As the off-season shuffle is in full swing, RBM’s writers are highlighting the best, and their favorite, available players. In this article, Daniel Khurgin shines a spotlight onto 25-year-old Danish AWPer and free agent Niels Christian “NaToSaphiX” Sillassen.
If there’s one player you think of when you hear the word “stand-in,” it’s probably NaToSaphiX (NaTo). The Danish AWPer has moved from one project to another for many years now, never truly cementing himself in one team for an extended period of time. He continues to be picked up when it’s convenient to organizations and spat out when his short time is deemed over. Without a solid team to build around, it’s impossible for anyone to truly show what they’re capable of, and NaToSaphiX is at the shortest end of the stick in that regard. With the post-Major shuffle season in full swing, teams shop around the free agency market to pick up whoever they believe will improve their roster. NaToSaphiX is my humble addition to their shopping carts. I believe with the right team, the perennial Danish stand-in can have a stand-out performance.
The question, of course, is why NaTo? Why does he stand out over the rest of the herd? Why would a team pick him over the legendary names of FalleN or KennyS? Why would a team pick him over the rising talents of Jackinho or Farlig? Simply put, NaTo has never had his shot. Yes, he’s been part of many a line-up in his day but rarely in an extended manner. In team after team, he’s been put in unfavorable positions and has never had his chance to prove his worth. To see my point, let’s take a look at his previous teams.
NaTo Sprouts Wings
Let’s begin our journey in NaToSaphiX’s best team environment, one where he was able to play how he wanted in an atmosphere that suited his style. NaTo played on Sprout for the majority of the 2018 season, and he performed admirably on that roster. He led the team with a 1.14 HLTV rating through his time there. Headlining that German and Danish roster’s achievements were their 4th place finish at the Europe Minor for the London 2018 Major. They won multiple lower-tier tournaments but nothing truly of note in the upper echelons. In fact, the team rarely broke the HLTV top 30 in that time period.
Despite the poor tournament placements, NaTo was a stand-out performer in his role, leading the team in rating as mentioned previously. He did everything a team could want in an AWPer. He consistently put up good numbers and held down his role, his teammates simply couldn’t convert.
The reason for his success in Sprout came down to the team environment. In an interview with HLTV in February of 2021, NaTo said that the last team he had felt comfortable playing on was Sprout. “We had the best coach I have ever worked with in tow b, a guy I had a close friendship with and who simultaneously felt more like a dad and a mentor than a friend. It was great, he always pushed me to succeed, questioned my plays without being aggressive or demeaning, and was the most hard-working coach I’ve ever met. I think that’s why I always put up the numbers as well. It was a very tactical team, thanks to sycrone and tow b, exactly how I like it. We tried to win on strategy more than aim, and, in my opinion, that’s the best way to get consistent results.”
As mentioned, Sprout was NaTo’s best-ever team atmosphere. The players and coach interactions truly allowed him to play to the best of his abilities. While on Sprout, he dominated the server and delivered when asked. If he is in the same form now as he was on Sprout, he’d be an easy pick up for any team looking for an AWPer. But if Sprout was the last time he was comfortable, what happened to NaTo since then? Let’s continue our journey to the next team, Heroic.
A Heroic Attempt
Heroic begins the procession of teams NaToSaphiX joined only to be left teamless a few months later. To get the statistics out of the way, NaTo did not play well. He only averaged a 0.96 HLTV rating on Heroic, a poor performance strictly speaking. It’s important to always understand the context behind statistics though, as they often lie or mislead. First of all, NaTo is an AWPer. That is his role and he has played it almost his entire professional career. Yet, he gave away the AWP to another teammate just a month into joining Heroic. He continuously took tough roles and put himself in the worst positions just to benefit the rest of his team. He was uncomfortable but he still did whatever he could to sacrifice himself for the team.
