NAVI seem to have picked up where they left off when LAN events stopped as they are one of the frontrunners to win IEM Cologne, the first international LAN since last year’s IEM Katowice, where they sealed the title after hammering G2 in an empty Spodek Arena. The tip of the spear is none other than Ukrainian superstar Aleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, who was in stellar form in the group stage to help NAVI win three straight matches on the way to a semi-final berth. Ahead of the last-four bout against FaZe, the 23-year-old is averaging a 1.52 tournament rating, equalling his personal best from DreamHack Masters Marseille in 2018.
s1mple’s wingman, Denis “electronic” Sharipov, has also been in terrific form at the German event, something Andrey “B1ad3” Gorodenskiy had foreshadowed at the press conference before the event when he stated that the 22-year-old shows his true colours on LAN. At a second press conference, held ahead of the playoffs, electronic himself talked about his performances so far in Cologne, where he is averaging a 1.25 rating. “LAN gives me a lot of discipline and confidence because I always played a lot of LANs in the city where I grew up, so I’m more used to LAN than online,” he said. “But it’s still very hard to come back to LAN after almost two years. It’s a weird feeling and I need to remember what it’s like, but my confidence is growing game by game.”
The team’s newcomer, Valeriy “B1T” Vakhovskiy, also delighted spectators in the group stage with his crisp mechanics and an incredible 68.9% headshot ratio. “B1T has shown a really great performance,” B1ad3 said of the team’s rookie, who posted a 1.18 rating in the group stage. “He’s the kind of player that focuses on his aim a lot, and that’s why he’s showing good results. He plays close to the monitor, watching his crosshair closely, and he’s not distracted by any other stuff.”
Despite being effusive in his praise of B1T, B1ad3 also mentioned other aspects of the 18-year-old’s game that aren’t as solid as his mechanics. “At the same time, he couldn’t control the macro on the map all of the time,” he explained. “So we need to find some balance in the future regarding this because he has out-aimed a lot of opponents, pretty much everyone at this event, so it’s not a problem. But if he’s not out-aiming other players, we’ll have to find something else. Up until now, it has worked really well because he’s shooting really well, but at the same time he was making a lot of mistakes, which we analyze all of the time.”
B1T has been able to overcome his first big event jitters, and the fact that there will be no stage or crowd is going to help the youngster feel comfortable in the playoffs. “It’s not the kind of LAN with a huge stage and all of that pressure,” B1ad3 commented. “We played the first games from the hotel rooms, which was like playing from a bootcamp. On stage, it was a bit shaky, but he showed incredible resolve, mostly because of his mental preparation.
“The only thing that can have an effect on him is the pressure of a big match, not from the environment, and he’s working with our performance coach. She’s helping him a lot and we’ll do everything we can to prepare him the best we can so that he can show the same level. We feel very confident as a team, and I think he feels it, which helps him with his own confidence.”
As a team we feel very confident, and I think [B1T] feels it, which helps him with his own confidence
“FaZe overperformed,” B1ad3 said when asked about which team surprised him the most during the group stage, “but I think everyone expected them to be much better on LAN than online. They had very close matches online, they have incredible skill and a lot of experience. I think everyone was expecting them to do much better on LAN and they have.” The Ukrainian coach further commented on how the team led by Finn “karrigan” Andersen can be one of the biggest threats for Natus Vincere, with the two teams having clashed only once since the Danish tactician’s return to the international outfit. “We believe that we can beat any team in the playoffs, we have already defeated all of them online, but I think any of them can surprise,” the coach said. “Maybe FaZe would be the most unexpected match-up for us, we’d need much more preparation.”
B1ad3’s men have needed three maps in every series they’ve played at IEM Cologne so far but have been very resolute in the deciders, winning all of them convincingly. When asked about how the team finds such late-game resolve, the coach stated: “It’s about the maps and our game plan, if we have a good preparation and a good game plan then we’re just confident in our maps and in that case it doesn’t matter if it’s the second or third map [in the series]. For example, against Renegades, we didn’t expect them to pick [Inferno] and played poorly in the beginning, but we discussed the other two maps really deeply and we were very confident on those maps.
“It will be the same in other match-ups in the future, like in the playoffs, so it’s all about the map pool and the veto process. If we out-veto our opponent, then we feel really confident. We know how they play, we know how we’ll play and it’s not like it’s the first time that we’re trying to execute or implement something.”
When asked about the other group winner, G2, B1ad3 said that he believes they “can reach the final easily”. If they do, they will certainly be relishing the chance to get revenge on NAVI after last year’s 0-3 defeat in the grand final of IEM Katowice – the last LAN event before the start of the online era. “They have a different lineup, now they have NiKo, a strong and experienced player that also knows how to play finals, so it will be much different,” B1ad3 said. “It’ll be a totally new game if we reach the final and G2 reach the final. It will be a spectacular match, but we have faced them this year and we know how to beat them.”