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Photos of Natus Vincere playing at the Berlin Major
NEWS

Natus Vincere: To Further A Legacy

Jul 012021

There is no doubt that 2021 will go down as a pivotal year for many teams, if only for the simple fact that the online era dragging on for the past fifteen months is about to come to an end. NAVI themselves are at one of the biggest turning points in the history of the CIS powerhouse.

The boys in black and yellow have clawed their way back into being one of the world’s very best, despite the online context and the never-ending stream of tournaments jammed into a tightly packed schedule. It’s been no easy road, the hardest moment being their lackluster finish at ESL Pro League Season 13, which seemed to have been a tipping point.

Indeed, it’s right after this tournament that the team decided to field Valerii "b1t" Vakhovskyi as a permanent fifth on the roster. The NAVI Junior player had been stepping in for Egor "flamie" Vasilev here and there, but never for an entire event. This gave him a taste of the level of play he would have to rise to should he move up the Counter-Strike ladder. And rise he did.

The Valve ruling related to RMR points forced the team to make a more definitive choice between the two players, and NAVI decided to trust the youngster for DreamHack Masters Spring. This was thus his first tournament that he played from the beginning until the end, and it culminated in the squad grabbing the trophy and getting revenge along the way.

They fell to Gambit early in the group stage only to beat their CIS rival in a dominant 3-0 sweep in grand finals. It was their second big win in 2021 - and a long awaited one too, since the first was the BLAST Premier Finals back in January.

“We [...] managed to find our game and get on the same wavelength, when we catch that tide, we are unstoppable; there is no team in the world that we cannot beat”

-Andrii "b1ad3" Gorodenskyi

 

 

In essence, NAVI is a team whose success tightly couples to emotions - to the team clicking together. This has been showcased throughout the multiple series that they played against Gambit, a team hard to dislodge from the number one spot as of now. The red star squadron has been a staple of big event finals in the last months, snatching trophies on the back of seamlessly coordinated plays powered by great individual skill across the whole team. 

 

 

NAVI have locked horns on their way to grand finals multiple times against Gambit, often struggling to surpass the CIS’s new star squad, especially on Dust 2 and Mirage. And yet they eventually disrupted Gambit’s great form in 2021 with a powerful statement in the finals.

 

 

“If s1mple shows the same game in every match, there’s very little chance for the opponent; in fact, he can play much better than he did in that final against Gambit”

-Andrii "b1ad3" Gorodenskyi

 

Surely enough, Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev was the star of the show, as he plowed through NAVI's opponents time and time again, leaving a trail of highlights behind him The Ukrainian superstar has always had a strong character on top of strong play. Sometimes dominated by emotions,  

 

However, that force of character can also act as a tidal wave, individually and collectively, that fuels both s1mple and NAVI. Working together, NAVI earned the trophy, while s1mple earned yet another MVP award, bringing his tally to 12, right above Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut and behind consistency personified, Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz.

 

At DreamHack, NAVI's style was also noteworthy. Their playbook showcased the  slow, methodical plays that have long been their  signature, balanced out with fast aggressive strategies, often spearheaded by Denis “electronic” Sharipov or b1t himself. The squad had no problems giving the youngster tough roles. For his part,b1t had no problem delivering. He is becoming key to their success by unlocking situations and strategies, albeit more discreetly than s1mple.

 

This success and trophy couldn’t come at a better time to reassert instantly that NAVI hadn’t gone anywhere and that  CS fans could forget the rough showing at ESL Pro League. But the CS:GO scene remains a tough environment in constant evolution. Hard work is in constant demand, and the subsequent events were a reminder of that. 

 

They would cross paths again with Gambit in the Blast Premier Spring Finals, again in the grand finals, and this time Gambit would take their revenge. Clashes between the two CIS giants are now commonplace in the later stages of tournaments, in what’s becoming the region’s El Clásico. Gambit can ease past the likes of G2 in a comfortable manner, however it all changes once they face NAVI. These ten players find themselves in a greater struggle to perform than usual when they face each other, which showcases how intense and tough each of their matches are and how high the competition is when these juggernauts cross swords.

“After all, losses give you new motivation and point out your flaws”

-Andrii "b1ad3" Gorodenskyi

 

 

With their win, Gambit consolidated their  advantage in terms of series, but NaVi’s 3-0 over them at DreamHack Masters Spring was such a display of strength that it can’t be ignored. When they are at their best, NAVI can outclass Gambit completely.

 

 

From the same region, fighting to be the star of the CIS era, in a real way Gambit feels like a nemesis NAVI never had.  A rivalry like that could be a powerful motivator to surpass one’s self and unlock new levels - a frightening thought given the individuals on NAVI's roster. 

 

 

Not to mention the first offline tournaments are coming up, with IEM Cologne set to take place in July of this year in a LAN environment (even if in a studio). And one can’t just ignore the fact that this will change the power dynamics between the teams. 

 

 

Online Counter-Strike has always been considered, and rightly so, to be a different environment with different factors. One advantage NAVI have over their rivals is that the Gambit roster has never played in a serious LAN environment, save for Abay “Hobbit” Khasenov. NAVI's core on the other hand has plenty of experience playing, and winning, on the big stage.

 

 

“We have already forgotten what it is like to play LAN. But the difference, of course, is enormous. Young teams are deluded when they say there won’t be any difference”

-Andrii "b1ad3" Gorodenskyi

 

For NAVI, their goal in 2021 couldn’t be clearer. The Major that will play in Stockholm must unfold with the black and yellow jerseys lifting the trophy. NAVI's current core dates back to early 2019, when Boombl4 joined forces with s1mple and electronic. They inherited a legendary name which, however legendary, still hasn’t conquered the most prestigious CS:GO title. NAVI often reached the semifinals, and sometimes the finals, but only to fall short in the last meters. 

 

 

By fielding b1t permanently, they have somewhat removed the last hyphen between the NAVI of old and the current NAVI. The symbolism couldn’t be stronger. While this doesn’t win you games in itself, there’s an itch in the back of the mind, a little voice that whispers that finally, at last, they can venture beyond and above the legacy that has been left for them.

 

 

The challenges will be great, and there is still hard work to do for Natus Vincere, but with a return to an offline environment at IEM Cologne in July and with the Major down the road this fall, NAVI are in a prime position to step up and claim what has long eluded them for a while: a Major. 

 

 

“We are a team that is ‘Born to Win’, so it’s hard for us to play a tournament without striving for the victory”

-Andrii "b1ad3" Gorodenskyi

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