NiKo: "Bringing an AWPer in next year will help us take the next step"
G2 is looking to end the year strong at BLAST Premier World Final with nexa back in the starting five.
A candid Nikola "NiKo" Kovač sat down to chat ahead of G2's opening BLAST Premier World Final match-up against Ninjas in Pyjamas at 13:30 on Wednesday, when the international squad will be kicking off their tournament run in Denmark against Hampus "hampus" Poser and company.
The Bosnian star chatted openly about a roster change on the horizon, adding fuel to the speculation around 16-year-old rising star Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov joining the Berlin-based organization in 2022, although he was categorical in stating that the team is still united ahead of the final event of the year to try and make a final push to lift a trophy in 2021.
The Ninjas in Pyjamas match-up is one NiKo is particularly looking forward to, as some trash-talk between the two teams dating back to IEM Winter and a tough defeat to the Swedes has elevated the stakes for their opening series at the BLAST studio in Copenhagen.
Other topics discussed in the interview range from the team's performance in 2021 to what to expect in 2022, with the additions of a coach as well as an AWPer and the urgency of raising a trophy for an organization that has been without a Big Event victory in Counter-Strike since 2017 taking center stage.
You played the IEM Winter semi-finals against NIP, both teams fielding a stand-in, and you were ahead in the decider map. They made a comeback and it looked like there was some frustration in G2. What was going through your mind at the time?
Yeah, we made the semis even though it wasn't our goal from the start. We were just taking it a game at a time and didn't really know what to expect once kennyS came back. He took the AWP role so AmaNEk took nexa's roles. AmaNEk called in some maps, I called some maps, huNter- called some maps, so it was very weird, but I kind of knew that we were going to do OK because we have a really good mentality and I think we have a good structure in the team now. We're very stable, especially on LAN, and I think it's the reason we made it that far even playing with a stand-in.
Regarding the NIP match-up, if you look at the result and the leads we had I think we should have won that match 2-0, and even on the last map... we re-watched the game and we have no idea how we lost that map. We were leading 13-8 and we had like almost five gun rounds in a row on the CT side that we lost. It's really unacceptable to lose that way and even the rounds we lost, we had the advantage many times and we just threw them away.
It was a very frustrating loss. I didn't feel that disappointed about a loss in a very long time because it was very easy to take the win. We were very close and we were leading by a lot and just gave it away. In the end we're proud of the result with kennyS, still, and hopefully we'll do good at this event, as well.
You're opening against NIP, so a good moment to get revenge?
For sure! I really want to beat them because I said some things before the game in an interview with Fragbite and karma hit me. But now I really want to beat them because of that. [laughs] REZ tweeted about it, it's some banter, nothing too serious, but still, I really want to beat them now.
You have nexa back now, are his visa issues solved long-term?
It's all figured out, he had some issues because he went to live in another country and had some issues with that. I can't go too much into the details because I even don't know everything myself, but there will be no more issues with it and nexa will be there for every event from now on. He could have come for the IEM Winter playoffs, but we didn't want to mess with kennyS or risk anything. We just wanted to make sure that he arrives here safe. So yeah, he'll be here from now on and he's with us now.
Now that you have your starting five here at BLAST what are the expectations. Are you looking to go all the way? Maybe try and go after NAVI, even?
We have to win a tournament at some point, it's our goal. We have no idea what kind of CS we'll display, we haven't played with nexa for over 20 days and maybe he's a bit out of shape as an IGL, so it could be difficult. As I said, I don't know how we'll show up. I'm happy we're not facing NAVI very early, for me they're still the only team we can't beat. All of the other teams, on a good day or even on some bad days, we can beat.
It'll all be up to us, if we play like we did at the Major we won't have too many issues in the bracket and we're definitely aiming for the title. We'll take it a game at a time and if we face NAVI again in the final... they can't win every final against us.
There has been a lot of roster talk surrounding G2 at the moment. Has that been a distraction for you guys at all?
No, no distraction at all, at least for me personally. I don't think the team feels that way either, we're just here to give our best and have the best possible ending this year. We already showed our will at IEM Winter. We just want to win the event, we know that we can do it and we're close to doing it, so we're still giving everything that we have to win a trophy.
Vitality's roster won't stay together and a lot of people say it's helping them play calm and a little bit looser. Is something similar happening with G2?
Even though there will be some changes we're still a team, we're not a dead team, and we're going to be a team until a roster change happens. We're the same team that was at the Major, nothing has changed for us, and we're just here to enjoy playing together and trying to win some more games.
Swani is standing behind you guys now. Is he taking some of the coaching duties?
Swani has been our analyst ever since huNter- and nexa joined if I'm not mistaken, so he's been there for a long time and he knows everything we're doing. He's been there in every practice, he follows all of our games, so he knows everything. He's not trying to improve us individually or create some new strats or set-ups, he's just there to help us in whatever we need — preparing for opponents, if we're missing some pistols or anti-forces, whatever we need he'll do for us.
He's not taking the coaching duties. He's organizing practices and booking opponents, but when it comes to the game he's not saying 'you have to do that, listen to me' or any of those things. He's just helping us out in whatever way we need help.
Regarding coaches, do you have anything figured out?
It's getting sorted out, I can't talk about it but I think it's about to get sorted out and we should have the lineup ready. Everything should be announced by the end of the year, I would say.
We're going into the last event of 2021. Looking back at the year, what has the balance been like?
I think we've done an OK job throughout the year, ever since we brought JaCkz back in for kennyS we made playoffs most of the time and at some point just finals and semi-finals. You obviously always want to win a trophy, but we were still a very strong team. It was a very good sign for us to see how well we perform on LAN rather than online, but the start of this second season, after summer, that really hit us hard because we had three months in which we just won like two or three games. That period was very tough.
Going into the Major the mindset maybe wasn't the best, but we trusted each other and making the Major final was the most important result to happen for us this whole year. Even if we lost the final, we're still very proud of the achievement. I don't think many people expected us to make it to the final or even put up a good fight against NAVI, so we're happy about that result.
When it comes to achievements we may be there right behind Gambit. Like NAVI, Gambit and us. When you look at consistency I feel like we're up there. Maybe I'm wrong, I have no idea, but I feel like at least on LAN we were always up there fighting for semi-finals and finals. So it hasn't been a bad year, but it hasn't been an amazing one, either.
Taking a peek into 2022, what are your hopes for the team in the new year?
As everyone knows, us — me, Carlos ["ocelote" Rodríguez], G2 — we want to be the best and we will do everything in our hands to start winning trophies and become the best. We're really, really working towards it and we'll do anything we can to make it happen. Winning a trophy is definitely our next thing. It's already our main focus, it's kind of mandatory for us. G2 hasn't won a tier 1 trophy in years and Carlos doesn't want to wait any longer.
We need to start lifting trophies. That's the most important thing as an organization, you need to lift trophies, it's why they're paying a lot of money and pushing you, to do those kinds of things. That's the goal, for sure, it's very simple.
You've been without a dedicated AWPer for some time now, are you looking forward to having that in the team?
Yeah, it's the most important role in the team if you look at how some of the other AWPers are performing. They're the ones that have the most impact, I would say, so having a strong AWPer is what we miss. I don't want to blame AmaNEk or anything, he just took the role because he had to, but when we play against good AWPers we struggle a little bit because they have more experience and you need someone to shut those AWPers down.
Bringing an AWPer in next year will help us take the next step. If we have an AWPer doing a really good job and putting up good numbers together with the numbers that me and huNter- are also putting up I think we're going to be a very strong and consistent team. I'm definitely looking forward to it and I think we're about to see the best face of G2.