The NiP PUBG team fistbumps before a match. (Photo via Petter Nilssen / NiP)
If you follow esports at all, chances are you’ve heard of Ninjas in Pyjamas. You know their legendary CS:GO team or players like GeT_RiGhT, f0rest, and HeatoN. Maybe you even follow their other teams: League of Legends, Paladins, and, most recently, Rainbow Six. But, until now, details about their new PUBG team have been more or less under wraps.
In October 2017, NiP announced their foray into the insanely popular battle royale genre, and by July 2018 they had added Fortnite to their lineup, too. On the PUBG side, they brought in Drew ‘Sweaterr’ Jacob Miser, Stian ‘Borg’ Stakset, Karl ‘Ekkz’ Johan Kallevik, and Adam ‘Crunch’ Escobedo (who was recently replaced by newcomer Oliver ‘Ollywood’ Tell, after switching to Fortnite with another organization).
Since then, the team has been working hard on weekly online qualifiers. But, beyond being one Norwegian (Borg), one American (Sweaterr), and two Swedes (Ekkz and Ollywood) living and practicing daily in NiP’s top-notch Landskrona, Sweden, headquarters, there are plenty of interesting things going on with this up-and-coming team.
An unexpected trajectory
Stian ‘Borg’ Stakset is playing PUBG thanks to his friend Ekkz. (Photo via Petter Nilssen / NiP)
While there’s no such thing as a traditional esports trajectory, almost every one of NiP’s new PUBG team has had an unusual path. Take Borg, for example. He'd never be playing PUBG if it wasn't for his friend, Ekkz. It was all CS and WoW for them before. But it was Ekkz who saw PUBG streamers on Twitch and got curious. He twisted Borg's arm into logging in. One game became two, two became ten. “We started playing it, and we started noticing that we got close to top ten on the leaderboards without even trying,” says Borg. They resolved to grab the leaderboards next season, and that’s exactly what they did. In fact, they clinched North American spots one and two.
To hear Borg tell it, the path was straight and narrow: from Ekkz pressuring him into PUBG, to grinding out thousands of hours in a few months, placing second at Gamescom, and, finally, working for NiP. But talk to Ekkz and it quickly becomes obvious that there's more to the story: “One random Twitch viewer suddenly changed our entire lives," he mentions off-hand.
Wait. Back that up.
It all began with another Swedish streamer who always mentioned Borg and Ekkz on his stream. (Naturally: they were always dominating the leaderboards.) An esports talent scout named Simon caught wind and knew he had to find these two PUBG players. He contacted them during one of their "try hard" streams, as Ekkz puts it. Whatever he said worked; both players stopped their streams right then and there to talk.
At first, they were definitely skeptical. “Like, Twitch chat isn’t something you usually trust,” laughs Ekkz. “But within maybe four hours, he had already connected us to one org, directly in conversations with the CEO.” And by the time Gamescom rolled around, Borg was subbing in for Cloud9. Simon told Ekkz to fly out, too. After meeting in person, Simon secured multiple offers and even helped them review contract terms and legalities. “He went from a random stranger to being someone I would consider a very dear brother,” says Ekkz. Most importantly, he’s the reason they’re with NiP today.
Karl ‘Ekkz’ Johan Kallevik says an unexpected Twitch message completely changed the course of events for him and Borg. (Photo via Petter Nilssen / NiP)
Ollywood’s path wasn’t exactly typical, either. He was working full time in IT while trying to go pro in PUBG. He also started playing PUBG long before it was ever called PUBG, back when it was an ARMA 3 mod. So, when his friend Marius ‘aimPR’ Ionita switched over, Ollywood got a beta key and joined him.
Immediately, Ollywood knew something was different with this new game. “The transition from ARMA 3 Battle Royale to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was really smooth,” he recalls. Better yet, he was owning. He won his very first game, an immediate confidence booster. He'd long aspired to go pro in other games, including Overwatch. But he now knew that this was finally it: “If the game was going to have an esports scene, I knew I was going to be part of it in one way or another.”
From May to June of that year, he invested hundreds of hours into nightly practice, working his days in IT on scant hours of sleep. When DreamHack announced a BYOC PUBG duo tourny that June, he knew he was ready. Sure enough, he and aimPR bagged day one. Ollywood also secured top fragger on both days one and two. This paved his path from IT, to Team Liquid, to NiP.
Breaking new ground with NiP
NiP's PUBG players feel more than a little starstruck being part of the organization now. They all grew up watching NiP play CS1.5, 1.6, and CS:GO. As Ollywood puts it, “Being Swedish and growing up with CS [...] It still feels a bit unreal,” he pauses. “I can't really grasp that I'm actually part of NiP now.”
But notoriety definitely isn't why they chose to join. From the very beginning, it was clear that there was something special about NiP. Ekkz and Borg talked to the org as a duo and immediately noticed a key difference in their meetings with NiP’s CEO, Hicham Chahine. “From the very first minute, he basically sold us,” says Ekkz. NiP went above and beyond other orgs when Chahine “genuinely showed interest in us as people and not just as players.” Within minutes, Ekkz and Borg knew it was the right choice.
