The Thorin Treatment - Bring Back Zeus and 5 Other Solutions for Na`Vi's Leadership Crisis
Natus Vincere (Na`Vi) have one of the monster talent-laden line-ups in competitive CS:GO, yet have failed to crack the top four of a significant international tournament in four and a half month. While the CIS squad has recovered from their slump of failing to even reach play-off brackets, their three straight 5th-8th placings see them stagnant and unable to break through to series play success.
While the early contextual analysis surrounding Na`Vi's form focused on the integration of s1mple, one of the world's foremost talents and star players, there have been no more rumblings of poor behaviour from the fiesty young Ukrainian and his play was integrated enough to see him winning the MVP award while powering Na`Vi to their sole title with this line-up, taking down ESL One New York.
Now, the world looks to Na`Vi's leadership issues. Valve's coaching rule denied them starix's impact as an in-game leader (IGL), at role at which he was a contender for the world's best, upon their addition of s1mple. With a team lacking an obvious candidate to take over the reigns, seized was forced to assume the role again, having briefly been put into that role in late 2013 for Na`Vi. With results having seen Na`Vi seemingly so far from winning championships, their style of play and system have been called into question.
As Na`Vi continue to tease apart the riddle of what it will take to fully active the talent of their roster and transform them back into potential world number ones, here are six solutions to their troubles with leadership.
1. Give seized more time
The simplest solution, from a logistical perspective, is to do nothing and allow current IGL seized more time to come up with a better approach to making Na`Vi an elite team again. Na`Vi's early top placings were largely thanks to s1mple standing out as arguably the world's best player. Following those, the team collapsed entirely and saw themselves looking confused and hesitant on the offensive side of the game.
As bad it was in the months following their consecutive top fours at ESL One New York and EPICENTER, going out of tournaments in group stages and at times against lesser opponents, one must credit seized in as much as results have begun to stabilise and Na`Vi have started to look dangerous again in the initial phases of competitions. The issue is that making the top eight and then losing is not good enough for a roster with this many quality players and their losses once they hit the play-offs have not been convincing enough to suggest they were unfortunate.
Some might have suggested as much at the major, drawing the eventual champions Astralis, but since then they have faced an SK Gaming integrating a brand new player and Astralis again, with Astralis having been shown to be beatable, by Virtus.pro. Na`Vi have faced teams who all went to the final, but they have struggled to make more than one map in a series truly competitive.
Of all the solutions cited here, this one is perhaps the least reasonable, in terms of expecting results to improve, as the team has now been in seized's hands for around eight months. Allowing the Russian formerly elite Support player more opportunities to crack the code to making this squad the best seems futile, but the organisation may well take heart in the team's group stage progressions and allow him more chances to succeed.
Beyond placings, a reason to suggest the team should look to another solution is that seized was one of the world's best supportive players prior to being forced to take control of the team, so handing the mantle to another may well revive his career as a vital player on an individual level and balance out the roles within the team more effectively.
2. Bring in a new coach with a new philosophy
starix has not just been sapped of his IGL powers, by Valve admittedly, but has also looked entirely ineffective as a traditional coach, unable to speak to the team beyond time-outs. Issues during matches are no longer his responsibility, at least as much as they are seized's, but adjustments between matches and preparation for series play are still very much something he must expected to provide.
A central issue affecting Na`Vi's play has seemingly been that without Zeus inside the server or starix outside of it but capable of communicating during rounds, that slow and steady map control style which has long defined Na`Vi's play has simply not worked to any reasonable degree of efficiency. In fact, that style has arguably throttled and leashed the fire-power of an otherwise explosive and skilled side.
With starix and seized having floundered to keep this Na`Vi looking like past line-ups, a bold but worthwhile gamble for the Ukrainian organisation would be looking to a coach who brings a playing style which better suits the raw skill of this squad. Without great in-game decision-making and team-play to make a slow style work, a coach who can implement a simpler and more individually-focused approach would seem like the obvious solution to Na`Vi's woes.
A Na`Vi taking s1mple off the lease entirely and putting whatever weapon into his hands he pleases, sending him off to create plays and then responding to such opportunities, could boast the best player in the game, as it did early on in this incarnation. Indeed, when Na`Vi looked their best, the former FlipSid3 and Team Liquid star was apparently involved in the shot-calling component.
flamie has had some big individual maps in the last few months, contributing massively to Na`Vi's improved form, but still seems unsure and out-of-synch when moving around the map on the T side. A player as phenomenally gifted in terms of precision aim as he is would be a nightmare to deal with for CTs if he was running into with the entry group earlier in rounds, as opposed to coming into sites after a slow build-us.
A higher tempo and an early autonomy to find favourable duels could unlock Na`Vi's latent talent. The new coach can then implement variations of what to do following initial duels, allowing seized a flow-chart approach to deciding where the team goes in the mid-round or which site to explode onto.
3. The return of Zeus
Many fans have voiced their hope for the Na`Vi founder to be reunited with his former family, not least due to the satisfying nature of his success with Gambit and rise in form seemingly showing the value Na`Vi could not see in him when they released him from the squad. In reality, such a move seems quite implausible at this point. Zeus was clearly wounded both in how and when he was removed from the team, following a year in which the team had played in more finals than practically anyone else.
