One step from greatness: what's next for mir?

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A rifler capable of stellar performances at the biggest events of the year, Nikolay “mir” Bityukov now finds himself a free agent after a 5-month stint on Entropiq.

Considered by many as either a superstar rifler who found himself on the wrong side of fate or a troubled talent responsible for his own downfall, mir is an extremely polarizing figure. Experts and fans hailed him as a potential upgrade for Russian-speaking and international teams for years, but a lukewarm 2022 quelled the flame powering the mir-train.

However, unlike other cases of players considered too good to languish in the lower tiers, mir’s stats paint quite a clear picture. Eight years of competition have proven his status as an elite player capable of rebounding from unsuccessful projects to reach new individual heights. To understand whether mir can finally take the ultimate step in his career, days after his 27th birthday, we have to reflect on the organizations, rosters, and performances which led him to this point.

The early years -

Mir took his first steps in professional Counter-Strike in 2015 alongside future long-term teammates Dmitry “jR” Chervak and Sergey “keshandr” Nikishin. The trio joined up with Pavel “hutji” Lashkov and was then acquired by Vega Squadron, mustering mediocre results in various qualifiers. Mir had to wait until the end of the year for his career to pick up, as the four players were dropped but chose to stick together under the Arcade banner.

The roster made headways in their sporadic appearances, taking maps off a young Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev in FlipSid3 and the international G2 roster featuring Håvard “rain” Nygaard. Unfortunately, failed qualifications for the MLG Columbus and ESL One Cologne Majors prevented the team from gaining international recognition.

This would become apparent at the tail end of 2016 when various failed rosters convinced mir, jR, and Leonid "⁠chopper⁠" Vishnyakov to build their own project. The trio picked up keshandr and hutji just in time for the ELEAGUE Atlanta Major, survived the Open Qualifier stage, and only dropped two maps at the CIS Minor, securing first place and a spot in the Main Qualifier. Mir finished the event as the highest-rated player, cementing his status as one of the region’s most exciting talents.

mir stepped up in Atlanta to lead Vega Squadron in his first LAN Major Qualifier. Copyright: ELEAGUE mir stepped up in Atlanta to lead Vega Squadron in his first LAN Major Qualifier. Copyright: ELEAGUE

The rest of the story is now well-known CS:GO history. In Atlanta, the five players, unknown to the general fanbase and representing Vega Squadron, would eliminate NiP from Major contention with a dominant 16-2 display on Cache. The result marked the start of a new era of CS, with Vega Squadron becoming the stereotype for lower-ranked CIS teams in the following years. Coming out of nowhere with a confusingly aggressive gameplan matched by incredible individual talent, jR’s team failed to progress to the Major itself, but mir’s 1.33 HLTV rating caught everyone’s eye.

The year of the shark: the rise of Vega Squadron

Over the course of 2017, mir would start dominating regional opposition and putting up strong numbers against most European sides. At a time when online cup coverage was few and far between, the year would also mark mir’s LAN graduation, as he once again ended the CIS Minor as the best player and repeated his Atlanta performance with a 1.33 HLTV rating at the PGL Major Main Qualifier.

The ending was different for chopper’s side this time, as mir dropped 25 kills in a 16-5 domination of Dignitas to take Vega Squadron to their first-ever Major. The event itself would see the roster eliminated in last place, as the Russian quintet suffered from a low ceiling and a lack of international experience.

Mir’s transition to a LAN environment was cleaner than most expected. Copyright: DreamHack | Jennika Ojala Mir’s transition to a LAN environment was cleaner than most expected. Copyright: DreamHack | Jennika Ojala

Good showings in LAN qualifiers meant the team picked up steam in time for the ELEAGUE Boston Major Challenger Stage, where they defeated FaZe and a Wilton “zews” Prado-fielding Liquid. Coming into the main event with top-eight ambitions, the roster stumbled and was eliminated by a resurgent Cloud9 side in the 2-2 match.

