A stalwart of their region, NAVI has been home to a Ukrainian team ever since its inception in 2009. A time before CS:GO was even released, it took fourteen years for that status quo to be shifted.
The consequence of war and a lack of players available to play the roles required by the team, the decision for NAVI to go international was an inevitable one. All the same, it remains a risk, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a risk worth taking.
Ever since Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhailov departed the organization and Denis “electroNic” Sharipov took up the mantle of in-game leader, trophies have dried up for the fabled organization. The best team in the world before that change, a singular trophy at BLAST Premier Spring Final isn’t enough to live up the the reputation the team built for itself in the year prior.
Boombl4’s replacement, Viktor “sdy” Orudzhev failed to impress the team’s coach, Andrei “B1ad3” Gorodenskiy, during his time on trial with the team, and their next attempt, Andrii “npl” Kukharskyi, well, he failed to impress anyone at all.
A change was coming whether NAVI liked it or not, but due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, the organisation had committed to not adding any more Russians to their ranks, and their lies their first issue.
While electroNic was doing a decent enough job as a makeshift in-game leader, it never truly felt right that he had taken up the mantle. A player who should be one of the stars of the team, his individual level wasn’t impacted too much, but it was clear it had taken a toll on what he could bring to the team.
NAVI were crying out for a leader, but since the retirement of Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko, those have been hard to come by in Ukraine. There’s Volodymyr “Woro2k” Veletniuk, but he’s an AWPer, and NAVI already tried having Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev become a rifler to make room for a lesser AWPer once with Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs, and it didn’t end well. That’s also without mentioning his spats with s1mple, as well as the fact that he doesn’t even IGL his own team anymore.
Woro2k’s replacement as IGL on Monte, sdy, performed admirably in the role at the BLAST.tv Paris Major as they reached the quarter-finals as a vast underdog. A run that included a win against NAVI themselves, the decision to turn him into an IGL came far too late for it to be one that NAVI could also profit from.
Outside of those two, the only real option within Ukraine is Rodion “fear” Smyk. The former leader of NAVI Junior has backing from s1mple, but clearly not enough to have ever been handed an opportunity to lead the main team.
There are options in Russia, both Leonid “chopper” Vishnyakov and Andrey “Jerry” Mekhryakov are accomplished in the role. With Spirit, chopper has reached the semi-finals of a Major at PGL Antwerp 2022, while Jerry has reached multiple Majors with his FORZE squadron. A player who would fit in in the tactical sense, while Valeriy “b1t” Vakhovskiy is a Major winner, he would be able to aid in his development too.
It’s a shame then that their nationality is a dealbreaker, because a team consisting of either one of them leading s1mple, b1t, electroNic and Ilya “Perfecto” Zalutskiy would have been a force to be reckoned with.
So, if an IGL couldn’t be found, were there any other options? Well, yes, but not really.
In the same Ukrainian dream team that s1mple named fear, he also named Ihor “w0nderful” Zhdanov as someone he’d like to play with. Formerly of Team Spirit, the new Sprout signing is also an AWPer, so presumably, the inclusion of w0nderful in that squadron would mean he would use the big green over s1mple, too.
While w0nderful is a good player, despite his year-long stay in tier one with Spirit, he is still very raw. A solid player in the clutch, his inclusion on NAVI would come with another issue outside of a supposed role clash.
As an AWPer, s1mple is incredibly dynamic. The type of player to put the game on his own shoulders and constantly look for impact, w0nderful doesn’t operate on the same wavelength. A much more supportive player, he’s more used to watching his teammates back with the AWP than leading the game with it. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t work, but it would require a huge tactical overhaul in order to make it work.
Tactics would also continue to be a problem when considering the balance of the team's riflers, should s1mple give up the AWP. One of NAVI’s biggest loss in regards to Boombl4 was they lost his willingness to be an aggressive support player, to go in first and allow those behind him to do the real leg work after they trade him out. Who would do that out of a core of riflers that includes b1t, electroNic, s1mple, and Perfecto? As the IGL, it would likely be electroNic, but that would be a waste of his talents. Also a complete misuse of Perfecto, it would be b1t who would be forced to do the job, and that comes with the same problem as electroNic.
In short, while it would’ve been the change that allowed NAVI to stick to their roots, it isn’t as practical as it first appeared. Of course, with that much talent on the roster, they’d still be a fearsome roster, but simply having good players isn’t conducive to a consistent team.
So, with all this in mind, NAVI going international was an inevitability, especially if they were losing electroNic and Perfecto. They could have risked lesser-known Ukrainian players, but it would have taken them a while to even get back to the lower level they have been this year, and that’s simply not good enough for an organization like this. Not unless they want to be another NIP or fnatic anyway.
Speaking of NIP, it’s from the Swedish organization that NAVI solved their IGL issue by signing Aleksi “Aleksib” Virolainen. A divisive IGL, he brings more tier-one experience than any other available IGL could have, and for our money, that makes him worth picking up. It’s impossible to ignore the criticism of him, and we agree it might be warranted, but he has shown potential to be a great leader, and there’s no one better to help him realise that potential than s1mple.
The next signing, the man to become the new rifle star of the team, the man whose tournament-long masterclass carried GamerLegion all the way to the grand final of the BLAST.tv Paris Major, Ivan “iM” Mihai. A strong pickup, his start to life with NAVI at BLAST Premier Fall Groups has been good, and thus far, it seems his performances at the Major weren’t a fluke.
While those two players were likely to be two of the hottest names in the off-season, the final signing, Justinas “jL” Lekavicius, probably wasn’t in such high regard. Clearly a strong player, and while interest in him was inevitable, we’ll be the first to admit we didn’t expect an instant move right to the top.
Strong in the Challengers Stage of the Paris Major, he struggled slightly in the Legends Stage and beyond. Still clearly has some ways to go in bigger games, he could grow into a phenomenal player, but he’s not quite the finished article just yet.
The roster might look more like an HLTV draft team than anything a real organization would have actually put together; you can’t help but feel like it’s the most exciting roster to form in recent times. Seemingly random, there must be a method to the madness, and if that method works, this roster could go on to become the best in the world.