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NAVI’s Roster Rebuild to Potentially Bring an International Flair and Return to Form

Zakaria Almughrabi

After a lackluster start to their 2023 campaign, Natus Vincere, or NAVI, has decided to make sweeping changes to their CS:GO team. NAVI CEO Yevhen Zolotarov made a comment in February about the possibility of reaching into the international talent pool in the future. It would seem that time is now.


Image Copyright: Adela Sznajder, ESL FACEIT Group

A report from 1pv and Dexerto states that NAVI is in talks with Finnish in-game leader Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen. Ivan “iM” Mihai of GamerLegion fame is also in discussions for a move to NAVI. The rifler was the second highest rated player at the Paris Major and was a major piece in GL’s run to the grand finals. While nothing is certain regarding these transfers yet, they are consistent with rumors of NAVI replacing the Russian duo of Denis “electroNic” Sharipov and Ilya “Perfecto” Zalutskiy.

In addition to these talks, a report by Blix states that NAVI has already reached an agreement with rifler Justinas “jL” Lekavicius as a replacement for Andrii “npl” Kukharskyi. JL was part of the Apeks squad that made it to the semifinals of the Major, so his stock is also quite high right now. All of these moves point towards NAVI attempting to build another championship contending roster as soon as possible.

A New NAVI Look

NAVI’s previous lineup came out when they started to shift the guard for the first time after 2019, acquiring Russian in-game leader Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhaylov following Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko’s retirement. They then brought in Perfecto to replace Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs, allowing s1mple to AWP full time.

CS:GO’s 2020 kicked off with IEM Katowice, which had to have its playoffs shifted to an online environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NAVI came into the event guns blazing and blasted through the playoffs without dropping a map. It was a huge debut for this new look NAVI, and their form wasn’t just from a honeymoon phase either.

Throughout the rest of the year, NAVI would make two more grand finals at ESL Pro League Season 12 and IEM Beijing, although they couldn’t claim a second trophy. One last roster addition was made at the end of the year in Valerij “b1t” Vakhovskiy to form a six-man roster. As 2021 rolled around, NAVI decided that this year would belong to them.

The NAVI Era

If you look at NAVI’s tournament results from 2021, you will see a sea of gold. They took first place after first place at the biggest events the game had to offer. It would be faster to tell you what they didn’t win instead of what they did. While some might put an asterisk by their era due to it overlapping the online era of Counter-Strike, NAVI’s sheer dominance and consistency was unrivaled and cannot be debated.

As for why they were so good, there were several reasons. Firstly, s1mple was straight up unchained. Free to AWP and play as he pleased, s1mple thrived in this environment more than any before. With Boombl4 filling the role of a modern in-game leader, NAVI could function like a well-oiled machine.

Perfecto and b1t were the young rifling talent that NAVI had been lacking as their former stars faded away. The former was the stable support player who could clutch out rounds, and the latter quickly made a name for himself as a top tier entry fragger. Lastly, electroNic was performing as the dual threat alongside s1mple that everyone knew he could be at his peak.

As 2021 neared its end, NAVI won their first ever CS:GO Major at PGL Stockholm. And they didn’t just win it, they had the most dominant Major run ever. Throughout the entire event, NAVI didn’t lose a single map. As they lifted the most coveted prize in Counter-Strike, everyone in the world knew that NAVI was completely and indisputably the best team in the world.

Trending Downwards

NAVI closed out 2021 with a pair of BLAST trophies at Fall and the World Final, putting the capstone on the best year of CS:GO any team has had. As the curtain rose on 2022 and the game returned to in-person play, NAVI was not at the same strength as before. Obviously, teams were studying them closer than ever. But NAVI also had new problems with their map pool.

The introduction of new Vertigo forced NAVI to permanently ban it. Now that they couldn’t ban their opponents strongest map and instead had to ban their weakest, NAVI found themselves losing much more often. They also developed a weakness on Inferno, one of the most popular maps in rotation. It was their second most played map that year, but also their lowest win rate by a large margin.

That said, it’s not like they fell off a cliff. NAVI still managed to make it to the PGL Major Antwerp grand finals, but couldn’t defend their title against FaZe Clan. FaZe also defeated NAVI in the IEM Cologne grand finals, denying another repeat title. NAVI did find one trophy at the BLAST Spring Finals. Unfortunately, the team would hit a major snag right after that.

Goodbye Boombl4

The situation surrounding Boombl4 at the time was a complicated one, made even more difficult to navigate due to tensions surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the end, NAVI lost their in-game leader due to out-of-game reasons.

NAVI now had to find a new fifth man. They chose rifler Viktor “sdy” Orudzhev to be their stand-in. Now without a true IGL, NAVI decided to move electroNic onto the role, one he had no formal experience with prior. This version of NAVI did show some sparks, but was ultimately less adaptable and had a lower ceiling. If s1mple wasn’t carrying the game, NAVI didn’t have the firepower or the tactics to fall back on.

After that grand finals appearance at IEM Cologne, NAVI didn’t break top four at a tournament for the rest of the year. While the org didn’t blow it up immediately, they did decline on re-signing electroNic alongside s1mple at the end of 2022.

The End and a New Beginning

Instead of signing sdy on a permanent basis, NAVI decided to promote npl from their Junior team for the 2023 season. However, this still left the problem of electroNic being gimped on IGL. Npl was serviceable at best and underwhelming at worst, so the firepower issues didn’t get better either. Even so, having s1mple on your team means that you can still be competitive.

NAVI’s 2023 has consisted of top fours at IEM Katowice, ESL Pro League S17, and IEM Rio. Top four is very good for most teams, but when NAVI’s goal is to win championships while your star player is in their prime, it’s not good enough. An early exit from the final CS:GO Major at BLAST Paris seemed to be the final straw for the organization. This leads us to today, where NAVI’s roster is being overhauled for the first time since 2019.

It’s unknown what the ceiling is for a potential new NAVI squad that looks like this. Aleksib is known for being a solid IGL, but lacking the depth to keep evolving his teams once they show their hand. JL and iM are strong up-and-comers to say the least. They’ll need to show that they can maintain the form that led to them attracting the eyes of NAVI in the first place.

If these acquisitions do come through, we’ll be seeing a new NAVI unlike any seen before. Their first test drive would come at the BLAST Premier Fall Group Stage starting on July 13, with the all-important IEM Cologne on July 25.