On Dec. 10, 2015 the greatest rivalry of CS:GO was about to begin. On that day Natus Vincere was going to play the new Luminosity lineup (currently SK) for the first time at the ESL ESEA Pro League Season 2. In that first encounter, Na`Vi beat LG’s lineup 2-1.
Since then, they’ve battled at four other tournaments, including Starladder XIV, DreamHack Leipzig, IEM Katowice and MLG Columbus. In total, they’ve played one best-of-one series and five best-of-three series spanning five months. In series score, they are 3-3 and in map score they are 8-6 in favor of LG. The two teams have played each other in groups, semifinals and finals (one of them was the MLG Major).
But that only scratches the surface. On every level both team have parallels running through them including structure, team composition and tactics. Both teams were the first to embrace the six-person lineups with dedicated coaches Sergey ‘starix’ Ishchuk and Wilton “zews“Prado. Starix leads Na`Vi, while zews plays the role of advisor, analyst and scout for SK. Both teams are centered around two carry players, one rifler and one AWP. In Na`Vi it is Egor“flamie“ Vasilyev and Ladislav “GuardiaN“ Kovács. In SK it is Marcelo “coldzera” David and Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo. Both teams have rounded out their rosters with three great role players who can take over a game with varying success. For Na`Vi they have Denis “seized“Kostin, Ioann “Edward” Sukhariev and Danylo “Zeus“ Teslenko; SK has Fernando “fer“Alvarenga, Lincoln “fnx” Lau and Epitácio “TACO“ de Melo. All of the roles are balanced, with both teams having both aggressive and defensive options as well as multiple AWP setups on their maps.
In terms of tactics, both are lauded as two of the most tactical teams in CS:GO today. In terms of map pool, they share a lot of the same maps. Both teams play: Train, Mirage, Overpass, cobblestone, inferno and dust2. Both teams avoid Cache, and neither team has yet to pick up Nuke. Both are known for their long default plays, where GuardiaN and FalleN are given time to find a pick, reset into a 5-v-4 and then execute onto a site as the clock runs out. Na`Vi is much more likely to do this as the team is built around GuardiaN, whereas FalleN’s team is much more diverse and varied in its tactics. But in Na’Vi’s case, they have been working in more faster-paced tactics to fill out the playbook. The most interesting thing about the two teams is that according to their opponents, they’re the most frustrating to play. Nathan “NBK” Schmitt has cited the Brazilians as the hardest team to play for EnVyUs, and FalleN in turn has cited Na`Vi as the hardest team to beat on LAN.
Even in terms of pure mentality of the players, there are parallels. Both teams are extremely emotional with the two leaders of the team — starix and FalleN — having to try to keep their teammates calm in the middle of the matches. Both are prone to a lot of shouting. But the biggest thing to me is the mentality of the two AWPers: GuardiaN and FalleN.
In Dota 2 there is a strategy known as the “four protect one.” In that strategy, four players protect the carry, who farms gold the entire game. As the team is losing the entire time, it becomes more and more dangerous for that carry player to farm, as the space he can get to safely starts to shrink, forcing the carry to make smart farming patterns with his four teammates sacrificing themselves for the carry’s cause. But the sacrifice doesn’t come in vain, as by the end he will carry his teammates to a win. It is the ultimate form of single-minded egotism in Dota 2. One player will carry the team or die trying.
“I chose the name Guardian because I am the guardian of the team.”
In many ways, GuardiaN and FalleN have that kind of mentality. Since both are AWP players, it requires a large sum of resources to get them to that weapon, and they need to be effective with the AWP in order for it to be cost-efficient. In CS:GO, it isn’t enough to just get kills and win the round. You also need to either survive or have the AWP saved and be carried into the next round. For GuardiaN it is a sacred pact: “Give me the AWP and I’ll get you the game. I will protect this team. I will get us that win.” It was why the finals of MLG Columbus were so painful for GuadiaN. With his injuries he was forced to play the game on four times the sensitivity and was unable to help his team. Afterwards he said, “The lost finals is not the worst feeling, but the feeling to not be able to even fight for that title for your team…”
For FalleN, the story is much the same. While he isn’t the superstar of the team (that’s Coldzera), FalleN can have huge impact on his AWP, especially when he gets the first pick on either side. After getting into a 5-v-4, the team almost always plays out the power play situation perfectly to seal the round. Perhaps more importantly, he is kind of a spiritual and emotional anchor on the team. When he starts hitting his shots and making plays, it seems to light a fire in the SK players, as they get inspired by his performance and all start playing better.
