NAVI's quest for the Major - what to do?
A bunch of questions to think about.
The number one team in the world, Natus Vincere, have just completed their Intel Grand Slam, which took them 756 days to achieve. They have the best player in the world, all the momentum, the massive fanbase and look to finally achieve the last remaining goal this autumn - winning a Major championship in CS:GO.
Some of the older Counter-Strike fans remember the success the legendary 1.6 lineup had at the Majors, as Na’Vi won four out of six they played in and other two they were in the finals, but in CS:GO it was never like that, as all Natus Vincere have to show for that are two finals, both of which were one sided losses to Luminosity Gaming and Astralis. Is it finally going to change in Stockholm during the PGL Major? Well, it might very well be.
One thing which has drastically changed since those days is the amount of big events. ESL, BLAST, Dreamhack, etc - Major is still the most prestigious of all the tournaments, but it is impossible to ignore other events, especially considering that Natus Vincere are one of the Louvre Agreement teams, so they have to participate in the events, organized by the partner organizations.
This season schedule got even more tight, as after the player break top teams had to play ESL Pro League Season 14, then BLAST Premier Fall, then there is an IEM Fall qualifier, a BLAST Premier Fall Showdown for those, who could not win their groups and then a PGL Major Stockholm. Good news for NAVI is that at least they are guaranteed to play at the Major, unlike many of their European opponents, bad - well, it might be simply too much.
After winning ESL Pro League Season 14, Natus Vincere have few different ways of playing out the situation to dodge the potential burnout and be able to peak at the right time for the Swedish event.
Plan A: try hard during every event
That’s a solid strategy for the fans, since the floor of this NAVI lineup essentially guarantees playoff berths at every stop. BLAST will enjoy the viewership influx, team will likely make it to the top-2 at the CIS RMR standings during IEM Fall and then it will be almost time to travel to Sweden.
This one did not work for some of the best lineups in history though. Remember how we said that it took Natus Vincere 756 days to win the Intel Grand Slam? Well, Team Liquid completed that achievement in mere 144 days in 2019 and then bombed out in the quarterfinals of the StarLadder Major Berlin after barely squeaking into the playoffs. SK Gaming were absolutely trouncing competition in the middle of 2017 after acquiring “felps” and many thought that the third championship was coming, but a quarterfinal exit to Astralis made sure that it did not happen either. Even fnatic pre-Columbus run in 2015-2016 looked astonishing, but as it turned out, “olofmeister” got injured and they could not win their fourth Major trophy either.
So while a good strategy, probably not the best unless you are a golden age Astralis and know everything about your performance inside and outside the server.
Plan B: sandbag some of the events
It is not like throwing events should be elaborate or involve match fixing, but coming to them with different goals in mind besides winning might be helpful as well.
For example, this BLAST Premier Fall group stage does not even give Natus Vincere anything. They are already guaranteed to play at the BLAST Global Finals due to winning EPL S14, it’s hard to see them not being top-2 in the group with OG, Complexity Gaming and FaZe Clan with all due respect to their opponents, so why not try something new? Hide the strategies, have some fun on different maps, prepare for something else.
Like IEM Fall. Again, Natus Vincere, alongside Gambit Esports and Team Spirit are already at the Major and the only reasonable thing to play for is to finish top-2 to skip the first round of the Swiss system. Could it be useful to start earlier at the Major? Examples from other games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends show that play-in teams usually peak earlier during the event, but CS:GO is a different beast, so that might not be the best option. Still, no reason to kill yourself over not finishing top-2, because ultimately it has no impact on your Major status.
Focusing on the practice and then showing just enough during the officials is a good strategy to keep yourself in perfect shape both physically and mentally, so that could be in play for NAVI going in the upcoming weeks.
Plan C: sandbag all of them
Well, this is an extreme case of hiding strategies. Apply everything we have mentioned above, multiply it by ten and this is it.
However, this might lead to a total mental collapse, a lack of focus and quality practice, so while it applies for the events in general, as sometimes you see more experienced teams peak during the playoffs, it might not work of the event of such magnitude as Major, considering the level of opponents and a target on your back.
It remains to be seen what Natus Vincere are going to do and how they are going to approach these upcoming weeks. But one is for certain - every win is going to mean less if the elusive Major trophy avoids them for a yet another time.