Although Natus Vincere has been one of the most respected organizations in professional Counter-Strike, the team has come by hard times recently — by its standards, at least.
Aside from wins in some smaller events such as CounterPit in March, Na’Vi has consistently gotten to the final rounds of tournaments without being able to get over the top in any of them. A string of second place finishes included the ESL Pro League in December, MLG Columbus Major in April, DreamHack Malmo later that month and at ESL One Cologne a few weeks ago.
Na’Vi added another frustrating finish to its recent streak after Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Fnatic. Before that, however, Slingshot’s Vince Nairn caught up with Na’Vi’s Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács to talk about the recent results, ELEAGUE and his recovery from a spring wrist injury.
Vince Nairn: It’s been kind of a long ELEAGUE season, but what are your overall thoughts being here now for the semifinals and hopefully a chance to play for the championship?
Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács: For us it feels great because we’ve played a lot of events, $250K and stuff like that, majors, and we haven’t won a single one. So coming here for the semifinals and playing Fnatic in the semifinals is huge, and we want to win. So we are looking forward, and it feels great to be here.
VN: Your roster has been intact since last year, and you have been one of the two or three best teams in the world for the duration. You’ve struggled recently in later parts of events, though, so what has it been like just trying to deal with that and keep trying to break through?
LK: Losing in the major two times in a row, I wouldn’t say it’s about the game skill wise, but about the mentality and psychology. So I would say, both finals, or the finals of the other events, we lost because of psychology. We came to the finals hot-blooded and destroyed most of the opponents, but in the finals, sometimes we have some sort of brain block or something, and it happens and we just lose. So I would say the only problem we have is the psychology.
VN: And I know you had the wrist injury in Columbus and afterward. What was that time out like, just trying to rehab and get better?
LK: Well, my wrist injury started a month before the major, so first it was OK, then we had the CounterPit league where I became the MVP because I had an honorable performance, and then it started. The pain. Before DreamHack Malmo, I hadn’t been playing since the last (event) and it had been like two weeks. I had laser treatment and it became good. But still, now, it’s not the same as it was before. So I think I need more time (to heal). Hopefully it will be enough to become ELEAGUE champions, but it feels different.
VN: I imagine it’s a difficult balance because there are so many tournaments now and you guys need some time or want some time, but you still want to keep playing to get more money and such. How do you just walk that balance?
LK: Now is the perfect time because this is the last event before vacation. We have two weeks no events after this event. Perfect time to get some massages or something. So I will perfectly and completely use the time to rejuvenate it completely.
LK: Well, being a professional gamer today is hard because you want to keep your body fit and you want to be mentally fine, but you can’t do everything together. For example, we had times where we had every week a new event. So you’re flying from one event to the other event to the other and the other, and sometimes it was Europe, U.S., Europe, U.S. Mentally it’s so, so bad because even if you are losing and you have some problems, real life problems, you just cannot handle it sometimes. And if that happens, your team will lose early in the tournament. And then, sometimes it just helps to leave the tournament, just say no. The other thing, your body and the sport: You can do it, you just don’t have as much time. So it’s really hard to combine. We can do it when we have the time, but it’s hard.
VN: Esports is something that has never really grown up on TV. It’s been online the whole time. Do you guys care much about being on TV? And what’s it like now that you’re here doing it?
LK: We didn’t think about it as much before, but at the moment (it’s fun). This event is really good, and hopefully more will do it (on TV). And I think CS will be safe for at least five years. At the moment, the future of CS is unknown, but if more TV (events) will be included and stuff, I think the future of CS will be safe for some time.
VN: As somebody who has been playing this game a while, whats it like just seeing as much growth as we have at this point? Because this game was never really meant to be this popular, and yet here we are.
LK: I think the idea of the skins helped it, even before the (gambling sites) came out. The skins already were on the scene. I think that helped the game to grow, but I think the competition as well. I think it’s half and half. Valve did a good step with the skins and the other way we had enough teams to compete against each other. And the old stars from 1.6 came to CS:GO, and the growth went (up).
VN: I know the rumors have popped up this week about a possibly huge roster shuffle, and your team has been thrown around. How do you, as a player getting ready for the semifinals of a big tournament, just try to handle stuff like that popping up?
LK: If some teams are changing, and the player knows that he’s going to be changed, then the player should not care about it. He should do everything he can. Of course, if you are getting changed, at least, I would be (motivated) to win the event, just for the title to say I won something big. The other way, at least I will earn a little bit more money. I wouldn’t just throw it away. Of course, it doesn’t feel good inside if you’re getting changed, but I would do grace for the players I was playing with for a long time, for at least a year. We are still the same people.
Cover photo by Patrick Strack/ESL, eslgaming.com