Cloud9 and Ninjas in Pyjamas play the best match of ESL One

Rivalries are the lifeblood of any sport

Screengrab via ESL/YouTube

Rivalries are the lifeblood of any sport. Rivalries infuse competition with emotion, adding another layer to any regular old game. Winning is important, but beating those guys? The ones you hate? That’s what you live for.

One of the greatest things about esports is its international nature. Teams and players from around the globe compete in every tournament. And Cloud9 and Ninjas in Pyjamas epitomize the kind of international rivalry that forms from such Counter-Strike competition–America versus Europe.

The two teams also seem to be building a bit of a personal rivalry, considering how often they meet in major events. They wrote the next chapter in their extensive history against each other at the Electronic Sports League (ESL) One tournament at Gamescom in Cologne this weekend.

More than 320,000 people watched Ninjas in Pyjamas eliminate the Americans in their tournament debut under the Cloud9 tag. The Swedes took the series 2-1 after winning two maps by the skin of their teeth.

The two teams met in the opening round of bracket play after Cloud9 won their group by beating both Dignitas and Titan. Still considered the best team in Europe despite a recent slump, Ninjas in Pyjamas escaped their group after suffering a ding against French team Epsilon.

The last time these two teams battled was last month when Cloud9, then wearing the black and red of Complexity instead of their new blue-and-white digs, bested the Swedish powerhouse at the ESEA Invite Season 16 finals in America. That was the event that announced Cloud9 and fellow American team iBuyPower were true contenders on the world stage.

In Cologne, the Swedes would take their revenge on Cloud9 in the best series of the tournament. But it certainly wasn’t easy.

Cloud9, sporting a new look lineup featuring up-and-coming Canadian talent Mike “shroud” Grzesiek, took the first map of the series, de_nuke, in convincing fashion, 16-8.

The next map, de_dust2, went down to the wire. The teams were only one round apart at the half, but Ninjas in Pyjamas jumped ahead with five straight round wins to start the second half. With a 15-10 lead, it seemed inevitable the match would end in NiP’s favor, but the Americans battled back to within one round of overtime before ultimately falling short.

The series finished on the controversial map de_cbble, recently added to the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive rotation. A map often panned for the ridiculous defensive positions and long range angles available to Counter-Terrorist players, it was unclear just how prepared either team was for a match. Did they have strategies prepared? Did they know the angles? Apparently, that didn’t matter. At least in terms of entertainment value for the hundreds of thousands watching the game.

The two teams combined for one of the most exciting games of Counter-Strike you will ever see, trading blows in a match filled with clutch play, ridiculous shots, and crazy turnarounds. With the dust settling, it seemed that Ninjas in Pyjamas would again win with a 15-13 lead, but Cloud9 took the next round and forced an eco from the Swedes. Overtime seemed inevitable. Ninjas in Pyjamas thought differently.

Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg denied Cloud9’s attack on bombsite A long enough for his team to rotate, with Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund picking up an AK47 dropped by a dead Spencer “Hiko” Martin and mowing down two more of Cloud9. It was an insane round to win, the Swedes opening it with little more than a MAC10 to their name, but they somehow pulled it off. That’s the kind of action that filled the match, shown below.

It wasn’t the best Counter-Strike in terms of execution, considering the newness of the map lead to multiple mistakes by both teams. But it was one of the most exciting games of Counter-Strike you’ll ever see.

Alesund was the MVP of the series. He probably deserved it just for his dominating de_cbble game in the face of elimination, where he put together 31 kills against 19 deaths and sealed the deal in the final round. But Ninjas in Pyjamas’ win was still a team effort. Adam Friberg, for example, put up 26 kills and 17 deaths on de_cbble and pulled off a ridiculous clutch where he assassinated the bomb planter with seconds on the clock, allowing his teammate to hide from the last two members of Cloud9 to secure a round.

For the Americans, Grzesiek had his coming-out party. Never a player at an international tournament, the Canadian who some critics blasted for being “online” quelled all doubters against Ninjas in Pyjamas. On de_nuke, he put 19 kills and 13 deaths with a ridiculous 78.95 headshot percentage. He lead his team in kills on each of the next two maps, putting up 27 kills on 18 deaths on de_dust2 and 23 kills to 19 deaths on de_cbble.

The loss was a bit disappointing for Cloud9, considering how close they came to advancing to the semifinals, but it answered a lot of questions surrounding the team: Cloud9 is a legitimate contender for any tournament in the world. Their new player, Grzesiek, looks like a perfect fit and gives Martin a partner in crime, adding fragging power to the lineup.

Ninjas in Pyjamas, on the other hand, will try to exorcise the demons that hurt them in the ESL One group stage and at Gfinity 3. The most dominant team in Counter-Strike desperately needs to return to their winning ways. They’ll start with French team LDLC, who upset Virtus.Pro to advance, in the semifinals.