S1mple closer to GOAT status after NAVI’s Intel Grand Slam victory

s1mple at IEM CologneSimon Howar/ESL

The lack of a Major title has always been a stick with which to beat Aleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev, but that might change in Stockholm next month.

S1mple cracked a smile as he was asked, once again, for his thoughts on his critics after helping NAVI to win ESL Pro League Season 14.

And just like in Cologne, where he told his haters to “know your place,” the Ukrainian prodigy pulled no punches.

“I need new haters. The old ones have become my fans.”

S1mple’s relationship with the Counter-Strike scene is complicated. He was no stranger to controversy early in his career, and he has never been one to contain his emotions when he feels that his relentless pursuit of perfection does not seem to rub off on those around him.

Natus Vincere Socios s1mpleESL
s1mple has 16 MVP medals to his name, only two fewer than dev1ce.

Opinions about s1mple may be polarized, but his immense success in the game cannot be ignored or overstated. He has won 13 Big Event titles and been named the Most Valuable Player of a tournament 16 times (the second most overall). He has also been in HLTV’s Top 20 player ranking every year since 2016, including one time at No.1 (2018) and two times at No.2 (2019 and 2020).

Moreover, he has just joined a select club of players who have won the Intel Grand Slam, a $1 million prize that rewards teams for winning numerous elite tournaments inside a short window.

The one thing that continues to elude him? A Major crown.

Bitter losses

S1mple has been close to winning Majors in the past. He reached the final of ESL One Cologne 2016 with Liquid and of FACEIT Major 2018 with NAVI. On both occasions, his team was on the receiving end of a beating (against SK in Cologne and Astralis in London), which certainly only added to his frustration.

That could be about to change at PGL Major Stockholm, the first Counter-Strike Major in over two years.

NAVI have picked up form at just the right time, winning three of their last four international events (without counting the two CIS RMRs, one of which they won). At IEM Cologne, the first tier-one LAN since the global health crisis began, they put to rest all doubts about their mettle as they went on an unbeaten run that culminated in convincing playoff victories over FaZe and G2.

NAVI have become a much more well-rounded unit since the addition of Valeriy ‘B1T’ Vakhovskiy, an 18-year-old talent that has looked mature and calm way beyond his age. It has been a sharp contrast to the frequent unreliability that was offered by Egor ‘flamie’ Vasilyev, whose future remains up in the air as he continues on the bench.

S1mple put in some incredible performances throughout NAVI’s ESL Pro League title run, but he looked uninspiring at times against Vitality in the grand final – by his own lofty standards, that is. But the team were able to work around that and still found ways to cut through the Frenchmen. NAVI have come a long way in 2021 and gone from strength to strength, turning into a well-oiled machine that doesn’t require their biggest star to produce monstrous performances every time.

In other words, Sunday’s nail-biting victory would not have been possible in previous iterations of NAVI. And s1mple, too, seems to know it. After the match, he praised the collective effort of his teammates.

“Everyone stepped up in the final,” he said. “It is the nicest feeling, when everyone is doing their maximum in the game.

“These are the best teammates I’ve ever had.”

All eyes on the Major

Attention is now starting to turn towards PGL Major Stockholm, which is only five weeks away. It’s not an exaggeration to say that NAVI are the red-hot favorites to win the title as question marks hang over some of their biggest rivals heading into the event.

G2 looked disjointed and shambolic in ESL Pro League, while teams like NIP, mousesports, and Astralis simply don’t seem to have the necessary firepower to compete with NAVI. This Major may also come too soon for Gambit, while Vitality still need to prove that they can perform on a consistent basis with their current roster. And FaZe could miss the event in Stockholm if they don’t overcome their online issues in time for the final RMR event.

NAVI lifting the IEM Cologne trophySimon Howar/ESL
NAVI are the red-hot favorites for the Major

As fate would have it, PGL Major Stockholm could be the event where s1mple equals Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz’s record of 18 MVP medals. For that to happen, however, the NAVI star will first have to be named the MVP of IEM Fall CIS.

It would be harsh, almost cruel, for dev1ce to give up the crown in the city he now calls his home, especially given the high esteem in which he is held by s1mple. In his recent documentary, ‘s1mple formula’, the Ukrainian star said that he still sees dev1ce as the GOAT.

“If we call someone the greatest of all time, right now it’s him,” s1mple said (timestamp 1:33:00). “He’s won all the titles and has achieved a lot.”

Many in the Counter-Strike scene still share that opinion. But PGL Major Stockholm might just be the event that will force us to have a GOAT debate.