With Gambit, Zeus was both given a new chance and a compelling mixture of old and new talents to potentially craft into a top team. Should he accomplish as much, Zeus's legacy and legend would only grow even further than were he again the leader of Na`Vi. The former Na`Vi captain has also reconnected with kane, his IGL from earlier in 1.6, to collaborate on tactics for his new team.
Looking to Zeus to ditch Gambit and attempt a rescue mission for Na`Vi seems unreasonable and unlikely at this point.
4. A leader from the other side
B1ad3 is a veteran leader with a tenure nobody in the game can match up against, having been in that role for more than a decade. He led the first Ukrainian team to a top finish at a major in 1.6, securing the bronze medal at the 2007 World Cyber Games with his Amazing Gaming team, which also featured starix. Since that time, with the rise of and world class play of Na`Vi, B1ad3 has continued to work away on lesser teams from the CIS region and developed his own pattern of results: getting occasional upsets over the better CIS teams and consistently qualifying for majors.
With Zeus long gone and starix neutered, Western fans may think giving B1ad3 a shot at aiming with the big guns would be an obvious consideration, but the matter is not as simple as that. As was voiced by former Na`Vi player ceh9, in my interview with him, the sentiment among many top players in the CIS region is that B1ad3 is a relic of the past, plying an outmoded and no longer relevant style of leadership. This author does not share such a notion, seeing the game as being capable of being played via many styles and under different leadership system, but it is certainly the case that B1ad3's approach may not suit Na`Vi.
B1ad3 has worked for his entire career without elite fire-power, the lone exception being s1mple's inclusions in his teams during the wild star's rebel period in the wilderness. As such, his style has been suited to take flawed gems, would-be but perhaps failed star talents, and combine them with the right role players to produce results which are better than would be otherwise expected, but will still rarely set the world alight. A look at a name like bondik shows what B1ad3 is capable of, as the current HellRaisers player legitimately looked like an under-rated star during his time in B1ad3's FlipSid3, but has never again reached that kind of consistency or effectiveness since departing.
It is worth pointing out that both s1mple and flamie played under B1ade earlier in their careers, but nevertheless, the politics of the scene make it unlikely to see B1ad3 donning Na`Vi colours and the squad of star talents would make little sense under his leadership anyway.
5. On the wings of an ANGE1
HellRasiers' IGL ANGE1 is another CIS scene veteran and has a history of playing with the majority of the Na`Vi line-up. ANGE1 was a team-mate of Edward's prior to the creation of Na`Vi, playing in HellRasiers and DTS around 2008-2009, and being a part of the Astana Dragons project which saw Edward leaving Na`Vi in the latter part of 2013, only to return once the former 1.6 star's own individual form betrayed him.
s1mple was hoped to be the future of HR in late 2014, rejuvenating a flagging former powerhouse and helping them to a top eight finish at Dreamhack Winter 2014, the fourth major, prior to seeing himself exiled. flamie was briefly a part of HellRasiers in early 2015, but found his way to Na`Vi and has only improved since.
With HellRaisers having shed all of their former names but ANGE1, with half of them in Gambit and the rest retired or spread further afield, ANGE1 is the last remaining name associated with the brand's origins. The former VP and DTS player apparently has some kind of ownership stake or close ties with the organisation, but the transfers of players from Astralis, Heroic and GODSENT have shown us that such ties are not as binding as outsiders may naively assume.
ANGE1's recent leadership has been centered around a more tactical style, benefiting from the mentorship of coach Johnta, his former IGL in 1.6. That seems largely to be due to having younger and more inexperienced players, though, and thus the team requiring a more focused tactical style. When ANGE1 led the original successful core of Virtus.pro in CS:GO, featuring the likes of Dosia and AdreN, the style was a lot more loose and allow for individual play to dominate.
Such an approach would seem in line with the roster Na`Vi now fields, albeit the pacing of such an approach would likely need to be increased, as Russian squads were famed in 1.6 for a slow feel-out-the-opponent approach.
What's more, ANGE1's own individual form back in the VP days saw him as a strong fragger and he has recently again exhibited some strong performances in the new look HR. Put into Na`Vi and showing a lighter touch in leadership, he could be a good fragging IGL, shoring up some of Na`Vi's star malfunctions initially.
6. Resurrect starix as a player
With rumours swirling of starix being removed as the coach of the team and having retired from active play in the first half of 2015, it seems quite unreasonable to expect the former third star of the major winning Na`Vi of 2010 to again return to the server. Even so, the notion is not as ridiculous as it might appear at first glance.
As a player, starix knew how to play a supportive style in CS:GO, with his positional-based style of individual play and robot-esque decision-making allowing him to play angles and find the intelligent play, comparable to what NEO has done in CS:GO. starix would not be a star Support player, as the likes of seized or Xyp9x have been, but he could be a servicable player.
By entering the active line-up again, starix would find his voice no longer silenced and could lead the team directly and even in a manner he could not as their coach, being as he would have one less player to be concerned with and could put himself into positions and places whereby he could execute trickier elements of the tactics himself, as has often been the approach of tactically-focused IGLs.
More difficult than the Gordion Knot
Each solution presented has a logic to it and yet each has its own down-side. What is certain is that a team with as much historical greatness and potential talent contained within its ranks as Na`Vi should not be settling for simply placing 5th-8th and after eight months of running the experiment, new ingrediants must be introduced if different results are to be expected.