NiKo Against the World

“What more can he do?” - Anders on NiKo. The Sisyphean quest of a top five player on a second tier team.

Kurtis “Aui_2000” Lang and Sam “BuLba” Sosale have rejoined the Evil Geniuses (EG) Dota 2 team just in time for the roster lock at midnight tonight

“What more can he do?” – Anders on NiKo

At DreamHack Master Malmö 2016, mousesports found another heartbreaking 1:2 quarterfinals exit, this time at the hands of rising talent, Godsent. But despite near constant disappointment from this German side, there remains a glimer of hope – NiKo. When experts name the current best CS:GO players in the world, a multitude of names pop up. Depending on what traits one values, examples include players like Olofmeister, dev1ce, Guardian, flamie and NiKo. Yet when you look at that list one name stands out among the rest – the only player not in a top 4 team – Nikola ‘NiKo’ Kovac.

While the mousesports (mouz) lineup made up of NiKo, Johannes ‘nex’ Maget, Timo ‘Spiidi’ Richter, Chris ‘Chris J’ de Jong and Denis ‘denis’ Howell has consistently been around the 10th best team, it’s difficult to deny that NiKo is a top five player. While his team has only attended four highly competitive LANs and out of those only made it to the playoffs once, NiKo’s sheer skill on the server is electrifying. His Desert Eagle is the best in the world. He can rifle. He can AWP; and he also acts as the in-game leader. He’s the total package. So why hasn’t mouz flourished? 

When Fatih ‘gob b’ Dayik was still in charge of this lineup in 2015, mouz looked to be on the rise. Two top five finishes lead by outstanding performances from Nex at Gfinity Masters Summers 1 and CEVO Season 8 seemed to put mouz in a position to challenge the elite. As the months passed, however, it became more and more clear that there just wasn’t enough firepower on the squad. Nex was the star of the team; but he couldn’t do it alone. This forced gob b to try to bring in more firepower with NiKo. While a good solution in theory, this roster move wouldn’t work out. Almost on queue, Nex’s LAN performance dropped, leaving mouz in the exact same dilemma as before the roster moves, this time with NiKo as their only reliable fragger.

This continued failure to perform eventually led the team to kicking out gob b. Once again hoping to bring more reliable firepower to the roster, mouz brought back Spiidi, who had formerly been on the roster in both 2014 and 2015. Filling the hole left by gob b, NiKo would step into the leadership role, guiding the German side to a much looser playstyle. Yet the firepower problems persisted. Both nex and ChrisJ were onliners. Sometimes the pair could show up to help NiKo win a match; but this was done with little consistency, rarely together and never in the highest pressure situation matches. Yet, in the face of this adversity, NiKo persisted – growing his talents to an incredible level.

NiKo’s next level skill, in spite of mousesport’s LAN inconsistencies and less disciplined approach to the game meant that every game that matched mouz against a superior team became a CS:GO recreation of Sisyphean hell. Each tournament NiKo is forced pushed that boulder up the hill, and, if nothing changes, it seems as though he will be forced to watch it fall back down again and again.

In spite of this seemingly eternal struggle, Mouz have now attended six LANs with this roster: DreamHack Leipzig, Acer Predator Masters 2, IEM World Championship 2016, MLG Major Qualifiers, MLG Major and DreamHack Malmö. Two of those LANs went well: Acer Predator Masters 2 and the MLG Major Qualifiers. There they met weaker teams and beat them convincingly. But the true story of mouz, the story of heartbreak, was written in the other four LANs:

At DreamHack Leipzig, mouz found themselves in the group stage winner’s match against Astralis. They were up 15-13, with Astralis on a force buy. It looked to be a desperate situation as mouz got two opening picks to start the round. But, destined to end in tragedy, the round came to a close when dennis accidentally team killing NiKo and Astralis winning the forcebuy. This turn of events would allow Astralis to force themselves back into the game, pushing the match into overtime. NiKo held fast. The Bosnian player dragged his team into a second overtime by getting a double entry kill onto the B-site of Mirage and then clutching a 1v2 after-plant situation to win the round. Unfortunately, there was only so much one star could do. Astralis would go on to close out the second overtime and mouz would meet Dignitas in the elimination match, leaving the tournament in a disappointing 0-2.

