The Core Four is done. The Ninjas in Pyjamas, one of CS:GO's most iconic organizations, has featured four, unwavering names on their roster since they went on their record 87-0 run in 2012-13. For as long as NiP fans can remember, the team has consisted of Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg, Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund, Richard "Xizt" Landstrom, and Adam "friberg" Friberg, for better or, as evidenced by the team's recent struggles, for worse. That is no longer the case. The team has removed friberg from active duty, and replaced him with Fredrik "REZ" Sterner, a 19-year-old Scandinavian prospect.
Friberg is still under contract with NiP, and according to HLTV.org, the team will offer him an organizational position if he chooses to retire now at age 25. It's been a roller coaster of a career for friberg. He won a major, ESL One Cologne 2014, and the team was historically dominant with friberg on the roster, from their very first LAN event, DreamHack Valecia 2012, all the the way until the StarSeries V Finals in 2013. Rarely do teams ever experience such prolonged success in Counter-Strike as that era of NiP, and no team has had a longer, more prosperous run since. Was friberg the best player of the Core Four? Certainly not. NiP has always turned to f0rest and GeT_RiGhT for superstar playmaking, but at NiP's peak friberg was arguably the best role player in the world. There are better aimers, players with quicker reaction times, and more talented clutchers than friberg, but few professionals were ever as prepared. Whenever friberg made an impactful play, it was more often than not a testament to knowing where his opponents are, understanding the situation, and executing flawlessly rather than raw mechanical prowess.
But things have gone south for NiP, who have flamed out of seemingly every event this year. They've hit rock bottom, then sunk a few levels lower, and now the organization hopes they'll pop back out on the other side. Friberg received a fair share of blame for never taking his game to the next level. In the eyes of the community, he and the rest of NiP plateaued. GeT_RiGhT's notorious lurks have grown stale, like a basketball great that, in his prime, relied on athleticism to get to his spots. Retirement looms over the 29-year-old f0rest, who is in his 12th year of professional Counter-Strike. Every team needs veteran leadership, but there comes a time in every player's career when they go from being a veteran to just plain old. Could the Core Four have dug themselves out of this rut? Maybe. Continuity is a real asset in esports, and these guys are experienced enough to right the ship when they get rattled. It's not unreasonable to think they could have scrapped back to the middle of the pack. But could this group of players ever contend for a Major again? By swapping out friberg for REZ, the team has answered with a resounding "no."
Who is REZ?
This kid is a monster.
His style is, dare I say it, reminiscent of GeT_RiGhT's. He plays aggressively around smokes, and is capable of holding sites by himself on CT, or destroying retakes on T-side with devastating lurks. He has a promising LAN rating of 1.15, and he was perhaps the biggest reason his previous team, Epsilon Esports, won the Nordic Championship 2016 and the World Cyber Arena 2016 finals.
But he is only 19. Expectations should be tempered, especially considering all the other roster issues NiP has. Will GeT_RiGhT and f0rest return to form? Can Xizt have the impact we saw from him when they won the IEM Oakland finals over SK Gaming? These are all factors that are, more or less, out of REZ's control. We've seen Robin "ropz" Kool, another bright, young prospect, immediately step up for mousesports as their franchise cornerstone. But that team has one of the best AWPers in the world right now in Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný, a solid rifler in Christian "loWel" Antoran, and a dangerous entry-fragger in Denis "denis" Howell. Mouz already had a growing infrastructure for ropz to dive right into. REZ will join a much shakier project, a team of players that many in the community already seem to have written career obituaries for.
NiP hopes to grow REZ the right way, within the construct of a healthy organization, and the team's official statement indicates no intention to rush the process with him.
Hicham Chahine, CEO of NiP had this to say regarding REZ:
”Coming into Ninjas in Pyjamas less than a year ago, my focus has been to lay a plan for the future. What has been achieved at NiP with such a long standing lineup is remarkable, and not the norm in esports from an organizational perspective. As we look forward, we are extremely happy to add our second up and coming player to the roster. We believe Fredrik ”REZ” Sterner will be an excellent fit for the Ninjas in Pyjamas family, and are excited to further develop him to perform at his full capacity."
NiP won't be competing at the PGL Major Krakow. They didn't receive a "Legend Invite," nor will they be at the EU Minor, where teams will battle for three spots at the Major qualifiers. But REZ's signing marks a commitment to the future, to a long-term goal that extends beyond this Major and this year. The team is starting anew, and to do so they had to put to rest their old, iconic guard -- the Core Four. GeT_RiGhT, f0rest, Xizt, and friberg represented an epoch of greatness that will go down in the history books, but before friberg's release that chapter had not yet ended. Now, four years, 10 months, and two days later, the final word has been inked on friberg and the Core Four.
4 years, 10 months and 2 days— Adam Friberg (@fribergCS) June 12, 2017
source header image: DreamHack | Abraham Engelmark