Swedish legends Ninjas in Pyjamas once again slumped to defeat at the IEM World Championships in Katowice last weekend. This follows a barely acceptable top eight finish at Dreamhack Las Vegas, and an abysmal run of form towards the end of 2016, which culminated in the side failing to qualify for the ELEAGUE major in Atlanta. Most top teams have endured these types of runs before, but this one feels different, and some fans could start to turn on the players they would once defend with their lives.
One could argue that NiP haven’t been the same ever since the departure of Robin “Fifflaren” Johansson. The former AWP player left the side and retired from the game late in 2014 after a series of poor performances, and despite the heartbreak that came with saying goodbye to a core player, this was received as the correct decision. Yet since that day, the side has struggled to fill his position on the lineup, rotating players in and out until ultimately settling on Jacob “Pyth” Mourujarvi. The youngster hasn’t exactly set the world alight, but performances don’t suggest that he himself is an issue.
Since Fifflaren set aside his mouse and keyboard, NiP has taken on Aleksi “Allu” Jalli and Mikail “Maikelele” Bill. Both players feature for less than a year, and eventually with the arrival of Pyth it seems NiP have restructured the lineup, with Patrik “Forest” Lindberg taking up the vacant AWP. Putting Forest onto the AWP isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but when he’s the only player capable of consistently performing on the weapon, a problem arises.
Forest is not an AWPer. He’s good with the weapon, he can reliably put up decent numbers with it, but putting him up against the likes of Kenny “KennyS” Schrub, Ladislav “Guardian” Kovacs, or even their former member Allu, will result in consistent defeats in those key AWP duels around the map. In a ‘meta’ where the AWP plays such a vital role in gaining and retaining map control, it’s debilitating to force an outstanding rifle player onto the gun, instead of just signing a dedicated sniper.
This has worked in the past, with the most recent example being Nicolai “Device” Reedtz of Astralis, however this could be considered a special case, as he is one of the best players in the world. Even with that reputation, he is only just clawing his way onto the level of the elite AWP players in the scene. Forest would be an excellent addition to any lineup as the secondary AWPer, the hybrid, if you will. One dedicated sniper, with Forest backing him up in specific rounds or maps that would benefit from the 2nd AWP.
This is just one potential solution to one problem that NiP have been facing. It most likely would not serve as a blanket fix to return NiP to the powerhouse they once were. There are clearly much deeper issues within the lineup, including the drop in form of superstar Christopher “GeT_RighT” Alesund, and the Valve implemented rule changes that prevent head coach Bjorn “Threat” Pers from handing all of the in-game strat calling.
The side have been able to claim some successes with this iteration. Dreamhack Malmo, almost 12 months ago, was a huge success for the team. More recent results include a win at Starladder in September 2016 with Maikelele standing in, and then another trophy at IEM Oakland upon the return of Pyth. Unfortunately these victories were surrounded by abysmal placings in other major tournaments.
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Despite all of these clear and present issues, there is still one major counter argument. Virtus Pro. The Polish side is the longest serving lineup in the game, and they are no strangers to deep slumps in form. This time last year they were at perhaps an even lower point than NiP. It almost seemed inevitable that a roster change would come, but VP stood firm. One year on, just a few weeks ago, they were lifting the Dreamhack Las Vegas trophy, after toppling the best team in the world, Astralis, in a nail biting final.
That seems like a very good example to suggest NiP should stay the course, power through the rough times, and trust in their veterans to find the solutions that will have them winning tournaments consistently again. Yet the fans who use the VP example fail to take into account that the team could simply be an anomaly. While roster changes don’t always guarantee results, it’s almost unheard of for an underperforming roster to stick together for months on end without titles, then pick it up again and rise through the ranks of the world’s best. In fact, Virtus Pro is the only team that’s been able to do it in the (admittedly short) history of CS:GO.
Does NiP have the capacity to follow in the steps of VP? They’ve certainly been able to accrue some upset wins and even titles throughout their months of fluctuating form. Consistency is the problem for the Swedish side. The team has only tallied up three trophies since the start of 2016, a number that Astralis recently acquired in just four months. There is also the fact that the team only seems to perform during a ‘honeymoon period’, when a new player joins, or an old one returns, as with the case of Maikelele and Pyth last year.
NiP missed out on the opportunity to join the Swedish roster shuffle after the major earlier this year. Fnatic and Godsent once again swapped three players, with talented youngsters Simon “Twist” Eliasson and Joakim “Disco Doplan” Gidetun returning to Godsent. NiP may not have even had the opportunity to bid for the youngsters, however with those two going off the market completely, there doesn’t seem to be any proven Swedish talent for the team to consider.
For that reason NiP might be forced into attempting the VP route. Something does have to change though. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be a new face entering the lineup, but they cannot continue on their current trajectory. There’s a few weeks now before the next offline event, and one can only hope they’re able to implement some solutions before the Starladder finals next month. There is some good news for NiP. No matter how far they fall their dedicated fanbase will continue to cheer for them, but after such a rough period for those fans, it’s time the team paid them back with results.
Photo credit: Dreamhack/Adela Sznajder