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Navi Dominates The End of 2021
When the pandemic hit the world in 2020, the Counter-Strike scene was amidst a complete restructuring of its power dynamics. The Astralis era, although unbeknownst to us at the time, was at its sunset. The year 2020 opened with a few teams vying for the top spot as the Danish legends were starting to show dips in forms that would leave room for others to leap ahead of them. The last LAN before the global shutdown saw Navi absolutely dominate G2 in the grand finals of IEM Katowice to claim their first title in just about a year, before the scene switched to online fully for one year and a half.
This summer and fall, it seems like it all resumed exactly where we left off.
The return to LAN in Cologne back in the summer of 2021 was already a welcome sight, the community was buzzing as the PGL Major was confirmed, after months of uncertainty, to eventually take place in Stockholm in front of a live audience. Coming off a strong victory at the first offline tournament since the pandemic, the Major had extra significance for Navi as they’ve never been able to claim this title despite many attempts that fell short inches away.
It was historic. Imperious. Prodigious. Add your favorite superlative to the list, it will likely fit the performance that Navi delivered at this Major. After four days of Counter-Strike echoing in the halls of the Avicii Arena in Stockholm, the CIS powerhouse had finally claimed the prize that was missing from their already packed trophy case.
By first going undefeated in the group stage, Navi was rewarded with one of the toughest brackets they could expect. First, they had to spar with Vitality, in a duel of the superstars that could have proved tricky for Navi as the Frenchmen were among the few teams that made Navi sweat in the period prior to the Major. But not this time, as Navi powered through on the back of a great performance from the usually quieter part of its roster.
For their toil, they got to move on and face their nemesis of 2021, Gambit. Although the latter were not displaying their best form until then, the red star squad remained a threat and had experience defeating Navi. It quickly showed that this wouldn’t come to pass this time, and Navi claimed another victim on their path to the grand finals.
There, they collided with the other dominant force of the Major, G2 Esports. Coming from the opposite side of the bracket, Niko and his squad were off to a hot run that defied all prognosis, given the form that they showed in the run-up to the tournament. Thus the ultimate matchup was decided. Navi versus G2. The most dominant team of 2021 was pitted against a squad many felt wouldn’t make the cut eventually. The inevitable tide against the unexpected meteor. S1mple against NiKo.
2-0. With that, Navi had done the seemingly impossible and claimed a Major title without dropping a single map.
S1mple Claims The Last Missing Piece In Stockholm
While the team effort and achievement should be the headline, it’s absolutely impossible to dissociate this Major title from the one individual everyone had their eyes on throughout the tournament. S1mple has finally done it and claimed the last missing piece to his storied CS:GO career. It seems unreal, after all this time, for a career that started all the way back in 2014 under the HellRaisers banner. Yet it’s only now, seven years later, that the Ukrainian prodigy gets his hands for good on a Major trophy.
From the get-go, it seemed that the question was not if, but when. As S1mple landed a permanent spot on the Navi roster back in 2016, this was the obvious goal. He was destined to eventually get his title. Parallel to that, Navi had come close twice already, at DreamHack Cluj-Napoca and MLG Columbus. Signing S1mple was the logical step to make sure another Major finals like that wouldn’t happen, that the trophy wouldn’t slip through their fingers again.
As history would have it, this would prove far more complicated than anyone imagined. Following the departure of Zeus, who would go on and win the PGL Major Krakow under the Gambit colors, Navi started off on the right foot with a win at ESL One New York but would enter a period of turmoil right after that. Five years later, and with no one but S1mple remaining from that era of Navi, the storied Ukrainian organization finally completed their trophy case. Countless tournament victories couldn’t palliate that central empty spot where a Major trophy should stand. Thanks to S1mple and a fully revamped squad, that central spot is no longer empty.
The Squad Behind S1mple
It’s this very squad that garnered some attention during this year and this tournament, although maybe not enough to do them justice. While all the spotlight was on S1mple, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that he’s come a long way from being a young prodigy and is now the veteran of this squad. He’s now accompanied by another generation of players that rose to stardom later on. While electronic has lived in S1mple’s shadow for four years now, the remaining trio has been key in making Navi the top contender and immense force it is today.
Their latest addition has been the biggest revelation of the year so far. Forget the Gambit players, forget the red hot young Danes, it’s time to talk about b1t. His first recorded match is from May 2019. In seven months, he went from playing for Navi Junior, the academy team, to winning a Major in his first attempt with the main squad. All this while providing a caliber of play which at times even surpassed S1mple. One would have thought the stage would prove too much, the crowd and the stakes apply too much pressure, or that inconsistency could strike the prodigy at the worst possible time. But b1t remained consistent, solid, and endured everything that came his way like a seasoned professional.
