If HLTV is to be believed, this is the strongest iteration of Ninjas in Pyjamas since the beginning of 2018, and their successful qualification to the playoffs at StarSeries 7 should further enhance their status in the rankings. It’s certainly true that they’ve finally managed to return to the majors, reaching the top eight at the second time of asking. Still, questions remain about the roster. Just how sustainable is this uptick in performance, especially considering the draken-dennis situation? If the players themselves are to be believed, the foundations may not be as strong as they’d like.
Both star-studded Swedish CS:GO rosters are spending the first half of 2019 in a weird sort of flux, their potential and performances quite difficult to nail down with any sort of certainty. Just how good are these sides? Results-wise, NiP seem to be edging it out this year, even if they’ve lost a close series against JW and co. at Shanghai. In terms of potential, HLTV’s recent interview with Lekr0 gave us quite a few gems to analyze. He's gone on record saying "we're not even sure what maps are good for us", "we're just trying to gamble a lot right now", we kind of don't even know how our rotations go [with draken]" – not exactly glowing endorsements of the long-term prospects of this setup.
There’s a positive and a negative reading of the interview. On the one hand, Lekr0’s quotes indicate that the squad’s still quite far from its ceiling – and the revitalization of GeT_RiGht and f0rest certainly makes this one of the better iterations of the team in a long time. However, it could also mean that the foundations are all over the place and it’s the strong individual performances that are propping up the underlying structure. With the stand-in situation in mind, the latter explanation seems closer to the truth to me. If they found a setup that can get the most out of their veteran players, fair play to them – it’s just that none of what their IGL said seems to suggest anything of the sort.
Realistically, it feels like the “best of the rest” status could very well be the highest this NiP roster can aim for, even with their permanent lineup: they’ve not shown anything of note against the Astralis-Liquid-Na’Vi trifecta in ages and their improved showings against MiBR and FaZe came just around the time those teams experienced a massive downturn in form. Their one game against ENCE was a comprehensive 16-7 defeat at Sao Paulo. That said, NiP do have their fair share of impressive wins over mid-tier sides in 2019, taking down NRG, North and Vitality, but the rest of their wins at the major and at StarSeries were over low-rated teams like Vega Squadron, Furia, ViCi (twice) and Hellraisers.
For the Ninjas, even this sort of consistency is commendable – gimmies like these certainly couldn’t be taken for granted last year – but f0rest and GeT_RiGhT would have to roll the years back even further to push this squad into the top five on a permanent basis. Barring that, they can still hope every LAN gets moved to Oakland.