Sweden’s most promising prospects the Young Ninjas have been an interesting project since the beginning. Clearly the most integrated academy team, Young Ninjas have seen 3 of their players so far be promoted to the main roster to gain experience with varying levels of success. At the helm of the Ninjas’ system is their IGL, […]
Sweden’s most promising prospects the Young Ninjas have been an interesting project since the beginning. Clearly the most integrated academy team, Young Ninjas have seen 3 of their players so far be promoted to the main roster to gain experience with varying levels of success. At the helm of the Ninjas’ system is their IGL, Erik “ztr” Gustafsson. We sat down with the youngster to discuss his career and his stint on Ninjas in Pyjamas.
Arnav “XL” Shukla: Like most Nordic players, in 2018 you started your career in online cups like the Kings of Nordic Cups. How were the early years of your career?
Erik “ztr” Gustafsson : It was fun to play in mixes, and it showed me different types of ways to play CS because I played with so many different people, and it showed me that people have different ways of looking at almost everything in the game. So it was a good experience I would like to say.
XL: Were you always an active voice in the leadership of the team?
ztr: For the most part, even when playing in mixes and pugs, I was talking a lot and giving input. So I would say I was an active voice.
XL: Over the next two years, you found yourself on a lineup with players like Isak and Era who are now playing in GamerLegion. How was it playing with a stable roster for such a long period of time?
ztr: It was nice. I think we were like one of the only lower-tier Swedish teams that actually stayed together because most Swedish teams tend to make roaster changes a lot, and they don’t tend to stick together for so long. So it was nice that we were one of those teams who made it pretty far internationally as well. It was great to play like this and also manage to stay together.
XL: Were you the IGL in this team?
ztr: In the beginning, I wasn’t. But still, as I said earlier, I was an active voice. Sooner rather than later, we came to the conclusion that we wanted to try with me as an IGL, and then we removed our IGL and took in another player. And then I started calling for the majority of my period in that team.
XL: How would you describe your leadership style this early on in your career?
ztr: It was a lot of micromanaging with a lot of focus. I was trying to micromanage everything that happens to get my idea through. But looking back at it, it was not that good of an idea to be market managing everything.
XL: So players should have freedom rather than being completely microed?
ztr: Yeah. Definitely. It brings up the best out of the other players as well, I think.
XL: In late 2020, you were acquired by KPI to replace xertioN, who is now playing in MOUZ NXT. So what was this roster move like for you?
ztr: I think it was nice. It was after the Swedish team with Eraa and Izak. Some of them had already left I believe when this happened and we were not in a very good position with the new players. So I really wanted to try some calls, and I thought trying to go internationally is a really good idea because it widens your chances to open up a future career. Yeah, exactly. But I wouldn’t say we did it really well in KPI. The team was not that good. We didn’t mesh that well together, but I think overall it was a really good experience.
XL: As you said, you didn’t mesh that well as a team. Was it more of a cultural difference or down to the particular players?
ztr: I think it was more personality issue. Some people didn’t agree with other people, and they had strong personalities, maybe some of them.
XL: When the Young Ninjas project was originally thought of, it was more of a talent development project rather than a proper team that was meant to compete in the higher-tier leagues. But very quickly, you guys proved to be a very strong squad that could compete at the tier-two level. So while you were only in the team for about a month initially, how was the start of the project for you?
ztr: I think it was really good. One of the reasons was that everyone was just super hyped, I guess you could say to start playing. So everyone really gave their 110%, and that’s why it started off so well.
XL: Representing the NIP name would have been a dream come true for many of the Swedish talents.
ztr: Yeah, definitely. I think everyone looks up to NIP as an organization and definitely would want to play for it. So that was also one of the reasons, I think.
XL: For you, that dream continued on, as, in February, you got promoted to the main squad. Did that come as a surprise to you?
ztr: Not really a super big surprise. There were some talks about it before if I remember correctly, but to actually receive it was, of course, a bit of a little shock because I didn’t believe it to happen so quickly.
XL: You had a spectacular debut at Blast Premier, showing up in full force in the first game that you played. How was the transition going from the Academy team to the main squad at that period?
ztr: I think the most difficult part of the transition was that they wanted me to try different positions from the ones I’ve already played before. And so I think that having to learn new positions on almost every map, and plus trying to convert from playing lower-tier teams and lower-tier CS to playing tier-one CS. I think those two factors didn’t make it as easy as it could have been.
XL: So would you say that you adapted quickly?
ztr: Yeah. I would like to say that I transitioned to the new roles I was playing pretty quickly, but of course, the way I was playing them, I didn’t get as much impact as I would have liked in different roles.
XL: So one thing that’s coming up recently is hampus’ IGL style. How would you define his style?
ztr: It was a bit of time since I played with him, but I would like to say he’s pretty loose but still structured, which is what I’m trying to do as well in Young Ninjas now. So I think he has a good combination of having a structure and also being a bit loose, so it becomes a little bit more unpredictable.
XL: As the main playmaker of the team, it looks like Hampus calls around himself a lot. Would you say this is true?
ztr: Yeah. I would say he calls a lot around himself so that he is there. I guess you can say the main part of the strat, so he’s doing it’s mostly based around him for most of the time. I would say.
XL: I this NIP roster, you were given command of the team on two maps. Overpass and Nuke. Could describe the reasoning behind this change?
ztr: I remember on Nuke, it was mostly because Hampus wanted to be the lobby lurker, and then it’s harder for him to be able to call and have a focus on what is happening around him. So then we tried it with me. I think the first time the first game we played, it was against Complexity in the opening game of some tournament best of one. And we managed to win it. So that was good. But after some time we just switched it back because the team thought it would be better. On overpass, it was less than on Nuke. And after I called a few maps it went back to Hampus again.
XL: So around the time of April, the Nawwk-roster managed to hit a new peak in performance as you made the top four at the ESL Pro League, losing out to the best team in the world. Gambit, did you guys make any changes in the team structure going up into that event that allowed you to develop like this?
ztr: I don’t remember that one, but I don’t believe we made any changes within the team or changes with positions or stress. I just think we had the talks within the team, in which we explained what our goals were etc. and what our motivation is. etc. and it just made us play better, I believe, as a team and individuals. We were all on the same page.
Stay tuned to esports.gg for the second part of our interview with ztr where we discuss the signing of device and his return to the Young Ninjas.