The return of Niko, the other miracle
PGL Major Stockholm was an incredible event. It was the culminating tournament as Na`Vi strode upon the stage to cap off their year as the best team in the world. In Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev's case, it was a crowning moment as he finally won his Major with the best individual performance of any player at a Major event.
In the shadows of that achievement was Nikola "NiKo" Kovac. Though overshadowed, his run here was a triumphant return of NiKo, the other miracle.
The generation of miracles
In 2014-2015, CS:GO was a Swedish Kingdom. The two great dynasties were NiP and Fnatic. In the Fnatic era arose three players on the fringes: s1mple, Marcelo "Coldzera" David, and NiKo. I have called them the generation of miracles as the three of were game-defining talents. S1mple is now hailed as the GOAT. Coldzera was the superstar player of Luminosity/SK, the Brazilian line-ups that eventually toppled the Swedish Imperium.
NiKo was the third member of that generation and is in some ways the most influential of the three as he trail blazed the path for international star players. To understand why, we need to look at the cultures each of the miracles grew up in.S1mple grew up watching players like Yehor "markeloff" Markelov and teams like Na`Vi. Brazil is a smaller CS culture, but they still had great teams in CS 1.6 and there is a photograph of Coldzera getting an autograph from Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo.
NiKo comes from Bosnia so there was no great lineage that he could follow. While his early career had him play in Serbian teams, it wasn't enough. He had the talent to play at the highest level of Counter-Strike so he had to make his path as an international player. One man's burning ambition to conquer the world.
Perhaps Jaroslaw "pasha" Jarzabkowski put it best in his HLTV interview where he said: "Niko wants to be the Rambo of CS."
NiKo vs the world
The first time I saw NiKo play it was against prime Fnatic. It was an overtime game on Dust2 and through his pure individual skill he dragged Mouz into overtime and almost beat the second greatest lineup in history by himself.
As a player, NiKo is one of the most complete in history. He has great spray control, flicks, and mechanics. What really stands out is his game sense, mechanics, and positioning. He knows when to lurk, how to read the offence or defence, and put himself in the best position to take down an entire team by himself.
In the NiKosports days, entire tactics could devolve into NiKo going out into train yard and killing five players. NiKo proved that there was talent outside the traditional CS countries. Despite his talent, NiKo looked like he was going to languish as a potential great as there were no great international squads. Then in 2017 he joined FaZe.
The superstar among superstars
FaZe had been slowly building up an international roster for sometime in CS:GO. While they could get individually talented players, they lacked the person that could bring it all together. In 2016 they found that player in Finn "Karrigan" Andersen.
Karrigan immediately made FaZe into a top 10 team and they quickly shot their way towards the top. But to become a title contender, they needed a superstar, someone who could out power the team play or tactics of traditional regional squads. In 2017, FaZe got that superstar in NiKo.
Though the partnership ended badly, the Karrigan-NiKo combination remains the best international duo in CS:GO history. Karrigan knows how to make any five players work. NiKo's sheer skill puts him in a rarefied space where the only two players I feel comfortable comparing him to are s1mple and Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut.
Together, the two of them stormed the world. They took on the traditional great lineups: Astralis, Fnatic, and Virtus.Pro. While the Brazilians were their kryptonite, the FaZe Clan could beat any other team in the world.
The apex of the international experiment happened in the middle of 2017 when they created added on Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovacs and Olof "olofmeister" Gustafsson. Along with Havard "rain" Nygaard and NiKo, FaZe had four legitimate star players in their team. During this time period, FaZe were unstoppable and NiKo established himself as the superstar among superstars. They were all great players, but NiKo stood out even among this elite squad of players.
It was one of the most destructive teams in history and they nearly took over the entire world. However there was a strange mentality issue in the squad as they fell in the highest pressure moments. This culminated in the Eleague Major 2018 Finals. While FaZe played a great finals and GuardiaN put on a performance for the ages, it wasn't enough as Cloud9 won the Major. That loss sparked the end of everything.
Lost in the wilderness
Soon after, things started to fall apart. NiKo lost confidence in Karrigan and the partnership broke apart. However NiKo never realised what karrigan brough to the table and FaZe continued to shuffle roster after roster trying to come up with a lineup that could make up for what they lost in Karrigan. They never could.
In the meantime, NiKo's individual performance took a downturn. Though a downturn for NiKo made him merely a superstar player instead of a God, it did take him out of the conversation of best player in the world. Soon enough, there were only two players left in the conversation for CS God: s1mple and zywOo.
NiKo was left to the side. By the end of 2020, NiKo left FaZe for G2.
A return to normality
Without Karrigan, FaZe didn't have the leadership or vision to make a coherent lineup around NiKo. However the same couldn't be said for G2 as Damien "MaLeK" Marcel had proved himself to be a great coach and manager. G2 was already a fairly good squad with a strong core of international players.
