Uprooting a team by making roster changes is always a big decision. Sometimes, even when the team reaches their ceiling in the Quarter or Semi Finals instead of the Grand Final like it used to, upheaval in the roster can do more harm than good. This is the risk faced by the management of Natus Vincere when they were considering bowing down to the immense pressure by the CS:GO community, signing Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev.
Further pressure was put on everyone involved with the franchize when Valve announced their intention to forbid coaches from acting as in-game leaders in their Major tournaments. This decision was supported by ESL. Discussion whether the decision is correct aside, this put Na’Vi in a pickle, because the only player who could have replaced their coach, Sergey “starix” Ishchuk, Daniil “Zeus” Teslenko, was precisely the one who got benched when s1mple joined the squad. Who took over the reigns of the team? Denis "seized" Kostin. Did he do a good job? Let's see.
The newly hyped Na’Vi team, with one of the best players in the world as their secondary AWPer, s1mple, on the roster, started their first serious test in ESL One New York, where their coach’s input was to be limited by ESL’s rules. With their fans rooting for the team more than ever, they had a lot to prove, expectations were huge. And boy did Na’Vi deliver on them.
In the Swiss Group stage, where teams had to get three wins in order to advance to the Playoffs, the Ukrainians showed up big, being the only team to get a clean sweep on their way to their destination. The route they had to take wasn’t easy either. The first squad they had to face was s1mple’s old team, Liquid. While the American org could boast being a runner-up of the last Major, where they actually defeated Na’Vi to make it there, there was a small difference between then and now. S1mple wasn’t on Liquid anymore, making the Americans weaker than they were at the Major. The match ended quite predictably. While Liquid did put up a bit of a fight, Na’Vi won 16:9 in the end.
Next up, Na’Vi had to play against Virtus.pro, the team, which crushed the recently weakened Fnatic squad, only giving up six points to win the match. This match went the same as it did against Liquid, Na’Vi won 16:9. Again. The s1mple experiment appeared to be successful. With one more step left in order to make it into the Playoffs, the unstoppable force from Ukraine found itself faced with the immovable object from Brazil, SK Gaming, the reigning two-time Major champions. Looking at the teams SK had to face and the scores of the matches against them, one could almost foretell what was going to happen in this match for the one way ticket to the Playoffs. Na’Vi clobbered Liquid and Virtus.pro, while SK took out OpTic Gaming and had trouble against Astralis. Was it really that surprising that Na’Vi blew out SK out of the water, winning the match 16:6? I don’t think so.
Once the Ukrainian Juggernaut made it into the Playoffs, its engine seemed to struggle to keep up the pace a little bit. In the Semi Finals, Na’Vi dropped a game against Liquid before winning the bo3 in the end, their troubles continued in the Finals as well, when they also teased their fans by losing a game to the Polish neighbors, Virtus.pro. While it definitely made it exciting to watch the Playoffs, a clean sweep would have made for a better story than it did now, even though it was still a great feat. Almost all teams that competed in this tournament have carved their place in the highest echelon of competitive CS:GO. To make it into the Final, Virtus.pro had to win a series against SK, which was no small feat. In the end, however, the s1mple experiment seems to be a great success. That is all that matters. Let’s look forward to what this new Na’Vi team does next.