The Cardinals of Cologne: Na'Vi

Mamoon "TeaTime" Sabri is a caster, host, and interviewer. With ESL One Cologne on the horizon, he takes a close look at four of the most fancied teams heading to battle it out at the Cathedral of Counter-Strike. In the second part of The Cardinals of Cologne series, it's Natus Vincere


The Cardinals of Cologne

MLG Major Championship: Columbus 2016

The first million-dollar major Counter-Strike had ever seen. Na’Vi entered, already scorned with a second-place finish at the previous major, against an Envyus team with nothing to lose. In a meta where force-buys and perfect aim were rewarded, the French had triumphed over them.

Before Columbus, the world had seen them lose to Fnatic twice in the finals of the biggest tournaments, and create a rivalry with the new Brazilian organisation that was making its own rounds on the block: Luminosity Gaming. Having taken them down at Leipzig in January, Na'Vi would soon lose to them in the semi-finals of IEM - before the Brazilians went on to lose to the legendary Fnatic side in the grand finals.

Related: ESL One Cologne 2019 schedule and brackets

Both teams had a distinct slow-paced style which was tactical and execute-heavy. Fallen relied on picture perfect coordination between his players on one side, while Zeus relied more on the chaos, and the slow rounds which allowed their star player and best AWPer in the world, Guardian, to flex his muscles.


The major saw storyline upon storyline. The first time in history two North American teams had made a major, with CLG headed by FNS, who helped to eliminate the defending champions in the group stage, making the quarter finals, while Liquid showed the world the power of a new Ukrainian import - S1mple. On the other side of the bracket, Astralis came up against Fnatic - a match-up which they’d historically come out on top in. With Fnatic eliminated and Olofmeister gone from the tournament early on, one of the teams who were always a major contender had been removed.

Luminosity faced off against Liquid, Na’Vi found themselves versus an Astralis who still struggled to make it out of the top four at a tournament. Both defeated the other in 2-0 series, but Luminosity looked as shaky as Na’Vi looked dominant. But with an untimely wrist injury leaving Guardian looking not quite living up to his best-player-in-the-world billing, it was all in the air.

The finals came. Fans saw Zeus stepping up with Flamie to make up for the lost Guardian as best as he could. Yet it was for nought. Na’Vi - once again the bridesmaids, lost out to Luminosity 2-0. Na’Vi had once again failed to take the world number one spot.

ELEAGUE Major: Boston 2018

Na’Vi, after struggling through times when a second-place finish was considered overachievement, finally put their foot down at the end of 2017, demanding the addition of Electronic to the roster. Na’Vi was forced to pull out their wallets and spend the big bucks to free Electronic from the Flipsid3 prison.


The addition proved underwhelming. Although he put up numbers, it wasn’t consistent. Dreamhack Open Winter 2017 saw Na’Vi finishing first, with Electronic’s rating darting between 0.98-1.4 - a range too large for a team which already had uncertain attributes.

Helped by some good fortune courtesy of Liquid fielding a stand-in, BIG not having recruited Smooya yet, and Fnatic being a shadow of their former selves, Na’Vi were able to breeze past the Swiss stage into quarter finals - only having one map taken from them in the legends phase by Faze Clan.

Still, people were more than a little sceptical. There didn’t seem enough of a chance for Na’Vi to crack knuckles and heads alike. S1mple and Electronic looked great - but there was a reason they weren’t considered to even be contenders for the event. The rest of the team was variable at best - with Edward and Zeus considered players who didn’t justify their weight in the squad.

The quarter finals proved to be a gift from their own region. Quantum Bellator Fire - a team with the good fortune of drafting Virtus Pro - even then they were considered destined for failure - followed by a mediocre Gambit squad. It seemed like they would be losing out to Mousesports, but despite starting off with a 13-2 lead, Mousesports were unable to close it out, allowing QBF to qualify. The only shining hope from QBF who seemed to impress? Boombl4 - his first entry into the Na’Vi story.

