When the FaZe roster was formed, the one with: Finn ‘karrigan’ Andersen, Havard ‘Rain’ Nygaard, Nikola ‘NiKo’ Kovac, Ladislav ‘GuardiaN’ Kovacs, and Olof ‘olofmeister’ Kajbjer, it was rightly called a superteam. A collection of all-stars from all corners of the world packed into one team. Karrigan came in as one of the all-time great leaders. Rain is the best Norwegian player in CS:GO history. GuardiaN one of the all time greatest AWPers to ever grace the game. Olofmeister one of the greatest players in CS:GO, someone who once ruled the world with an iron fist. However even amongst this collection of superstars, one shined brighter than the rest. NiKo, the Bosnian Prodigy, a once in a generation talent. The superstar amongst superstars.
That road to superstardom was not easy and perhaps that is what has forged NiKo to what he has become today. NiKo’s first big international team was on Mouz in 2015 and it was my first encounter with him. Even now, I get goosebumps thinking about the incredible games he played, the awe-inspiring skill he had. What people don’t seem to remember was that the Mouz team he was a part of was a weak roster. It included: Chris ‘chrisJ’ de Jong, Timo ‘Spidii’ Richter, Denis ‘denis’ Howell, and Johannes ‘nex’ Maget. ChrisJ had yet to become the incredible leader and entry-fragger that he did later after NiKo left. Spidii and denis were liabilities who could not play at the level of NiKo. Nex had all of the potential in the world, but you could count on him not showing up in the playoffs or against tier one teams.
Outside of ChrisJ, there was no help for NiKo. On top of that, Mouz had no in-game leader so it was left to NiKo to take on that burden. NiKo was faced with four challenges from the get go. He had to adapt to playing in a completely different culture in the international lineup. He had to adjust to playing on the biggest stages. He had to be the superstar of the team. Finally, he also had to lead the team.
These were challenges the likes of which no other superstar player today has had to go through. Marcelo “Coldzera” David had Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo and played in an entirely Brazilian lineup until the most recent iterations. Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev had to move to America, speak a different language, and be the superstar, but even he didn’t have to be the leader. The struggles and challenges that NiKo faced during that time set your heart on fire. Here was a man beset by all sides. He was playing with weak teammates that could throw away rounds. He was playing in a team where he had to lead. He was playing against the best players and teams in the world as a superstar player. It was a one man crusade against the entire world and for singular games or rounds, he made you believe that one man could defeat the world.
However that is not how CS:GO is played. No matter how incredible any individual player is, whether that be Coldzera, s1mple, or Kenny ‘kennyS’ Schrub. No one man can conquer the CS:GO world. Mouz tried to find better players, players like Tomas ‘oskar’ Stastny or Christian ‘loWel’ Antoran. In the case of oskar, he only played for a time before benching himself for personal reasons that have never been disclosed. As for loWel he was an upgrade to who he was replacing, but not someone who could make the team take the next step in evolution.
So when FaZe came knocking, it looked like a match made in heaven. Karrigan was FaZe’s in-game leader and his style of calling was based around loose individual skill. Karrigan was a master of creating a system that enabled his players to play as individually as they wanted and to craft a tactic and system around that. While it was doubtful that NiKo could go quite as hard as he did on Mouz given that there were other star players on FaZe that also needed space, it was the team that could take NiKo to championships. The first iteration of NiKo’s FaZe with Aleski ‘allu’ Jalli and Fabien ‘kioShiMa’ Fiey was incredibly successful as they went to four finals and were able to win one of them. The team wanted more and due to some internal issues decided to make the change and got GuardiaN and olofmeister in their place.
The superstar saga of FaZe is filled with ups and downs, incredible victories and shocking losses to underdogs In the case of NiKo through, the most important loss he ever took was against Cloud9 in the ELeague Boston Major Finals.
Going into that finals, FaZe were the heavy favorites. They had played Cloud9 in three different tournaments prior to the ELeague Boston Major and each time they comprehensively defeated Cloud9. It was never close, all three series were 2-0 in FaZe’s favor. Going into the finals, it looked to be a clean sweep for the FaZe Clan. Even when things got difficult on the first map FaZe were still able to win 16-14. It is the rest of the series that likely haunts NiKo. Overpass was a map where FaZe usually stomped Cloud9 into the ground. FaZe were destroyed on that map and in the following map on inferno, FaZe barely lost in double overtime.
For NiKo specifically, he had an underperformance throughout that series. There were some caveats as this was his first ever Major Finals. The pressure on that level is completely different from any other final he had ever played in his life. Cloud9’s aggressive pressure style caught NiKo off guard and it took away the space he needed to perform to his optimal level. While NiKo wasn’t the primary reason as to why the lost, it was one of the reasons. For NiKo, this was the most devastating of NiKo’s career. A Major where NiKo and FaZe were one round shy from winning it.
It has been over seven months since that loss. NiKo has grown as a player since then. During that time olofmeister had personal issues which forced FaZe to play with different stand-ins for months. During that period where olofmeister was missing, I noticed an evolution in NiKo’s play. He was more assertive, aggressive, and dominant than he had been for a long time.
NiKo was already a top 5 player in the world throughout 2017 and 2018. I’d probably pick him as the second best player in the world in 2017 and in 2018. However if someone were to ask me which version of NiKo was the strongest in history, I’d have still cited the version on Mouz when he was forced to carry every game. It is perhaps an unfair assessment as FaZe played far stronger opponents more regularly and they had more star players to rely on. However the level that NiKo had to play at day-in and day-out was still on another level from what I saw in FaZe, despite being a top two player in the world.
I still remember how he took Fnatic to overtime at IEM Katowice 2016. This was the Fnatic that won six straight tournaments from the end of 2015-2016. NiKo alone almost overpowered a lineup that was built off of raw skill and teamplay. Who could forget when he nearly killed Virtus.Pro on his final match on Mouz at DreamHack Las Vegas. I distinctly remember how Jarosław “pashaBiceps” Jarząbkowski called NiKo Rambo for how ridiculous his individual performance was against them in that series.
However when we come to the iterations of FaZe, it wasn’t quite the same. He was still a superstar level player and easily one of the best, if not the best in the world. However that version of NiKo, the one that I fondly remember as a one man army has returned. Whether it is the absence of olofmeister or some other internal impetus that is driving him, NiKo has reached an even higher level in the recent months of FaZe. The best example of this was when he dropped 38 against Fnatic on Mirage at the ELeague Premier 2018.
It was a virtuoso performance, one that not only reminded me of the NiKosports days, but surpassed it. If this form of NiKo’s keeps up, then FaZe have a player that can match or beat anyone in the world, even s1mple on his best days.
For NiKo, the loss to Cloud9 and the olofmeister stand-in issues spanning across the last seven months could be the most important experience of his playing career since first joining Mouz. Players are forged through adversity and during that time, I believe that NiKo came to the conclusion that he needed to bear the burden. That he needed to become the ace, the player that the team looked to in their worst moments to depend on. He has accepted that great responsibility and he is now a superstar among superstars. In a lineup filled with some of the greatest players to ever touch the game of CS:GO, he is even greater still. The loss to Cloud9 at the Major and the months of stand-in issues were not in vain. NiKo has taken that experience and forged an even greater level of play. He is the elite among the elite, the superstar among superstars, and FaZe’s biggest hope to win the Major.