Counter Strike: Global Offensive

Top 20 players of 2020: NiKo (4)

NiKo began carving his trail in the Balkan Counter-Strike scene in 2010, playing in a series of tournaments held across Bosnia and Serbia. In the following two years, he had the chance to witness first-hand the chasm between the world’s finest and the best that his region could offer when he attended Adepto BH Open 2011, in Sarajevo, and DreamHack Bucharest 2012 as part of eu4ia and iNation. In both tournaments, NiKo’s teams could not make it past the quarter-finals following blowout defeats to two different iterations of fnatic.

With CS:GO taking over and bringing the 1.6 and Source communities together, NiKo made the switch and continued to play with iNation, who added two more experienced players in Janko “⁠YNk⁠” Paunović and Nemanja “⁠k1Ng0r⁠” Bošković. The team failed to make the playoffs at Mad Catz Vienna and DreamHack Bucharest, hitting a brick wall every time they faced tougher opposition, such as VeryGames and LDLC, but their breakthrough came later in 2013, at StarSeries VIII, where they came in as a late replacement for Clan-Mystik.

NiKo at Adepto BH Open 2011with eu4ia

The Serbian team, who had reached an agreement with GamePub just days before the event, surpassed all expectations as they finished in third place, beating Astana Dragons and playing close series against AGAiN and Natus Vincere, with NiKo showing that he could be a force in the future as he put up a team-high 1.11 rating. The Bosnian prodigy was starting to make a name for himself, but he ended up taking a break from the game in 2014 after internal issues and some disappointing results had brought his team to an end.

NiKo returned to action closer to the end of the year with a slightly different version of his previous team, competing in several smaller tournaments with aimface and also in the European Championship 2014 with Bosnia & Herzegovina alongside players like Faruk “⁠pita⁠” Pita and Benjamin “⁠BENDJI⁠” Söderena. A few months later, he finally took up an offer to join mousesports – whom he had previously rejected during his break from the scene over fears he wasn’t ready to play for an international team at the time.

The Bosnian made his presence felt immediately after his arrival, putting up a team-high 1.13 rating as mousesports finished in fourth place at the ESEA Invite Season 18 Global Finals and a whopping 1.70 rating at the ESL Meisterschaft: Spring Finals. But despite his undeniable talent, NiKo saw himself on the bench just two months into his tenure when mousesports saw an opportunity to grab a Major spot and landed the PENTA trio of Johannes “⁠nex⁠” Maget, Timo “⁠Spiidi⁠” Richter and Denis “⁠denis⁠” Howell.

By his own admission, NiKo, felt “betrayed” by that decision, but he kept his head down and continued working hard – standing in for Kinguin at the Gaming Paradise Inhouse Qualifier, where he was the best player of the tournament, and for SK at IEM Gamescom 2015. He was recalled by mousesports after the team bombed out of the Major in last place, and put up solid numbers in the remaining LAN tournaments of the year, especially at the DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca Major (1.16 rating) and at the CEVO Professional Season 8 Finals (1.21). Before the year came to an end, he also took up in-game leadership duties following the departure of Fatih “⁠gob b⁠” Dayik.

NiKo’s performances reached another level in 2016

NiKo built the team’s system around him, especially on the T side, and hit world-class form in 2016, leading mousesports to the title at the Acer Predator Masters Finals and to deep runs in tournaments like ELEAGUE Season 1 and the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals. The Bosnian had some memorable moments over the course of the year, including a 42-kill game in an overtime loss to fnatic at IEM Katowice, making the HLTV Top 20 at No.11.

2017 was a year of change for NiKo, who left mousesports just two months into the season but not without giving the team a proper farewell as he averaged a sensational 1.48 rating at DreamHack Masters Las Vegas, his final tournament before the switch to FaZe. Freed from the in-game leadership shackles, NiKo immediately became the team’s star player, picking up a title in his second tournament under the North American organisation, StarSeries Season 3, where he was also the MVP. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, but a shocking 0-3 exit in the Swiss stage of PGL Major Krakow saw FaZe hit the reset button and bring in Ladislav “⁠GuardiaN⁠” Kovács and Olof “⁠olofmeister⁠” Kajbjer to replace Aleksi “⁠allu⁠” Jalli and Fabien “⁠kioShiMa⁠” Fiey. The team won three more titles that year – ESL One New York, ELEAGUE Premier and ECS Season 4 Finals -, with NiKo finishing second to Marcelo “⁠coldzera⁠” David in the top 20 players of the year ranking.

