The great shame of Na`Vi’s 2018-2019 run is that they had the greatest player in history and never became the best team in the world. Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev is the greatest prodigy that Counter-Strike has ever produced.
We’ve seen players like Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs, Kenny “kennyS” Schrub, and Nikola “NiKo” Kovac be the best in the world without being on the best team. However, no one has reached the levels of peak consistency that s1mple has.
As Na`Vi transitions out of the Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko system, they have to ask themselves the s1mple question. What is the best way to utilize s1mple? If they can answer that question correctly, Na`Vi could be the best team in the world.
Transitioning from Zeus to B1ad3
This is the best time to ask that question as Na`Vi have made a clean split from the old Zeus system. Zeus has retired and Na`Vi have replaced their coach, Mykhailo “kane” Blagin, with Andrey “B1ad3” Gorodenskiy. B1ad3 joined Na`Vi in March 30th as the esports director.
From interviews, it sounds like B1ad3 was setting up the foundations for the future team as he helped set up training and scouted players. The biggest example of this was when Na`Vi added Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhailov.
S1mple described what b1ad3 did in an HLTV interview, saying: “B1ad3 watched a 100 demos of Boombl4 and he watched the position of Edward as well, he compared all of this, he watched other players too and gave us three options. In the end, we decided that we want this player because he is like a leader, Boombl4, he talks a lot in-game, he is an entry fragger, but he can lurk as well”
With Zeus retirement, Na`Vi needed a fifth player. They had two choices: a rifler or an AWPer. The choice depended on what role s1mple was going to play in the future. Whether he was going to be the primary AWPer or a hybrid player who could secondary AWP. This is a question that has defined s1mple’s entire career.
The s1mple Question
When you look at s1mple’s game, there are a few things that stand out about him. The first is that he has one of the highest mechanical ceilings of any player in the game. He has incredible flick speed, aim, reaction time, and precision. His versatility is unmatched. He can play every gun and on any given day is the best AWPer in the world, best rifle in the world, and best pistol in the world.
Throughout his career, he’s played a variety of different roles. I’ve seen him be the lurk, the entry, and the AWPer. He plays passive positions, aggressive positions, and has good teamplay. What’s brilliant about s1mple is that in this last iteration of Na`Vi is that he has taken on two of the hardest responsibilities of any player. He is responsible for aggressive opening picks and for closing out rounds in the clutch situations.
With this level of talent, the question becomes how to use him. In s1mple’s career, we’ve seen two approaches. The first approach was almost mathematical in perception as teams used s1mple’s talent to try to maximize the firepower potential of the team. This defined s1mple’s time in Flipsid3 and Liquid. The second approach was to maximize s1mple’s own potential. While not wholly accurate, this second approach characterizes s1mple’s time in Na`Vi 2018-2019.
The two approaches to s1mple
While subtle, there is a fundamental difference between these two approaches. To understand what I mean, we’ll have to take a look at Flipsid3 2015. The team at the time was: s1mple, B1ad3, Georgi “WorldEdit” Yaskin, Yegor “markeloff” Markelov, and Vladyslav “bondik” Nechyporchuk.
Before joining Flipsid3, s1mple was the primary AWPer of HellRaisers and had impressed the world with his stunning debut performance at DreamHack Winter 2014 Major. In that tournament, he knocked out Fnatic in the group stages with an awe-inspiring performance that foreshadowed the player he’d eventually become.
So when he joined Flipsid3, the team had a choice to make. Should they continue with WorldEdit as the AWPer or give it to s1mple. They decided to give the AWP to WorldEdit. In basic terms, the calculation they made was that WorldEdit’s level was about 7/10 with the AWP. If you put him on anything else though, his form dramatically dropped. S1mple could be 9/10 on the AWP, but he was also 9/10 on the rifle, so Flipsid3 decided that for the betterment of the team, they’d rather have s1mple be the star player on the rifle.
This is an oversimplification as there were other factors that probably led to that particular decision like B1ad3’s structured style, comms, and personality. Even so, this basic model is something that I’ve seen a lot of people use when it comes to roster construction around s1mple.
This pattern repeated itself again in Liquid and later on when he rejoined Na`Vi. Na`Vi is the more pertinent example considering how many roster changes happened during s1mple’s time in Liquid.
