NAVI Win ESL Pro League; Complete IEM Grand Slam
Natus Vincere has made Counter-Strike: Global Offensive history. Their 3-2 win over Team Vitality has given them the ESL Pro League Season 14 trophy, the first for NAVI and the CIS as a whole. Not only that, but NAVI has also completed their IEM Grand Slam with this being their fourth ESL or DreamHack tournament win in eight events. NAVI will take home an additional $1 million in prize money split between the players.
The Road to the Slam
The story of NAVI’s Grand Slam began just over 20 months ago. After an inconsistent 2019 campaign, NAVI made the decision to move on from long-time AWPer Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács. In his place came Ilya “Perfecto” Zalutskiy from Syman Gaming to play a new support role for the CIS giants. One month later, the changes NAVI made paid off big time. After a flawless playoff run, NAVI took home the IEM Katowice 2020 trophy and notched their first tick to the IEM Grand Slam.
NAVI looked unstoppable in those playoffs. All of the sudden, this CIS squad headlined by Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev had fixed the cracks in their armor. With s1mple unchained and able to take on an AWP/hybrid role, NAVI looked like they could usher in their own era of Counter-Strike. However, something was about to happen that would change the trajectory of CS:GO forever.
Unexpected Twists and Turns
Around early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic became a worldwide issue that affected everything. Esports as a whole suffered the cancellation of countless LAN events including every Valve Major for the next year and a half. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive perhaps suffered the hardest of any game. CS:GO has a deep-seated offline tournament culture. If the event isn’t taking place on LAN, it’s just less serious.
Many veteran squads such as Astralis and Team Liquid had a hard time adjusting to the new online ecosystem. NAVI were no different. For the rest of 2020, NAVI did not win a single event outside of their region. They didn’t completely fall off, however. NAVI still had multiple top four finishes at IEM events, the team just couldn’t find themselves clearing the final hurdle at any of them.
Come 2021, NAVI finally earned another trophy on the one-year anniversary of Perfecto’s addition at the BLAST Global Finals. Finally, this team with so much potentially looked like their true selves again. Just when things were looking up for NAVI, another squad came roaring in out of nowhere to challenge their status as the best team in the CIS.
Gambit Esports came onto the tier one scene at IEM Katowice 2021. The young team completely upstaged the defending champions NAVI, knocking them out in 5th-6th place. Gambit would go on to take the Katowice trophy for themselves, as well as the number one rank worldwide. NAVI’s next showing at ESL Pro League Season 13 was even more disappointing, ending after a first round playoff loss.
Rising Back Up
Still, NAVI would not let themselves be tossed aside. Another roster change was made, this time removing Egor “flamie” Vasilyev for rookie “Valerii “b1t” Vakhovskyi from NAVI Junior. Our heroes came roaring back at DreamHack Masters Spring in early May, taking down Gambit for the first time this year in the Grand Finals. This win also gave NAVI their second IEM Grand Slam point.
Fast forward two months. After 18 straight months of solely online Counter-Strike, LAN made its return at IEM Cologne 2021. Many expected that the veteran squads would find much more comfort in the return to the familiar LAN environment. This turned out to be true, as the top four consisted of NAVI, Astralis, FaZe Clan, and G2 Esports. Clean sweeps against the latter two propelled NAVI to the IEM Cologne trophy and the penultimate point for the Grand Slam.
The Final Step
All eyes were now on NAVI for ESL Pro League Season 14. The EPL trophy was notoriously one that had evaded NAVI since its inception back in 2015. They had been runners-up twice before, but the stakes were higher now than ever. A win at Pro League would mean a fourth and final title to bring NAVI the IEM Grand Slam.
NAVI began in Group C. Despite a small hitch against BIG, they still managed to advance in first seed and earn a round one bye. Just three series stood in the way of NAVI and history. Their first of those was a complete thrashing of ENCE with a combined round score of 32-7. Next up was a Heroic squad who just came off of a miracle last-second comeback to beat Team Liquid 2-1.
Each team took their map pick by two rounds or less, forcing the series to a tiebreaker. Nuke was just as close all the way through. The score climbed to 13-12 in favor of Heroic. With their IEM Grand Slam dreams on the line, NAVI had one last buy before Heroic broke their economy and earned 15. In a hopeless 2v5 scenario, s1mple and b1t came alive.
On Top of the World
NAVI went on to win the map 16-14 and narrowly etch their spot in the Grand Finals. Standing opposite of them was a resurging Team Vitality. This was a rematch of the IEM Beijing Online Finals in 2020 where Vitality took a close 3-2. The five map match played out as standard as possible. Each team took turns being dominant on their map picks. No squad earned more than 11 rounds in a game they lost.
Finally, we were down to Mirage, the same map that broke the tie between these two at IEM Beijing. NAVI’s CT half ended in a 10-5 advantage. However, Vitality immediately closed that gap on their defense. The score was nearly even at 11-10. From this point on, no team managed to win two rounds in a row. The score ticked back and forth all the way into round 30. It was fittingly s1mple himself to take down the last man on Vitality and bring home the title for NAVI.
NAVI’s performance over the last four months has been on another level. This team has long had the talent and strategy to play the best CS:GO in the world, but fell short so many times. Now, it is undeniable that they are Counter-Strike’s top team. Their names are forever etched into history as IEM Grand Slam champions. We will surely be seeing more of NAVI as they continue to forge their own era.