2018 began with a heartbreaking loss to Cloud9 in the ELEAGUE Major Boston final as the North Americans came back from 15-11 down on the final map to win the series in overtime. Shortly afterwards, FaZe were also hit by roster instability as olofmeister stepped down due to personal reasons, although the team still tried to make the most of it and secured titles at IEM Sydney and ESL One Belo Horizonte, first with Richard “⁠Xizt⁠” Landström and then with Jorgen “⁠cromen⁠” Robertsen standing in. FaZe still won one more title that year, at EPICENTER, with olofmeister back in the squad, but the cracks were all too clear to see and resulted in Finn “⁠karrigan⁠” Andersen’s benching before the turn of the year. Despite the plethora of issues, NiKo always played at a very high level – he was the MVP in two of FaZe’s title runs and was among the Exceptionally Valuable Players (EVPs) seven times – and made his third consecutive appearance in the HLTV Top 20, this time at No.3.

NiKo won several titles during his first years with FaZe

FaZe experienced more peaks and troughs in 2019, a difficult year for the team but also for NiKo, who was unable to deliver the kind of consistency that he had shown in the past. The team won the ELEAGUE Invitational and BLAST Pro Series Miami with Dauren “⁠AdreN⁠” Kystaubayev filling in, but then they turned to Filip “⁠NEO⁠” Kubski, who took up the in-game leader role. The experiment with the Polish veteran didn’t last long, however: After an early exit at the StarLadder Major, FaZe made a double swoop and signed coldzera and Helvijs “⁠broky⁠” Saukants, with GuardiaN being moved to the bench. A first-placed finish at the BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen showed the potential of FaZe‘s new star duo, but the team were unable to keep that intensity for the rest of the year. As he had to settle for a spot just outside that year’s top 10 in the player ranking, NiKo stated his wish to return to his best level in 2020.

FaZe began 2020 with a bang, topping their BLAST Premier Spring Series group in convincing fashion as they made light work of Liquid and the new NiP lineup, with NiKo topping the leaderboards in five categories, including rating (1.49). But the team wouldn’t be able to pass their first real test of the year, however, as they crashed out of IEM Katowice in the group stage following two defeats to eventual champions Natus Vincere.

FaZe were unable to make the playoffs in Katowice after a close loss to NAVI

In hindsight, NiKo, who averaged a 1.17 rating, admits that the team’s early elimination was not as bad as it looked initially, given how NAVI went on a tear in the playoffs, beating Liquid, Astralis and G2 without dropping a single map en route to the title.

“We felt confident going to Katowice because we had played BLAST Premier before and we had rolled over the opponents that we had played there. At some point, I was feeling that we were really clicking together and I had flashbacks from when we brought on olof and GuardiaN and we had those two runs in New York and Atlanta. That’s how I felt during this BLAST event.

“Facing NAVI was a bit unfortunate, they really showed up in that event, and most of the games were close, it wasn’t like they smashed us, I think one round maybe decided who went to the final. I’m not saying that we would have gone to the final if we had beat them, but I think there was a big chance of us reaching the final, because we really felt good during that event. We had two bootcamps prior to it, we worked really hard and the synergy was good. Everything was going our way. We were not disappointed about the results that we had, NAVI did really well and smashed most of their opponents. In the end, it was alright. But maybe if we had reached the final, the year could have been different, but it’s hard to say, because everything went online after that, so I’m not sure if we would have been able to keep our performances if we had won the event, for example.

