ESL One Cologne 2016 was the first time that Ninjas in Pyjamas haven't made Top 8 at a Major, and it was the low point of a disappointing summer for them. But they partly made up for it by finishing in Top 8 at the first season of ELEAGUE, and later fully bounced back with a win at StarLadder i-League StrarSeries Season 2 in September. Outside of the game, they recently partnered with sports bookmaker Betway.
Adam "friberg" Friberg is a long-standing rifler for Ninjas in Pyjamas, having been on the roster for over four years. Ahead of their games at EPICENTER: Moscow, friberg spoke with theScore esports about Richard "Xizt" Landström returning to the in-game leader role, Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi's carpal tunnel syndrome and his thoughts on the redesigned Inferno.
Editor's note: This interview was conducted while NiP was bootcamping in Landskrona, Sweden.
You decided not to participate in the Swedish Shuffle along with GODSENT and Fnatic at the end of the summer, and you later told HLTV's Lucas "LucasAM" Aznar Miles that a big part of why you stuck together was because of in-game and out-of-game chemistry. What were some of the other factors?
I think one of the factors why we didn't change the roster was because we kinda knew why we weren't playing well during the summer. We talked about it a lot — why we didn't get the results we wanted. I think we knew we all had the ingredients the team needed to be the best team, and it would have been a gamble to start swapping players. So I think that was the main reason. We know that we can be the best team with this lineup, we just need to do everything correctly to get there, and that's what we did not do during this summer.
There's already been four premier tournaments in the season so far, but you have only attended one of them, SL i-League Season 2, which you won. Would you say the adjustment to go to fewer tournaments has worked out for you guys so far?
We also went into StarLadder with a stand-in, which was a bit sad for pyth [Jacob "pyth" Mourujärvi] not being able to be there, but we've played with Mikail [Mikail "Maikelele" Bill] before.
We knew that was the first tournament we were going to play in after our break, we knew exactly what we had to do, we played a lot online, we went to our boot camp and we went into StarLadder with the correct mindset. Everything was planned, in a way. We had a good game plan going into almost every game. We just kinda went there, did what we had to do and won it.
It just kinda proved what we talked about during the summer was the correct thing. We've been playing pretty well online as well, and I think we're Top 1 or 2 in ESL. We're in a pretty good position right now, we just have to play a bit more now before the three LANs.
Right, which I believe is now EPICENTER, ELEAGUE and ESL Pro League?
Yeah, EPICENTER first in Moscow, then we're going to ESL Pro League in São Paulo, then we're going to ELEAGUE in Atlanta for our group.
That's all with Maikelele — what about pyth, how is he doing?
He's been improving a lot. He sits a bit weird when he plays, which is what may have caused the issue with his arm, so he's going to a specialist in Sweden and he's expecting an answer in the next few days about if he needs surgery for his arm or not. I think the term is carpal tunnel.
That's pretty serious.
Yeah, I think that's what he has, but at least he's feeling a lot better and he's starting to play a bit more. We weren't sure how much he could play, so the safest choice was to play with Mikail, especially for the next three upcoming events.
Well, considering pyth's injury and the injuries of Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer Gustafsson and Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács not too long ago, has that put a chill on the team? Have you guys been stretching more or anything like that?
Yeah, we actually have. We talked about it with our CEO, and we're all gonna learn how to counter the injury. Considering how much we're playing and how much we're sitting in front of the computer, it sucks to get injured, just like in real sports.
You guys were at SL i-League without Björn "THREAT" Pers. You mentioned in the HLTV interview that he was still helping you remotely with preparation. How do you feel about going to future events that support Valve's coach rules for the Major?
I think we adapted pretty well. That was one other thing during the summer, sometime around the Major — we were six guys instead of five in TeamSpeak with THREAT, and I think we lost some balance there. With Xizt going back to in-game leader and having THREAT help us before the game doing more preparation and tactics for us, as well as telling us after the game what we did right or wrong and what we're going to do for the next game, that's helped us a lot.
We still play as efficient a game as when THREAT is with us, but it's a bit more loose because we don't feel super controlled. I think we're finding a balance between being super slow, for example, and being able to play aggressive. StarLadder was the first place we tried it out when THREAT wasn't there, and it worked out great.
Xizt was doing a great job in-game leading. THREAT was helping him before the games with what the other team's weaknesses are and stuff like that, so we came into every game super prepared and ready, and that was one of the main reasons why we won.
Is bringing back Xizt as IGL something you guys would have done, regardless of the coaching rule change from Valve?
Maybe we would have, if the coaching rule wasn't there. That was one other thing we talked about — there's too much static in TeamSpeak when there's six guys talking. I'm not too sure, but the coaching rule did push us over to Xizt being the in-game leader.
What does the Betway sponsorship mean for you?
The Betway sponsorship is a big step for me, as well as for NiP and esports in general I think. They've been a big and serious actor, you could say, in the real sports business for a while; it's a legit place to place bets on games and people love to gamble.
So you believe that they legitimize the whole skin betting thing then? (Editor's note: Betway users gamble with cash, not in-game skins.)
