First they came for Fifflaren,
and I did not speak out Because I was not having a negative K/D.
Then they came for friberg,
and I did not speak out because I was not so inconsistent.
Then they came for Xizt,
and I did not speak out because I was not so odd when it came to map picks.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one else was left to speak up.
For some long-standing fans of the Ninjas in Pyjamas, the potential departure or retirement of one of their remaining favorite players may feel similar to the countdown in this bastardized version of Niemöller’s famous poem as f0rest and GeT_RiGhT wait for the axe to fall. In a way, it feels like the organization is just as reluctant to move on from their star-studded core despite the massive loss of stature over the last few years, slowly and painfully shedding the dead weight one by one, only when it is absolutely necessary, like a greedy lobster clinging on to their old shell that no longer fits them in any way.
It’s mostly in the annals of history by now, but NiP used to be the pit boss of CS:GO around the time of the game’s release, famously winning 87 maps in a row without a single defeat and winning ten out of ten of their first offline events. While that record was never to be repeated, still no one would have expected the team to fall that far down as they have over time.
Their consistency remained admirable during the early period of CS:GO majors despite only winning a few titles around that time, appearing in the semi-finals in every single tournament for an extended period. While that impressive streak ended shortly before the 2014 Cologne major, they finally managed to take down one that most prestigious title in what eventually turned out to be a swansong rather than a resurgence for the original titans of the game.
Fifflaren was the first to fall, and it was understandable why: he continuously posted abysmal stats for a long time by that point. His retirement after the team’s shockingly bad performance at ESWC 2014 – losing to French minnows Platinium in the process – marked the end of the original line-up. While that certainly marked the end of an era, no one could have predicted the loss in stature that followed.
Once Fifflaren was out, a merry-go-round of roster changes began where the new signing always ended up with the poisoned chalice, being held responsible for the team’s underperformance. Maikelele, pita, allu and then pyth were sacrificed one by oneat the altar of the ailing Ninjas over a two-and-a-half-year period during which they still managed to pick up the occasional title – largely attributed to their coach, THREAT –, but the general levels of performance and the corresponding results kept ticking downwards.
Things weren’t getting better on the biggest stage either as they lost their Legend status at the Columbus major – failing to qualify ever since – while getting eliminated earlier and earlier from most of their other events. This set of ever-worsening results culminated with an embarrassing elimination from the EU minor qualifier for the next major, finally forcing another roster swap. Again, they changed as little as possible from their core despite the disastrous period of the preceding nine months, opting to only remove friberg from the line-up.
Rez was brought into replace the ailing ex-star, and once again, a false dawn followed with a win at Dreamhack Valencia against fairly mediocre opposition. To date, their only impressive title win came at IEM Oakland last November, failing to even post a semi-final appearance since then at a major event. Another set of disappointing results followed, finally prompting the removal of Xizt, marking the end of the longest-standing core in the history of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in a move that was definitely way overdue.
Right now, the Ninjas are struggling to break into the top ten in the world. It’s hard to tell whether it’s malice or malpractice that makes the higher-ups opt against a more forceful change. Realistically speaking, would any of the top ten teams in the world sign Get_RigHT or Forest if they were given the opportunity? Of course not. However much value you assign to the veterancy effect, it’s safe to say that using up two slots from five to provide it is a little bit excessive.
While their results have been slowly improving yet again – which isn’t saying much considering the incredible depths they’ve fallen to – it feels like an unwilling rise from an outside perspective, a journey of improvement that is impeded along every step of the way in order to cling onto the idols of an older era that can no longer cut it at the top.
Of course, not every organization has to go for the summit of Counter-Strike, and there may very well be a twisted logic based on marketing value and nostalgic goodwill that makes it better to keep onto veterans rather than investing in new players that could potentially help you regain that coveted major spot. This would make sense if you were more akin to Luminosity Gaming, a low-tier org that stumbled upon a fantastic squad and rode it as far as it could, rather than a now-historic presence in the scene that used to be the benchmark for excellence.
Three down, two to go: it’s impossible to predict how long it will take for NiP to completely shed their original skin, but it seems like a total and absolute renewal from the glory days of early CS:GO will be necessary if they ever were to get back to the top of the mountain they once ruled with an iron fist.