ESL Belo Horizonte finals was another showdown between FaZe and Mouz. It was a surprising affair as neither team had their full lineup. FaZe was still missing Olof ‘olofmeister’ Kajbjer and Mouz was missing Tomas “oskar” Stastny. Despite those limitations, both teams were able to make it to the finals of the tournament and once again put up an incredible show. It was a high octane match as both teams relied upon their fundamental CS and high skill to push each other to the limits. Within the battle of the two teams, two players shined from each side: Chris “chrisj” de Jong and Nikola “NiKo” Kovac. Once former teammates, they were now the centerpieces of their teams in this grand finals.
From 2015-2016, both players were teammates on Mouz. Their iteration of Mouz was nicknamed NiKosports for his incredible ability to carry the team to results that should have been far past their reach. During their time together, they had players like Timo “Spiidi” Richter, Denis “denis” Howell, Christian “loWel” Antoran, Fatih “gob b” Dayik, and Johannes “nex” Maget. The entire team was constantly in flux. Gob b was supposed to be the in-game leader, but he had motivation issues and this eventually forced the team to oust him.
This put NiKo in the unenviable position of both being the in-game leader and being the ascendant superstar player. He was able to manage both, but almost got nothing from the entire rest of his team. Nex was supposed to be the secondary star player given his talent, but it never manifested against tier 1 opposition as he fell under the pressure. Spiidi and denis were poor role players who were liabilities. In the end, the only player that NiKo could rely on was ChrisJ. Even then though, chrisJ was an aggressive AWPer. The type of player that had high highs and low lows, similar to someone like William “draken” Sundin.
In the end, that mouz team was doomed to fail. They tried to fix things by recruiting oskar to join the team to play alongside NiKo, but that quickly went nowhere as oskar benched himself for personal reasons. NiKo was playing on a level too high for this team and was eventually recruited by FaZe.
Soon after NiKo left to join FaZe, a narrative popped up. The idea was that NiKo’s exit had somehow made the entire team far better than it was with him in the lineup. On the most base simplistic level, you could see why it came up as the team would eventually get better results than before. In reality however, the reason Mouz got better was because they had a systematic culling of every player on the roster.
ChrisJ was supposed to be the first cut with oskar joining the lineup. Instead with NiKo leaving and oskar rejoining the team needed a player to fill in. ChrisJ took the spot and then made himself invaluable as the second star to oskar. He could secondary AWP, lead, and rifle to a higher degree than the rest of the other teammates. His partnership with Sergery “lmbt” Bezhanov was what was able to make it happen. Lmbt describes ChrisJ’s transition into in-game leader for the team in this interview,
“Chris had a lot of troubles in the beginning. He had hard times, but the team was helping him a lot at this time. We built a structure where he knew what to do if a, b, c, or d was happening. I was also calling in a lot of online matches and he was learning from it. Now he has his own view which is really good. We are just building gameplans as well as other players in the team bringing their ideas to him during the game and he can basically choose to accept them or not.”
So when Mouz eventually started to ruthlessly cut and upgrade their roster, ChrisJ survived the onslaught. He was just too valuable for the team’s identity as a player and leader at that point. The team got rid of Spiidi, Denis, and loWel. In the end, every Mouz player that had played with NiKo except for ChrisJ had been removed from the roster. In their place, mouz got players such as Robin “ropz” Kool, Miikka “suNny” Kemppi, and Martin “STYKO” Styk to replace them. The moves were great and then team greatly improved in both team play and firepower once the new players replaced the old. At the same time, ChrisJ understood that he needed to enable his new players and became an entry-fragger for the team. It was an incredible transition as he had gone from AWPer to primary entry-fragger and his inconsistent nature was no longer a burden.
Having an inconsistent AWPer can sometimes bite a team back, whereas having an inconsistent entry-fragger is just part and parcel to the job. In ChrisJ’s case, his play greatly impacted the game and in this iteration of Mouz he had far more help. Oskar was the superstar AWPer. Ropz, suNny, and STYKO are all smart players who understand the team play aspect and have better firepower than his former members. With the structure lmbt implemented, ChrisJ grew as both a leader and player and is now a totemic player of the team.