Second, in his entire five-month stint on Heroic, NaTo was never under contract, instead having a stand-in relationship with the organization, as explained in an interview conducted by HLTV. He was paid as a stand-in, of course, but he played for five months on a per-game basis. For almost half a year, he played with absolutely no security. It must be terrifying knowing that if you have a sub-par performance you can be dismissed at the end of a game. In a moment he could be thrown to the curb and left teamless, obviously an anxiety-riddling situation. It’s such panic that made NaTo feel like he had to give up his roles.
Note how in a terrible situation for a pro player, NaTo went out of his way to do everything he could for his team. He took on the worst roles, sacrificed himself the most, and couldn’t use the weapon he’d been training his whole professional career. In my eyes, at least, it’s remarkable that he even obtained a 0.96 rating with all those caveats.
NaToSaphiX then joined Nordavind in an ambitious rebuilding process for the organization. He had a plan and a vision, something that he dearly lacked in Heroic, not to mention a contract. But, just before he signed with the team, the expected Nordavind lineup changed. Unfazed, NaToSaphiX took the challenge in stride and buckled up for the ride. Immediately, role overlaps brought butting heads.
Just over a month into the project, the in-game leader left leaving a gaping hole in the structure of the team. NaTo, never one to back down, accepted the challenge. Similarly to his time in Heroic, he had to morph his roles again, this time to become the in-game leader for the squad. But of course, this adventure suffered the same fate as Heroic as NaTo did not develop to be an in-game leader, but as a role-player as the main AWPer. After just a couple of months, NaTo passed the baton of leadership to his teammates who then played with it like a game of hot potato. Routinely the caller would change between tournaments. The team never settled on a singular leader so there was never a unifying vision for the roster.
As one could expect, everybody’s statistics suffered as a result of the lack of leadership, NaToSaphiX included. He escaped with a 1.06 HLTV rating over the entire period. Once again, in my opinion, that’s quite impressive given the absolutely terrible hand he was dealt. And again, NaTo sacrificed himself and his own performance to do what he thought was the best for the team. He saw there was a lack of leadership and took it upon himself to fill the role, damned be his personal statistics. NaTo is never one to back down from a challenge and he did all he could to make that Nordavind roster work. Sadly, in the end, it wasn’t meant to be. In early 2021, NaToSaphiX then moved to his next project, Lyngby Vikings.
NaToSaphiX’s tenure in the Danish team was actually quite fruitful. NaTo boasted a 1.15 rating over his period in the club, a great performance from him considering his past few teams. There didn’t seem to be any role clashes or roster instability that would compromise his playstyle, so in that peaceful atmosphere, the AWPer shined.
NaToSaphiX’s performance in Lyngby Vikings is my best advertisement as a testament to his ability. If NaTo has a stable roster that doesn’t change around him and a consistent in-game leader who has a clear vision, he can deliver on the frags. Once again, he was the best performing player on his team, like on Sprout. Those two examples prove that NaToSaphiX can be the consistent player to fill the sniper role on a team. All that the Dane needs is a team willing to be stable and he can shine.
Unfortunately, NaTo’s time on Lyngby Vikings wasn’t a long one as just a couple of months in, he pulled out of the project. As their best performing player, it certainly was a hit for the team, but NaTo’s eyes were set on loftier goals. He joined GORILLAZ, the ambitious international roster spearheaded by legendary players Robin “flusha” Rönnquist and Miikka “suNny” Kemppi. Unfortunately, his stint on GORILLAZ did not prove as meaningful as the young Dane would have wished. Again he performed sub-optimally, with just a 1.01 rating to show for it.
If you’ve been paying attention, you might be able to guess my reasoning for his poor results on GORILLAZ. Yes, once again, NaTo’s team was incredibly unstable, even unable to form a full set of five for a meaningful string of tournaments. From the start, he was brought in as a replacement for a trial player as a stand-in, never a great atmosphere to get into. Second, GORILLAZ is currently signed by an organization, but a new one that continues to be unnamed almost a full year since its inception. It’s never good to speculate, but we know how contract worries affected NaToSaphiX on Heroic, and new organizations cannot be completely trusted to be a stable source of income. It’s unclear how an organization can collect sponsor money to pay their players if they’re not even willing to release their name.
