Just a few years ago, Pita thought he had to turn his back on esports forever. (Photo via Petter Nilsson / NiP)
In 2014, Faruk ‘Pita’ Pita made a difficult choice. At 24 years old, he was living with his parents and feeling the pressure to get a so-called “real” job. He’d been in esports since 2009, first playing for fnatic in CS1.6 days, and later playing for SK Gaming and Team Dignitas after moving to CS:GO. He loved gaming, but even with multiple first- and second-place premier and major placements, he couldn’t make a full-time living in esports. So, after three years studying economics, Pita turned his back on the esports world.
“I had to have something that I could make a future out of, or at least live by,” he recalls. For him, that meant a full-time finance job. It wasn’t a happy or sad choice, but there was still a sense of vacancy. A nagging feeling at the back of his mind that told him he wasn’t finished. He hadn’t achieved what he wanted, and he didn’t have closure.
This idea that he needs finality is a repeated theme in our conversation. Especially when, at the time, “I still had it in me. I could still play at the top level,” he pauses for a long, thoughtful moment. “But I thought I had to choose."
When GeT_RiGhT (left) messaged Pita (middle) in 2014, it set him on a path to coaching today. (Photo via Petter Nilsson / NiP)
When Christopher ‘GeT_RiGhT’ Alesund messaged him out of the blue, it was August and Pita was vacationing in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. As fate would have it, Ninjas in Pyjamas needed a coach for ESL One Cologne 2014, and they wanted him. Few teams, if any, had coaches back then. One 2014 HLTV article even argues coaches, now taken for granted, would soon become key for Counter-Strike. In spite of coaches' rarity, Pita saw the opportunity as an unexpected entry back into his beloved world of esports. And, with Pita on board, NiP went on to win ESL Cologne.
Today, CS:GO coaches are ubiquitous, and for good reason: among other skills, a good coach can improve a team’s in-game calling by thinking about upcoming plays and noticing patterns in the other team’s tactics. They can provide half-time feedback on issues the players may not have noticed while their heads were in the game. And they can help players practice more efficiently because the coach can review team replays and highlight areas for improvement. At the time, any and all of these skills could give NiP a leg up on the competition, especially coming from a skilled player like Pita.
Yet, NiP’s coach was soon back in a dilemma. Full-time finance and part-time coaching was spreading him too thin, but full-time coaching couldn't pay the bills. Another crossroads, another decision. He once again chose the bank, leaving his NiP role less than a year after starting. It felt like the right choice at the time—he actually loved his banking job. But it wasn’t very long before he realized the mistake of leaving mid-stride. Torn between two worlds, by the time he realized what he actually wanted, it was too late. NiP had filled his position.
But, as fate would have it, Counter Logic Gaming reached out six months after Pita left NiP. This time, he took the leap: he left finance, and fully committed to esports coaching. Two years later, he’s now back home with Ninjas in Pyjamas. They've reunited the family.
Ever since Pita returned to NiP, the family has been reunited. (Photo via Petter Nilsson / NiP)
A beautiful, simple game
Talk to Pita about his coaching style and he won’t wax on about complex strategies and training regimens. “CS is a very simple game,” he says with wisdom and gravitas belying his youth. “It’s not brain science. It’s not rocket science. When you look at it simple, you will play good, also.”
From his perspective, most teams fall victim to complexity. They give away too much through familiar patterns. The worst teams have transparent tendencies; the best teams are unpredictable. Gameplay elegance and fluency are key. He makes the game sound beautiful in a way most players and coaches don’t. It’s not about memorizing strategies, he emphasizes, but playing the entire field. Comparing CS:GO to soccer, he says, “You never know which direction the ball will go. But if you know how to play every square meter in the field, you will know exactly how you will get the ball into the net.”
Pita’s take on CS is simple: don’t overcomplicate it.
Pita has a similar outlook on prevailing through hardship. Everyone knows that NiP has had a rough few years, from ESL Cologne 2016 to an all-time low at PGL Major Kraków 2017. Since then, they've made tough decisions, including significant roster shakeups. Now that NiP’s former coach is back on board for 2018, he’s brought a pragmatic and forward-looking perspective with him: “Sometimes, even if it's a bumpy road and it goes bad, it's important that you start doing something else, something that makes your mind think that we're on the right path.” And if that doesn’t work, he has a plan B, C, and D. He always knows what his next step will be.
The coach may have an unshakeable positive mindset, but he doesn’t hold any illusions. He knows there are still inevitable difficult times ahead. After all, it’s the nature of the game. There have been incredible runs, like when NiP went 87-0 without dropping any maps. There have been tough times and slumps where it felt like they might never recover. It’s all a question of how well you handle it as a team. “You never have an easy way all the time,” he says. “That's one of the biggest tests that I have.”
The space to make mistakes
Pita encourages his players to make mistakes. He views it as a key part of practice. (Photo via Petter Nilsson / NiP)
Pita’s simple perspective on CS still translates into a nuanced coaching strategy. He admits that even he doesn’t hold the keys to success. Instead, he encourages his players to use trial and error. And, of all things, to make mistakes: “I say to my players if you don't make 20 mistakes a day, you won't achieve anything.”
Of course, it’s rare for NiP’s veteran players to make mistakes these days. “f0rest has already done a million mistakes, if not more,” says Pita, grinning. But giving younger players this leeway is critical. “I'm helping guide them into the right direction,” he emphasizes. “I won't give them the answer. They need to find it themselves because the answer is different from player to player.”
