Despite his unreal individual skill, Nikola ‘Niko’ Kovač — widely regarded as one of hte best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players in the world — had never won a premier event. Until yesterday.
In Kiev, Ukraine, the word ‘overtime’ sat at the top of the screen. On the left side: A Danish flag next to the team name Astralis — recent CS:GO Major champions and winners of Esports Championship Series Season 2 and Intel Extreme Masters XI. On the right side: A European flag next to the team name FaZe Clan — runners-up at Intel Extreme Masters XI, the team’s first tournament with its newest player Niko.
In the best-of-three finals of StarSeries Season 3, Astralis and FaZe Clan were tied 1-1 in games with the third map, Inferno, as the decider. The teams pushed each other into overtime, racking up round after round until the score was 17-17.
If Astralis took the next two rounds, they’d further cement their dominance over the pro CS:GO scene, winning their fourth premier tournament in a row. If FaZe Clan took the next two rounds, they’d dethrone Astralis and show the world their ragtag roster of individual stars could contend with the best.
The teams whittled each other down with some small-scale scuffles. A successful fake found FaZe making it to one of the bombsites to plant the bomb. With a 2v1 advantage against Astralis, Niko posted up behind cover and beat the final Astralis player in a duel.
FaZe was up 18-17. Match point.
With an economy advantage, FaZe moved with careful aggression against Astralis’s defense. Astralis quickly found themselves outgunned and outmanned. FaZe planted the bomb and Astralis did their best to push back, but FaZe cleaned them up without much trouble.
FaZe Clan won the game in the 36th round. The team jumped up and down, hugging each other in elated victory. Niko hoisted the trophy as confetti streamed down, celebrating his first-ever premier-level championship victory not only for himself, but for FaZe Clan, too — an organization that entered its first CS:GO tournament in January 2016.
Niko, who had played under the lackluster Mousesports banner from March 2015 to February 2017, used to carry his team on his back with his inhuman knack for hitting headshots with the desert eagle pistol and his ability to stay cool when heavily outnumbered for clutch wins.
His highlight reels are filled with 1v3, 1v4, and 1v5 situations where he manages to come out on top — usually with little more than a pistol and a well-placed grenade.
That individual skill was finally put to the test with a competent team to back it up. Instead of pounding the desk in frustration while wearing a Mousesports jersey, Niko in a FaZe Clan jersey helped break a record — the most pistol rounds won in a row at a single premier tournament.
The highest prize Niko ever won before this weekend was with Mousesports’ third/fourth finish at ELeague Season 1, netting the team $70,000 of the total $1.4 million prize pool. Niko and the rest of the FaZe Clan roster won $125,000 at StarSeries on Sunday.
Niko, the Bosnian player who never had a team equal to his own skill, finally found a team that could keep up and hold a trophy above their heads.