We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, esports, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.
Ninjas in Pyjamas (NiP) are the royalty of CS:GO. Four of the five active members were the core of the lineup which went 87 straight maps before losing offline. The dynasty that won its first 10 offline tournaments. The legends that placed top four in their first 31 tournaments. Even since then, they have continued a legacy of top placings, having made the final of all five CS:GO majors, winning ESL One Cologne in August of last year. Still, they are a special team, which comes up with magic in big matches. Yet this is not an NiP that is the best team in the world or close to it.
Problems in the pyjama province
It is still routine for NiP to place top four, practically, but the days of GeT_RiGhT and company taking home trophies seem so far away. In 2014, with their classic lineup, they won three big titles. In 2015, they have failed to win a single big trophy in eight attempts, thusfar. NiP are still a special lineup, capable of playing the majority of the top teams closely when everything comes together. The primary problems for NiP are that they still tend to lose those nail-biters against the elite teams and that the dangerous landscape of the top end of the competition scene means they typically need to beat two strong teams in series to win a trophy. In short, even NiP's best is currently not enough to take a title from a FNATIC, TSM or EnVyUs, the teams they're most likely to face in a final.
Waning personnel power
The only questions asked of the old lineup were of support player fifflaren's play, since he was often the statistical sore thumb standing out among players who were all close to the best at their positions. The players who replaced him, in particular the explosive but erratic AWPer Maikelele, found that scrutiny transferred to them. The arrival of allu, the consistent and efficient Finnish sniper, has shown us, however, that NiP's problems no longer lie with the fifth man. Allu has been a model of regularly excellent performance, leaving us to look at the other four and ask who is failing to deliver a championship performance in their role.
Shockingly, the first place one must consider is with one of the stars, as aim master f0rest, still one of the world's best pistol players, has routinely stumbled in big games and found himself lacking a star level impact on his team's fortunes. With allu and GeT_RiGhT both posting good numbers, the third star has been very much waning in the last few months. Beyond f0rest, issues can be observed with both former in-game leader Xizt and friberg. The former has been slumping for at least the last few months, though he does still win some memorable clutch rounds, and the latter just had possibly the worst tournament of his career with NiP's group stage elimination at Gfinity Spring Masters II.
NiP have been aware their results are not up to par and attempted numerous changes. They switched up some of their most famous CT postions on maps. They've brought in former 3DMAX player and CS veteran natu as their new coach. Finally, they've even shifted the in-game leadership role to lurker GeT_RiGhT. So far, each change has had mixed results, often working somewhat early on and then leveling back off to a similar effect later. Unless big results come, one cannot help but feel that Xizt will return to holding the reigns, much as the Ninjas did revert some of their positional changes.
The future of the dynasty
This NiP does not look like the team of old in as much as it does not look capable of holding the number one spot in the rankings. With the right draw and collection of individual performances, they can still win a trophy or two, but even that will take some momentous fortune and is far from guaranteed. For NiP, this is the period in which they learn if they can live with being a top team but not the best. If FNATIC are not at the top, surely it will be TSM. If not TSM, then EnVyUs may rise again. The only thing which seems certain, is that NiP's time has passed, at least with this legendary core. Nothing lasts forever, in life as well as CS:GO.
Duncan "Thorin" Shields, also known as "The Esports Historian," has been involved in esports journalism since 2001. He writes for a number of sites on a freelance basis, provides on-camera analysis at CS:GO tournaments and produces YouTube interviews and commentary. Follow Duncan on Twitter and Facebook.