We’ve gone back and forth between teams boasting individual brilliance and incredible tactics, and this iteration of Na’Vi is as close as we’ve ever gotten to a side breaking the game through raw skill.
Cast your mind back to 2013 when pronax and co. shocked the world by taking down the dominant NiP side of their time in the grand final of the first Major. Though new fans may not even know who he is today, the Swedish mad lad was responsible for many tactical innovations in the early CS:GO period, bringing unique tactics to the table and developing such staples as the T side mid take on Inferno.
Later on, Fnatic’s second all-conquering lineup would famously take timeouts just to chill and to say “olof go kill” before he did just that with the Tec-9 to secure an unlikely round to turn the tides. Next up, FalleN’s big brain Brazilians took the crown with a more regimented approach before karrigan’s first FaZe Clan superteam would go on to nearly break the game as we know it.
The back-and-forth between tactical setups and individual brilliance on the top of the competitive scene was pretty consistent and predictable, even as the skill ceiling kept growing both strategically and mechanically.
Then, of course, along came Astralis, and seem to have set in a permanent era of tactics-based dominance. Each of these teams seem to have disintegrated rather than getting defeated, a combination of rust, complacence and the passage of time opening the door to new challengers.
In this case, the challenger has been knocking on the door for a pretty damn long time, and it only makes sense that Na’Vi’s road to the summit involved finally getting a firepower upgrade that finally pushed them past the competition. It's not just a CIS era in CS:GO but a firepower-based-one as well.
It’s only fitting that s1mple’s path to Major glory went through two of the other best individual players in the scene right now, defeating NiKo and ZywOo in the playoffs. Team-wise, they’ve taken down the second, third, fourth and fifth teams on the HLTV rankings along the way. This, the first flawless Major run in CS:GO history, follows their Intel Grand Slam title. No matter how much you look around, there’s no one else in sight.
And it’s not like they’re playing perfect CS either. Everyone will remember the NiKo whiff from Nuke but s1mple himself missed a straight shot on the planter in overtime. The difference? He was covered by a teammate and his error was quickly rendered irrelevant.
Remember the days when s1mple had to carry folks like Edward and Zeus and flamie? Turns out it didn’t take any major tactical innovation or pristine setups to push Na’Vi past the competition: a more even (and higher) distribution of fragging talent has rendered them dominant by itself.
Say what you will about Boombl4 as an in-game leader, getting the best out of insane individuals requires a very different blueprint than outwitting the IGL on the other side, and the workload distribution between him and B1ad3 seems to have finally paid dividends. The firepower upgrade aspect has also made his life a whole lot easier: there should be no doubt that it’s easier to arrange a retake on the fly when the players available to you aren’t so disparate in skill. It also helps when they’re all excellent at what they do, of course.
No longer having to plug in multiple holes every series, s1mple is now the crown jewel of a balanced and high-powered Na’Vi setup rather than the sole reason they can make deep runs and snatch the occasional title. Compare and contrast with what’s going on over at G2: just like with the previous iterations of the black-and-yellow side, their woeful lack of consistency means they just cannot challenge for the number one spot. Sometimes you get the ESL Pro League 0-5, sometimes you get the Major final. Sometimes it’s the ace clutch and sometimes it’s the Deag whiff or some other choke. There’s no baseline to count on.
It was the first notable FaZe side that started the conversations about “breaking the game” as we know it, the notion that there’s such a strong tactical foundation to CS that no one player can carry at the highest level. By the same token, the idea was that five decent players with the stronger setups would beat the five godlike puggers in the long run.
When FaZe worked wonders with nothing but entry headshot machines and streamlined but simplistic setups based on high percentage duel wins, it seemed like something had broken. It wasn’t to be, of course, and ultimately even a Major win was just out of reach for the side, but this Na’Vi squad could very well do what FaZe couldn’t in the past: to usher in a new, more individualistic era for CS.
Everyone can snatch a multi-kill clutch on this team and all four non-IGL players are reliably capable of monster frags. (That’s not to dunk on Boombl4 who’s also got the occasional insane kill in him as well.) Their Major win, and the nature of how they did it, speaks to just how far ahead of everyone they are – and also how you can truly take a step back tactics-wise if your fragging output and duel conversion rate is as ridiculous as this.
It may have been partly due to PGL’s mediocre observers, but I can’t exactly recall another time when the various casters had such a hard time keeping up with the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gunfights that decided the rounds, 5v4s dwindling to 2v1s in an instant. It’s as explosive as it gets. There’s no time to execute the longform tactical play when there’s no room to regroup and reposition.
This kind of gameplay is arguably more fun to watch for most casual viewers, and it does make matters less predictable on a round-to-round basis. No 3v5 is secure and there’s always a potential multi-kill lurking just around the corner. There’s beauty to the chess game as well, those times when one side always sees one step ahead, beats their opponents to every timing and corner and nade, but after spending years watching this approach executed at its highest level to date, it’s a nice change of pace to go back from the clockwork to the fireworks.
Photo credit: HLTV