Reclaiming a Legacy: A new generation of Na’Vi players look to emulate the legendary Na’Vi squads of old with a successful run on the TI stage in Shanghai
With the conclusion of the second even Dota 2 Pro Circuit campaign, the attention of the Dota 2 world now shifts to the game’s biggest and most prestigious of stages: The International. The 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season set the stage, but now the time has come for 18 of the world’s best teams to take their shot at earning immortality as they look to cement their place in Dota 2 history with a victorious run at The International 2019 in Shanghai, China. For the first time in its history, TI moves away from the western world into the waiting arms of the Chinese scene, with TI9 set to be hosted in the Mercedes-Benz Arena as the venue will transform into the crucible from which one squad will emerge with the Aegis of Champions in hand. With the even itself fast approaching, this series will serve to highlight each of the 18 participating squads that will be making their way to Shanghai in the hopes of becoming TI9 Champion. Each post will focus upon a specific team in the field for this event, with a small overview of the organization’s history, a review of its 2018-2019 season, a run down of the members of its roster, keys to success entering TI9, and expectations for the squad at the event itself. Whether one is a newcomer to the pro scene or an avid Pro Circuit spectator, these posts will hopefully serve as a useful source of information or a refresher course on the teams that will be battling it out in Shanghai in August. With that in mind, we’ll take a look at 1 of just 2 CIS squads in the field for TI9, one of the most well known organizations in the esports world, and the winner of the TI9 CIS Qualifier: TI1 Champion Na’Vi.
Natus Vincere (Na’Vi)
Region: Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
Pro Circuit Rank: 22nd (140 Pro Circuit Points)
Qualification Method: TI9 CIS Qualifier 1st Place
2018-2019 Pro Circuit Event Appearances: 2 (1 Top 4 finish)
Previous TI Appearances: TI1 (1st), TI2 (2nd), TI3 (2nd), TI4 (7th-8th), TI5 (13th-16th), TI6 (13th-16th)
2018-2019 Season Notable Achievements:
Pro Circuit Majors:
13th-16th – DreamLeague Season 11 Major
Pro Circuit Minors:
2nd – DreamLeague Season 10 Minor
Pro Circuit Qualifiers:
1st – DreamLeague Season 10 CIS Qualifier
2nd – DreamLeague Season 11 CIS Qualifier
2nd – StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor Season 2 CIS Qualifier
3rd – MDL Disneyland Paris Major CIS Closed Qualifier
3rd – EPICENTER Major 2019 CIS Closed Qualifier
3rd-4th – OGA Dota PIT Minor 2019 CIS Qualifier
5th-6th – The Chongqing Major CIS Qualifier
7th-8th – The Kuala Lumpur Major CIS Qualifier
Non-Pro Circuit Events:
2nd – MegaFon Winter Clash
3rd – ESL One Mumbai 2019
3rd – WePlay! Dota 2 Valentine Madness
3rd-4th – Maincast Autumn Brawl
3rd-4th – Adrenaline Cyber League 2019
5th-8th – WePlay! Dota 2 Tug of War: Radiant
7th-8th – Reshuffle Madness
7th-8th – GG.Bet Birmingham Invitational
Na’Vi stands as one of the largest and best known organizations in all of esports, and the CIS icon’s time in the Dota 2 world stretches all the way back to the beginnings of the game with the squad’s victory at TI1. Over the next 2 years, Na’Vi would come to dominate the Dota 2 world, winning an absolutely ridiculous number of events and tournaments and claiming Top 4 finishes in numerous others, including a pair of 2nd place finishes at TI2 and TI3. The organization’s roster over than period of time have become legendary in the history of Dota 2, but eventually the run of dominance from the CIS squad began to wane. The team began 2014 looking like its usual self with 5 straight Top 4 finishes and 3 event victories, but the following months saw the squad lose a fair bit of momentum. After a disappointing 7th-8th place performance at TI4, the team lost the legendary Support duo of Puppey and KuroKy, closing the book on an era of dominance for the organization.
After the departure of Puppey and KuroKy, Na’Vi attempted to keep the rest of its roster intact with minor changes to its lineup. However, those efforts couldn’t recapture the team’s previous success, as Na’Vi closed out 2014 with 6 Top 4 finishes in its final 11 appearances. 2015 would prove to be an even greater struggle for the squad, with Na’Vi undergoing even more changes to its roster during the year. Despite brief resurgence in April and May, the squad continued to struggle throughout the year, with a 13th-16th place finish at TI5 epitomizing the squad’s fall from grace. In October of 2015, the organization released its Dota 2 lineup, determined to rebuilt its roster around the returning duo of Dendi and SoNNeikO. In December, the organization announced its full roster, with the aforementioned duo being joined by Ditya Ra, Ax.Mo, and Artstyle, though Ax.Mo would be replaced by GeneRaL just 1 month later.