Drew ‘Sweaterr’ Jacob Miser moved from California, USA, to Landskrona, Sweden. The biggest adjustment? Sweden’s strange taste for ham-and-cheese sandwiches dipped in chocolate milk. (Photo via Petter Nilssen / NiP)
Their decision has been validated many times since. After an IEM Oakland loss, the team went out for Korean barbecue and a pep talk from CEO Hicham Chahine and COO Johan Waltare. The staff made sure the team understood some key things. Most importantly: “[That] it’ll come over time [and] we’re in this for the long run," recalls Ekkz. Every day reaffirms his choice to join NiP. Their supportive environment is "something you really can’t say thank you for in one lifetime.”
Sweaterr also notes crucial differences between NiP and other organizations. Others often put undue pressure on their players after poor performance, but he says NiP gives their players nothing but "good vibes." Sweaterr adds: "NiP holds onto their rosters and puts faith in [them] for long periods of time." There's a lot of comfort in this, because "when your org believes in you and trusts in you [...] that's an amazing thing.” For this reason, he’d gladly bet that NiP is the best organization he'll ever play for. And Ollywood adds: “NiP just feels like family [...] it just feels like home."
New territory, new challenges
As an esport title, PUBG comes with many issues other games simply don’t face. (Photo via Petter Nilssen / NiP)
This love and support is extra meaningful to this crew. Any group of pro players has a tough lifestyle, but NiP’s players say that PUBG
has been extra demanding lately. Game publisher Bluehole has been on the receiving end of community criticism about game-breaking bugs and performance issues persisting past early access. Other pros say that the publisher isn’t making esports a priority. However, the developer recently made moves acknowledging these issues in a lengthy May 2018 community letter
. Since then, Bluehole also announced and launched a new “FIX PUBG” campaign in August, which included a same-day patch addressing some common issues and a special site detailing their fix roadmap through October.
This is welcome news to esports organizations like NiP. Their PUBG
team has encountered these problems firsthand. Borg says that bugs and performance issues have been a struggle from the very beginning. He points to IEM Oakland as an example of the challenges the team face when the game doesn’t function as expected. Ekkz says when they played on an offline LAN client, it had FPS issues compared to the standard online client. In other words, the lag wasn’t caused by connectivity, but game optimization. When Bluehole asked for post-event feedback, the NiP team sent a detailed email, but haven’t yet received a direct response. In many cases, the same goes for other teams who provide feedback in the dedicated Bluehole developer chat room. However, the players still have hope that these improvements will be made in time.
NiP is just one of many pro orgs directly providing feedback to Bluehole, the PUBG developer, about game performance and other issues. (Photo via Petter Nilssen / NiP)
Hopefully, the Bluehole community letter and bug fixing initiative marks a turnaround for publisher-community relations. But in the near term, it’s a situation that can create frustration and tension in the PUBG pro scene, especially when changes don’t come as quickly as players would like. Like many players, Ekkz says he dislikes the uncertainty that’s hanging over teams, especially not knowing how their esport may grow or evolve with time.
There are also direct effects on players' daily routines, too. Sweaterr says frequent combat mechanic bugs can impact how others play, including discouraging regular serious practice and gameplay. This makes pulling together good scrims a real challenge. Unlike LoL, where pro teams can at least scrim against their Academy teams, the majority of PUBG practice takes place in weekly pro leagues and qualifiers. But scrim practice is next to impossible when “people might not be playing how they normally would," as Sweaterr explains. It’s a temporary challenge, but it adds to the stress for players still finding their groove in the pro circuit.
Making a good cake
The NiP PUBG team has great synergy and it’s only getting better with time. (Photo via Petter Nilssen / NiP)
But, regardless of PUBG’s future development direction, NiP’s PUBG team and their COO Johan Waltare have full confidence in their game’s pro scene. They’re not just passionate about PUBG; they can’t imagine playing another game. There are also plenty of factors still within their control. After all, the team sees how much they’ve evolved in a few short months. When he sees old recordings, Borg realizes he’s a totally different player now. Less cautious and far more bold, he gets into the right fights more often.
And Ekkz thinks it’s very clear how much his teammates have changed. He says that, these days, Borg focuses more on ARs, while the entire team is emphasizing DMRs after a recent patch. Ekkz sees Sweaterr getting outside his own head and being less cerebral, "dumb[ing] himself down a little bit, ‘cause if he’s not overthinking, then he’ll just take the fights you need to take,” he says with pride. And Ollywood has taken on more of a leadership role. There are plenty of other growth opportunities, too. With time, the team hopes to add a strategic coach and incorporate mental coaching, too, just like the CS:GO team.
As the team continues practicing and competing in qualifiers, Waltare loves seeing their synergy evolve. They're well-rounded individuals and work great together as a team. The COO says: “They are like a big cake with all the ingredients in it, and they make a good cake.” It’s a funny analogy, but it works, and he believes they have great complementary skills outside the game, too. Ollywood takes care of the shared gaming house's kitchen. Ekkz is like “a big teddy bear,” who wants the team to be happy and motivated. Sweaterr keeps everyone laughing with his great sense of humor and good mood. And, as for Borg? “He’s the sleepy one. He can sleep for hours,” Waltare laughs. “He helps them out by sleeping.”
The PUBG team has their work cut out for them as they grind through more qualifiers, but thanks to NIP’s unwavering support, they’re more than up for the challenge.
The PUBG players sign their names at a fan event. (Photo via Petter Nilssen / NiP)
By Kimberly Koenig