Natus Vincere have assured themselves of a playoff spot at IEM Cologne after defeating Vitality in three maps in Group B’s upper bracket semi-finals. The CIS giants stuttered, then moved into high gear, brushing aside their opponents on Nuke and Mirage with impressive attacking displays after making a false start on Overpass.
This was yet another chapter in the continued battle between Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev vs. Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut, but Saturday’s result was a product of NAVI’s collective performance, rather than individual brilliance from their Ukrainian star, who at times looked a bit off-colour by his own lofty standards. The CIS side will return to the server on Sunday to face the winner of Astralis vs. Heroic for a spot in the tournament’s semi-final stage.
Vitality came out swinging on Overpass and established an early grip on proceedings in the game. NAVI had no answer to their opponents’ pace and aggression and mustered just five rounds in the opening half, though the scoreline could have been even worse for them if not for Valeriy “B1T” Vakhovskiy, who went into the break with 17 frags to his name and a 4-1 opening duel record.
NAVI came out of the break a different side and began to chip away at the deficit, with s1mple finally starting to show some signs of life after a quiet first half, though it was B1T who continued shouldering most of the workload. The CIS giants twice found an equaliser – first at 12-12, then at 14-14 -, but they were unable to go all the way, with a quick trio of frags by ZywOo putting Vitality on map point and setting the team up for a close win.
The following map, Nuke, was a complete blowout. NAVI continuously punched holes in the Vitality‘s shaky defence on A and were in control of the tempo throughout the first half, limiting their opponents to just two rounds on the defence. The French side still put some rounds together after switching sides, but NAVI were in no mood to be charitable and quickly put the game away.
NAVI maintained the same rhythm on Mirage and ran rampant on the T side, giving no respite to the Vitality defence. ZywOo‘s ace clutch in the 11th round was practically the only positive that the French side could take from the first half, which ended with a difference of seven rounds between the two teams, with s1mple leading the charge for the CIS team with some stellar numbers (19-6 KDD, 129 ADR and a 5-1 opening duel record).
Vitality kept themselves in it with a much-needed pistol round, but their comeback hopes took a major blow in the next round after being caught out by B1T on the B site. Dan “apEX” Madesclaire and Rémy “XTQZZZ” Quoniam looked distraught after that round, and more misery was to come as Denis “electronic” Sharipov pulled off a 1v2 clutch just moments later to keep NAVI firmly in control en route to series point. A clutch from Jayson “Kyojin” Nguyen Van kept Vitality in the game, but s1mple made sure to erase any doubts about the outcome of the series with a quick triple kill, setting his team up for victory.
Meanwhile, BIG bounced back from Friday’s beating at the hands of G2 with a 2-0 victory against Liquid, who are once again left wondering what has gone wrong. After reaching the IEM Katowice semi-finals, the North Americans have gone three European tournaments in a row without reaching the latter stages (ESL Pro League Season 13, BLAST Premier and IEM Cologne), and some off-season introspection might be needed to learn why they continue to come up short.
The German side seized the initiative almost from the get-go on Vertigo and reached map point at 15-6 after a 13-2 run. Liquid put their foot down and held back their opponents for a while, but a comeback would not come to fruition. Nuke turned out to be a much tighter tussle but the end result was the same, with BIG taking control of proceedings at the midway point of the second half – when a third map was starting to look like a strong possibility – to secure the map.