When s1mple joined Na`Vi in 2016, the team also had a choice to make between Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs and s1mple. This choice was far harder as GuardiaN was still an elite AWPer at the time and s1mple hadn’t proved himself to be at that level, so it made far more sense for s1mple to stay as a hybrid player.
In 2017, GuardiaN left Na`Vi which allowed s1mple to once again become the primary AWPer of his team. This is where we get into the secondary approach, maximizing s1mple’s potential. Late 2017 Na`Vi was the first time since HellRaisers where s1mple had a relatively stable lineup and the chance to be a primary AWPer.
During this period, s1mple grew quickly. Zeus returned to the team and implemented his system. It looked terrible to begin with, but ironically, it may have forged s1mple into the world breaker that he eventually became.
The system still relied on long defaults which gave maximum time for the AWPer to get a pick, but outside of s1mple and Egor “flamie” Vasilev, there were too many vulnerabilities on the team to make it work properly. Zeus was never a great individual player, Denis “seized” Kostin had lost all of his form trying to lead the team, and Ioann “Edward” Sukhariev hit a slump he never recovered from.With such a heavy load to bear, the situation became a hyperbolic time chamber for s1mple.
S1mple was dedicated to winning and the only conceivable way for s1mple to win was through sheer individual force. S1mple put himself in theoretically bad positions for an AWPer where he either made the shot or died. This greatly increased the risk of failure, but it also greatly increased the reward. If he died, his team would be down a man. If he got the kills, his team either won the round or created enough space for his team to close the round.
S1mple mastered this aggressive style to such a degree that he had fewer deaths than the average typical AWPer. S1mple’s style essentially created a consistent way for Na`Vi to get the power play advantage and for Na`Vi to use s1mple to win the post-plant situations.
If one were to grade s1mple’s play on the mathematical scale of the earlier model, he’d be 12/10. S1mple broke the role of AWPer to the point where what he does cannot be recognized as AWPing. Nicolai “dev1ce” Reedtz once described this in an HLTV interview.
“I think s1mple is just, undeniably, the best player in the world. I can study a lot of players and learn from them, like FalleN, GuardiaN, and so on, and take something from their game and implement it in my own," he said. "But when I look at s1mple demos, it's really hard because sometimes, he can be in the worst situations and still get like a 4k.”
Comparing the approaches
For Na`Vi, this is where the crux of the situation. Which approach is better? Theoretically, no one can blame Flipsid3, Liquid, or early Na`Vi for putting s1mple on the rifle instead of the AWP as no one could have foreseen what s1mple would become if given the chance.
But at this point in time, we have seen it. S1mple with the AWP has become the greatest player in Counter-Strike player in history. If someone were to ask me, I’d favor the second approach. While on paper, it makes more sense to have more talent across the lineup, putting s1mple on the AWP essentially breaks the game and forces every other team to play a different game when they play against s1mple.
However, Na`VI may have decided to revert back to the first model. After Zeus retired, Na`Vi recruited GuardiaN. It makes zero sense for Na`Vi to recruit GuardiaN if they don’t want him to primary AWP. This is a surprising move, but one that has partially come from s1mple himself.
After Na`Vi lost to NRG at StarLadder and placed 6th at BLAST Moscow, s1mple tweeted: “Time to rethink everything and make the right decision.” In a recent HLTV interview, he expounded on his thought process more saying: “If there was going to be a better sniper, a real sniper, of course I was going to give him the AWP. I feel confident with rifles, I wanted this before, there is more freedom when you play as a rifler.”
Wait and see
Na`Vi’s decision to bring GuardiaN back into the mix is a strange decision from the outside. While GuardiaN is a legendary player, he hasn’t played at that level for a long time. Even so, there are still multiple factors that could tilt Na`Vi’s success one way or another.
For instance, what type of system and tactics do B1ad3 and Boombl4 want to utilize? When B1ad3 had s1mple and WorldEdit on Flipsid3, he sometimes used double AWP strategies on the T-side. Perhaps they will let s1mple pick up the AWP over GuardiaN whenever they feel like it so that they can surprise opponents with their different styles of play.
The biggest factor to me will still be s1mple. S1mple’s broke all of the standard rules of AWPing and created a unique way of playing that only he can wield. If s1mple were to somehow replicate that feat, but with a rifle, Na`Vi could reach even greater heights.
For now, the world will have to wait and see. If Na`Vi can answer the s1mple question correctly, they will become the world’s best team.