At the IEM World Championship, mouz faced off against Fnatic in the group stages. With the score at 12-14, NiKo pulled out another miracle round, finding a quad kill to secure the round and to give mouz some life. They rallied back to the 30th round, where they were up 15-14 with Fnatic on the eco. But once Fnatic found an early pick onto NiKo, the rest of the mouz lineup crumbled, losing the match and dropping out of the tournament in the group stages.

At the MLG Major, NiKo would put on another outstanding performance. NiKo either top fragged for his team or was the top fragger in the server for almost every map his team played in. But his efforts alone amounted to nothing as his team failed to show up enough to push them over the edge against Luminosity. They would go go on to be outplayed by NiP in the elimination match, finding a 9th-12th place finish.

And then we come to DreamHack Malmo, mouseesports most recent LAN. One of the biggest highlights of the tournament came from their quarterfinals match against Godsent. In the 28th round down 13-14, mouz was on an eco on Mirage. NiKo and Spiidi were in a 2v5 and all hope seemed lost. There NiKo would pull out an insane quad kill. He got the first 2 kills with a tec9 and then picked up a m4 to get the next 2. NiKo nearly won the round for mouz before finally getting gunned down. Unfortunately, after this astounding display, Spiidi would lose the 1v1 against Godsent’s Andreas ‘znajder’ Lindberg. With that mouz lost the crucial swing round, barring them from returning to the game.

In the aftermath of that insane round, Anders said, “What does [NiKo] have to do to win this game for his team?” That line summarizes the mouz story of 2016. Watching NiKo feels like a one-man army pitted against the world – including his own team sometime. He is able to carry his team against some of the best in the world. But again and again, when it comes to the highest pressure situations the roster backing him fails to meaningfully contribute to the game. In each map, in each round everyone knows NiKo will turn up. But no one knows if or when ChrisJ or nex or Spiidi or denis will be there with him.

And behind all of this a clock is ticking. There are more and more competitive teams with each passing month. In DreamHack Malmo alone we saw the rise of both Tyloo and Godsent. Teams are getting more and more competitive. The tactical revolutions started by LG and Na`Vi are becoming more rote. Coaches are becoming more commonplace making teams on the whole more effective in either mentality or tactical aptitude. More mid-tier teams are putting in more work than ever as the rewards for being better have increased exponentially from previous years.

And then there is also a clock on NiKo’s skill. No one can play at their peak skill forever. Time will have its due with us all. In the case of CS:GO players, a peak of skill generally lasts between three and six months, with a few notable exceptions. With this in mind, the three or four months of incredibly talented gameplay may mark death creeping on the edges of NiKo’s form. Though this level of play doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon, it must be in the back of his and his team’s minds that this run cannot last forever.

And that is what makes NiKo one of the most compelling players in the world. He is forced to put on amazing performance after amazing performance in hopes that his team will show up to push mouz over the edge into a deep tournament run. And in fairness they have, but never consistently and never in the highest pressure situations. NiKo is forced to battle an ever increasing competitive field. He is forced to battle with everything he has, knowing that this peak form cannot last forever.

It must be frustrating for NiKo to know that even though his team cannot compete with the best, he can. That even though he is one of the best in the world the championship seems to be a million miles away from him. That he will never have that championship against the best teams to have tangible proof that for at least one day he was the best there was in CS:GO.

NiKo has done everything he can in his power to win. For Niko, there are no options left. All of the teams better than his are not hiring so he can’t transfer. Mouz could use a coach to try to discipline the team into making better decisions, but there aren’t any readily available coaches in the market right now. There are no roster moves to make as the team is capped out. There are no obvious upgrades the team could make that would solve their problems. So for NiKo, it is a battle against time. He must hold on for the slim chance that both his team will get it together and can still perform consistently on LAN, before his peak runs out.

Yet there is also a kind of mad beauty to it. To see one man’s will fight against everything. It is NiKo against his team, NiKo against time, NiKo against the world. The odds are stacked against him and everything points to his loss. But that fight, that mad dash as he runs up the rounds against the opposing teams, those amazing rounds where he is forced to entry or AWP or clutch that make you believe that maybe he can do it. And for a single moment you believe Sisyphus can roll up that boulder, for a single instance you believe NiKo can win the round, and for that one round you believe one man can challenge the world.