Pita Talks to DeKay In-Depth About NiP Roster Moves, Management Dysfunction (Part 1)

Image courtesy of StarLadder
Image courtesy of StarLadder

Following the recent announcement by Ninjas in Pyjamas that they were replacing Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson with Hampus “hampus” Poser, former coach Faruk "pita" Pita had a couple things to say about the decision on Twitter. In his tweets, he expressed that the decision made him upset and was a result of mismanagement extending as far back as 2017. Pita expressed an interest in sharing his story and agreed to sit down with DBLTAP's Jarek "DeKay" Lewis to answer questions about his second tenure with the organization as head coach.

Below is Part 1 of the interview, and Part 2 will be released Friday

Jarek "DeKay" Lewis: Tell me about the first two weeks after you re-joined NiP. You join in February of 2018 and dennis replaces xizt almost right away. What led up to that?

Faruk "pita" Pita: Somewhere in the beginning of January I got a phone call from HeatoN, who at that time was still active in the NiP management. He asked me if I was interested in coaching NiP again, which I was. A couple of days after that phone call I met up with the CEO of NiP at their office. We sat down and talked about the job, their expectations and so on. During the talk he brought up Dennis as a topic, asking me what I thought of him as a player. I remember I said that he is a great player, no doubt, but instead of who? The answer I got was not instead of anyone but the general opinion I had of him.

A week or two after that we travel to Los Angeles to participate in the summit. I was told that I didn’t have to go to that tournament with the team, but I said I wanted to so I could get to know the new players better and also see how the roles in the team looked like. My role at that event was not to coach but the observe more or less.

The event didn’t go that good and when we were heading home. At the airport LAX I got a phone call. I remember I was in the airport lounge with the rest of the team. I went away to talk in private. During that call I was informed that the management had taken a “executive decision” to remove Xizt and add Dennis. I told them, who will be in game leader then? And they said “Dennis will, He said he wants to and we believe he can be an in game leader.”

I was not happy with that. Everyone can say I can be an in-game leader. But when things go south, that’s when you usually see who is the real leader and who’s not. A reason why I also got mad about that decision is because I have experienced myself wanting to remove an in-game leader (back in MYM 2009), and adding “in game leader” with more firepower, and in the end it turns out in to shit. I have seen many other teams doing that mistake, you know what teams I’m talking about.

So I tried for over 40 minutes to convince them not to do it. Asking them to trust my experience. I asked them to let me at least try with Xizt for a couple of months. But the answer was no. They thought that the team had slacked in practice and lost motivation, and even that the previous coach in NiP also thought that was a good idea, which didn’t make any sense to me because I hadn’t had the chance to work with the team fully yet so his opinion didn’t matter to me. All in all I had to accept their decision in the end.

The worst part of my conversation with them was when during the call, xizt came up to me and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I will never forget that because I was on the phone talking with people who wanted him gone, while he was politely asking me if I wanted anything to drink. Somehow that struck me in the gut, like taking behind someone’s back.

I really just wanted to let xizt know as soon as we hung up, but I was informed that I couldn’t say anything until we came home to Sweden. And I was also asked to participate in the conversation with xizt when they wanted to inform him that he was removed. That felt bizarre but I didn’t say anything, I just did as they asked.

JL: Did that experience so early after re-joining worry you? I'm assuming you were locked into a contract, but how did that experience change your perspective moving forward?

FP: Both yes and no. I really wanted to coach NiP so I assume I didn’t act with much character. I could’ve said no when I was informed about the xizt decision and say I don’t want to take part in this, but I didn’t. So in some way I guess there’s blame to put on me as well. But it was my dream to come back to NiP so I acted in a selfish way where I would be quiet in order to do what I wanted to do.

The experience with the management grew better after that start. The players in the team were not happy with the removal of xizt. I remember right after Dennis was signed we had a boot camp in Stockholm. Two of the players were so pissed that I had to talk to them in private. I remember I said I understood their frustration but we had to leave that behind and do the best we could. And that we couldn’t let the frustration we had toward the management spill over on Dennis.

But I was always ready that the management could come in and do changes without any notice in advance. Since I was promised during my first conversation with the CEO before I signed that I would be deciding who’s on the roster. And two weeks after that they removed xizt even though they promised me something else. So I understood that I couldn’t be 100% sure I could trust their words fully.

JL: After adding Dennis, results didn't really improve and you guys had a last place finish at the Season 7 ESL Pro League Finals. Is this what caused Draken to get replaced or were there other things going on as well?

FP: Draken's removal had little to do with the way he was performing or the way we were performing as a team. In my opinion he was a great player with a lot of talent. Maybe the only issue he had as a player was that he played different in practice as opposed to official games. Those things caused problems in our team during official games since his teammate learned to play alongside him in one way in practice, but then when we played official he played differently. Now that could be my fault also that I didn’t make him better in those regards.