Third, just like always, roster moves plagued NaTo’s team, and less than a month after the announcement, changes were made. In addition to NaToSaphiX’s arrival, Rokas “EspiranTo” Milasauskas departed the team, shaking up the roster once more. Regarding his withdrawal from the project, EspiranTo wrote, “I couldn’t adapt to the roles I was given and playstyle we had, and underperformed heavily. I tried my best, but I guess some things are just not meant to be.” Does that sound familiar to anyone? Just like before, role clashes affected everyone on the team, and NaTo suffered as a result.
A Complex Situation
NaToSaphiX left the GORILLAZ project in July after just a few months as a stand-in. Since then he’s only played on one team, Complexity. If NaToSaphix is the dictionary definition of stand-in player, then Complexity is the dictionary definition of stand-in organization. Ever since the international lineup lost Owen “oBo” Schlatter in September of 2020, the team fought with injury, and of course, the NaToSaphiX special, role overlaps. NaTo himself joined the team as a stand-in in August of 2021 during a tumultuous time. The team was dealing with a recent removal and addition of a player, injury, and rumors of a poach which would leave the Texas-based organization without their star player. The team was in the doldrums and needed a stand-in, so NaTo answered the call.
His time in Complexity is barely worth mentioning as he only played six series with them. But as you might expect at this point, the team had terrible role clashes. Despite the awful situation Complexity found themselves in, in a cruel twist of irony, they still retained their main AWPer. So when fielding NaTo as a stand-in, he wasn’t even using his signature weapon. Despite being relegated to a rifle in a team full of strife, they managed to defeat Virtus Pro and G2, big scalps to take. NaTo’s HLTV rating was poor at a measly 0.92, but considering what the team achieved and not being able to use his primary weapon of choice, NaToSaphiX did all one could really expect from him.
In summary, if you’re a team that wants a stand-in for a few events and a player who will continue to self-sacrifice in the interest of the whole squad, NaToSaphiX is your man. He’s proven that he’s willing to deal with the worst of scenarios and he’ll gladly put up an average performance while the rest of the team is swirling into chaos. But, if you’re a team who wants a consistent main AWPer and most importantly is willing to build around him, NaToSaphiX is also your man, but for a different, better reason.
Through Sprout and Lyngby Vikings, NaTo has proven that if his team is stable and free of any role clashes, he can shine as a sniper. He can consistently put up the good numbers that an AWPer needs in the current meta. Ever since Sprout in 2018, NaTo has never had the stable team he truly needs to show off his prowess. You can call him too sensitive for needing a perfect environment to be at his best, but even Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev needed Spencer “Hiko” Martin to play well on Liquid.
To pull another example, Gambit Youngsters were together for over a year before they built up the camaraderie and internal chemistry to compete for titles. The CIS team has made a single roster move in almost two full years and through that stability have they been able to grow into a squad that fights for championships.
Add onto all that with NaTo’s incredible drive and passion for the game and you have a wonderful player who would be a great addition to any brand. The man continues to grind FACEIT games even without a salary from a team. He has over sixty hours in the game in the last two weeks at the time of writing this, in the middle of the holiday season. He has tens of thousands of Twitter followers and over a hundred thousand YouTube subscribers where he continues to grow his reputation. He even interacts with the community on the r/GlobalOffensive subreddit. So not only is he worth building around from a gameplay standpoint, he’s also incredibly beneficial to build around from a brand aspect as well.
NaToSaphiX hasn’t had a real shot in over three years. He continues to pull the short straw and finds himself taking all the flak for decent performances in disastrous situations. If all he’s meant to be is a band-aid on a bruise, then fine, that’s the way it is. But, I believe he truly has the ability to shine if he simply gets the opportunity on a reliable team. A stable roster shouldn’t be too much to ask for. Add that to his well-known positive reputation and widespread brand activity, it should be a no-brainer for someone to give him the opportunity he finally deserves. Give him a chance, and the perennial stand-in can blossom into a perennial stand-out performer.