“Even though I have failed many times, it makes those victories I do have all the more meaningful.” – Choi “Bomber” Ji Sung
It is 2 a.m., the 22nd round of the third map of the championship game of ESL New York. It is Mirage, and Natus Vincere is playing Virtus.Pro, which is in full plow mode so even on an eco they are dangerous. Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács opens the A site and they kill the other defender. The round is in a 4-v-3 in Na`Vi’s favor with the gun power and position. Surely they cannot win this round.
And that would be correct if this was any other place, any other time, any other team. All of Guardian’s teammates get picked off on the retake. It is now 1-v-3. GuardiaN vs. the Plow. Wiktor ‘TaZ’ Wojtas peeks wide and is taken out by GuardiaN. One down, two left. Janusz “Snax” Pogorzelski throws the smoke onto the bomb, creating chaos as Jarosław “Pasha” Jarząbkowski tries to get closer to kill GuardiaN.
His team needs him and GuardiaN will not fail. The smoke let Snax get on the site, but it also cuts him off from making a crossfire with Pasha. GuardiaN leans out and takes out Pasha. Two down, one left. Snax leaps out trying to catch him, but GuardiaN has already flanked wide around triple boxes and with a quick scope takes out Snax.
GuardiaN has done it. He has snatched victory from defeat. He saves the round in a 1-v-3 with four kills in the round. This is a critical round as a win here for VP could reset Na`Vi and give VP a huge economic boost. VP goes on to win the next six rounds and it is now 14-14.
Two rounds to decide the winner. Two rounds to decide a legacy: The final two rounds that have always haunted GuardiaN.
In a way that little segment — those seven rounds — of that VP vs Na`Vi game was a microcosm of GuardiaN’s early career. He had always been marked for greatness. He had never made a name for himself in CS 1.6, but he was a heralded talent in CS:Source and one who was so good people believed he cheated. In CS:GO that skill translated over immediately as he became one of the great players of the game from the very start. He bounced around a few Slovakian teams until he finally joined VP, which was one of the great teams at the time along with NiP and VeryGames.
On GuardiaN’s short time on this roster, only one and a half months, he gets to play both. In his first run in with NiP, he and VP play them super close but lose at DreamHack Summer 2013. He gets one chance to rematch them at ESL Major Series and comes out victorious but eventually loses to VeryGames in the finals — the first of many disappointments that came to define his career.
Afterward, the team breaks up amid the desire to create a CIS super-team. That team would become Astana Dragons, and GuardiaN was left out. With nowhere to go, he eventually joined Na`Vi and has been with them ever since. From when he joined in December 2013 to the day Na`Vi recruited Egor ‘flamie’ Vasilyev in April 2015, it was a one-man team. The only win condition was GuardiaN carrying them to the top.
Despite all of his skill, there was only so much one man could do. His first year and a half had him go big for one map or one series, but Na`Vi consistently dropped out in the quarters and semis. Their best win was at Starladder IX, where his team earned a fluke win over NiP and VG. It was a good victory and showed his promise, but it was not the one he was looking for as Na`Vi couldn’t have attended if the war hadn’t broken out and Fnatic got to play.
“The prize money for this event is kind of disappointing, and I do not see teams preparing their best game for this event,” GuardiaN told HLTV.
It is the 29th round on Mirage. Na`Vi are desperate. VP has denied them six rounds and the clock is running down. As they dive into the B side, TaZ frags Ioann “Edward” Sukhariev on catwalk while another player mollies them off. There is no choice; Na’Vi runs through the fire leaving GuardiaN behind to protect them. He takes out both TaZ and Pasha to let his team plant the bomb and win the round. It is 15-14, one more round to take it all.
In the summer of 2015, Flamie has officially joined Na`Vi and has reinvigorated the lineup. GuardiaN has hit a new level of form and is being hailed as the best AWP in the world over Kenny “kennyS” Schrub. The entire team is built around his AWP. They run down the clock and let him work picks; they give him as much time as they can to impact the round and work off that. It is working. The results are coming in, but again not what GuardiaN was looking for. They win ESL Pro League 1 but only Titan and Astralis are there and Astralis has a stand in. They win Starladder XIII, but the only top team was EnVyUs. ESWC 2015 was missing both Fnatic and TSM (the two best teams of that time). IEM San Jose had no Fnatic or EnVyUs and VP had a stand in. DreamHack Leipzig was missing Fnatic. Counter-Pit was missing Fnatic and Luminosity.
They were all good wins, but none the perfect win. There are wins and then there are the ones you look back on with triumph. A trophy that you can point to and say for that one night, you were the best team in the world. A tangible moment that you remember years from now that defines your life.
None of Na’Vi’s victories were like that. Instead, GuardiaN’s life and that of Na`Vi came to be defined as almost. DreamHack Summer 2015: Second. Cevo7: Second. FaceIt 2015: Semifinals. ESL Cologne Major 2015: Quarterfinals. Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca Major: Second. ESL Pro League Season 2: Second. Starladder XIV Finals: Second.
As William James once said, “So we have the paradox of the man shamed to death because he is only the second best pugilist or second best oarsmen in the world. That he is able to beat the whole population of the globe minus one is nothing; he has ‘pitted’ himself to beat that one; and as long as he doesn’t do that, nothing else counts.”
