NAVI have announced that academy player Andrii ‘nipl’ Kukharskyi has been promoted to the main squad as part of a six-man setup.
The 17-year-old Ukrainian has already joined up with the rest of the squad and could even make his debut at the BLAST Premier Fall Final if the team plays Vertigo against an opponent like FaZe, according to head coach Andrey ‘B1ad3’ Gorodenskiy.
NAVI’s plan is that, at least until the end of the season, nipl will be part of a rotation with Viktor ‘sdy’ Orudzhev. The decision comes after a run of mixed results from the Ukrainian team, who have picked up just one title in 2022, at the BLAST Premier Spring Final in Lisbon, back in June.
That was, curiously, sdy’s first tournament with the team, following the removal of in-game leader Kirill ‘Boombl4’ Mikhailov, whose captaincy duties were taken by Denis ‘electroNic’ Sharipov.
sdy’s long-term future has been the subject of debate since the end of the IEM Rio Major, where NAVI were sent packing in the quarter-finals after a defeat to FURIA. NAVI had announced that sdy would remain with the team at least until the end of that Major cycle, with a decision to be made after the Brazilian event.
A former member of Team Spirit and MAD Lions, sdy was always viewed by many as a temporary solution. NAVI initially wanted Timur ‘buster’ Tulepov but were deterred by his contract with Russian organization Virtus.pro (which allegedly had ties to the Kremlin) amid the war in Ukraine.
sdy has averaged a 0.98 HLTV rating and 0.86 Impact since joining NAVI. He became the target of criticism as the team failed to take advantage of FaZe’s post-summer break slump, which turned ESL Pro League Season 16 and the IEM Rio Major into open races.
“We want to experiment with what we can do with a six-man roster,” B1ad3 said. “I think it’s a good idea because all tournaments, except the Majors, allow substitutes during a best-of-three match. It’s not allowed at Majors, which is why we turned the idea down initially.
“However, when the Major ends, you have three months to experiment, right? And we want to use this opportunity. It makes sense to determine the lineup that will be preparing for the Major.”
Who is nipl?
nipl is the latest talent off the famed NAVI academy conveyor belt, following in the footsteps of players like Valeriy ‘b1t’ Vakhovskiy, Ilya ‘m0NESY’ Osipov (sold to G2 in a reported $600,000 deal) and Danyyl ‘headtr1ck’ Valytov.
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The 17-year-old joined NAVI Youth — the organization’s development project — in October 2021 before transitioning to the academy team, called NAVI Junior, just two months later.
nipl struggled at first but he gradually established himself as a key member of NAVI Junior. He averaged a 1.26 HLTV rating in the recent WePlay Academy League Season 6 as the team finished in third place.
B1ad3 said that nipl will be eased into the lineup and that he won’t pass judgment on the player before the end of the year. Until recently, his only LAN event of note was a school tournament set up by the Ukrainian Professional Esports Association (UPEA).
“He could play in the playoffs, like semifinals or finals, [in Abu Dhabi], compared to one Vertigo game against FaZe here,” B1ad3 said. “He hasn’t practiced the map with us and even if he does play, it won’t mean anything.
“He will definitely play three of the seven maps in Abu Dhabi, while sdy will play the other four. We’ll be able to assess whether he’s ready for the big stage after Abu Dhabi.”
It’s a slow process that NAVI are already familiar with, and that paid dividends in 2021, when b1t, fresh off being promoted to the main squad, helped the team win the Major in Stockholm. He ended up being named the ninth-best player in the world that year.