“The worst memory was definitely the way we lost to NAVI. It was really down to one round basically. It really would have made the difference in the year, but it is what it is. Also the BLAST Premier Spring Finals, where we lost to Complexity and Vitality. I really feel that we could have won that event, we really felt confident. We played well and then we lost to them…”

That was the final LAN event that FaZe played that year as everything switched online once the coronavirus pandemic hit the globe. NiKo made the best of a bad situation with a streak of EVP awards between ESL Pro League Season 11 and the BLAST Spring Europe Finals, averaging some impressive numbers in the team’s deep runs in these four tournaments: 1.20 rating, 1.29 Impact, 86.9 ADR and 0.78 KPR. He was third in the race for the MVP award in the BLAST tournament (1.21 rating, 1.37 Impact) and fourth in ESL One: Road to Rio (1.18 playoff rating, seven clutches and a +77 KDD).

“I wasn’t as confident [playing online] as I thought I would be. I did alright, considering the circumstances. I mean, if you ask players, most of them are going to say that they all feel better playing on LAN because of the routines, because of the feeling when you’re playing in a studio, or especially in an arena. Playing online is just so depressing, even when you’re playing important games. It was difficult to get used to it, but I tried to have a different mentality, so I did my best. I played a lot of CS during this period, so I think that is what kept up my performance level. It wasn’t easy but it was the only thing that I could do at the time, so I was grinding CS all the time and doing my best to keep up my performances and help the team to become better and better.”

The third-placed finishes in DreamHack Masters and in the BLAST Spring Finals – FaZe‘s first tournaments with Aurimas “⁠Bymas⁠” Pipiras – seemed to indicate that FaZe were handling the loss of olofmeister well, but such considerations were thrown out the window right before the summer break. FaZe were ranked third in the world by the time cs_summit 6 started but could not even get to the playoffs following two defeats to BIG. To rub further salt into their wounds, ENCE then beat them in the 9th-12th place decider. The 11th place after taking down Movistar Riders in their final match was hardly satisfying for the team.

NiKo says that the team were caught off-guard by olofmeister’s decision to take another break

Despite this, there were still some positives for NiKo to take from this tournament. He was ranked first for opening kills per round (0.17) and third for rating (1.19, 12% higher than the team’s average) and ADR (86.0).

“olof was a really big part of our team, even though stats don’t really say much about it. Maybe he didn’t have great stats, but he really was a big part of our team and of our game. He had important roles that he was doing really well, and I didn’t have another player that could do those roles as well, and these are roles that are very crucial most of the time when it comes to doing defaults, reacting to opponents and what they’re doing. Besides, his communication was always on point. When you go from a guy who has won so many events to someone who was a young talent… Bymas hadn’t really played in a team, so there was a big difference when it came to things like communication on his side.

“We did alright with Bymas, it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. We really felt that olof left us at a really bad time. I don’t know which event it was, I think it was Pro League, and he was like, ‘Okay, guys, I cannot do this anymore. I’m done’. And we were like, ‘Oh shit’. We had an event in like seven days and we had no clue that he was going to take a break. We were like, ‘What the f*ck are we going to do? We cannot buy out anyone in that period and we have to go for some FPL player’. We really didn’t know how it was going to work out, but honestly, in the end, I was happy with how we performed with Bymas. It wasn’t as bad as we expected. He did a good job, we helped each other a lot, keeping up the good mood and just doing our best.”

FaZe came from the summer break with a new player, ELEAGUE Major Atlanta MVP Markus “⁠Kjaerbye⁠” Kjærbye, but the first impressions weren’t entirely encouraging. The team went out 9th-12th in ESL One Cologne – the only time NiKo did not have the highest rating in one of his teams in 2020 – and then 13-14th in ESL Pro League Season 12, in which they won just two of the seven matches they played in the group stage, against NiP and Complexity.

NiKo hit a rough patch of form when returning from the player break

NiKo averaged just a 1.06 rating across these two tournaments, in which he also put up his worst Impact ratings and Deaths per Round ratios of the year, failing to make an Elite event’s EVP list for the first time in the online era.

“After olof left, it wasn’t pretty in the team. We never really got the player that we wanted, so it wasn’t easy to deal with all the things. During the summer break, we couldn’t get the IGL we wanted, and there was one more change that we wanted to make that we couldn’t. After that, I was like, ‘If we start doing badly with Kjaerbye, I don’t know what else we can do’. After we got Kjaerbye, we had those two events that really made me decide to leave the team. After ESL One Cologne and EPL, I was really mentally destroyed. I was like, ‘There is no way that I can keep going like this and that we can keep dealing with things this way. It’s going nowhere’.