Mir was the lowest-rated player for his team at the tournament, marking the end of the Vega Squadron fairytale. After months of disappointing results, internal conflicts were revealed to be the primary cause of the slump, with the organization benching mir and keshandr in April 2018.

Gambit’s collapse and mir’s dark year

The benching was not necessarily bad news, as it allowed the highly-rated Russian rifler to take the next step in his career. Predictably, just one month after the end of his tenure with Vega Squadron, mir was announced as Gambit’s new fifth man. If his removal from the active roster might have represented the first known instance of a hard-to-work-with personality, mir’s time in Gambit embodies another recurring issue: finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mir was given the impossible task of reviving the fallen Major Champions, who had crashed out in groups in Boston after Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko’s departure. Gambit had stabilized as a top ten team after signing Bektiyar “fitch” Bahytov, but the Kazakh was replaced by Denis “seized” Kostin” in an attempt to return to title contention. The new leadership, combined with a stark decline in the players’ individual form, made for a roster only capable of deep runs when Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev and Abay “H0bbit” Khasenov’s peaks matched.

IEM Shanghai was mir’s best event in the Gambit jersey. Copyright: ESL | Bart Oerbekke IEM Shanghai was mir’s best event in the Gambit jersey. Copyright: ESL | Bart Oerbekke

As Gambit fell further and further down the rankings, mir struggled to match his Vega Squadron form and hovered around the bottom of the scoreboard. The Russian recorded just two events with a positive K/D over nine months, while the roster alternated disappointment with some unimpressive top-four placements. After Gambit was eliminated from the FACEIT London Major in the Challengers Stage, H0bbit and AdreN were transfer-listed. A decision that came much too late. Fielding Sergey “Ax1le” Rykhtorov and Vladyslav "⁠bondik⁠" Nechyporchuk, the roster missed the Katowice Major altogether, leading Gambit’s management to pull the plug. Almost a year after first leaving Vega Squadron, mir found himself on the bench again.

On the brink of greatness: mir’s time in Team Spirit

In part due to his fallen stock in the CIS scene, Mir would have to wait until the last quarter of 2019 to return to action. His new home would be a rebuilding Spirit roster, which had disappointingly placed fourth at the CIS Minor for the StarLadder Berlin Major. The rifler reunited with Vega Squadron teammate chopper and immediately produced a series of solid online performances. Fortunately for mir, the COVID-19 pandemic meant both online play and more chances of making the jump to the highest level of competition. Spirit would have their first shot at ESL Pro League thanks to BOOM’s withdrawal, but they were knocked out in the Group Stage as mir failed to leave his mark again.

The disappointing streak would not last as the Russian rifler convincingly pushed Spirit through the qualification process for DreamHack Masters Spring 2020. The quintet finished just shy of the top eight in the main event, with mir posting the third-highest rating in the event, just behind Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut and s1mple. More impressively, mir’s 1.33 average rating led Spirit to a tournament win at ESL One: Road to Rio CIS, where the team made light work of Gambit,, and Winstrike. The level didn’t drop in the year's second half, with a top-eight finish at ESL Pro League S12 and tournament-best ratings at the remaining CIS RMRs, which put Spirit in title contention. Although the team eventually lost momentum with multiple group stage exits, mir never looked back.

A year-end 1.22 HLTV rating, 0.10 better than his closest teammate, would be the benchmark for an even more impressive 2021. Now fielding star AWPer Abdul “degster” Gasanov over Artem “iDISBALANCE” Egorov, Spirit dominated at DreamHack Open January 2021, taking home the title in their debut event. An impressive IEM Katowice run then confirmed the team’s potential, with mir remaining in MVP contention until Gambit knocked out Spirit in the semifinals. Good performances followed at BLAST Premier Spring Showdown, with the rifler on a team-leading 1.31 average rating.

The Stockholm Major marked the end of mir’s time with Spirit. Copyright: PGL The Stockholm Major marked the end of mir’s time with Spirit. Copyright: PGL

As the Russian team stumbled away from title contention, expectedly, mir’s rating fluctuated. The rifler alternated disappointing events with elite performances at IEM Summer, IEM Cologne, and the Starladder CIS RMR. However, as the team crashed out of the PGL Major in Stockholm in the Challenger Stage, an announcement shocked experts and fans alike. Mir and chopper were transfer-listed in early November, with the Russian rifler leaving the organization after a 25-month stint and a 1.20 average HLTV rating.