But the main reason why he was removed was due to repeated unprofessional decisions, such as being late to practice several times and sometimes not paying attention to what we were doing in practice games or preparations for official matches.

Back then we had a mental coach, who in my opinion was a great asset to the team (he works for fnatic today). We both agreed after a period of time while trying to make him more professional that it wouldn’t be possible to get him to the same level as his teammates. I remember I gave him several warnings and it resulted in him behaving better shortly afterwards, but eventually would fall back to his old habits. This led up to no other solution than to let him go, for the sake of the other players in the team. No one wanted to be on time just to realize they had to wait another 5-10 min for him every other day.

I still feel bad for him since he had a lot of potential but someway he managed to screw his career on his own. He acted as if he was a rock star. Great guy to have around in real life, but in game he was a nightmare at times. I don’t know the case what happened with him in fnatic, so I can only speak of what happened with him in NiP.

JL: Was it your decision to bring in lekr0 to replace draken or was that another decision by management? How were you feeling at this time about the team?

FP: The decision of bringing in lekro had little to do with the management. When we let draken go we talked about signing another AWPer in twist. I spoke to twist and he was interested in coming to NiP.

At this time the meta started to shift and we saw Liquid without a dedicated AWPer starting to dominate, as well as Astralis, where their AWPer also did a great job with rifles (as opposed to AWPers back in the days where they only could play AWP). So after talking to Dennis we decided to go with lekro since Dennis had previous experience with him from Godsent or fnatic, I believe.

I was still a bit concerned since I started to see the gap that was left after Xizt as in-game leader. Dennis started to slowly move away from that responsibility and it wouldn’t take long after he said that he didn’t want to be an in game leader anymore

JL: How was that extended period of time between lekr0 joining and dennis leaving in March of 2019? You guys had some better performances and made the Quarterfinals at the IEM Katowice Major prior to him stepping down.

FP: A lot of things happened in that time. First we had a tournament where Dennis had gave up on calling against Optic last map. I remember I took four timeouts in a row just to call. When that happened I just knew that removing xizt was the wrong thing to do. Not saying that Dennis was a bad signing, but he was the wrong signing instead of xizt.

After ESL Cologne, Dennis said after that he didn’t want to be an in-game leader anymore. And it was at this point I was so frustrated about the removal of xizt. Not only did we lose an I game leader, but we also didn’t have any options back then.

It felt like it was a dead end, but lekro stepped forward and said that he was ready to put his own success aside and be an in game leader instead. I thought that was very big of him to do, because he was never signed on the basis of being an in game leader, but he took that hit in order to “save” the team, and that’s something that cost him his spot in NiP today I believe. If he would’ve been more selfish, he would still have been that star player he was when we got him, and no one would ever consider removing him. Because not only is he a great player, but also a great teammate. It’s enough to see one interview with him and you instantly realize what kind of person he is.

After lekro started to call we went to the FACEIT major and we did OK, getting back into the circuit and also playing good games. At this time I was happy about our performance and it felt good going forward. We did some OK results, made it to some finals but never won anything.

The major in Katowice we managed to get to top8 and that was our goal for that event since NiP hadn’t been a legend team for two years. But after that event that’s when things started to happen again.

During those 8-9 months we had some issues in the team. One of the problems was that Dennis was different to the other four players in the team when it came to mentality. I always used to tell him that he had a mentality of someone coming from the Balkans (spoke his mind and wasn’t afraid to become mad). I didn’t have problem with his way of expressing himself, but when the other guys were more relaxed in expressing themselves, I had to make him the same as them, in order for them to work together good, otherwise this team couldn’t function long term.

JL: Did Dennis choose to step down after the Major or was it the choice of the team to bench him? Whose decision was it to bring Draken back despite his attitude issues?

FP: Dennis felt burnout after the Katowice Major. I believe we were in Katowice for three weeks and soon after the Major we had a planned road trip. When we were heading to the Chinese embassy in Stockholm I got a phone call from dennis who said he didn't board his plane to Stockholm because he felt burnt out. He needed some time to recover. We thought of going to China anyway but we ended up having to tell the organizers of WESG we weren't coming.

It was my idea to bring back draken. Even his previous issues I stilled believed in giving him another chance. However, he wasn't our first option as we were looking to get other players better suited for dennis role. We tried with several players from Sweden, but all of them said no due to different reasons. One of them was flusha.

It ended up me asking draken if he was interested to stand in. I don't think I had everyone with happy faces on the team with that suggestion, but I calmed everybody down with that this was only for a couple of events until dennis would recover. And I was clear with draken that this was only a stand-in period, but I said that if we were to become the best with him, I couldn't and wouldn't just want to break a winning formula.