Treading Water - NiP's Stick-or-Twist Conundrum
Despite the boyish infantility, Ninjas in Pyjamas used to be one of the most feared names in Counter-Strike; conjuring images of a bearded viking and his outrageous first bullet accuracy and a quiet assassin who would stab you in the back no matter which way you faced in the eyes of whomever had the displeasure of standing in their way. Nowadays, the name Ninjas in Pyjamas brings a tired sigh from neutrals, the players who used to be heroes and winners are now heroic losers, the players who put up great displays but fall at the final hurdle. In some ways it was inevitable - all things good and bad have an end, and it was ridiculous to believe that an era of NiP dominance could last forever; and yet that doesn’t change how sad it can be.
Hope isn’t all lost, though. Patrik ‘f0rest’ Lindberg, the aforementioned viking, has hit some form recently and whilst you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, some old dogs knew the tricks before these pups were even born. Backed up by the mercurial Fredrik ‘REZ’ Sterner, NiP do have firepower. Christopher ‘GeT_RiGhT’ Alesund hasn’t been the same force he was back in his heyday, and Jonas ‘lekr0’ Olofsson has sacrificed himself somewhat as the In Game Leader (how much he really does in game is disputable, with some suggesting NiP essentially don’t have an IGL), whilst Dennis ‘dennis’ Edman has been underwhelming in the line-up, but retaining his erratic skill that sometimes shines through.
What this leads to is a sort of mishmash style that can absolutely obliterate teams if the players are on - generally NiP games turn to chaos quickly and REZ thrives in it, his snappy aim and incredible reaction times make him a monster - but his aggression is double-edged. If REZ goes down early, that’s a lot NiP’s playmaking potential down. Bringing top teams into the NiP maelstrom can be handy, but willingly turning games into chaos against other teams can be sub-optimal.
With no recognised primary AWPer, too, NiP lack a focal point to rotate around. It’s true that nearly every player on the team can AWP (if GeT_RiGhT is sniping, there may be an issue…), but none of them act is an anchor with which you can build around. This might not seem like an issue, but NiP’s issues with consistency aren’t helped by having direct inconsistency in roles on both sides of the map.
The reason it’s a riddle, however, is that there have been flashes of brilliance from NiP that hint at them really being a top team, and at one point were almost certainly in the top five in the world. Going into one of the BLAST Pro Series’, some analysts even tipped them to win the event - but as it always seems to when things are going right for NiP, it fell apart. A short rush of adrenaline with the re-introduction of William ‘draken’ Sundin was quickly alleviated, and with dennis coming back, it seems hype for this line-up is at an all time low, and many are suggesting either the removal of legendary rifler GeT_RiGhT or the newly reinstated dennis.
But the thing is, Ninjas in Pyjamas aren’t in a bad spot.
Yeah, things could be better. This is a team that used to be the big boys, and they haven’t been that for a while. But with any roster change, there is a chance to go backwards. That’s why it’s a stick-or-twist conundrum - you know 15 isn’t enough to beat the dealer, but what are the odds of pulling a five or a six from the pack? Does the player who will turn NiP’s hand into a 21 even exist?
A lot of Swedish talent has been moving towards Fnatic, with them picking up both Simon ‘twist’ Eliasson and Ludvig ‘brollan’ Brolin. Olof ‘olofmeister’ Kajbjer is still on FaZe, and Maikil ‘Golden’ Selim is having a resurgence on Cloud9. NiP would have to look towards the lesser-known pool of players and pick out a gem if they wanted to improve. One might argue that if they were going to change, they may have missed the boat and should probably wait for the next shuffle season, to pick a top, proven Swedish player.
It’s a huge risk - not least financially. Paying off one player, paying a buyout and then committing to another contract is not an easy deal to stomach, regardless of the size of the organisation. Additionally, losing GeT_RiGhT has commercial downsides, one would imagine - he was the face of the org and sometimes the game, and him leaving the line-up could have ulterior financial complications. You should also factor in that the player might not improve the line-up, and if he did, would that be enough to tip you over the edge?
Sticking with the current line-up seems like the easier, and safer, decision; but tread water for too long, and the current will wash you away. As others improve, or the meta changes, or even your players start to fade off, you can be left behind if you’re not improving constantly.
It’s simple from the outside to say ‘they need to make a change, this team is stagnating’, but when the team isn’t doing badly, and you have so many players who have recently moved team in Sweden, and additionally you have players who have done so much for you in the past. Sadly, it may be time for NiP to move away from the players who have done so much for them, as gut-wrenching a decision as it may be.
I mentioned earlier that they may have missed the boat, and while that may be true, the pull of NiP might be too much for smaller teams to resist. With NiP needing an AWPer, Tim ‘nawwk’ Jonasson could be a huge upgrade for the Swedish team. Though he is untested at the higher level, his ratings for x6tence Galaxy and GamerLegion so far have been incredibly impressive, and he passes the eye test too. It would be a similar move as to when they picked up draken; and though that move didn’t work out entirely as intended, that should not deter them from taking a gamble. Gambling on an unknown is scary, but taking a leap of faith might be better than teetering on the edge until you fall.
Another player of note on GamerLegion for NiP could be Hampus ‘hampus’ Poser, a versatile player who has been an IGL on previous teams. He may not be the next Gla1ve, but adding any structure to the vortex of mayhem that is NiP could surely help. He’s a solid individual player, so likely won’t be a complete liability in the fragging department, and could maybe help to get the best out of Lekr0; a player who has sacrificed his own play recently.
NiP are in a sticky situation, and every single decision is hard for one reason or another - this is a true conundrum for them, and my gut feeling is that they will ponder for far too long, and that indecision will end up killing them.