The new Na’Vi lineup started 2016 in relatively impressive fashion, claiming Top 4 finishes in 8 of its first 12 appearances to claim a direct invite to The Manila Major 2016, where it finished in the 7th-8th place position. After earning 3 straight Top 4 LAN finishes across June and July, the squad was directly invited to TI6, but it would struggle significantly before putting up a 13th-16th place performance at the event itself. In the aftermath of that poor showing, the Na’Vi roster fractured again, with 3 of the squad’s players parting ways with the organization in November. In February of 2017, the organization returned to active play with a new roster, but said roster proved to be somewhat inconsistent, ultimately failing to qualify for TI7. In September, the organization announced yet another new roster for the 2017-2018 season, with Dendi, GeneRaL and SoNNeikO being joined by Crystallize and RodjER. That new squad actually started the season in impressive fashion, claiming Top 4 finishes in all 12 of its regional appearances in the 2017 section of the season while earning Top 4 finishes at both the DreamLeague Season 8 Major and the MDL Macau Minor. In February of 2018 though, the squad executed a trade, moving RodjER to VP in exchange for Lil, with team captain SoNNeikO being replaced by LeBronDota just days later. In the aftermath of those moves, the team couldn’t maintain its previous momentum, the team attending 3 further Minors and 4 Majors but earning Top 4 finishes in just 1 of them. After failing to even reach the closed qualifier stage of the TI9 CIS Qualifiers, the squad found itself struggling to find answers heading into the 2018-2019 season.
Season in Review
With the new Pro Circuit season approaching, the Na’Vi organization opted for drastic action. The team introduced a new lineup in September, with Crystallize, MagicaL, Blizzy, Chuvash, and SoNNeikO forming a new roster for the squad. With that move, Na’Vi brought to an end a 8 year period with Dendi on its roster, as the legendary Midlaner was moved to an inactive position within the organization. The new Na’Vi started the season with some impressive performances, earning Top 4 finishes in 7 of its first 10 appearances, including 2nd place finishes on the international level at both the DreamLeague Season 10 Minor and the MegaFon Winter Clash.
The 2019 section of the season would see Na’Vi continue to play with relative consistency within its home region, as the squad started the year with 3 Top 4 finishes in its first 4 appearances. In March, the team attended its first Major with its new roster, but finished in the 13th-16th place position at the DreamLeague Season 11 Major in Stockholm. The squad did not let that disappointing performance keep it down though, as Na’Vi posted Top 4 finishes 2 of its next 3 regional appearances before posting a 3rd place finish on the international level at ESL One Mumbai 2019. In the aftermath of that event though, the team made a change to its roster, as Chuvash shifted into an inactive position and was replaced by Zayac of The Pango. The squad proceeded to close out the season with 3 straight Top 4 finishes within the CIS region, which set the squad up with a fair bit of momentum as it posted a 12-7 record in the TI9 CIS Qualifier to earn itself a place on the TI stage in Shanghai.
Vladislav “Crystallize” Krystanek (Carry)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 7.59 kills, 9.51 assists, 3.05 deaths per game (138 matches)
Though Crystallize has been with the Na’Vi organization for nearly 2 years now, he will still enter TI9 as one of the younger players in the field at 20 years old. He has spent the majority of his career with Na’Vi, getting his start with a minor regional squad by the name of Chew Toy in December of 2016 and spending a period of around 2 months with the roster of Double Dimension before being picked up by Na’Vi in September of 2017. He has been with the organization throughout its various rebuilds over the past 2 years, and now stands in a position to potentially complete the team’s return to prominence with a strong showing at TI9. This season, Crystallize has preferred a mix of both hard-farming hyper carries and more team fight oriented damage dealers. Among the first group of heroes, Crystallize has preferred the likes of Lifestealer, Spectre, Phantom Assassin, and Morphling, while the second group has featured heroes like Ursa, Wraith King, and Sven. His impact with those heroes has been significant for Na’Vi, as Crystallize leads the team in average kills per game with 7.56. While that average may not put him in elite company at TI9 (sixteenth highest average among TI9 players), his ability to find kills for his team with a relatively deep pool of heroes is certainly a potential advantage for Na’Vi on the TI stage in Shanghai.