The quarter-finals rolled around, and Na’Vi ended up against QBF instead of what should have been Mousesports. It was easy enough to breeze past them before they lost in the semi-finals - but nowhere close to the prestige of the Na’Vi who were considered leaders of the CS world just two years ago at Columbus.

ESL One New York 2016

Three months and two more second places after Columbus, Na’Vi had found themselves at the next major of the year: Cologne 2016. With Olofmeister and Guardian having had time to recover from their wrist injuries, it seemed like perhaps the landscape would return to normal, with both Fnatic and Na’Vi in consideration for the teams that could win it.

The group stage wasn’t a problem for Na’Vi, and after coming out on top, they came face-to-face with Team Liquid. What should have been an easy match for the yellow and black became a catastrophe. S1mple, a player who had been removed from the active roster of Liquid as a result of massive internal strife, had another chance to play a major as a stand-in. He demolished Na’Vi in two maps out of three. Liquid eliminated Na’Vi before they could even make the finals.

That was the final straw. It was obviously time to make a replacement, and when Eleague Season 1 saw them losing before the finals yet again, Zeus was out, and the young star S1mple was in. Despite a tumultuous first tournament at Starseries Season 2, ESL One New York was right around the corner.


Na’Vi Finished on top of the group, tied only by SK Gaming. They found themselves head-to-head with the very people who had removed them from Cologne earlier that year: Team Liquid. In New York, in front of the home crowd, Liquid was reminded that perhaps they shouldn’t have discarded S1mple as a toxic asset. Utter domination. With Flamie still being considered a possibility as the second or third star of the team, Na’Vi were able to tear through Liquid, and they found themselves against Virtus Pro - in the very same tournament that Snax was hungry for the iconic big apple.

Where earlier s1mple had blessed the scoreboard, now he wasn’t alone. Despite a poor performance in the first map, Guardian entered god mode for the final two. Both he and s1mple showed magical moments of stardom, where all of Na’Vi’s guns were blazing. Even Seized had his moments to shine.

However, what should have been Na’Vi’s chance to finally bring themselves to the top of the world was only a moment in passing - a dream unfulfilled. The top would evade them for even longer, as they didn’t make the finals of a premier tournament again until 2018. New York only served as fool’s gold.

Dreamhack Masters Marseille 2018

Marseille rolled around four months after the Boston Major. Meanwhile, Na’Vi had already got second at Starseries Season 4, losing out to Mousesports in the finals despite having eliminated the major finalists, FaZe Clan, in doing so. Regardless of their performances against each team, Na’Vi were not considered any more than a dark horse contender moving into Dreamhack.

There was too much variance, and Electronic’s play still had too many ups and downs to make Na’Vi a real contender. Flamie was as hit and miss as ever, and Edward had begun his descent into mediocrity. The only real series where it wasn’t just the "s1mple factor" that dragged them across the finish line was a 2-1 victory over an Astralis (now with Magisk) - a team infamously good at whittling down star players. Even then, it was not without an asterisk - given how new the roster was.


Instead, Thorin placed them below even Faze clan (with Xizt as a substitute), Mousesports and a Fnatic team who had recently won the past two massive tournaments in IEM Katowice and WESG under the captainship of Golden. That said, with their dark horse potential, everyone was saying the same thing. If Electronic can step up from becoming just a decent player to becoming the beast that he was on Flipsid3 and Team Russia at WESG, then Na’Vi could contest for being amongst the best rather than just a top-eight team.

Somehow, something had clicked.

To even be allowed entry into the playoffs, Na’Vi was pitted against Fnatic in their group winner’s match. Already, one of the on-paper favourites had been placed in front of them. Electronic though, had come to play - and what was going to happen in the rest of the tournament came to light. He had embraced the beast. If not for S1mple’s example, his form might have been considered career-best. It was only his good fortune in teammates that prevented him from topping the score charts.
The road wasn’t going to get any easier from there though. Fnatic had been considered a weak favourite anyhow - with their Katowice win massively propped up by Flusha briefly returning to his glory days. Now, came Mousesports. Two - Zero.