Yeah, one issue with skin gambling for me as a player was, sites were 18+ for gambling, but no one really looked at their passports to know if they were 18. Here on Betway, you actually need to give your details and everything, so we know that people that play on Betway's site are 18+. That was one of the issues we had with skin gambling, people were underage when they gambled. Now that we know that Betway players are 18+, it makes the betting legit.
What has Betway done for you guys so far?
We've spent almost a week here with Betway in Landskrona, where I am right now, for the bootcamp. We went out for dinner with them a lot and discussed what we're going to do in the future.
They're not like other sponsors, if I may say so. They are pretty relaxed and chill and just want to do fun stuff with us, funny content. They also want to bring us over to watch West Ham in Premier League football. We're doing a lot of giveaways as well, stuff like that.
You mention West Ham United F.C., and in a large way this sponsorship is one of many coming from traditional sports. Echo Fox and three-time NBA champion Rick Fox, NRG eSports are backed by Shaq and A-Rod, then recently the Philedelphia 76ers bought Team Dignitas. How do you feel about that line between sports and esports blurring?
I'm super happy. If you look back 10 years ago, especially here in Sweden, everyone that I knew played sports like hockey and other real sports. Especially in my neighborhood, there wasn't a lot of gaming. But now 10 years later, there's a lot of gaming — they're playing CS, League, Dota or whatever. Gaming is part of the new generation, there's so many young people viewing and playing games.
Companies are always asking themselves, 'How do we get to those 15 to 25 year-olds?' I think the answer today is gaming and esports. So it's a smart business move for investors, and I'm super happy that esports is going in the right way with these big investors and sponsorships coming into the scene. I think it's going to help everything get more serious and professional.
I'm hoping for esports to be like a real sport in the future. I think this is a step in the right direction.
If there was one sports franchise that you or NiP would dream of being associated with, or owned by, which one would it be?
Umm, I don't know. I mean, I'm kind of a big hockey fan, so I would either go with the New York Rangers or the Detroit Red Wings.
How were you chosen as the WESA player council representative for NiP?
I don't really know, to be honest. I think GeT_RiGhT [Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund] is doing a lot of other stuff, Xizt is doing scheduling and stuff like that, so since the other players are doing other things, I'll do the Player Council. The whole team is included though, I'm just kind of the middle person who gives information to the whole team.
I'm asking for feedback from my team, asking what we thought was good or bad, and then I write it down. So it's not only me, the whole team is involved.
How do you feel about being on the Player Council? Is it stressful, or do you think it's even important?
I mean, yeah, it's a good thing to be a part of, to be able to give organizers a point of view from the players. We'd like to be pretty comfortable — we need to have a decent hotel, having a shuttle service if the hotel is too far, in an unknown city, in an unknown country, and stuff like that. I think there's a lot of important stuff that we bring up to help CS:GO and esports in general grow. It's a good thing to be a part of.
Is there a schedule that you guys have? How often do you meet as a Player Council?
We tend to talk after every event that we go to, and if there's something we liked, we try to get it for future events. For example, at StarLadder we had a practice area that was open 24/7 for the players. It's a great thing, because we can sit and practice during our downtime, before and after our games. Stuff like that we bring up.
We try to meet at least one or two times a month, but people always write in the chat group for feedback and requesting things to the organizers.
With the new Inferno coming out, I had to ask you, the "King of Banana," what your thoughts are. I saw on Twitter you had a pretty positive reaction to it. What were some of your favorite changes?
I think the best thing about the new Inferno is it's more open, there isn't a lot of small stuff in the way. For example, on Banana the pillars are gone, it's a lot wider than before. The opening to the B-site is more open as well.
It's very clean, and even the colors of the map are nice. The layout and everything look great. I mean, there are a few changes that need to be done, but we're talking with the guy who's making the map, giving him feedback, and he's already updated the map.
I think the new Inferno will be a great map.
What were some of those changes that he made?
The one thing that we didn't like was there were very few hiding spots at a lot of positions that previously you could usually hold. When we were going through the map, we thought that it'd be pretty hard to play as CT, considering how many of those hiding spots are gone now.
We haven't really tried it out in practice yet, so it's going to be interesting to try out, but I think there's maybe some things that need to return. For example Graveyard, things like that. But we haven't really played it yet, so we can't be too sure on what to say.
Which map do you think the new Inferno will replace in Active Duty?
I think it might actually replace Dust 2 or Cobble. I'm not too sure on which it will be, but I think Dust 2 will need a bit of a refreshment, textures and stuff like that. Cobblestone might need a rework as well, I'm not the biggest fan of Cobble. I'm not too sure, I think it's either Cobble or Dust 2.
Has Dust 2 ever been out of the competitive map pool?
No, I don't think so. I think since Dust 2 was made like, over 10 years ago, it's always been there. Dust 2 is one of those maps that's been played for so long that you can always come up with new things on it. The layout of Dust 2 is great, I love Dust 2, but I think the textures and everything are a bit boring. If you consider the new Inferno, the textures and everything are super nice — I think Dust 2 could use some refreshing as well.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Dennis "Tarmanydyn" Gonzales is a news editor for theScore esports who enjoys whiskey, D&D and first-picking
Abaddon Slardar Clinkz Medusa Oracle a P90 my Souvenir Negev. You can follow him on Twitter.