It is the 30th round on the third map of the finals of ESL New York. After running a default, Na`Vi decides to go for an A split. It doesn’t work as Filip ‘NEO’ Kubski gets a kill through the smoke. Na`Vi runs into a wall as they are all picked apart, but flamie and Edward will not let this die. In a 2-v-5, they drag it all the way back with flamie killing two before going down and Edward getting two more. It is a 1-v-1, but Pasha stops their dreams as he wins it. We are going into overtime. In the back of the Na`Vi players minds, they are thinking “Not again.”
By early 2016, GuardiaN ran out of time. Peak form can never last forever, and his disintegrated when he injured his arm. The first we hear of it is after Na`Vi loses in stunning fashion to Luminosity at IEM World Championship. No one knew until weeks later that he had been injured at all. This couldn’t have possibly come at a worse time as his team was starting to become incredible. The tactics, the teamwork, the firepower: Everything was set in place for them to become the best in the world.
It never happened. GuardiaN’s injury was too much and at the Columbus Major he was forced to play with four times the sensitivity he was used to. In the finals, it was a decisive rout. Luminosity had won.
The lost finals is not the worst feeling, but the feeling to not be able to even fight for that title for your team…
— Ladislav Kovács (@guardiancsgo) April 3, 2016
GuardiaN has spent so long being so good in hopes that one day his team could help him get to that championship, the one that meant everything. His team eventually did get that good, but he fell off. This was his tragedy.
And soon his team developed a psychosis of losing in finals. They lost at DreamHack Malmo and again at Starladder i-League 1. Na`Vi had rushed at the sun too many times. And now they feared the fall. No amount of skill can get a player or a team past that.
As four time GSL runner-up, Eo “soO” Yoon Su once said, “It’s hard for me to be on the finals stage again. I just don’t know how to win finals. All I can do is keep trying.”
Na`Vi tries again at the next Major at Cologne. This time, they lose out to Liquid in the quarterfinals. They give it one more try and challenge Fnatic at ELEAGUE Season 1 for a spot in the finals. They fall. There is no choice left and Na`Vi switches out Daniil “Zeus” Teslenko for Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev. It is the dream roster swap. S1mple is a superstar level player who had proven himself to be as good as anyone in the world. Arguably the most explosive player in CS:GO today and someone who dreamed of playing on the Na`Vi roster.
With this new roster, they go to ESL New York. There some of the strongest teams in the world are gathered. SK (former Luminosity), VP, Fnatic, Liquid and G2. This was a lineup nearly befitting a Major. All of the big players had shown up. This was one of the most important tournaments of the year.
And Na`Vi ran through them. In the group stages, they beat Liquid, VP and SK. All three teams went on later to the playoff stages of the tournament. Na`Vi beat Liquid again with a superhero effort by flamie and s1mple. It is a team effort, but s1mple is the clear MVP of the new roster. Na`Vi plays Virtus.Pro in the finals. The first map they get crushed by VP. The second they crush VP.
On the third map, all hands are needed on deck. Virtus.Pro is playing at another level despite any exhaustion the players must be feeling. Na`Vi needs every ounce of strength and grit if they want to win this match. S1mple is not enough. Na`Vi needs a hero. Na`Vi needs the old GuardiaN back. The one that sent fear into the hearts of the opponents, the one that could drag this team to victory under any circumstance.
GuardiaN answers the call. He couldn’t help after his injury, could do nothing but watch as his team lost at the Columbus Major. Could do nothing after he came back from his injury in either the DreamHack Malmo or Starladder i-League 1 finals. But this time was different. This time he could make the difference.
It is the sixth round of overtime in the finals of ESL New York. Na`Vi leads 18-17. Win this and they win their trophy. Lose this and VP takes them to another overtime. VP crunch onto A with TaZ taking Edward out of the round early. They plant on A and now Na`Vi needs to retake the site. GuardiaN and s1mple have a plan. They throw their smokes to cover the bomber and dive into the smoke to defuse the bomb while Denis “Seized” Kostin and flamie cover them. S1mple falls, but GuardiaN gets on it and his teammates cover him for the entire five seconds as he defuses.
The final round ends. GuardiaN ends it with his own hands ending the map with the highest kills, rating and kill differential on the map. They go out and claim their trophy and sit down as the exhaustion runs over them. They had wrenched the trophy from VP’s cold dying hands and at this moment, it all comes together for GuardiaN.
The realization that he had won. No tears were shed when he was left out of the Astana Dragons. None were shed when he failed time and time again to bring his team to victory against the best in the world. None were shed when his team failed him at the Cluj-Napoca finals when his team collapsed. None were shed when he failed his team at the Columbus Major finals due to his injury which forced him to be unable to help them fight. None were shed at the countless second places of tournaments where they were almost the best.
But as he sat down on that stage with his team that he had fought so hard to make great, after a game in which he put out one of the best performances of his career in one of the most important finals of his career, the triumph, the sheer disbelief that this had happened was too much, and the tears started to flow.
There are moments in our life where a single event encapsulates all that we have been working toward. This was GuardiaN’s A moment that he had been searching for ever since he took up the mouse and started to play Counter-Strike. The biggest win of his career and the one he can look back on and say, “For that one night, we ruled the world.” A victory bought by his years of toil, pain and tears.
Photos courtesy of HLTV.org