The BLAST Premier Spring Final has already begun with the opening matches of the double-elimination group stage, but NAVI have yet to kick off their campaign at the $425,000 event, as they have been matched up against FaZe in the last bout of the upper bracket’s first round, taking place on Wednesday at 15:30 .
Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev & co. are heading into the tournament as the second-highest ranked team behind Gambit and are seen as part of the main favorites alongside their CIS rivals by many, but they still have to prove they belong in that category following the team’s disappointing showing at the first Regional Major Ranking tournament of the year, EPIC League CIS.
Natus Vincere were unable to replicate their title-winning DreamHack Masters form at the regional competition, losing matches to three different teams — Entropiq, Akuma, and Spirit — on the way to third place. On top of that, while others had their chance to try out Ancient during IEM Summer, BLAST will be the first tournament with the newest map in the pool for NAVI, who will be forced to either pick up the latest addition or catch up to everyone else on Vertigo should they wish to retain a six-map rotation.
We had the chance to sit down with s1mple to ask about what went wrong at the RMR tournament and find out which map the team has decided to play instead of Train in an interview conducted ahead of the start of BLAST Premier Spring Final (and, importantly, before it was known FaZe would be playing the event with Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer).
The Ukrainian star was happy to share his team’s plans, revealing that they have put the time into learning Ancient and that he is “looking forward to this tournament to test the map” in an official setting for the first time. You can find out more about the topic of the newest map as well as the reasons behind Natus Vincere‘s perplexing inconsistency in the interview below:
You’re coming off of a rough showing at EPIC League CIS, which went quite poorly for you even when you disregard all the Akuma jazz, as you also lost to two other teams. Why do you think you couldn’t replicate the same level of form shown in DreamHack Masters?
I don’t know. I think we didn’t have enough time for a break before this RMR event because the other teams were looking at our demos, and at Gambit’s as well, because we were playing one tournament straight after another. But still, I don’t know, we just couldn’t play our CS like before. Of course, not having our coach in TeamSpeak is the biggest part for us. We know that at Valve events we need to play without B1ad3, and that’s why we’re practicing now with Boombl4 talking during practice. So it was something new for us.
You’ve had some issues playing in the CIS region in the past, especially in the RMR tournaments last year. Is there something to that? Do you have a different mentality facing those teams, is it the playstyle that you’re not comfortable with, or what do you think it comes down to?
I think it’s more that other teams prepare for us. Maybe it’s even the playstyle, I don’t know, I’m not sure about that because we need to know how to play against any style. I think the coach issues were the main problem. But yeah, it just seems like the CIS teams are more ready for us than any other teams.
I always say that I don’t want to believe this because they’re all from Ukraine […] It would be sad if it was true.
Touching on the allegations against Akuma, B1ad3 was on HLTV Confirmed and he was quite honest about his opinion, making it clear he thought they were cheating. Where do you stand on that?
I always say that I don’t want to believe this because they’re all from Ukraine and if they did this to all teams without any anti-cheat, it would be really disrespectful because it’s the year 2021 and everything should be at the next level of competition. It would be sad if it was true. I don’t think they had some radar hack or anything, but I heard that they had some matches without GOTV delay, and I think maybe some of them used this. But probably not all of them know that some of their teammates used it.
B1ad3 didn’t believe it was possible to prove anything because of a lack of evidence stemming from the lack of communication recordings, which a majority of the CIS teams were vocal about. Do you agree with that, or do you think that if there is a proper investigation it can lead to any findings?
I think even with TeamSpeak recordings, if some of your teammates don’t know that you’re doing this, you can easily play your own game and nobody will catch you.
Let’s get back to your team. It seems like the same thing happens with NAVI every time — every now and again you show this really scary form like at DreamHack Masters and then something like what happened at EPIC League follows in terms of results, and we’re left wondering what to expect from the team next. What do you see as the reason for that inconsistency?
Maybe something is happening in practice when we’re practicing online. I don’t know, maybe it’s not enough focus from us. We did a great job before DreamHack at a bootcamp and we fixed our mistakes really fast. I know we’re supposed to play like this all the time, consistently, because we want to get this No. 1 spot and the Grand Slam and all of that, but sometimes you cannot do anything with this.