Not only was s1mple reaching record high numbers for a tournament; not only was Electronic continuing his form from the previous series, but now even Flamie joined them on the scoreboard. They were unstoppable, and the numbers showed it. Yes, Edward and Zeus were practical non factors, but when the sun is as bright as it was in Na’Vi at the time, one barely notices the shadows.


Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket, Astralis had already done them the favour of eliminating Faze Clan, and soon after they took Fnatic out of the semi-finals as well. With Faze fielding a stand in, and Fnatic already looking like they had less than great chances of taking the title, it seemed like nothing could stop Na’Vi from taking the tournament home. Gambit in the semi-finals gave Na’Vi an easy route to the finals.

Astralis appeared in front of them. The narrative was shaping out to be an easy Na’Vi victory. Each player was firing on all cylinders after the Gambit game, right before the grand finals. Astralis had problems in their map pool with Inferno, and although they displayed a willingness to pick Nuke, it wasn’t like their Train or Overpass - where they showed true brilliance. With their first pick going to Nuke (a map which Na’Vi had happily picked themselves earlier, versus Gambit), it seemed simple enough for Na’Vi to pick up inferno and make this a quick 2-0 for a title victory and a chance to start blazing a path of glory to the top.

Little did they know: they were just a stepping stone. Without dropping a single game, and barely letting Na’Vi reach double digits on a single map, Astralis began both their nuke streak, and their era of being the greatest Counter-Strike team to ever play the game. Once again, Na’Vi were denied.

2019: Turbulence, changes and Cologne

Na’Vi will play their first match in over a month at ESL One Cologne. After not contending for ECS, failing to qualify for the ESL Pro League Finals, and performing in the doldrums for the majority of 2019, it was finally time for them to take corrective measures by replacing legendary CS player Edward with Boombl4 from Winstrike.

While they themselves struggled on the side-lines, the world of Counter-Strike saw Astralis crumble. The red star, the dominant force, the era to end all eras, were burning themselves down to no more than a wick of hope, which their fans desperately held onto. What should have been, what could have been - a yellow and black flag roaring against the fields of CSGO - ended up as nothing more than a struggling roster finally seeing its bright star fade.

As reported by Cybersport, s1mple, the one man who had graced the temples of CSGO, as he who would stand above all, could not go on. He had been burnt time and time again by the weight of his team, never being less than a hero - doomed to the tragic cycle of loss that continued. He slugged it out as best he could, and with Electronic as his right-hand man, for a period of time it seemed as if Na’Vi could still erect their flags at the summit.

After ENCE massively upset them at the semi-finals of IEM Katowice, Starseries Season 7 rolled around, where Na’Vi triumphed over ENCE, defeated Renegades and arrived at the grand finals to beat out Fnatic in a clean 3-0 sweep. The grand-finals saw not just s1mple, but even his team-mates stepping out onto the playing field, with Edward even outperforming Electronic. Perhaps there was hope still for the dysfunctional CIS beast?

Hope is for fools. Hope is for jesters.

Not long after Starseries, BLAST Pro Miami was the next tournament in the circuit. The first omens of disaster arrived. Not only did the team have one of their worst showings ever, even s1mple, the god amongst men, the master of all trades, the chosen one, didn’t show his usual lustre and shine. Something was going terribly wrong.


Yet, the avalanche did not stop rolling downhill. Round one ESL Pro League began - the first season to ever feature all LAN, all best of three matches. No crowd, no ping, no best of ones to taint a victory. The group should have been theirs to tear apart. Windigo, the team that no-one expected to do more than potentially cause one upset. Fnatic, a roster amidst resurgence - but one that Na’Vi had recently defeated 3-0. G2 - the French team that never was, with a fumbling roster and consistently disappointing results.

