NiP in the ESL Cologne Group Stage
The first match from Group A at ESL One Cologne will be a very interesting game, to say the least. The matchup is between Ninjas in Pyjamas and CLG. Recently, NiP have been in a slump in terms of performance. It is largely agreed upon that this slump is a result of their playstyle – one that despite leading to a major win, seems to have stopped working.
NiP at DreamHack Valencia 2015. Image courtesy of Dreamhack.
The NiP team has never had exceedingly “structured” strategies. In 1.6, up until 2010, f0rest and GeT_RiGhT played on a team with Patrik ‘cArn’ Sättermon (currently known as the CGO for Fnatic), who was known for a looser and more informal leadership style. f0rest and GeT_RiGhT were some of the best players of all time in 1.6, and the team could simply rely on them to frag away, lurk around, and just generally out-skill the opponents. Since the early days of CSGO, the NiP team has followed in the steps of the Fnatic 1.6 team in terms of this “loose” call and play style. Back then, and even as recently as August of last year, it worked. The team could simply out-aim and out-skill their opponents.
However, as the game matured, so did the competition. Teams like Fnatic and TSM stomped other teams in their path, with others like EnVyUs and Na’Vi giving them little room to breathe. At ESL Katowice 2015, with a second place finish, NiP showed that as of March, the team was still capable of reaching the top tiers of skill, but more recent losses to lower-end Tier 1 teams and a lack of Top 4 finishes at recent events have shown that the team is in a definite slump. The noticeable problem seems to be a lack of preset executes for their T-sided play. Moving from the looser, mid-round call heavy style of the past to a more structure style would certainly help, but it remains to be seen what style the team will emerge with after their boot camp.
The current CLG.CS lineup. Image courtesy of Counter-Logic Gaming.
Their challenger in this match is none other than Counter-Logic Gaming, considered to be the second best team in North America. Since the departure of Peter “ptr” Gurney in April 2015, they settled on Josh “jdm64” Marzano as their fifth member, placing him in the role of the team’s primary AWPer. The performance of CLG has not been analyzed as deeply, because instead of falling from the top, as NiP did, they rose from mediocrity, largely due to their upsets against Fnatic and Keyd Stars during the ESL ESEA Pro League in July. Since then, CLG hasn’t made waves, per se.
Recent matches of both CLG.CS and NiP. Images courtesy of GosuGamers.net.
When looking at the match history of both teams, it seems that CLG has rather inconsistent results. In the past months, CLG has played against a variety of opponents both domestically and internationally. Domestically, they have faced Team Liquid a myriad of times, but they have not consistently won or lost. When it comes to other domestic teams, CLG have lost to Nihilum, Tempo Storm, and Luminosity, usually with decently close score lines, around 16-10, but they have also won rather frequently with similar score lines in their favor. In the international space, CLG has battled EnVyUs and TSM, taking both of them to the edge (16-13 and 16-12). This would suggest that they would be able to take on top-level Tier 1 teams, but they lost to SK Gaming with a similar score line in the same event. In the months before that, CLG saw very little international play, but when they did, they usually lost (except for upsets).
The match history of NiP is quite honestly just as unclear. They have recently played a myriad of both Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams, from Europe and North America alike. Their performance against other top-level European fluctuates between close losses and distant losses, but wins against Tier 1 teams are not very common. When playing Tier 2 teams, the ninjas tend to do significantly better. Lower-end Tier 1 teams such as Flipsid3, Mousesports, and Dignitas win about as often as they lose, so it can be said that they the opponents most evenly matched to NiP. They also seem to be able to beat Virtus.Pro a slight majority of the time (63% win rate in the past 3 months) and compete toe-to-toe with Na’Vi (50% win rate in the past 3 months). This ability may seem like evidence that NiP truly can compete for the Top 4 spot in the world, but Fnatic, TSM, EnVyUs, and to a lesser extent Na’Vi and Clloud 9 still stand in their way to reaching the top.
So now we have a decent picture of the playing field for both NiP and CLG – but the question is, how do they play against each other? The last time they played together was March 12, 2015, during ESL One Katowice, where NiP beat CLG 16-7 on Mirage. It suffices to say that clearly, the teams have both changed since then. CLG has improved, but NiP hasn’t. It’s difficult to tell where they fall respective to each other, but some information can be gleaned from their performance versus other teams. CLG seems to be able to get rounds versus vastly superior opponents and make matches close, but they expectedly lose most of those matches. However, despite getting similar amounts of rounds versus far worse teams, they still don’t win. NiP can’t quite beat top-level teams either, and they frequently don’t come as close as CLG either, but NiP can almost always hold their own against anyone below #9 in the world. The same can’t be said for CLG, who frequently lose to teams who might be ranked as low as #20 or even #25 in the world. It’s pretty safe to say that in this matchup, NiP is going to win. Even if CLG takes it to a close score line, they don’t have a good chance of closing out versus NiP.
Right now, neither team is in the top echelon, but the NiP lineup is far closer. It makes sense when you think about it; CLG started at the bottom, so they have a long way to rise. The ninjas fell from the top, but not very far – and with some hard work and a few changes in their style, I think they can be number one again.