With Jimi “Jimpphat” Salo’s VAC ban having been lifted on January 26, will MOUZ add another piece to its push toward the top?
Known for a long time only as Jere "sergej" Salo’s younger brother, Jimpphat’s incredible rise to the ranks now puts him just a step away from Tier-1 Counter-Strike. His domination of WePlay Academy League S6, where he was the highest-rated rifler and the second-best player after new NiP recruits Danyyl "headtr1ck" Valitov, has now proven him to be a star in the making. In addition, being a member of MOUZ NXT means his progress combines with a clear path for progression, as the German organization has shown no restraints in promoting its most exciting talents.
Limited for a long time by a VAC ban incurred in 2018, Valve’s new RMR Eligibility Guidelines will allow him to compete at the highest level in 2023. Will a rising MOUZ take the chance on the young Finn, or will Jimpphat forge his own path outside of the organization?
From a VAC ban to Finland’s rising star
It’s impossible to talk about Jimpphat without addressing the elephant in the room: the VAC ban he received for cheating on January 26, 2018, which prevented him from competing in Valve-sponsored events. As in many other cases, the Finnish rifler was yet to turn twelve at the time of his ban, fueling the heated debate on whether a single bad decision made as a child should influence a potential future career. Valve finally ended the discussion in April 2021 by publishing new RMR Eligibility Guidelines. As part of a restructuring of the Major circuit, the developer announced that players who received a Valve Anti-Cheat ban before appearing in Valve-sponsored events would be allowed to compete after five years, freeing Jimpphat.
Jimpphat’s VAC ban never prevented him from trying his hand at competitive play, following in the footsteps of his older brother. It didn’t take long for the rifler’s undeniable talent to shine through, leading to an extremely precocious start to his career. Jimpphat first appeared on HLTV at the age of 12 in the renowned “talent factory” event King of Nordic, as the rifler would prefer playing in mix teams rather than chasing the FPL dream, a different path to most talents his age. 2020 would thus mark the start of his ESEA career, with a promotion to the Intermediate league. Soon thereafter Jimpphat would make his LAN debut, qualifying for ASUS ROG Winter 2020 alongside future SJ teammate Joel "jelo" Lentonen. The then-13-year-old struggled to make an impact against established Tier-3 sides such as FATE, but that didn’t stop his momentum.
His career would start to take off at the tail end of the year when the Choco&Friends mix achieved solid results and qualified for ESEA Main. The team was subsequently picked up by the Finnish organization IQUE.gg, Jimpphat’s first professional team. 2021 saw the young talent rapidly improve, leading the team to second place in the Finnish ELISA Nordic Championship as the highest-rated player not representing the eventual winner, HAVU. However, his VAC ban hindered the team’s chances to compete in international events, with the quintet disqualified from the Flashpoint 3 open qualifiers.
Jimpphat’s international debut and jump to MOUZ NXT
As the team was acquired by NYYRIKKI Esports the results continued to trend upwards, an ESEA Advanced qualification marking the highest point, and it wasn’t long before Jimpphat caught the eye of the nation’s top organizations. SJ, aiming to challenge HAVU for the Finnish top spot, announced his signing on August 16. The three months Jimpphat would spend in SJ would be the most important of his career, with the stature of the organization allowing him to compete against higher-tier opposition in a variety of online cups. And the talented youngster did not disappoint, recording a team-leading 1.16 HLTV rating which included an impressive showing in a winning campaign at Finnish Esports League Season 9.
Jimpphat would then rejoin his NYYRIKKI teammates in Conquer Gaming, as the Finnish organization acquired him from SJ. The move would mean the rifler only recorded two maps in international tournaments over his time in Conquer, but he kept posting impressive ratings in a series of Finnish events. The team also made the playoffs of ESEA Advanced, being eliminated after losses to MAD Lions and Anonymo. However, as Jimpphat stood in for MOUZ NXT at Pinnacle Cup III, the next step in his career was already clear.
The Finnish rifler signed for MOUZ’s academy team in May, replacing the promoted Jon “JDC” de Castro. Jimpphat struggled to make an impact in unfamiliar roles and recorded the second-lowest team rating in MOUZ NXT’s title-winning campaign at WePlay Academy League S4. Even if his performances marginally improved over the end-of-season break, Jimpphat would still only record a 1.07 rating in Season 5, with MOUZ NXT crashing out in groups for the first time in their history.