“Before that, I always tried to fix things or get the player that would fit the team, but I really had no options. That’s when I decided to leave the team. Right after EPL, I felt that there was no point in going on. I had wanted to play with huNter- for a long time, and this felt like the right time for us to team up and work together. I’m happy that we managed to do it.”

With reports of an impending move by NiKo to G2 already in full swing, FaZe enjoyed a sudden and unexpected burst of form in IEM New York, which they won in convincing fashion after sweeping Vitality and OG in the playoffs. NiKo, who was top of the scoreboard in the three-map final (1.24 rating and 85.5 ADR), added to his MVP collection after putting up some year-high numbers, including a 1.28 rating, a 1.38 Impact rating and 74.9% KAST.

“It probably had something to do with pressure, but we also kept practicing and kept improving. Even when I told them that I was going to leave or that I wanted to leave, we still kept doing our best because we knew that I could not leave before DreamHack Open Fall due to the roster lock.

“We kept doing our best. I wanted to give my best so that they could get RMR points. I was acting the same way as before, doing my best, and I think we did alright, given the circumstances.”

NiKo made final appearance for FaZe in DreamHack Open Fall, the last Regional Major Ranking (RMR) tournament of the year in Europe. The international team fared a bit better than in cs_summit 6, finishing in ninth place, but they looked a far cry from the side that had won IEM New York as they recorded losses to BIG, GODSENT and NiP, and were even tested by sAw. NiKo was once again the standout player in the team with a 1.23 rating, impressing his soon-to-be teammates in the 9th-12th place decider match with some incredible numbers (1.64 rating, 119 ADR and +32 KDD).

“I was probably a big part of why he [coldzera] joined the team, YNk and I, because he had worked with YNk before and he wanted to work with him again, and he wanted to play with me because we’re close friends. I think it was during the summer break, the first plan was to create a new team, which was me, nexa, huNter, FalleN and cold. That was our first plan, but then some things couldn’t just be done because of contracts.

“We kept playing in our teams and we still tried to do our best in FaZe. We’re still close friends, but business is business, we are all chasing our dreams and I’m never going to stop chasing mine, so… We are friends, but I have to look for what’s best for me, and I believe that he is going to do the same if the opportunity comes. It was hard to leave him because, as I said, I was a big part of why he joined the team and moved to Belgrade. But in the end, I gave my best to make it work but it was like when you know it doesn’t work and you have to move on. I didn’t choose to leave immediately, we tried to make it work, but it didn’t work out.”

NiKo slotted into G2 seamlessly, but the team were unable to contend for titles in their first months with the Bosnian player. He hit the ground running with a 1.24 rating as G2 topped a very tricky BLAST Premier Fall Series group that also included FURIA, MIBR and Astralis, and played a key role in the team’s semi-final run in IEM Beijing-Haidian, in which he earned his final EVP award of the year with some respectable numbers, including a 1.36 Impact rating and a year-high 90.5 ADR.

NiKo is unhappy with how he performed in the last tournaments of the year

After sitting out the IEM tournament, François “⁠AmaNEk⁠” Delaunay returned to the lineup for the final two events of the year, in which G2 looked somewhat sluggish, finishing 9th-12th in DreamHack Masters Winter and 5th-6th in the BLAST Premier Fall Finals. Despite being the team’s best performer in both competitions with ratings 10% higher than the squad’s average, NiKo was fairly underwhelming compared to his usual high standards, especially in the BLAST competition, in which he put up some of his worst numbers of the year (1.04 rating, 79.1 ADR and 64.3% KAST).

“I think we took a big hit right at the start, when we switched players. The first event we played with AmaNEk, the BLAST groups, we did really well there, or we thought we did. We won the group and we felt good, and then, when we switched to JaCkz, it was like… It’s a really weird feeling when you’re playing well and then you just have to switch a player to try out someone else, so it was a weird feeling.