What more could Na’Vi possibly want? And yet they were unable to make it through as group winners, with a loss to G2 - one of very few teams who had recently been as dysfunctional as they themselves had. It was not enough. The team was not enough. But not all glimmers of life had been stamped out of them, with one final chance to seize the moment in round 2 of the qualifications.

Perhaps the previous BLAST had been unsuccessful due to jet lag - travelling from China to Miami with a stop at your home town can’t be particularly pleasant. The theme of Na’Vi - another chance was afforded to them at BLAST Pro Series Madrid. Close enough to home for jet lag to be a nonfactor, and after enough of a break that they had the time to review their past performances. How could anything possibly go wrong?

Two wins from five is how: NiP, ENCE, Astralis, all took turns using Na’Vi’s jersey to wipe the sweat from their brows. The only wins they had were over domestic team Giants, and possibly the most ridiculously fragmented version of Cloud9 ever seen. Worse yet - the spell of bad weather s1mple’s play had experienced only continued. Strokes of brilliance were still there - and an above average tournament performance would be seen in the numbers. But s1mple couldn’t be just above average. S1mple’s role in the team was to be above all.

BLAST redemption evaded them. The June-July LAN season was almost on their heads, and with Na’Vi not attending the ECS LAN finals, a slot guaranteed as it was at ESL One Cologne via their previous year’s performance, there was only one thing left to fight for before entering the warzone of the summer calendar.

Open: round 2 of ESL Pro League’s LAN qualification. In their quest to achieve what Astralis had held all 2018 long, Na’Vi found themselves taunted by Denmark, time and time again. Now facing a group consisting of BIG, North and Heroic. All teams that they should be miles above on paper. BIG had spent too long in shambles. Heroic had never reached the heights that Danish hipsters had been preaching since 2017, and recently added a very young NaToSaphiX to the line-up.

North were the only team that could potentially upset them - and even that was mostly through lazy analysis where the ‘what-ifs’ came down to “What if S1mple has a bad series”, “What if Valde has a lights out series?”, “What if Valde can bring Jugi back to life?”

All absurd premises of course - unlikely to happen on the worst of days. All premises that came true. S1mple had an astonishingly poor performance on the first two maps, with ratings that would have fans raising an eyebrow. A desperate electronic tried his hardest to drag the team across the finish line with some help from flamie.

Tied 1-1, the third map saw Na’Vi pull out some ridiculous performances from Zeus, and S1mple started to come back to life. But they were still unable to get past JUGi and Valde, who had simply accumulated too much wind in their sails.
Another loss: but still, shouldn’t matter. The top two from the group qualified, even if they had lost out against North, they quickly 2-0’d BIG with only Heroic to knock down. Surely they couldn’t lose that too?

Hapless on Vertigo, and outdone on Overpass. Na’Vi had s1mple ascending to his peak form - raging against the typhoons, truly embodying the angel of death, unstoppable as he was - but he simply couldn’t withstand the Danes alone. Enough was enough - failure had plagued Na’Vi for too long.


Just as with Electronic, when getting the management of Na’Vi to cough up the money for a buyout had been like herding cats, it was time for the players to put down the scythe, and pick up a shepherd’s crook instead. Soon after, an announcement was finally made: Boombl4, Winstrike and former Quantum Bellator Fire talent, had been added to the roster. Edward was out.

But that announcement was the last heard from the CIS cardinals. Quietly, throughout the month of June, they sat in their servers. Quietly, they prepared for the ultimate test of Cologne. Quietly, they shed their excuses, their dead weight, their burnout and internal dilemmas. They remained quiet, for they knew that the time to speak would be soon. The papacy was at stake, and Na’Vi would be the ones to ascend. They remained quiet, as Finland, America, and France all reared their heads once again. Na’Vi knew that they were coming. Na’Vi knew that they would yet again be contesting for the number one spot that had historically leapt out of their grasp right as they were close enough to touch it.

Na’Vi is coming, for the papacy. Na’Vi is coming, for Cologne.

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Pictures: Copyright Bart Oerbekke, Jennika Ojala, Helena Kristiansson, Patrick Strack / ESL