The tide would change with the organization’s restructuring, Jimpphat being the clear star in the new roster led by Christoffer “Chr1zN” Storgaard. The young rifler dominated the new WePlay Academy League season, recording a tournament second-best 1.28 rating, 0.30 higher than his closest teammate. The exact same rating made him the best player at MistGames Heroes of Tomorrow, where MOUZ NXT finished in the top four. Ending 2022, Jimpphat also led the team to the ESEA Advanced playoffs, narrowly missing out on an ECL Relegation spot.
Jimpphat strengths: a potential promotion?
In an extremely competitive player market, what can Jimpphat offer to higher-tier teams? First and foremost his mechanical skill, with a plethora of impressive sprays helping him to high multi-kill counts in the last season of WePlay Academy League. As expected from the tournament’s highest-rated rifler, the Finn holds a tournament-leading 91.2 damage per round and 0.87 kills per round. Jimpphat also boasts a solid 51.4% headshot percentage at the event, highlighting his reliable first-bullet accuracy. Finally, the rifler showcased his ability to read the game effectively and led the Academy League in clutches with 16.
The Finn is also expected to be a versatile player, holding more supportive roles in his first two Academy League seasons with MOUZ NXT. However, his passivity is a primary characteristic of his game, with Jimpphat hovering around the 12% mark in T-side Opening Kill Attempts in 2022, lower than Dzhami “Jame” Ali and only beaten by Timofey “interz” Yakushin in Tier 1 Counter-Strike. This, combined with his unimpressive performances before assuming lurker roles in the second half of 2022, will limit his options at the top of Counter-Strike.
The future for Jimpphat doesn’t thus appear as clear as it probably should. It’s apparently natural that the young talent would follow a similar path to Dorian “xertioN” Berman, who was promoted to MOUZ’s main team after attracting much interest among the top tiers. However, Jimpphat faces a series of obstacles that seem hard to overcome. The German organization finds itself at its strongest point in years after a top-four finish at the IEM Rio Major, and while MOUZ has already shown that they’re open to changing players regardless of the team’s performances, as Aurimas “Bymas” Pipiras’ removal after IEM Cologne has proven, it’s hard to imagine the roster changing in the first half of 2023.
Jimpphat’s chances are also hindered by his playstyle. Unlike xertioN’s unique aggressiveness, which Dennis "sycrone" Nielsen described as “playmaking ability” in an interview with HLTV.org, Jimpphat is a more traditional T-side lurker. While his proficiency as a CT-side anchor could theoretically mean the Finn is a candidate to replace JDC, his offensive roles would clash with a resurgent David “frozen” Čerňanský. Unless the Slovakian star leaves his long-time place at MOUZ, it would be more than a gamble to promote Jimpphat over the German support.
The road less traveled, or Jimpphat’s options outside of MOUZ
With Jimpphat unlikely to stay in the Academy League circuit for more than another season, which options does he have outside of MOUZ? As much as NiP’s gamble on Danyyl "headtr1ck" Valitov’s might make his fans hope, it’s improbable the Finnish rifler could find a spot in a tournament-contending roster straight away. However, nominations as a potential breakthrough player of 2023 by Nikola “NiKo” Kovač and Helvijs “broky” Saukants mean that the young Finn has already caught the eye of many at the highest level.
The most logical options in Tier-1 would be the international trio of ENCE, OG, and fnatic. ENCE could be interested in a Finnish player to represent them, but the organization just signed highly-rated lurker Valdemar “valde” Bjørn Vangså in August and the Dane hasn’t been a liability. Fnatic lacks a clear lurker, with Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson primarily taking on T-side duties, although it’s hard to imagine them making changes after a top-eight finish at the Rio Major. OG could be a potential destination, with passive T-side player Maciej “F1KU” Miklas struggling in the past months, but the team seems to suffer from inconsistency issues unlikely to be fixed by another young star.
Outside of these options, the most realistic outcome for Jimpphat could be following in the footsteps of Kamil “siuhy” Szkaradek and Miłosz “mhL” Knasiak, successfully climbing through their ranks in Tier-2 rosters. Aside from the plethora of options, he would have at a lower level, his talent would immediately make him deserving of the roles he’s most comfortable in. In addition, as siuhy’s run at the IEM Rio Major with GamerLegion has proven, it’s easy to gain recognition in Europe’s most competitive tier. It’s also worth mentioning HAVU, Finland’s leading team, where lurking roles are now occupied by stand-in Matias "Banjo" Kivistö after Jesse “zehN” Linjala's departure.
Regardless of where he will end up, Jimpphat seems destined for a long and successful career in Counter-Strike, apparently adding a pleasant personality and solid work ethic to his undeniable talent. Not rushing a jump into Tier-1 territory might then be the smartest option, whether that means waiting in the wings of MOUZ or impressing in a lower-ranked roster.