"Like signing Cristiano Ronaldo": NIP on landing device and his impact inside and outside of the game
The four-time Major winner will make his much-anticipated debut for the Ninjas later today.
Hampus "hampus" Poser could hardly believe what he was hearing.
Imagine thinking that your team, who have struggled to break into the elite ranks of Counter-Strike, suddenly have the opportunity to sign one of the greatest and most storied players in the history of the franchise. What's more, it is the player himself who is pushing for the move to happen.
"I was really shocked," hampus told HLTV.org. "Signing device is like signing Cristiano Ronaldo. And of course, if you have the possibility to get device on your team... Any team should do it, maybe except NAVI and Vitality because they have s1mple and ZywOo.
"It was such a big shock, even that he wanted to come to NIP. Of course, it was sad to see nawwk go, but as I said: device, Cristiano Ronaldo... Not more to say about this."
The Counter-Strike scene was left just as dumbfounded on April 23, when NIP unveiled device as their new player on a permanent transfer from Astralis. The symbolism of the moment was inescapable: His departure brought an end to the lineup that had set a new standard for excellence, not only in Counter-Strike but in all of esports, and saw him embark on a new journey without the familiar presences of Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen and Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth — his teammates since 2013 — at his side.
device's signing was a major coup for the NIP organisation. The Danish player left a team that was ranked No.2 in the world at the time for one that was No.11 and whose last trophy came in November 2017. Between then and his transfer to NIP, device won 20 titles, including three Major crowns, and 13 MVP medals.
This is not how things are supposed to be: The elite sides are expected to cherry-pick players from teams below them — not the other way around.
device became enamoured with the thought of playing for a team based in Stockholm, where he lives with his girlfriend, but he was also attracted by NIP’s performance culture and the possibility of becoming the cornerstone of the organisation’s project. Over the previous 18 months, NIP had begun to carve a new identity in an attempt to break with the past and bury the ghosts of the legendary 87-0 squad. A new office was built in Stockholm, the organisation’s structure was boosted by key hires, including ex-Olympic rower David McGowan as a performance coach, and a company rebrand was announced with a new logo design and a fresh colour scheme.
All that was needed now was a marquee player to top it off.
"The first thing that comes to mind is that you’re humbled, right?," NIP Chief Operating Officer (COO) Jonas Gundersen said about landing device. "You're humbled by it, by the fact that a player of his caliber is interested in coming to us.
"It's been a long rebuilding process, it feels like, and transforming the whole culture of such an old iconic team is not an easy feat. It shows that all the work that everyone has been doing on a daily basis, from the organisation to the performance staff, has provided a foundation and a home for players of his caliber.
"That's something that just humbles you and makes you proud at the same time. I think it underlines that we are heading in the right direction."
It would have been impossible to imagine a better player than device to fix one of NIP’s biggest weaknesses for years: The AWP role. Tim "nawwk" Jonasson showed flashes of brilliance during his time with the team, but his lack of consistency — as evidenced by his low percentage of maps with above-average ratings (55.9%) — was troubling. He himself admitted that he couldn’t argue with the decision to sign device.
NIP refuse to say whether the rumours suggesting that the organisation splashed out approximately $1 million on device are accurate. "Everything is relative in terms of value," Gundersen said, adding that the organisation benefits from device’s presence not only inside the server but also outside of it as it attracts new fans and increases commercial opportunities. "A signing like device propels us back into relevance immediately because we’re the kind of the club that has a player like him. That means followers will come. It's like, 'What are you guys doing? I want to follow your journey'.
"We expect an increase in the level of ambition. Of course, there are other effects. Hopefully, major wins. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that. And also commercialization, bigger sponsorships, more merchandise sales, all those things. But more than anything, this is a testament to our ambition as a team that wants to win titles because that's in our blood and in our DNA.
"We feel like we have the right players and the right structure behind them. Once you have a player like device, if you don't win tournaments you need to constantly look at why you're not doing it. Because we have all the pieces for it now.
"Pressure is a natural part of being on NIP, but it's also our job to create a culture where players feel supported so that we work towards achieving our goals and dreams together in a healthy manner."
NIP are still in the honeymoon phase as they are yet to play an official match with device. Without surprise, the early impressions on the server are very positive. "I think it’s been going really well," hampus said. "I thought that communication was going to be a bit of a problem at the beginning, but he’s learning quickly and his Swedish is really good. He comes up with so much input on everything. His energy has surprised me a bit as well. I thought he was like this chill dude, but he’s pretty hype." hampus also admitted that he came away impressed with how easy it was for the players to establish a strong relationship with the new member. "I thought that these guys who were the best all had a bit of an attitude, but he’s really down-to-earth and modest."
The arrival of a player with device’s résumé comes with sky-high expectations, which can be a burden for a young squad like NIP's, with an average age of just 21.7 years. Other than the Dane, only Fredrik "REZ" Sterner knows what it’s like to win a big international title.
Do the players feel more pressure than usual, now that they get on the server with device? "I don't think so," said hampus. "When you play, you forget that he's the Major winner. We're joking sometimes now. Our Facebook chat now is called 'NIP + Major winner'. We're just laughing about it. When you're in the moment, you don't really think that he's done all those things. You're only living in the moment and trying to win."
Beyond his skills and experience, device also brings with him stability and strong tactical acumen. He has become sort of a secondary caller, providing input during freeze time and taking over when hampus is out of a round. This helps alleviate the burden on the former Gamerlegion player, who is the team’s permanent in-game leader again after he briefly relinquished calling duties to Erik "ztr" Gustafsson on Overpass and Nuke. "I don’t think my skill will be a problem," hampus said when asked about the impact that being a permanent IGL will have on his numbers. "I think the maps I played the best on were the maps where I was already calling. I think I played pretty poorly individually on Overpass, and ztr was calling on that map. That's also the reason why I switched back on that map, because I feel like I can be stronger as the caller now."
Almost one month on from device’s grand unveiling, Counter-Strike fans will finally get to take a first look at the new NIP lineup this Friday, in Flashpoint 3. hampus believes that at least repeating the semi-final run from ESL Pro League is "a reasonable goal", especially considering the upgrade in the AWP role, even though he warns that the Dane is still adjusting to his new reality and may not be quite himself out of the gate.
"There has been a lot of talk that device can only be good with Astralis or with these four teammates in Astralis," hampus said. "At the beginning, he will have some small pressure, but we all know for sure how good he is.
"I think it will take him one or two games, and then he will just wreck everyone."
It has been a case of "out with the old and in with the new" over in the NIP camp, where there have been changes on multiple levels to put in place the right structure to provide the organisation's teams with the tools to succeed and be the best in their respective games. With the old culture ripped out, a new philosophy installed, and a franchise player who has won almost all there is to win now on the books, the Swedish team can once again be more than just a beloved underdog. Their fans now expect it to earn results and challenge for titles.
"I believe device will help us achieve consistency since he’s so consistent himself," hampus said. "I think it will rub off on everyone else.
"I think some players were lacking some confidence, they were thinking more than just playing. They were thinking, 'If I do this I might die', and things like this. If we get our confidence up, focus on the game and just be in the game, I believe consistency will come.
"Now, it doesn't matter if I die, he will kill three anyway." (laughs)