Yet the biggest difference between GuardiaN and FalleN and the “Four protect one” is that when they fall, they have complete and utter faith that their teammates can and will win. If GuardiaN can’t win you the game, then flamie will. If not flamie, then Seized, if not Seized, then Edward, if not Edwad then Zeus. The same goes for SK. If FalleN goes out of a round without getting a frag, then Coldzera will win. If not Coldzera, then fer, if not fer, then fnx, if not fnx, then TACO. Both teams have fantastic players, but together they are more than their individual skills can attest to.
And when these two teams fight, it is explosive. The similarity between their structure, their maps, their squad and their tactics forces both teams to fight on every front. Both teams have the same map pool. Both teams have a sixth man to look out for them from the outside. Both teams have explosive AWPs and star players. Both teams have great role players who can take over the game. Both teams can play offense and defense, CT and T side with equal skill. Both teams get extremely emotional, especially when fighting each other as they respect and want to beat each other more than anything. In a Na`Vi/SK game, everything is possible. The tactics can win, individual plays can win, amazing clutches can happen.
One of the big examples of this was on Overpass at IEM Katowice. In that game, on the 26th round, FalleN was faced in a 1-v-4 clutch situation. He quickly fragged one but was left with 17 hp. With the odds so stacked against him, his team started to converse about what they should do the next round. But FalleN told them to be quiet so he could focus, so they watched.
They watched as he snuck around the entire Na`Vi offense and planted the bomb with five seconds to go. The seconds ticked down as Na`Vi closed onto the site. FalleN was holding the angle into the site. A player appears, the AWP sound is deafening, but Fallen misses. You think this is surely the end of the round, and just as flamie walks up to flank FalleN, FalleN reacts instantly. His AWP switches to flamie without a scope and he pulls the trigger. Flamie is down, but the defuse has already started. FalleN’s only hope is to hit an incredibly fast flick shot onto the defuser. He does and though Zeus finally takes him down, time has run out. FalleN has pulled a miracle.
Na`Vi on the very same map fired straight back as it pulled off clutch after clutch and winning forcebuys to get to overtime. Yet the thing I remember most was Na`Vi’s hot bloodedness. In the throws of overtime, Na`Vi went for its secret triple boosts, which they were likely saving for the major. From a purely objective angle, that seems counter-intuitive, as you’d want to save your best tricks for the major. But Na`Vi’s fierce competitive drive took over. They didn’t want to win later, they wanted to win now.
In the first overtime, they triple boosted GuardiaN up got two picks and took the first T round. That got them to the second overtime where they did it again and got an easy pick onto FalleN on his favorite boosted spot on long. It was an amazing map that eventually ended with SK’s 22-19 win over Na`Vi.
When Na`Vi plays SK, the stakes are never higher. It is a battle on all fronts. A constant fight on every map, in every round, for every pixel, to every second. When the two teams play each other, there is no quarter. Any round can be won on any side no matter the economy. Both teams are just too good and know each other too well. There is no better version of Na`Vi than the one that plays against SK. There is no better version of SK than the one that plays against Na`Vi.
It has been three months and five days since they have last played each other on LAN. For me, it has already been a lifetime, but the drought might be coming to an end. Both teams have advanced from their group at ESL One Cologne, though the SK players were dealt a blow to their psyche by finding out they were ineligible for the ELEAGUE playoffs. But so long as both teams keep advancing, it seems they will inevitably meet somewhere at ESL One Cologne.
Cover photo: hltv.org