He didn’t always coach like this. When he transferred to CLG, he found out that Americans were far more direct and hierarchical. As a result, he thought that he needed to be more harsh and overbearing. “I was very strict, super strict. And I actually got scared of myself sometimes,” he murmurs. He bore down on players when they made mistakes and insisted on maintaining a clear division between coach and team. But he swiftly realized that this approach wasn’t working for anyone. “It didn't take me that long to realize that CS is simple, and I need to encourage people to make mistakes.” If his team wasn’t willing to mess up, they couldn’t give one hundred percent in their practices. Over time, his approach evolved to what it is today: nurturing and nuanced.
Pita adjusts his coaching for each player because he doesn’t want anyone to feel left out. (Photo via Petter Nilsson / NiP)
Through the entire discussion, it’s evident how much Pita cares about his players. He intuits their needs, sometimes before they do. He even adjusts his coaching style for each player, lest someone get left out.
One of the best examples is this: Among Pita’s first changes during his return to NiP was one that was outside the game. Where players once spent two consecutive weeks together before competitions, now they take a week's break in between. “I know the importance of having privacy,” he says. After all, some players have significant others, and f0rest is now married. “All these small things bring extra energy and happiness into the game, and players who have energy and happiness also perform better," he says.
“That's one of Pita's greatest strengths,” emphasizes f0rest. “Understanding players and their needs.” Having a week at home before traveling again has been beneficial for his relationship, not to mention his mindset. “If you’re together with the team 24/7 for two weeks, you’re gonna end up in some bad situations. It’s a great change that he’s done.”
But, even as Pita approaches his players with empathy and understanding, he's his own harshest critic. He confesses that he feel internal pressure to prove himself. This has its downsides; he compares it to eating McDonalds and never feeling satisfied. But it’s not always a bad thing: “I think the players take after me on that. And that's what makes a good team. We always need to keep on pushing.” The new NiP remains ever-hungry and ever-striving for more.
Like many coaches and players, Pita is his own harshest critic. But he still hopes his motivation inspires his team. (Photo via Petter Nilsson / NiP)
Then and now
The greatest beauty of rejoining NiP after several years is witnessing the team’s evolution. This is especially true for NiP’s most veteran players, f0rest and GeT_RiGht. In 2014, both players were NiP’s biggest stars, and the team built its empire around them. Four years later, f0rest and GeT_RiGhT are still stars. But they’ve taken an intentional step back and given the spotlight to younger players like Rez, Draken, Lekr0, and Dennis. “They are pushing the young talents,” muses Pita. “For me it’s very much a sign of showing this is a team game. We want everyone to succeed."
Pita saw firsthand how f0rest came into his own as a leader in the last few years: “Everything he does, he does it perfectly. There’s no player in the world that can compare to him.” No matter where the coach goes, “he would always be welcome where I am, always.” f0rest was surprisingly shy about this praise: “It’s some great words by him. I don't know what I'm doing right. Obviously, I'm doing something right.”
Left: Inside or outside esports, Pita says he’d work with f0rest anytime, anywhere. (Photo via Petter Nilsson / NiP)
Right: Pita sees firsthand how much GeT_RiGhT has grown as a player and mentor. (Photo via Petter Nilsson / NiP)
As for GeT_RiGht, these days he’s helping other players grow. “He’s looking out for the younger guys,” says Pita. “That also makes him [have] a state of mind where he feels like a big brother, and also that feeling that makes them like a family.” Though the NiP veteran doesn’t see himself as a mentor, Pita sees how GeT_RiGhT takes on far more responsibility today than ever before. Reflecting on the whirlwind last few years, the coach shakes his head in surprise: “It’s crazy how people can develop in such a short time, and also in this game.”
But the same is true for Pita’s journey these past four years. After graduating, he never foresaw himself returning to esports, much less coaching one of the world's most renowned CS:GO teams.
Finding his closure
When he’s on the road, Pita uses his ROG Strix SCAR edition laptop. (Photo via Petter Nilsson / NiP)
These days, Pita still has one unexpected tie to that old life in finance and banking. Of all things, it has to do with a Ninja Turtle. Soon after his return to coaching, Pita approached a high-level executive at his old bank. For the last few years, this executive has been his leadership mentor. "He gave me the advice of having a mascot," Pita recalls. Someone would get named MVP after every game, regardless of the outcome, and get the mascot.
After searching for a compact Ninjas in Pyjamas mascot, Pita settled on a small Ninja Turtle figurine. He first introduced the idea after ESL Pro League: "I gave it to f0rest with a reason why he got it." Then he told the team that the player with the Ninja would gift it to the next MVP. So, f0rest gave the Ninja Turtle to GeT_RiGhT. GeT_RiGhT gave it to Dennis. And from there it went.
The Ninja Turtle perched on f0rest’s monitor is no ornament. It’s an MVP award that was started by Pita, thanks to his mentor from the bank. (Photo via Petter Nilsson / NiP)
"The most important thing is that we give credit to each other," says Pita. It doesn't have to be about a great round or even a winning game. The MVP might have amazing in-game calling, great communication, or a positive mindset in a losing game. "This builds a great chemistry in the team. That's what will give you success," the coach says.
Meanwhile, Pita's still hungry—striving and searching for his closure. But, this time, he won't stop until he finds it. "I know what the closure is in my mind. I will keep it for myself," he says with certainty. Until then, he’s finally found the fulfilling esports journey and career he was so long seeking.
By Kimberly Koenig