I think B1T has incredible aim, that’s his strength, but his weakness is communication, sometimes he can’t properly explain some information.
You’ve had the chance to play with B1T for a couple of events now in a full-time capacity. How do you think he has been doing so far and how much has he progressed?
He’s progressing really fast. I think he has incredible aim, that’s his strength, but his weakness is communication, sometimes he can’t properly explain some information. Now we’re working on that so that he gives more fast information and understands where the enemies are hiding. He’s progressing, he’s learning, but he still needs more time because I think it’s a new level for him, he’s supposed to play against tier-one teams all the time except at RMR tournaments.
NAVI are working on improving B1T’s communication
How did you approach his introduction to the team full-time, did you try to adapt to him or was it more the other way around?
He’s just trying to adapt to some of flamie’s roles, but on two or three maps we gave him his own role because we understand that he played with these roles in NAVI Junior. We have a good coach from Junior, ami — I’ve known him since 2014, when I played in HellRaisers and he was the analyst —, and he talks with B1ad3 and they’re working together, helping each other understand players better and new maps better, give some advice to each other in what can help us in-game.
Shifting over to BLAST, it will be your first tournament with Ancient in the map pool. First of all, how important was Train and how will the loss of it affect the team moving forward?
I think we did poorly the last times we played Train but we still managed to win against Gambit at DreamHack, and then against Entropiq at the RMR tournament. Still, of course they could have easily changed a different map, for example Vertigo is the least played map. But I enjoy Ancient, I really like it. When you join practice and it’s Ancient, your motivation gets so much higher because you want to learn everything new on the map, every spot, every nade, every timing. For example, on Dust2 you know that you need to throw a flash at 1:49 on long to not die from the AWP, but right now we’re just learning this on Ancient and it’s interesting for all of us. Of course, there are a lot of things that Valve need to upgrade and change on this map as they did with Vertigo.
We’ve already found a way to play Ancient, so I’m just looking forward to this tournament to test the map.
It put you in a position where you either have to play Vertigo or you have to pick up Ancient. Can you share which way you decided to go?
Of course, we just knew we had two maps: one that nobody has played yet and one that everyone has played already, and three or four players have never played Vertigo. We know that B1T is good on Vertigo and he can show us a lot of good stuff, but we’ve seen how other teams play Ancient and we understand why teams are getting destroyed 13-2. They still don’t understand how to do this and we’ve already found a way to play this map, so I’m just looking forward to this tournament to test the map.
It sounds like you’re pretty confident.
I’m confident in my individual performance on this map because I already know a lot of stuff. I didn’t play a lot of Ancient before we started practicing, but I was progressing really fast for three days, just consistently playing the map and getting in some FPL practice on it.
BLAST has some of the big teams, but others are missing, which puts you and Gambit ahead of the pack as the favorites and the only two teams who have won tournaments recently. Are you happy with that position? What’s the confidence level like going into the event?
We are always confident at international events, not the CIS ones (laughs). Yeah, we’re missing Vitality, they’re getting good form, but overall it’s a good set of teams for us. I don’t know what to expect from FaZe because they have new players. G2 is getting better and better, they made semi-finals at the last few events, NIP is always scary… We are happy that we are one of the favorites and we are on opposite sides with Gambit, so it’s possible that we’ll have a CIS final.
We just want to show that we can win tournament after tournament. We win one tournament, we lose something, then we win again, we lose… It’s really tiring when it happens.
FaZe will be your opening matchup and as you mentioned, they’ll play with a different player after they lost coldzera. Does that make it difficult to know what to expect?
It’s not really difficult, it’s just interesting in what they’ll do with maps. For me, it’s okay, they have broky as an AWPer and I know how he plays, I can watch some games, but I don’t know what to expect from a strategical point of view.
From an individual side, Ax1Le has just matched you for two MVPs this year. How does that make you feel? Are you confident you’ll be able to take your third here?
(laughs) Yeah, I’ll try my best, but everything depends on the results. The most important thing is that my team plays much better than any other team, and this MVP will come really fast. Maybe not for me, maybe for electronic or for some other player, but the most important is to show what we have practised for the past two weeks. We just want to show that we can win tournament after tournament, that’s our main goal now. Because as you can see we win one tournament, we lose something, then we win again, we lose… It’s really tiring when it happens.