NAVI’s BLAST Premier victory was about much more than a trophy

. 10 days ago
João Ferreira/Dexerto

NAVI won their first title of 2022 last weekend at the BLAST Premier Spring Final. It was a crucial title for the Ukrainian team, which has endured a turbulent first half of the year.

When NAVI’s first match at the Tejo Hall in Altice Arena came to an end, disappointment was etched on the faces of each and every player.

The team had just lost to OG and now stared elimination in the face on the opening day of the BLAST Premier Spring Final.

The outlook was grim. Even if NAVI moved past BIG the following day, a third-place finish in the group meant that they would have to meet either FaZe — the reigning Major champions and world No.1 — or G2 Esports in the quarter-finals of the event.

s1mple and NAVI got off on the wrong foot in Lisbon – but everything went up from there

s1mple had had a quiet game by his lofty standards, putting in a 1.03 HLTV rating across the best-of-three series after struggling on Mirage and Ancient. The day before, he had said that he hoped the team’s preparation for the event would see them reach the playoffs. At the same time, he had hinted at taking a break from the game, having been worn down by the nomadic life he has been forced into since the beginning of the war in his home country of Ukraine.

That caused panic among NAVI’s fans, not least because it was followed by a disappointing performance from the Ukrainian star. Was this an omen of things to come?

And then, like many times before, s1mple flipped the switch and returned to being the dominant player he’s known to be with a range of highlights that went from the absurd to the near impossible. There were KQLY-esque jumping headshots. There were ScreaM-like AK-47 one-taps. There were crazy Desert Eagle frags, AWP double kills and pistol clutches.

It was a classic s1mple tournament in its purest form as the Ukrainian delivered performance after performance, turning opponents into rag dolls and elevating his teammates with him in the process. As NAVI dispatched FaZe in the quarter-finals, everyone began predicting the ending — with the Ukrainian team stepping onto the stage as BLAST Premier champions again to the sound of roaring fans.

The grand final, after NAVI had exacted revenge on OG the previous day, ended up being a one-sided affair where NAVI outdid Vitality in every possible department. “It means a lot,” coach Andrey ‘B1ad3’ Gorodenskiy told Dexerto after the event. “We didn’t expect it to be so easy to win this event.”

Instrumental to the team’s success, s1mple made history as he took his MVP medal tally to 20, eclipsing NIP’s Nicolai ‘device⁠’ Reedtz and widening the distance between himself and Vitality’s Mathieu ‘⁠ZywOo⁠’ Herbaut, who has 12 medals to his name. The French AWPer, s1mple’s biggest rival for the past three years, has not been able to hit the same heights in 2022 as Vitality have struggled to make their international roster click.

Picking up the pieces

In the Altice Arena stands, there was a collective feeling of relief among NAVI personnel as they watched the final play out. They knew how important the match, and the tournament, was for the team after a nightmare few months that had upended their lives and shattered their hopes of establishing an era. “When the war started we were mentally destroyed,” s1mple said, adding that the team “lost to ourselves” in the ensuing weeks and months, with the Russian players allowed to return home, while the Ukrainians hopped from place to place.

Then the Boombl4 case unfolded. Merely weeks after PGL Major Antwerp, NAVI announced that the Russian player and in-game leader was being removed from the team, citing “high reputational risks for the club”. The decision was tied to her wife’s apparent support for the war, which had landed Boombl4, and consequently NAVI, in hot water. The organization saw no choice but to remove the player, the team’s caller since late 2019.

João Ferreira/Dexerto
electroNic acquitted himself well in his first tournament as IGL

The BLAST Premier Spring Finals was an opportunity to test B1ad3’s belief that NAVI’s system is bigger than any one IGL and that Denis ‘electroNic’ Sharipov could be plugged into the role fairly seamlessly. There were fears that the Russian player’s impact would suffer as a result, but he quashed that narrative with an impressive 1.25 HLTV rating in Lisbon, the second-highest on the team.

It’s still early to make a judgment on whether electroNic’s IGL potential is indeed higher than Boombl4, but the first signs are incredibly positive – which also speaks to B1ad3’s coaching prowess. His robust system is bearing fruits with another man at the wheel (the third after Zeus and Boombl4), and there is nothing to suggest that, under his wing, electroNic cannot become one of the finest callers in the game.

More important than his performances, Viktor ‘sdy’ Orudzhev’s presence in Lisbon restored some sense of calm to the team after the turmoil of recent events. This was the first tier-one tournament victory of his career, and the team wanted him to appreciate the moment in its fullness as they allowed him to be the first to lift the trophy on stage. The Ukrainian player certainly did enough to warrant another shot at IEM Cologne, though questions remain about his fragging ability as NAVI look to reclaim the throne that they occupied at the start of the year.

For that to happen, NAVI will need a motivated and inspired s1mple, and the team’s victory in Lisbon will go a long way to reigniting a fire in him that had started to flicker out. The Ukrainian has his eyes set on knocking FaZe off their perch and preventing them from winning the Intel Grand Slam prize.

“We were thinking about this, how if we won this event he would definitely play in Cologne,” B1ad3 told Dexerto. “He has also said that he wants to be in Cologne, to not give confidence to FaZe.”

The race for the IEM Cologne title has been blown wide open by the latest LAN tournaments. FaZe are looking a far cry from the team that dominated the circuit in the first months of the year, while NAVI and Cloud9 have suddenly emerged as genuine title contenders, boosted by their recent victories.

Belief is a very powerful energy, a vital intangible ingredient that can tear down barriers and lead to great things. Time will tell if NAVI will go on to achieve lasting success. But for a team that appeared to be on its last legs and on the verge of losing its star player, what it accomplished last week was everything it needed to stay the course. And that is far more valuable than a trophy or a cheque.

“I think we are fired up,” B1ad3 said. “When you’re winning like this you feel additional power.”

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