“I think we expected a little bit more, I don’t think we were satisfied with the results that we had towards the end of the year, but certain players had some personal issues, which affected our performance a lot. It just wasn’t easy towards the end of the year, because of those circumstances… But, overall, we were all looking forward to this year, to have a bootcamp, like the one we’re having now, to just get to know each other, because I didn’t really know anyone but huNter and nexa. We didn’t have big issues after losing those events, but we weren’t satisfied with our results.

“The best memory definitely has to be teaming up with huNter. That was my goal and a dream of ours, so that’s definitely a highlight of the year. It was also a great feeling winning the BLAST Premier Spring group in the way that we did. We pretty much just crushed everyone that we played. Other than that, probably winning IEM New York.”

Why was NiKo the fourth-best player of 2020?

To put it simply, NiKo was one of 2020’s best fraggers and most impactful players, who shined in the most competitive tournaments and against the toughest opponents. His 86.5 damage per round, the highest overall, is particularly impressive, closely followed by the third-highest KPR (0.78) and Impact rating (1.29), which was in part the result of his remarkable ability to open up rounds (0.15 opening kills per round, third-best) and to get multi-kills (19.5% of rounds, fourth-highest).

This all contributed to his 1.19 rating for the year, the fourth-highest overall, but what’s even more impressive is that his numbers improved when he faced tougher opposition as he put up the third-highest rating when filtering matches against top-10 teams (1.20), as well as the third-highest against top-five teams (1.24).

“I think that I performed okay. I mean, I performed well most of the time, but I think I lacked consistency a lot. If I had been more consistent, I think I would have been top three. I’m really sad that I underperformed in the last two events, and I think that is why device beat me in the ranking. He had some amazing last two or three events and I really underperformed, so props to him…

“Overall, I’m really happy with my performances throughout the year, but I’m not really satisfied with how it ended. I don’t think I did my best, performance-wise, I think I can do better than I did last year, I know it. I will keep doing my best, and we’ll see what happens this year.”

He was also among the very best when it came to consistency as he never had a bad tournament (1.04 was his lowest event rating) and he was at least a Valuable Player in all notable competitions that he played. His map-to-map consistency was also admirable as he ranked fifth for maps with ratings equal to or higher than 1.00 (75.1%) and fourth for maps with 1.30+ ratings (37.8%).

With these numbers, NiKo was in contention for an even higher spot in this HLTV Top 20, but while he does have an MVP award from IEM New York, the rest of his performances, including his five EVPs, were not of the highest caliber, in part because he rarely reached the biggest matches and also because, when he did, his level dipped slightly as he averaged a 1.14 rating from 34 maps in Big Event playoffs.

“Obviously, the most important thing is to stay healthy. I will work even harder than I did last year so that I can be more consistent, which I feel like was the only thing I was missing. I will put a lot of effort into my consistency. And obviously, I will do my best to bring G2 back to the very top and to start winning titles together.”

Bold prediction

NiKo joined Nemanja “⁠huNter-⁠” Kovač, Florian “⁠syrsoN⁠” Rische and Robin “⁠ropz⁠” Kool in picking Shahar “⁠flameZ⁠” Shushan as a player to watch in 2021 and beyond. The Israeli talent played a key role in Endpoint‘s promotion to ESL Pro League with a 1.25 rating and a 1.30 Impact rating in ESEA MDL Season 35.

Israel Shahar “⁠flameZ⁠” Shushan

“I think he got into FPL in the summer break. I hadn’t played FPL for like two months or something, then when I was back, I was playing against him and I was like, ‘Who the f*ck is this guy? I’ve never heard of him and he just comes and he starts popping heads’. I’ve also played with him and he has really good communication and he sounds like a really good guy. I think he probably has a bright future, I don’t know him that much, but when I’ve played with him he’s done good things. If he keeps working the way he’s supposed to, I think he’s going to be really good.”

Stay tuned to our Top 20 players of 2020 ranking and take a look at the Introduction article to learn more about how the players were selected. This year’s ranking is supported by:

Xtrfy – Built on experience
GG.BET – Online betting and odds on sport and esports

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