Written by: Richard Lewis
So it finally happened…Nikola "NiKo" Kovač has taken his leave of Mousesports and moved on to what should be, in the absence of the German players that did so much to drag the team down, the greener pastures of a steadily improving FaZe. Since his breakout performance at the Gaming Paradise qualifier, where he acted as a stand-in for the team that would go on to become FaZe’s first in CS:GO, many believe he has been on track to become the best player in the world. Certainly, if reports are true, he has at least achieved the goal of most expensive player ever, his buyout supposedly in the region of $500,000. At that time, Mousesports were called crazy for turning down $50,000.
Let’s talk about what that type of money means in a broader context. The numbers around buyouts in CS:GO are obscured by a lot of smoke and mirrors. All players have a buyout these days, but that doesn’t necessarily provide them with empowerment or freedom of movement. More often than not, the amount is arbitrary and can be altered by the team who holds the contract while they enjoy the position of being under no obligation to inform their player of an approach. This becomes especially beneficial when you combine it with the protections afforded by the common law tort of tortious interference, meaning if the organization looking to buy lets the player know they want to do so there is grounds for a lawsuit. In total, this means its normal to see desirable players put in what I call the “contract gulag,” under contract with an organization, unaware of their options, with their only way out being a sale or using their salary to pay for the buyout. This often leaves a player at a huge loss.
When a sale goes through, the selling team is very often happy to put out a high number because if they have to lose a player, they at least want to make it look like they got good business out of it. It’s a face-saving exercise. However, a high number makes the buying team look desperate, stupid or frivolous with their earnings. Noone wants to be known as the “moneybags” organization in esports, or you can kiss goodbye to ever getting a fair deal again, as other orgs are happy to nickel and dime you over buyouts, overcharging you because they know you can afford it.
Even though the former mousesports manager Christian Lenz called the reports “bad journalism” , the incredibly high number around Kovač will be allowed to stand as it seems to benefit everyone. For Mousesports, they have a huge payday and the distinction of selling the most expensive player in the world, with a number I believe will stand for some time. I believe they should take that money and either pick up a better team in Europe, or buy yachts and shut down completely. Better that than watch the post-Niko team limp its way through tournaments like an athlete with a pinged hamstring trying to tearfully finish a marathon.
For FaZe, the benefit is clear: they continue to look serious in the space, despite having assembled the most expensive roster in CS history and won absolutely nothing, and can probably make a sizeable chunk of their investment back through merchandising, thanks to their huge fan base. Who knows? Maybe Kovač might actually be the missing piece in this ludicrously-expensive jigsaw.
We often speculated when Kovač would leave Mousesports. It was clear that unless wholesale changes were made to the line-up, the team would never win the biggest prizes on the CS:GO circuit. For all the public posturing about how “we are a team”, two things were clear to anyone who circled in their orbit at tournaments. First, they had very different ideas about the way the team should work and who should do what on the server. They bickered about it frequently. You’d often see them in each other’s company, forlornly drinking at the bar after the latest disappointment, and it would all be good, as long as you never spoke about Counter-Strike.
Second, and most importantly, this WAS Niko’s team in every meaningful sense. The organization, knowing they had struck gold, smartly avoiding selling out cheap, had to do everything they could to keep their most valuable asset happy. He could choose the players, the coach, who gets to stay and, as a result, knew his own position was never under any threat. This will no doubt be hotly contested as false when seen by the right sets of eyes, but that never made the truth any less real.
In the end, the much needed epiphany hit Kovač like a bolt of lightning at this most recent major, more accurate than the rifle Timo "Spiidi" Richter. He knew he had to get out or face another year wallowing in mediocrity. Credit to him for having the self-awareness to realize that living in the valley of the blind as the proverbial king may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Does this make the move, and the subsequent embarrassing treatment of Chris "chrisJ" de Jong show how dysfunctional the team is? In what fantastic world would dropping their second most- effective player actually facilitate improvement? Anyone who has seen the epsiode of the Twilight Zone entitled “It’s A Good Life” will know why that happened and why everyone around the situation pretended it was the right thing to do. Better that than ending up in the cornfield.
For these reasons, I don’t know what to expect from Niko’s arrival to FaZe. On the one hand, he will find a talented motivator and tactician in the form of in-game leader Finn "karrigan" Andersen, who will find what works for his new star player. Truth be told, this isn’t the world-beating player in blistering form. He needs some TLC and, as we can see from a resurgent Aleksi "allu" Jalli, FaZe might just be the best place to get it. However, I worry about Andersen’s tendency to do things by committee, to include his teammates in decisions I firmly believe should be his and his alone. It was a problem with TSM and then Astralis, something that contributed to his downfall, and I wonder about it feeding a star ego that already has a tendency to lean towards diva.
Here’s something crucial to FaZe’s potential future success. Once the red carpet for their new star’s arrival has been put away, he must settle in to become just another component in the machine. He’ll have to learn to keep his histrionics to a minimum in a team of people who are all notoriously composed. FaZe cannot be the Niko show in the way Mousesports was, or they will continue to underachieve. I expect them to hit the ground running, powered by the feel good factor and hype. The real test comes when the things head south, that first upset loss, the first overtime series defeat due to a piece of poor communication. Those are the moments that try even the most stable and passive of teams.