The International looms on the horizon and with the ninth edition of the biggest Dota 2 tournament taking place this year in Shanghai, it’s time we take a look at an organization that wages the oldest rivalry with China.
Natus Vincere are the original TI champions. They proudly display the 2011 Aegis of Champions in their training facility and they are the only organization to have reached the TI grand finals three years in a row. Na’Vi claimed the aegis at TI1 after a 3-1 win over EHOME, in 2012 they finished second after getting defeated 1-3 by Invictus Gaming and their domination in the early years of Dota 2 came to an end after they lost the TI3 grand finals to Alliance. Na’Vi’s decline became more obvious than ever after TI4, where they placed top 8 and lost two of their key players. Clement “Puppey” Ivanov and Kuro “KuroKy” Takhasomi took off the black and yellow jerseys of Na’Vi to form new teams that in the present days are dominant forces in the competitive scene. What followed for Na’Vi were years of struggles. Nobody seems to have been able to fill in the immense void left behind by Puppey and Kuroky. Ever since then, Na’Vi couldn’t find their identity, more often than not their problem starting with the lack of a leader and a person who would excel at drafting. What’s absolutely remarkable at this organization is their commitment to grow characters and polish players. Na’Vi has never been the organization that would rush a roster change over a loss and if there is a team which can speak about their years of losses, they have so many sour stories to recount. TI7 and TI8 don’t even exist on their resume.
However, over the past two years, they’ve been at work grooming a true leader for their team, while also taking the time to develop Vladislav “Crystallize” Krystanek into a world-class carry. For the past couple of years, Na’Vi’s shuffles revolved around these two players. Akbar “SoNNeikO” Butaev is a born leader, but he had a lot of work to do regarding his temper. “He has a short fuse for sure,” said Alexander “XBOCT” Dashkevich when talking to us about SoNNeikO in an interview at the last Minor of the season. Na’Vi’s legendary carry from 2011 to 2015, XBOCT spent the 2017-2018 season as a coach for the team that he sees as his family. Crystallize is his project and those who witnessed his growth can easily notice the XBOCT influence. What in the beginning looked like a very nice young player looking up to his idol, but being afraid to set the pace or to outshine his teammates, Crystallize has grown into a mean Morphling or Terrorblade, Anti-Mage or Juggernaut player. “At first it was very difficult to work because every time something was going wrong in the game he would become terribly insecure. I had to explain to him that with such mentality and with that approach he won’t achieve anything in esports.
You can’t be a puppy that everyone moves around. If you are a carry, then you must be an egoist. […] We worked more to polish a character and build a carry mentality for Crystallize,” XBOCT declared in the aforementioned interview.
The 2018-2019 Dota Pro Circuit season, although far from being a good one for Na’Vi, marked a truly new beginning for their Dota 2 team. It was at the beginning of this season when they had the heart to wave goodbye to the most iconic Dota 2 player. Danil “Dendi” Ishutin left Na’Vi after seven years of service and the team recruited Idan “MagicaL” Vardanian as a replacement, a player without a vast professional career experience, but someone who would gel with the rest of the team relatively fast.
XBOCT’s work from the previous season and Na’Vi’s commitment to protect and build a team around SoNNeikO and Crystallize started to slowly pay off when the roster was rounded with two Kyrgyz players, who have a long history together. Evgeniy “Blizzy” Ree and Bakyt “Zayac” Emilzhanov came together from NoLifer5, a team from Kyrgyzstan, that back in 2015 made it to the inaugural edition of WESG and from there on they were able to find their way into the competitive scene.
Na’Vi roster for TI9
- Vladislav “Crystallize” Krystanek
- Idan “MagicaL” Vardanian
- Evgeniy “Blizzy” Ree
- Bakyt “Zayac” Emilzhanov
- Akbar “SoNNeikO” Butaev
None of the old gods of CIS Dota are with today’s Na’Vi line-up. Perhaps a change that although was made in time, is still affecting on some levels the team dynamics. Their DPC run from this year was sloppy. They’ve made it only to one Minor and one Major through the entire season and had to go through regional qualifiers for The International 2019, where they didn’t start well at all. They barely made it out of the group stage on the back of a stunning performance from Crystallize on Wraith King and some miraculous plays from MagicaL on heroes like Templar Assassin, Alchemist or Ember Spirit. Na’Vi channelled all their energy in the qualifiers playoffs bracket, where they made a full comeback to claim the one ticket to The International 2019.
Because of their lacklustre season, they don’t have a lot of track records with the team competing at TI9. At the DreamLeague Major they only managed to take a game from Evil Geniuses and one from Chaos, however, the Chaos roster has completely changed since then. At ESL One Mumbai they got defeated by Keen Gaming and Mineski, but they took down 2-1 TNC.
TI9 will be a huge test for Na’Vi, especially because four of their players will be now at their first TI experience. It will be foolish for anyone to start thinking that “Na’Vi is back“. Their qualifiers run is a very good indicator that they are capable of delivering great games, but first they will have to learn to overcome their emotions and draw strength from the history written on their jerseys, so that Dota 2 fans may witness on the TI9 Main Event grand stage a reborn Na’Vi.