stuchiu: Na`Vi’s Dominance on Dust2 at IEM Katowice
Na`Vi have won IEM Katowice in emphatic fashion. They only dropped a single series to Fnatic in the group stages. Outside of that loss, they beat FaZe twice, NiP, Liquid, Astralis, and G2. In the playoffs, they didn’t drop a single map. The biggest map in Na`Vi’s victory run was Dust2. If Dust2 can become a consistent homemap for Na`Vi, they could become the best CS:GO team in the world.
The Conundrum of Dust2 being a home map
Dust2 is in an interesting place in the map pool. It is similar to inferno in that every team is willing to play it, so if a team could theoretically master the map it could be a huge boon to their map pool. One of the big reasons why Astralis became the greatest lineup of all-time was their absolute mastery of Inferno. In the case of Dust2 though, no team has ever had a steady relationship with the map.
We’ve had Dust2 specialists (most notably the historic French teams and EG in their honeymoon period in 2019), but no one has made it a consistent home map. The architecture of the map stretches the economy so it’s hard for any CT-side to find a consistent way to control the map. The T-side is in prime position to rush four different areas of the map at the start of each round: the B-site, mid doors, short, and long. Depending on the spawn, they can reach some of those areas faster than the CT defense.
If the CT’s don’t have a full economy, The Ts can bulldoze them over. If they have a medium economy, they have to choose when they deploy their utility: for the rush, for mid-round information, or for late-round defense. If the CTs use too much utility initially, they are left in a hard position in the late round where they either have to make gamble stacks or risky mid-late round pushes to get info.
A second thing to consider is the amount of open spaces for duels is why people consider Dust2 more of a skill-based map. What’s more the Dust2 meta hasn’t changed drastically since its inception. Teams and lineups introduce new ideas and tactics to the maps, but no one has fundamentally changed the overall approach to the map. All things considered, it makes sense why no team has successfully made Dust2 a home map in a prolonged period of domination.
That is what makes Na`Vi’s run at IEM Katowice so intriguing. In almost every bo3 series (except for NiP as NiP banned Dust2), Na`Vi first picked Dust2 into every team at the event. This includes: FaZe twice, Fnatic, Liquid, Astralis, and G2. Na`Vi went 5-1 in mapscore. They beat FaZe twice, Liquid, Astralis, and G2. Their only loss was to Fnatic. The question now is why Na`Vi were so dominant on the map in their run and whether or not they can consistently repeat that formula going into the future.
While Na`Vi use various defaults on the T-side, their overarching strategy is fairly straightforward. In the first moments of the round, depending on their spawn, they choose an area of the map they want to take control of early. There are four areas: B, mid doors, short, and long. If Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev gets the fast B-spawn, he will look for an early pick on the site. If the team gets a good long spawn, they’ll rush a player out towards blue. In general, Na`Vi prefer to have Denis “electronic” Sharipov as their point-man for this strategy as he has the most consistent ceiling of their riflers.
Na`Vi used this tactic twice against Fnatic in the sixth and 10th rounds of the game. In both instances, Fnatic went for the right and electronic was able to use the utility from the rest of his team to kill the Fnatic players. If they don’t have electronic be the point-man, then they sometimes run a variation where electronic rushes up short instead to flank the players that are fighting at long. As for mid doors and short, they have a combination of electronic and Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhailov take control of both areas. Another variation is to have electronic and s1mple rush out mid doors to look for an early pick.
After the initial stages, the team holds their spots on the map as they work the map. Around the 1:00-0:30 mark, Na`Vi will deploy mid smokes. Boombl4 will clear mid and then the team will usually hit the A-site, though they can also do a mid-to-B split as well.
Na`Vi’s CT-side has a kind of flowchart structure to it as well. Ilya “Perfecto” Zalutskiy is the B-site anchor and Egor “flamie” Vasilev plays as the B rotational player as he switches between helping the B-site and looking for mid-aggression. Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhalov plays long. The central key pieces to the Na`Vi defense are electronic and s1mple. They are the two players who often take first contact for the defense as they look for aggressive entry duels at the start of each round. What’s more, they are usually the players trying to find information in the mid-round or rotating around. S1mple for instance will take short early on, fall back after the duel, and then take a second peek from mid doors a bit later on.
This setup is standard across most Dust2 teams. What makes Na`Vi standout is that they don’t aggressively fight for long control as often as other teams. Boombl4 usually plays it more passively with a smoke or molly and if the T-side takes it, they let it go. For other teams, this can snowball into big T-sides, but Na`Vi have a s1mple. S1mple is shockingly effective at killing mass long takes if they push up towards the site. Both Liquid and G2 tried to do this in their Dust2 games against Na`Vi. Liquid in the 21st and G2 in the 28th. Both times s1mple got a double kill and effectively shut down the entire round.
The round that probably best exemplifies Na`Vi’s CT-side setup is the 25th round against FaZe the first time around. In that round, Na`Vi had a double AWP setup. They used their utility to hold off B tunnels and long, had flamie hold the mid doors, and had electronic boost s1mple up to short so he could take control of short early on in the round.
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Na`Vi’s foundation on both sides of the map was solid. There weren’t any obvious holes in their tactics, their communications and rotations were on point, and they had good individual players across all of their roles. But it wasn’t quite as perfect as the map score may make it seem as teams did find potential ways to stop Na`Vi from comprehensively beating them on Dust2.
How teams tried to break Na`Vi
Na`Vi were the best Dust2 team at the tournament, but some teams did give them trouble. FaZe went 14-16 against them in their first encounter, Fnatic beat them 16-7, and even though Liquid lost 11-16 that game was far closer than the scoreline indicates. G2 went up 7-2 in their own Dust2 game before Na`Vi took back control.