ChrisJ’s rise in Mouz was similar to NiKo’s rise in FaZe. Within three days of joining NiKo had helped boost FaZe from a strong team in the world to one of the championship contenders. He along with Finn “Karrigan” Andersen, Havard “rain” Nygaard, Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey, and Aleksi “allu” Jalli vied for the top spot in the first half of 2017. They were an incredible team that got to multiple finals together. Within that team, it was clear that NiKo was the superstar player of the squad and when it failed to do well at the Krakow Major, the team upgraded again. They created the all-star team as they replaced kioShiMa and allu with Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs and Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer. They looked to be an almost unstoppable juggernaut based on their skill alone, but were never able to create a dominant period as they were challenged and defeated in multiple heartbreak losses. Despite those losses, they were still the best team in the world from the latter end of 2017 to the first few months of 2018.
It was an incredible rise of both players and fitting in a way. Both FaZe and Mouz are on the forefront of a new type of team in CS:GO. Before the rise of FaZe and Mouz, a majority of the best teams were all national squads. Teams filled with players from the same region as team play and cultural understanding were critical elements to making a championship contending team. FaZe and Mouz have upended that idea and have proven that international squads can play at that level as well. While there have been mixes before, there have never been a mix of this many different players from so many different countries before.
FaZe were the first to prove it with NiKo as their superstar player. Mouz quickly followed up once they upgraded almost all of their players and ChrisJ became their leader. In some ways it makes sense. NiKo was a prodigy level talent who tried to elevate his team through his personal individual performance. ChrisJ was someone who tried to enable teammates. When NiKo famously told his team to “Shut up” at ELeague, ChrisJ leapt to his defense. When oskar became the primary AWPer, ChrisJ took up the rifle. When the team needed a leader and entry-fragger, he became both.
Both NiKo and ChrisJ were the only two shining spots of that old Mouz roster and now both have the right team around them. NiKo is the superstar of one of the best teams in the world. ChrisJ is the leader and entry-fragger of one of the other best teams in the world. And at ESL Belo Horizonte, the two former teammates, the two survivors closed in an epic grand finals.
It was a grand finals that wouldn’t have much impact on either team going forward. While it was true that FaZe was fighting to keep their IEM Grand Slam streak alive, beyond that both teams had standins. In the end, what was being fought for here was pride. NiKo fired off on all cylinders putting in an ascendant performance we’ve come to expect from the Bosnian sensation. With that alone it should have been a closed deal, but ChrisJ matched his former teammate both as a leader and player. ChrisJ was Mouz’s best player in that finals as he took on the roles of AWPer, entry-fragger, and leader. He had incredible impact and plays as both the AWPer and entry-fragger. He called sides that exploited the weaknesses of the enemy setups such as on Train where he took advantage of both Finn “karrigan” Andersen on ivy and Jorgen “cromen” Robertsen at B.
It was an incredible match as the plays rocked back and forth between the two teams. It was a display of skill as the two international teams fought each other map after map, round after round. NiKo continued to shock the world and ChrisJ kept firing back. In the end it was a story told time and time again for the old Mouz roster. NiKo had carried, but Mouz had lost. But the story was different this time as NiKo was able to lift the trophy. As for ChrisJ, he had lost the finals, but he had fought his heart out. As NiKo and FaZe lifted that trophy, I reminisced on times long past. Only two years ago, both NiKo and ChrisJ were languishing on an uninspired Mouz team. Now here they were fighting against each other in the grand finals of an international tournament. The two survivors of that Mouz team, now critical players of their respective teams. One a superstar player, the other a leader. Both players from smaller CS:GO regions, NiKo from Bosnia, ChrisJ from the Netherlands. Both have found the spotlight at the top of CS:GO competition and now they fight for some of the largest titles in the world.