CIS insider Alexey "OverDrive" Birukov would explain the move in a YouTube video, painting mir as a difficult teammate, stubborn and egotistical, who refused to adapt his playstyle to the team’s necessities.

Nonetheless, mir was one of the most impressive players in 2021 thanks to his incredible consistency and tournament-leading highs. Despite not competing in multiple big events, would end up rating the rifler as their 23rd-best player of 2021.

Wasted potential, mir’s Entropiq stint

Mir would remain benched well into 2022, failing to attract interest even after entering free agency. In early June, the Russian rifler would finally return to action by replacing Viktor "⁠Lack1⁠" Boldyrev in Entropiq, at the time one of the region’s most consistent and promising teams. Unexpectedly, this would turn out to be another instance of mir being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mir joined the roster as the marquee signing needed to help Entropiq break through the Tier-2 barrier and regularly compete at elite events, as he had once done for Spirit. However, his arrival coincided with an unexpected drop in form for AWP star Aleksei “El1an” Gusev, the team’s most valuable player in their rise through the ranks. Even if mir’s performances hovered around a convincing 1.15 average rating, Entropiq only mustered disappointing results in online events and qualifiers.

Mir’s signing was supposed to elevate Entropiq to new heights. Copyright: Entropiq Mir’s signing was supposed to elevate Entropiq to new heights. Copyright: Entropiq

The roster missed the second Major of the year, IEM Rio, failing to make it past the open qualifiers and were eliminated in the semifinals of ESL Challenger Melbourne, the only LAN they would attend. El1an recorded a team-low 0.91 rating at the event and was benched soon after that, but new arrival, Israeli sniper Guy “anarkez” Trachtman, could not save the project from collapsing. On October 13th, 2022, Entropiq transfer-listed their quintet, citing performance issues and business problems related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Fittingly, the team would continue representing the Czech organization at CCT North Europe Series 1, taking the title with mir on a tournament-leading 1.29 HLTV rating.

What’s next for mir?

Mir now finds himself in a very unique position as a Counter-Strike player. Over the course of his entire career, outside of the months spent on a collapsing Gambit, the Russian rifler always rose to the occasion and produced elite-level performances. From an individual standpoint, mir could easily stake his claim for a place on a top-tier roster, as he has done in the past. Ultimately, however, being benched twice for reasons outside the server will heavily influence his chances of finding a new home.

It’s also inarguable that mir’s time in any organization bar Vega Squadron meant unfulfilled potential and disappointing streaks. His failure in Gambit pushed management to focus resources on the rising Youngsters roster, which would become a top team over the course of 2021. After his benching, Spirit experienced their best year in CS:GO, with Robert “Patsi” Isyanov leading the organization to back-to-back Major playoffs. Last but not least, Entropiq’s gamble took them from a Major appearance at PGL Stockholm and a second place at the V4 Future Sports Festival to disbandment in less than a year.

With this context, what’s next for mir? The doors of the region’s top teams are evidently closed, as proven by recent roster changes. Finding himself in forZe or 1WIN would be optimal, as the two teams are teetering on the edge of a breakthrough, but the project could easily derail as Entropiq did. Mir’s best choice might be to look back at his past, his own breakthrough when a mixture of misfits defied expectations and qualified for the Atlanta Major. Starting from scratch as a core member of a new project, taking advantage of the incredible depth of CIS talent, and proving himself as a teammate, might just be what mir needs to finally achieve long-lasting success.

Cover Image: Copyright PGL

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CS Virtual Trade Ltd, reg. no. HE 389299 Registered address and the principal place of business: 705, Spyrou Araouzou & Koumantarias, Fayza House, 3036, Limassol, Cyprus
Copyright © 2024 BLIX.GG. All rights reserved.