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Photos of NAVI's CSGO team at 2021 IEM Cologne major

INAVI-table: The Ride to #1

Oct 012021

This was on the lips of everyone this past week, as the ESL Pro League Season 14 grand finals was unfolding. There was more on the line than an already prestigious title in the form of the Pro League trophy. For Na’Vi, the completion of the Intel Grand Slam was the real objective of this match, not just the Pro League victory. 

In CS, a Grand Slam is the highest achievement next to winning a Major. More than just winning a tournament, it takes winning 4 S-tier events (organized by ESL or DreamHack Masters) in a window of 10 consecutive S-tiers. Prior to ESL Proleague, Na’Vi had clinched three out of the four necessary wins to put them on the precipice of a feat only accomplished by two other teams in the last four years.

The Grand Slam nearly eclipsed the stakes of the tournament at hand. Every round Na’Vi won, every inch of progress they were making, every frag bringing them closer to this goal had the whole scene cling onto their seats and feel an unbearably increasing tension.

Despite the tension of a looming Grand Slam, Navi made the group stage look easy as they breezed through, only losing to an overperforming BIG. It was only in the bracket stage where Na’Vi would have to go the distance. In the Semifinals they needed nearly every single round in regulation to dispatch Heroic, with a razor-thin 2-1.

The reward for their efforts? A best-of-five against Vitality that went to the 30th round on the fifth map.

In a nail biting series against a resurgent Vitality, we witnessed a clash of styles, and a clash of superstars where Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostylev bested his arch-nemesis Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut to claim the Pro League trophy, and landed Na’Vi the Intel Grand Slam in the process. The Ukrainian prodigy also claimed yet another MVP, his fifth this year already, and sixteenth overall. 


The prize magnitude also gives a good idea of how high the stakes were going into the grand finals. Had Na’Vi lost, each player would have received $16,000. With their win, and the Grand Slam, that victory landed them $239,000 each. The reward was fitting, given it took the boys in yellow and black 561 days to get a grand slam, thanks to a global pandemic and a scene that only began welcoming LANs once again this summer.


More than money, this nets Na’Vi prestige. For a squad that has had flashes of brilliance at times but never quite dominated the scene like Fnatic, SK, Team Liquid or Astralis, this achievement is a resounding milestone. Finally, it seems that Na’Vi found a formula for consistency.


Since the beginning of the year and the landmark roster change, Na’Vi have now won five titles, including the only LAN played since the pandemic hit. They’ve made it to the world #1 ranking, and now they’re the third team ever to snatch the Intel Grand Slam. Their worst nemesis of Spring, Gambit, are getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. Little by little, the Born To Win squad is ticking all the boxes to establish their own era. There is but one last item on the list.


In their quest for the ultimate title, a CS:GO Major, Na’Vi have been in a peculiar situation. Despite having one of the best players in the world and consistently fielding strong lineups, the squad itself has never been able to power through and reach the summit. Na’Vi has been a consistent reminder that CS:GO is ultimately a team game. No individual, no matter how otherworldly he may be, can overcome an entire squad working in complete synergy.

The best example for that remains the grand finals of the Faceit London Major, where the poster child teamplay-focused squad, Astralis, bested Na’Vi in a one-sided match. No hero plays could compensate for the teamwork Astralis had managed to put together, which would redefine how CS:GO was meant to be played at the top.


But this is the past. Now the dominant Astralis of old is no more. Their current iteration must be taken seriously, but the aura of invincibility is gone. As for the rest of the field, there aren’t many teams on Na’Vi’s level.


Back in July we wrote that Na’Vi were at a turning point, and that their decision to bring Valery “b1t” Vakhovskyi as a permanent fifth in place of Egor “flamie” Vasilev showed they had the will to reinvent themselves. By bringing in b1t, they were investing in a hidden gem that lurked beneath the very top in hopes to find that last piece of the puzzle.


If fans could be left pensive and doubtful at first, given flamie’s consistent presence over the last few years, it only took a few months to dispel any doubts about b1t. The youngster carved a place for himself at the very top, and established a reputation as an incredible aimer that finds heads under his crosshair in an almost magical manner. Since he joined the squad, b1t has kept improving, cementing himself as a key, reliable rifler and a top 10 rated player. 


With b1t meeting his potential, Na’vi have assembled one of the scariest trios ever in S1mple, b1t, and Denis “electronic” Sharipov. Any of these players could be a superstar in a different team, with such carry potential as to single handedly push their teams upwards in the rankings. S1mple and electronic already proved that, back when they were playing in Flipsid3 under their current coach, B1ad3.


Their Pro League match against EG showed they don’t even need the combined firepower of all three. In an extremely rare occurrence where S1mple was the lowest rated player of the map, b1t and electronic simply put on a duo-carry performance that EG just couldn’t match. The raw firepower they have is already through the roof thanks to s1mple, but it’s their depth that got them the Grand Slam.


What’s remarkable for Na’Vi is that other teams, like FaZe, have tried stacking up superstars this way, but rarely lasted as long or peaked as high as Na’Vi are set on a trajectory towards. Strong minded superstars would lock horns over the vision of the team, ultimately sapping away cohesion. Thus far, Na’Vi seems beyond that.


Now, it’s the resilience of Na’Vi that will be tested on this road to the Major. They’ve come so close in the past iterations, thrice in grand finals, and a few more top four. It still feels unreal that such a storied house - and superstar - has never been able to lay their hands on this particular trophy. 


But now is the time. The Intel Grand Slam was merely a stepping stone without a Major win to follow it up. Their lineup is as potent as it’s ever been, riding a tidal wave of form into, arguably, their most important tournament yet. If they maintain form all the way to the Major in November, then they’ll ride into CS:GO Valhalla, and claim an era long-awaited.