the proper times so they can all work in harmony.
The most complicated part of the problems NiKo and s1mple face is that there isn’t a clear answer. There are superstars in the scene right now who have played more for the team and more for themselves to get the team to win. Both are valid answers to how to win. Marcelo “coldzera” David is a superstar who fits perfectly within the SK system, while Richard “shox” Papillon has the entire G2 team play around him. Both of them have found the correct answer to maximize their chances of victory with the roster they have around them. It is now NiKo and s1mple’s turn to do the same. I don’t know what the right answer is, but I can’t wait to see what they give us at the Major.
Cover photo courtesy of Turner Sports/ELEAGUE, illustration by Slingshot