After fiddling with the team, the final G2 lineup was: NiKo, Nemanja "huNter-" Kovac, Audric "JaCkz" Jug, Francois "AmaNek" Delaunay, and Nemanja "nexa" Isakovic. NiKo was the superstar player, huNter was a good secondary star. JaCkz was a strong entry fragger. AmaNek and nexa are both good role players and G2 had AmaNek play as the AWPer.
The team had a coherent identity and style. This brought in a bevy of good results as they consistently got top four in online events and got to the finals of ESL Cologone, the first LAN since the pandemic started.
While the team was great, they lacked the requisite firepower to truly compete with the best in the world (Na`Vi and Gambit in particular). For G2 to become a consistent title contender, they needed a God, but that version of NiKo never arrived... until now.
NiKo went into PGL Major Stockholm on a mission. Prior to the Major, G2 had been on a slump online. They had bombed out of EPL 14, BLAST Premier Fall groups, and were losing to a lot of smaller teams online.
But there is always something about the Major that can bring out the best and worst in players. In the case of NiKo, the Majors are particularly poignant. FaZe were rounds away from winning the entire thing against Cloud9, but when I look back at those finals, NiKo had a terrible performance.
FaZe's best player was GuardiaN (arguably the MVP of that Major). As for NiKo, he got swept up in the moment and got mowed over by Cloud9's pace and tempo. Even in the final map of that series, NiKo put up good numbers, but failed to read Cloud9's banana setup which eventually cost FaZe the T-side of the map.
That was the last time NiKo had a legitimate shot at going deep into a Major as every other lineup he went to the Major with had roster issues.
Pgl Stockholm Major was his chance at redemption and NiKo took it. NiKo reached the absolute heights of his powers. This was the NiKo that fought Fnatic 1v5, this was the NiKo that pasha called 'Rambo', this was the NiKo that had rocked the world. This was the NiKo that made miracles.
The numbers certainly spell it out, but for me the impact was beyond insane. If NiKo had played like he had from 2019-2021, G2 would have probably fallen out in the semifinals to Heroic. Instead Niko forcefully carried G2 against Heroic and made huge impact plays in the final rounds of Inferno to win the series for G2.
His finals performance against Na`Vi was awe-inspiring. In the final rounds of Nuke, it became a firefight as NiKo fought against the greatest duo in CS:GO history: s1mple and Denis "electronic" Sharipov to keep G2 alive.
The majority of the last rounds has NiKo, electronic, or s1mple making the impact kill that decides the round.
In the 25th, NiKo killed electronic early in the round which let G2 win the round. In the 28th, s1mple killed him in a 1v1 lurk battle. In the 29th, NiKo missed a deagle shot that could have ended the map. In the 30th, NiKo was left in a 1v4. While he got two kills, Na`Vi's sheer numbers and time eventually pushed the game into overtime.
In overtime itself, NiKo continued to trade back and forth with s1mple and electronic on both sisdes f the map: winning duels in OT rounds 1 and 3 on the T-side, holding the lower site with a 3k in the sixth to send it to double OT.
In the end, it was too much as Na`Vi overwhelmed G2 and took the finals 2-0.
The miracle returns
When FaZe lost to Cloud9, it was a dismal failure on NiKo's part. It was his first ever Major finals and he failed to live up to his level. While the results are the same, NiKo's play was ascendant. G2 lost the finals, but NiKo's personal skills are beyond reproach.
S1mple's performance at PGL Stockholm Major is the best of any player at a Major ever, but NiKo's is likely a close second. NiKo's performance here can only be described as miraculous. Can only be compared to s1mple or ZywOo.
It was an encore of the NiKo I first saw, the NiKo challenged the Fnatic Era and nearly won. Today, NiKo roared defiance against Na`Vi's era.
In your cold calculating mind you think NiKo had no chance. There was so much stacked against him: It was NiKo vs the best team, NiKo against Na`Vi's best map, NiKo against the best duo, and NiKo against the GOAT.
But as the rounds played out, NiKo turns your heart. Round by round, shot by shot. NiKo makes the right reads against the best team. The right lurks on their best maps. Wins the right duels against the electronic and s1mple duo.
He is starting to change your cold calculating mind and stoke the fires of your heart. Maybe one man can fight against the best, on their best map, against the best duo, against the GOAT. Maybe NiKo can beat the world.
In the end it didn't happen. One missed deagle shot and we are looking to a three map finals and who knows what happens then? One man couldn't beat the world, but NiKo did create a miracle. Against the absolute best he forced them to drag out every ounce of skill and the difference? One deagle shot to the head.
One man couldn't beat the world this time. But next time? As I run the simulations again through my head, the final answer is maybe? For me that is how I know NiKo, the miracle has returned. NiKo is one of the few players in history can make you believe in miracles, he can make you believe that one man can challenge the world and win.