Written by: Richard Lewis
You all heard me say it on the official Eleague podcast. I was of the opinion that NiP's decision to bring in Mikail "Maikelele" Bill, in place of a purportedly injured Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi was an upgrade. It wasn’t without reason. After the Swedish giants brought in Bill as a replacement to their long-standing fifth Robin "Fifflaren" Johansson, they suddenly looked vital again. They made it to two back to back international LAN finals at DreamHack Winter and MLG Aspen, and finished as runners-up in both. The third time was indeed the charm when they claimed Assembly Winter in Helsinki, and it looked like the Ninjas had the potential to enter into another dominant spell. Bill was a player who seemed to give them the missing spark during their first major win in Cologne, remembered as one of the most laborious tournament wins of all time.
Then, after a relatively disappointing IOS Pantamera, Bill was unceremoniously let go. The whole situation was handled poorly, all too often the case in Counter-Strike. What was originally intended as a “permanent replacement” was now being framed as a “trial period.” Of course, the contract had been anything but short term and disgraced former CEO of NiP Per Lillefelth would take great pleasure in stating he wouldn’t be released from his contractual obligations.
“Maikelele is still a part of NiP and has been informed of his shortcomings, and now has a chance of working on them” he told Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet. “In other words, the CS:GO team still consists of the same five players, but we are open to trying new players for the upcoming period of time.”
Those of us on the circuit had heard about what these shortcomings were. First and foremost, a fiery temperament out of line with the cool Swedish exterior that NiP was known for. Seasoned veterans such as Patrik “f0rest” Lindberg and Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund allegedly didn’t enjoy playing with someone who wasn’t able to resist articulating their frustrations, and given their legendary status in the game they didn’t have to. I caught little glimpses of it in Finland. Bill drew stares thumping a table after his missed shot. His actions conveyed a vibe of distaste, like the looks you get when you’re the only drunk person in the room trying to integrate with the sober stiffs.
I also saw plenty of positives. Bill was one of the few players I’d come across so utterly at ease with the growing stardom top-level players were experiencing. As the new addition to a team with one of the largest fanbases in the game, he was swarmed by people seeking a signature they hadn’t acquired before. He took it all with grace and an easy humor, reveling in being the center of attention. Out of the game, he was relaxed and seemingly easy to get along with.
None of that mattered when he was cut from the team. There were plenty of other weird contributing factors at the time. NiP fans, after being spoiled in the past, seemed to hold unrealistically-high standards. Getting to the finals and not winning them? Must be the new guy. People conveniently forget the end of the original lineup’s history, because it doesn’t make much of a story. The level of scrutiny Bill’s performances came under was also absurd. “Whiffelele” some dubbed him, which committed two crimes simultaneously; the first not being all that accurate and the second being an awful, unimaginative nickname divorced from any wit. The disillusioned fans forgot that NiP never had a top tier AWPer on their books and never needed it anyway. Just ask legendary UK captain Sam “RattlesnK” Gawn, whose fair summary went on to become a meme for a brief period of time.
On top of that, there were plenty of vocal pundits trying to shoehorn their own personal picks into the team, taking great pleasure in dancing on Fifflaren’s grave, as if his inevitable retirement was a validation of everything negative they had been saying, even as NiP was winning. The movement to acquire Aleksi "allu" Jalli had been brimming for a while, and in the end Bill’s departure left the door open to NiP to listen to its most vocal proponents. They achieved some sense of stability with his inclusion, but I never felt he was a natural fit and that they were better with the player they let go.
For Bill though, it should have been onward and upward. Assembling a team of popular and talented players under the Kinguin banner, it would eventually, through several twists and turns, go on to become the most expensive Counter-Strike team ever purchased. Yet despite a stellar performance to finish 3rd/4th at the Cluj-Napoca Major, losing to the eventual winners in a close match, the team never made the progress many believed it could make. After a variety of roster swaps, it seemed inevitable that Bill’s time would run out, even though he was the individual that masterminded it all.
This misfortune to settle into a successful team for a prolonged period saw Maikelele acquire a reputation as the most toxic of assets, a bad teammate. Citing the rumors of his departure from NiP as exhibit A, many others have simply fabricated the rest to secure a conviction. Yet I know firsthand that during the move from G2 to FaZe, it was Bill that bore the brunt of the backlash from his former employers. Equally, whenever a teammate was singled out, most notably the persistently underwhelming Ricardo "fox" Pacheco, it was Bill that was adamant noone would be kicked. He took it upon himself to defend his colleague publicly, unwittingly giving ammunition to Pacheco’s detractors, but there was no doubting the purity of the intent. This was a player that not only talked the talk but he walked the walk; he gave up his primary AWPing role to accommodate Pacheco, even though most would agree he was a superior player in that department.
The resulting dip in his form made it easy for the naysayers, who wanted to cite something more solid than guesswork about his personality for the reason why he needed to go. Statistics never really define players like this one. He isn’t one of the top snipers in the world, and his rifles won’t have fans demanding to know his settings. His pistol play is average, and he is the archetypal confidence player, depending on mood and momentum, he veers between feast and famine. Yet there is undoubtedly something special there, something magnified when he has the right players around him.
His reintroduction to NiP yielded an immediate return. Only hours ago at the point of writing this, I saw them lift the StarSeries Season 2 trophy in Kiev. Even the most optimistic fan wouldn’t have dared call it. Their run to victory saw them topple GODSENT, Astralis, Cloud9 and G2, all presenting various challenges. Prior to this event, their offline form was fairly wretched, including dropping out of the Legendary spots in the majors for the first time in their history by losing to Flipside, and then being manhandled by Virtus Pro at Eleague. Some might point to decent online form in the run-up to this tournament, achieved with another stand-in Joakim "disco doplan" Gidetun, but in truth they dropped maps against the few teams that you would expect to be competitive.
This was an entirely different NiP that powered to victory in the Ukraine. While everyone made a contribution, it’d be hard not to believe the easy storyline that Maikelele was a defining factor. Honestly, even as much as Gidetun impressed despite his inexperience, its unthinkable that they could win a tournament with him in the starting line-up. It was unthinkable that they could win a sizeable tournament with any stand-in, a feat that hasn’t been managed before, but sometimes things just work.
That’s the only way to really summarize Mikail’s relationship with NiP; it just works. I imagine there’s been some personal growth on all sides, as you’d expect. Those stares I saw in Finland weren’t there this time, but neither was the impotent rage. There didn’t seem to be anything forced or awkward about the team as they exchanged high fives and fist bumps between rounds. If there is any residual animosity, surely a trophy is enough to make people revise it. For good or ill, Bill and NiP seem to belong together.