With the high-impact, multi-frag potential of the new headshot machine - b1t boasts an impressive 72.9% headshot ratio for Stockholm, against the best teams in the world mind you - Navi also fields two more discreet but nonetheless essential players in Boombl4 and perfecto. They may be less prominent than the aforementioned trio, but where S1mple, b1t and electronic contribute with their high firepower, perfecto and boombl4 contribute to the team effort in different ways - clutches, space creation, and relentless aggression - allowing the star trio to shine and find cracks in even the most rock-solid formations there can be in the scene.
This is why it would be criminal to sum it all up to S1mple winning the Major. He’s now surrounded by stars, and each of them magnifies each other’s brightness through their team play. Astralis had shown the limitations of the old Navi’s one-man army at the previous Majors, but what can you do when there’s so much firepower that works in synergy and shutting down S1mple already takes most of your team’s effort? The answer is straightforward, nothing.
Putting It Back In The Context Of GOATs
Yet, despite our best effort to give credit not only to S1mple but to the amazing squad around him, it remains that the main storyline is his. It is a paradox that in a team game, we have to focus on the individual. But such is the nature of S1mple. At times he made a team game look easy on the individual level, capable of besting whole teams all by himself. Such is also the nature of this Major, who pitted two teams fielding two other players, ZywOo and NiKo that, with S1mple and dev1ce, form the quartet of the best players to ever touch CS:GO.
Each of them brought some convincing arguments for that coveted #1 spot. Dev1ce has numerous Major trophies and countless MVPs. ZywOo landed twice at the #1 spot on the yearly HLTV ranking in his first two years of play. NiKo has been one of the best players in the world at times, carrying teams to stages they would never reach without him, with a style that can only be his.
Despite their talent, only one of the four has won a Major. Only dev1ce. More often than not, his trophies came at the expense of the others, his Astralis team denying the other superstars their chances.
With S1mple conquering this PGL Major, it feels like the balance between these four has changed. He has bested both ZywOo and NiKo’s team on the path to the title, while dev1ce faltered in the quarters with NIP’s elimination. He also earned what NiKo and ZywOo still miss, a Grand Slam and a Major title, making his case in the achievements departments way stronger than the French prodigy and the Bosnian powerhouse.
After their success in Stockholm, Natus Vincere had two other opportunities to puff up their trophy case. The first stop was the BLAST Fall Finals in late November. The second event of the year with a crowd saw Navi once again blaze a path towards the grand finals of the event, claiming the tournament lives of BIG and Heroic, before back-to-back matches against Vitality in the upper bracket finals, then the grand finals.
While the Frenchmen took a valuable prize by putting an end to Navi's dominant and undefeated 20-0 Nuke streak, ultimately they couldn’t match the firepower and determination of S1mple and his gang, who snatched yet another big trophy before closing the year.
What’s better than squeezing one last trophy? Squeezing two, of course. Going back to Denmark for the BLAST World finals in December, Navi repeated their lower bracket run from the Global Finals a year earlier. Just like at the latter, they started the tournament on the backfoot by losing to a Last Dance Team Liquid, before climbing back the whole lower side of the playoffs to reach the grand finals, and defeat Gambit one last time in 2021 with a 2-1 victory.
This brought the total tally to 6 for trophies claimed by Navi this year, and a whopping 100% of LANs attended won. They finished 2021 as the uncontested best team in the world after showing absolute dominance in the second half of the year.
A Wild Shuffle Clearly Aiming For The Throne
The effects of this dominance showed right after the Major and throughout the whole end of the seasons, as roster changes started to unfold and organizations prepared their squad for 2022. So far this has led to multiple small earthquakes. The french scene lost its last full french roster, with Vitality grabbing zonic, dupreeh, and Magisk. G2 signing m0NESY, the hot prospect from Ukraine, in a move that one could read as “to counter S1mple, find your own mini-S1mple”. G2 again, swapping in-game leaders with OG. FaZe recruiting ropz and effectively becoming the second top team ever in the Estonian prodigy’s career. Shox going international over at Team Liquid, and many more.
It’s not necessary to be exhaustive to see one big trend. Competitors are making bold moves in order to challenge Navi in 2022. That’s the consequence of how dominant they’ve been. That escalation during the shuffle, when everyone scrambles for solutions, even if that means roster moves that would have been considered risky or foolish years ago.
Counter-Strike Reunites With The Fans
Besides Navi, the clear winners are the fans. First of all thanks to the return to LAN and with a crowd for the Major. A packed arena with 16,000 spectators, an online viewership that broke multiple records with peaks over 2.7 million viewers. It was clear that offline Counter-Strike had been dearly missed.
These four days of bracket play weren’t just the setting for this extraordinary Navi run. It was a time of celebration. Of Counter-Strike returning to live events. It might not be the new normal again. It may still take some time and some restrictions before we get back to the usual, but oh how good it felt to see.
Not only that, but this postseason transfer galore has also been one of the wildest in the history of the game, one of the most entertaining to follow. With multiple landmark player signings and rosters coming together with a clear goal for 2021, to aim for the king. Given Navi's current form, they really better not miss.