Cologne Preview: Ah Na`Vi, Here We Go Again - Part 3
Na`Vi are the second-best team in the world. Outside of EPIC CIS League Spring (which I think we can safely ignore), the results are undeniable. Na`Vi won DreamHack Masters Spring 2021 with a 3-0 win over Gambit. The then got 2nd at Blast Spring Finals 2021 where Gambit beat Na`Vi 2-0 in the finals.
Na`Vi has strong individual skill across the spectrum. Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev is the best player in the world (arguably even better than he was before, somehow). Denis "electronic" Sharipov is a good secondary star, though not nearly as explosive as he used to be. Kirill "Bommbl4" Mikhailov is a high-fragging in-game leader who is great at getting info and creating space. Valerii "B1T" Vakhovskyi has split up some of the roles with electronic, while taking some of Egor "flamie" Vasilev's old roles. He's a pretty good fragger and seems to do his role well. Ilya "Perfecto" Zalutskiy is a great balancing force on the team. He’s a luxury supportive player that rarely makes mistakes and can win 1vX situations to turn rounds.
If the players reach their potential on paper, no other team’s firepower compares to Na`Vi. I should be jumping on the hype train and announcing the coming of the s1mple era. Just before I jump into the train, I get an eerie sense of déjà vu. I’ve been here before. When s1mple first joined the team and together with Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs won ESL New York 2016. When Na`Vi beat Astralis at ESL Cologne 2018, and it looked like they could challenge the Astralis Era. Then at the final big LAN before the pandemic hit at IEM Katowice 2020 where it looked like Na`Vi could finally become the best in the world.
All of those memories flood back. All of the times I’ve seen their fortunes rise to only drop precipitously afterward. Those memories fade away as I look at the line-up on paper and think, ‘No way does this not work.’ Then I watch an actual Na`Vi game.
That terrible sense of dread and nostalgia grips me once again as I watch the same movie play out. I know how it ends, but I can’t turn away. A Superman rises up to take on impossible challenges, he pushes a boulder up the mountain, and at the apex of the climb, a calamitous disaster falls down from the heavens, and the boulder falls back down.
No one man can win Counter-Strike, not even if that one man is s1mple. For all of their individual skill, Na`Vi are less than the sum of their parts, but that doesn’t mean as much when each piece is so strong in a vacuum. Their firepower is untouchable, and the team has improved after replacing flamie. This has led to a fairly strong map pool as Na`Vi can play all the maps except Vertigo.
All of Na`Vi’s positive aspects makes their glaring flaws all the more pronounced. What’s more, those flaws are the same ones we’ve seen throughout the various lineups. For whatever reason, Na`Vi just don't play disciplined, grounded Counter-Strike.
There is something in the makeup of the team, perhaps it's the mix of personalities, Boombl4's leadership, or something else altogether. That spark of volatility and inconsistency has remained at the core root of the team.
Any CS:GO fan will know what I'm talking about, the small mistakes and overaggressive calls that inevitably crop up. Here are two rounds from BLAST Spring Finals to illustrate the point.
The first round is from the Na`Vi vs G2 dust2 Game. In the 12th round, Na`Vi are on the T-side. In the 25th round, Na`Vi are in a 4v2 A retake situation. Nemanja "nexa" Isakovic got the kill onto s1mple and has smoked short. Na`Vi have control of ramp and short with both players trapped on A. There are 50 seconds left on the clock, bomb hasn't been planted.
Time is on Na`Vi's side here, but instead of disciplined CS using the principle of trading, Leeroy Jenkins made the call as Na`Vi brute forced their way through the smoke and up the ramp off of one pop flash. It missed, the two players going through the smoke die, then the two players going up ramp die.
The other round that sticks out in my mind is from the finals between Gambit and Na`Vi on Mirage. In the 23rd round, Gambit are on a low buy. Strategically, it's a good situation for Na`Vi as it's an all out brawl for mid-control early in the round, so it emphasises their individual skill. They win out the trade and are in a 4v3 situation. Boombl4 then runs off by himself towards the B-site and dies to sh1ro. Gambit then use their rotational play to win the round.
While I’ve focused on Na`Vi’s flaws, when Na`Vi is on, they are untouchable. When they don’t have the strange moments and their players are in form, they run over the competition. Na`Vi have the highest potential ceiling in the world, but there is a fragility behind their strength that can force the entire thing to collapse.
Na`Vi’s inherent volatility means that while they are the only team that can beat Gambit, they are also a team that could get upset before meeting Gambit. The highs are higher, but the lows are so much lower. It can be frustrating at times to watch as the bad calls and over aggression forces s1mple to push that boulder back up the mountain. I know how this ends, but I look at the names on the page I watch s1mple pull out the impossible, my brain thinks ‘you don’t need that much more with s1mple playing like this really’, and then I think...
Ah Na`Vi, here we go again.