A now infamous aspect of the character of the NiP teams of CS:GO has been the powerful gravitational force of past championship glory which bound the core together in a fashion which meant no amount of failure, disappointment or reduced possibility for success in the future could break them apart until they hit absolute rock bottom. NiP were the team whose core simply could not be kicked. In contrast, FNATIC represented a team willing to quickly dispense with core members when necessary and seek adaptation to emerging eras of the game. As FNATIC begins to resemble the entrenched establishment of past glories that NiP embodied for so long, it is NiP who in turn have become more akin to the spirit of FNATIC which led the latter organization to supersede and outstrip NiP.
Cracking the core
Many will imagine I refer to the four of GeT_RiGhT, f0rest, Xizt and friberg here, but it applies as much to the original five who began CS:GO, with fifflaren very much a part of that pattern and mentality. NiP’s major victory in 2014 stands out as such a vital historical moment for the team that it often overshadows that NiP’s fall from world number ones and even contender status had begun already at prior events, leaving that glorious ESL One Cologne run as a thrilling and yet improbable last hurrah for that quintet.
If a major championship buys you some more time to figure things out then failing to find any success at all and even being humiliated by teams far below your level accelerates the speed the sand grains in that hourglass drain out. Within a few months NiP had hit such a poor stretch of form, with no bright spots to speak of, that a change was necessary and the official story, which we will accept for the sake of brevity, was that fifflaren stepped aside.
The original four continued on and would play in more major finals and even win more trophies, but at a much reduced frequency in contrast to their days of dominance now long passed. The addition of names like Maikelele, allu and pyth had the effect of revitalising them for a time, but in each instance the effect seemed diminished and led to an inevitable slide back down the rankings again. With Maikelele there was really only a single moment of failure, but it coincided with a feeling of discomfort within the squad that felt so foreign to a team who were bound so tightly that they immediately jettisoned the fiery and unpredictable AWPer.
Allu’s Finnish cool represented the stark opposite character and avoided such social problems, but results held for only a few months before the team began to backslide again. By the Summer they were already capable of losing to seemingly anyone in a big semi-final or final, relative to years previous, and not only did titles evade them, but they began to suffer more and more shocking upsets, as highlighted by defeat at the hands of a FlipSid3 team using Hiko as a stand-in in the quarter-finals of ESWC 2015. Certainly, they could still rouse a crowd with an epic conjuration of NiP magic, defeating favourites TSM in the quarter-final of the Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca major and playing the dennis-era FNATIC close in the final of fragbite Masters S5, but NiP were far from potential world number ones by this point.
By pyth’s arrival for 2016 the team had been reduced to the magical moments alone and those grew further and further apart, even if new coach THREAT did held tweak the team enough to sharpen the impact of such moments and keep the team from sinking entirely. There were trophies again, but the only real period in which the team threatened the top spot came during the turbulent and erratic ‘Uncertainty era’ following the player break, when the dominance of the top teams no longer held and Valve’s coaching rule changed reset the competitive balance for a time. Once order was restored, with the rise of Astralis, NiP found themselves again somewhat irrelevant and their woes in trying to qualify for the majors, once grounds of many memorable and consistent performances, began and have yet to end.
Failing to qualify for two majors saw draken replacing pyth and friberg forced to take the fifflaren walk and then there were three, with young blood entering their veins in the form of REZ. As the fellowship dwindled many accurately speculated that Xizt’s time was surely coming to a close too and lacklustre results with new recruit draken signalled that NiP would not be shot back to the top end of the scene even with this fresh move. Instead, NiP seemed stuck as a team battling to even make it into top 10 rankings and their lone moment of glory at IEM Oakland, defeating SK and FaZe – the world’s top two teams, was spectacular but stood as the exception to the rule that NiP were no championship level Counter-Strike squad.
With Xizt’s time coming to an end with NiP, the squad was down to only GeT_RiGhT and f0rest, their original super-star names, from the team which began the CS:GO adventure together. An argument could well be made that this was the true core all along, with the two sharing a history of playing together which went back two and a half years prior to the formation of NiP and the start of CS:GO. Indeed, they had even closed ranks with each other, and notable team-mate Gux, back in late 2010 to challenge the FNATIC organisation, for whom they were established stars, to remove legendary in-game leader cArn and core member dsn, rather than GeT_RiGhT. When the organisation had sided with cArn and dsn, GeT_RiGhT and f0rest had departed for rivals SK Gaming in one of the most shocking and important blockbuster shifts of power in CS history.
Whether those two names will ever be seperated seems less pressing that discussions around the NiP core of old, as it was not simply a refusal to remove players which stood out as much as the associated reluctance to change the complexion of the team and reinvent who NiP were. As such, continual removal of the most recent member to join reached levels of incredulity that made such actions a meme. That NiP seems to share little with the squad we see before us today. They now embrace two young talents, in REZ and lekr0, and the addition of dennis gives them the player they likely always should have replaced Xizt with years ago, a more talented individual player capable of running the loose playing style which has always defined NiP.
Success has yet to come for them, especially in the context of such a storied franchise, but this is a new NiP and the feeling for many onlookers is that if this specific line-up does not find good results then the mental shackles are off enough that possibilities for recruiting in the future are wide open. A new dawn is coming, even if has not yet broken.