All four teams found ways to mitigate Na`Vi’s effectiveness on their T-side. FaZe and Fnatic used similar ideas. In the 10th round of the first FaZe game, Na`Vi were using a 4-1 with four players taking long and Perfecto holding B tunnels. FaZe went for a 2 man push down B-tunnels at the 1:00 mark and killed him. Fnatic used a similar tactic in the 8th round of their game. Liquid also used the same move in their own game in the eleventh round.
Beyond trying to find the isolated player, some of the teams found success by stopping the intial rush. Fnatic in the eight round of their game had Robin “flusha” Ronnquist and Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson on top of each other so that when Electronic came to clear either short or mid, they’d have a good angle and trade situation on him. In G2’s case they used a slightly delayed fast timing to surprise Na`Vi. In the 5th round Francois “AmaNEK” Delaunay peeked out around the 1:30 mark towards mid to get a kill. Three rounds later Nemanja “huNter” Kovac used the same timing to get a double kill.
Na`Vi’s adaptations and mixups through the tournament
Na`Vi was also able to adapt either mid-game or afterward. In the first run-in with FaZe, Na`Vi recognized that they were trying to pick off Perfecto as he was isolated on the map. They didn’t drastically change their default, but slightly tweaked their 4-1. After FaZe traded Perfecto in the 10th round, they had Perfecto join the pack in the 11th.
After the game, Na`Vi mixed in more defaults with two players at B at the start of the round, usually s1mple or electronic. Na`Vi also mixed up a few things to keep from being predictable. Na`Vi had been playing a passive CT-side setup towards long through most of the tournament up to the Liquid game. Once they played Liquid, they had s1mple and Boombl4 take fights early on rather than just using utility and falling back if they pushed through. After doing that, they faked that passive long control in the 26th round where they had s1mple throw the smoke towards long and then rotate back to A as this freed up Boombl4 to setup an ambush towards mid doors with flamie.
The s1mple and skill factor
I’ve gone over a lot of the macro setups: the foundations, adaptation, mixups, and general roles of how Na`Vi function on Dust2. While all of that is great, I think the biggest reason why Na`Vi are the best on Dust2 is their personnel. S1mple and electronic are the best duo in the world. Flamie doesn’t always have high stats, but that’s largely due to the more passive roles he plays. When he is actually in action, he is often worth a double kill. Boombl4 is an above average fragger for his role as entry-fragger and leader, and Perfecto is a solid player who can win clutches for the team.
This skill factor along with Dust2’s potential for individual playmaking and reading of the game is what makes Na`Vi’s Dust2 so hard to crack. I’ve said before that Na`Vi like to play passive towards long as they can have s1mple shut down any long hits even if the T-side executes it. This is a benefit that no other CT-side has in the world. What’s more, s1mple is exceptional at counter-sniping and holding the A-site. In the G2 game, kennyS used a similar AWP rotation to s1mple to start the round. He got to short quickly, got a kill and then rotated back to mid doors to get a second look. S1mple knew he was coming the entire time and instantly killed him.
Later on in the same half, s1mple was in a close to dead position in the 27th round of the game. G2 were executing on the A-site and G2 were in a great position to kill him and win the round. Instead s1mple got a kill, delayed the hit, played off of Boombl4, and stalled long enough for a successful retake to happen. Then there are impossible moments like the s1mple 1v4 against Liquid:
Finally, s1mple also makes adjustments on the CT-side mid-game. In the first FaZe match, FaZe won the 27th round with an execute after taking long control. S1mple was out of position as he was stuck on ramp. When FaZe used the same tactic in the 28th round, s1mple was on top of the site and that alongside a smoke gave him the space he needed to shut the hit down. While I’ve focused on s1mple for this particular section, all of the Na`Vi players are flexible and adaptable when it comes to the CT-side defense.
Is Na`Vi’s Dust2 Sustainable
Now that we have a better understanding of Na`Vi’s Dust2, is it sustainable? If we look at the rotations, teamplay, and tactics, they are all structurally and fundamentally solid. What’s more, Na`Vi showed that they could adapt mid-round and in between games so there is a level of anti-fragility built into the core structure of their Dust2.
Structure and tactics though can only get you so far on Dust2. Astralis were monsters on this map during their era in 2018 through their structure and tactics, but that only took them so far on the map. What it comes down to is form, and that is what frightens me about this Na`Vi team.
If s1mple were any other player, I’d say this was unsustainable. However, I’ve seen him play at this level consistently for all of 2018 and most of 2019 until Na`Vi took the AWP from him. S1mple is like the mailman, he always delivers. Electronic is a bit more erratic given his entry-fragger role, but he is the best aggressive rifler in the game and probably has the highest consistency among players who play a similar role. Boombl4 and flamie both played about par for what you’d expect them to. Boombl4 was an above average fragging in-game leader and flamie did his role and had some pop-off moments when he saw action. Perfecto should be the most exploitable of the five, but he’s a solid player for the team. He doesn’t give away easy deaths, gets the kills he needs to, and has impact in 1vX situations.
When I consider the structure, tactics, teamplay, and overall skill of Na`Vi, their run at IEM Katowice wasn’t an aberration, it is likely the norm. In that sense, Na`Vi’s strength on Dust2 seems sustainable. Even with all of that praise though, teams can play them close or beat them. FaZe went 14-16 in their first encounter. If Liquid didn’t lose that 4v1, they’d have a much better economy and shot at winning the subsequent 2-3 rounds, which makes the scoreline closer to a 16-14 than a 16-11. Fnatic straight out beat them 16-7. When I take everything into account, I think Na`Vi are the best Dust2 team in the world. The problem is that they aren’t so great that they could build an era off of it. They will likely need (maybe Nuke and Mirage/Train) before they can be a consistent #1 team in the world.
Images via ESL.