At IEM Katowice, Natus Vincere toppled SK Gaming, Virtus.pro and Cloud9, whilst dropping matches to Heroic and North to make it out of Group B. Ultimately, the squad lost to Astralis in a one-sided Best of 3 in the quarterfinals. This finish continues what has been a run of underachievement, relative to the expectations surrounding the Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev imbued Na`Vi lineup that formed five months ago.
Although it is clear that the Ukrainian prodigy is by no means the culprit for their lack of Grand Final appearances, considering the age of the roster, the relatively innocent question of ‘what’s next?’ is becoming more relevant. Aside from directly swapping s1mple, or bringing back Daniil “Zeus” Teslenko, what are Na`Vi’s options moving forwards?
An Eastern Europe Dynasty Without a Leader
The most apparent issue with Na`Vi is the strength of their leadership. Historically, the squad had the benefit of one of the most experienced IGLs in the game with Zeus, combined with the seasoned hand of Sergey “starix” Ishchuk as a coach to guide the CIS side. This duo of seasoned tactical and emotional leading drove Na`Vi to have one of the most dominate and unique T-sides in the world, capable of dismantling teams even with only Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovác as their main firepower.
However, with the coaching rule introduced by Valve largely removing starix from the picture, plus Zeus being removed in favour of s1mple, Na`Vi’s executes and mid-round rotations are shadows of their former selves. Their current leaderDenis “seized” Kostin, who used to be the site anchor and support player during the Zeus era, might very well blossom into a solid IGL over the coming months. The real question will be whether the reward of his growth into the IGL role will be worth the lack of results Na`Vi will likely experience in this development stage.
On top of not boasting the same mastery over leading as a side as his predecessors, ever since becoming the IGL of Na`Vi, seized’s once uncanny level of individual skill has disappeared all together. Historically being the cool, calm and collected mind in a team full of confidence riddled stars, seized played an integral role in playing unfavourable positions so that players like Guardian or Egor “flamie” Vasilyev could make big plays. The burden of calling has largely eliminated his mechanical skill, and pushed him towards the bottom end of the scoreboard with shocking regularity.
Without knowing the framework and thought process of the Na`Vi organisation or the attitude of the team towards their results, this question is almost impossible to answer as an outsider looking in. In saying that though, if they did want to replace seized there is a clear swap that could take place…
The ANGE1 Prerogative
Considering the immense success that Zeus has experienced and placed upon Gambit since joining, combined with the negative feelings towards Na`Vi that he might have after being kicked, it seems unlikely that we will see him back under the yellow banner. So, with this in mind, Kirill “ANGE1” Karasiow from Hellraisers is the only clear move for Na`Vi to make, if they wanted to find a seasoned IGL to take the reigns of their side.
Just like Zeus and Starix, ANGE1 is one of the most experienced, active IGL’s CS:GO has today. Having experienced the heights of CIS dominance with Virtus.pro in the earlier days of CS:GO as a title, and the lower points as apart of the doomed Astana Dragons roster, ANGE1 has led teams through thick and thin, then back again.
He has already led both s1mple, flamie, and Ioann “Edward” Sukhariev in previous sides, which would not only help smooth his transition into the side from an in-game perspective, but also alleviate awkward ‘outsiderness’ from an out of game perspective as well.
Strangely, ever since the depature of Tomáš “oskar” Šťastný from Hellraisers, ANGE1’s individually game has improved dramatically, with the once perennial bottom fragger starting to post big numbers on LAN. In many ways, he shares a similar role with Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander from Astralis – someone who can get a surprise pick across the map and create a numbers disadvantage for CT pushes or T executes. What’s more, since his side has also largely failed to have any meaningful results, he might not feel as attached to the fledging nature of the Hellraisers side
Left of Field Options
Outside of seized as a leader, flamie could also be the next name on the chopping block. Since his induction into the side and hyped as the next big star, flamie has experienced only a select few tournaments in which he could live up to this title. Whilst his age might incentivise Na`Vi to hold onto him for longer due to potential growth, there are other potential young stars lurking in the wings that could take his spot.
Both Martin “STYKO” Styk and Patrik “Zero” Žúdel from Hellraisers boast differing positive qualities that could slot into Na`Vi’s system with ease. Guardian who shares Slovakian descent with both players, has been very active in promoting them through social media, and one can tangentially imagine – behind the scenes as well. This in-tie they have with the Na`Vi organisation, combined with their mouldable skills makes their potential inclusion not as unlikely as you might think.
Regardless of what choice the we see Na`Vi making in the near future though, the fact that a change is likely on the horizon is enough to justify the failings of this roster. Something that no one saw coming, especially given the perfect environment s1mple has been given to succeed.