Idan “MagicaL” Vardanian (Mid)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 7.61 kills, 9.68 assists, 2.89 deaths per game (138 matches)
MagicaL represented something of a risk when he was first brought onto the rebuilt Na’Vi roster, as the young Midlaner was not exactly a proven commodity within the CIS region. His career began back in 2016 as a member of Yellow Submarine, with his most notable stint prior to joining Na’Vi being a 1 month long period with Effect between September and October of 2016. After that brief run with Effect, MagicaL took a hiatus from the professional scene, appearing as a stand-in and temporary player for various squads without ever remaining with one for an extended period of time. After finishing 1st in the FACEIT Pro League – Europe’s April 2018 season, MagicaL finally attracted attention from a major organization, with Na’Vi picking him up in September as part of its new roster. With Na’Vi, MagicaL has focused upon high damage heroes with a combination of pick off power and team fight strength. His most played heroes of the season include the likes of Templar Assassin, Razor, Medusa, Sniper, Alchemist, Ember Spirit, and Storm Spirit, with the Midlaner holding a combined win rate of 63.06% in 11 matches on those heroes. Across the season MagicaL has averaged 7.26 kills and 9.27 assists per game, and while those numbers in an of themselves are not overly impressive, they become much more significant when one takes into account the efficiency with which he has produced those averages. MagicaL comes into TI9 averaging just 3.02 deaths per game, which is the eleventh lowest average among all players at TI9, the third lowest average among Midlaners. MagicaL’s ability to produce solid numbers while remaining out of danger has been incredibly impressive this season, and he will have to continue to do so in Shanghai if Na’Vi wants to have any real chance of finding success at TI9.
Evgeniy “Blizzy” Ree (Offlane)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 4.19 kills, 12.36 assists, 4.67 deaths per game (138 matches)
Like many of his teammates, Blizzy’s experience at the professional level is somewhat limited, as the Offlaner’s own career began just 4 years ago. His career began a a member of NoLIfer5 and its successor squad, NoLifer5.Reborn, with Blizzy spending a period of around 15 months between the two squads. In January of 2017, the squad was picked up by the MVP organization to form MVP Revolution, though the team would find limited success within the Southeast Asian region. After a year with the squad, Blizzy parted ways with MVP Revolution, joining the roster of Vega Squadron in January of 2018. As a member of Vega Squadron, Blizzy would make his first apeparance on the Pro Circuit stage, attending The Bucharest and MDL Changsha Majors and earning a Top 4 finish at the StarLadder ImbaTV Invitational Season 5. After failing to qualify for TI8 though, Blizzy left Vega Squadron to join Na’Vi for the 2018-2019 season. Across this season, Blizzy has largely kept to the traditional Offlane role of initiator and team fight specialist, with his most played heroes including the likes of Axe, Centaur Warrunner, Brewmaster, Doom, Enigma, and Dark Seer. While his averages of 4.03 kills and 11.98 assists on 4.84 deaths all sit on the lower side among the Offlaners at TI9, his efforts have contributed greatly to Na’Vi’s resurgence within the CIS region this season. Now, the team will need to hope that its Offlaner can take his production to a higher level and rise to the occasion on the TI stage.
Bakyt “Zayac” Emilzhanov (Support)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 3.48 kills, 12.81 assists, 5.04 deaths per game (48 matches)
Zayac comes into TI9 as the most recent addition to the Na’Vi lineup, having been added to the team in April. The Support does not bring a lot of international experience to the squad, with most of Zatac’s career having been spent within the CIS and Southeast Asian scenes. His career began in 2015 as a member of NoLifer5 alongside teammates Blizzy, with Zayac staying with the team through its transition into NoLifer5.Reborn and subsequent signing by MVP Revolution. However, Zayac would leave the MVP Revolution roster a few months before Blizzy, taking up a position with Vega Squadron in September of 2017, attending 2 Majors and 2 Minors with the squad in the 2017-2018 season. The start of the 2018-2019 season would see him leave Vega Squadron though, with Zayac joining the roster of The Pango in October of 2018. After a string of impressive performances in the final months of the year though, The Pango lost momentum in the 2019 section of the season, and in April Zayac left the squad to join Na’Vi. As the team’s Position 4 Support, Zayac has often found himself playing aggressive heroes with an emphsis on damage and lock down potential. As such, his most played heroes for Na’Vi include the likes of Nyx Assassin, Batrider, Doom, Shadow Demon, and Earth Spirit, with the Support holding a combined win rate of 73.53% in 34 matches on those heroes. However, his assist per game average of 12.81 is not particularly high, with only 7 other Supports in the field for TI9 holding a lower average in games played for their current team. Zayac has shown some potential across his career, but he will need to step things up on the TI stage in Shanghai if Na’Vi is going to have a shot at finding success at TI9.
Akbar “SoNNeikO” Butaev (Support, Captain)
Season averages (Pro Circuit events and Closed Qualifiers only): 2.51 kills, 13.41 assists, 6.36 deaths per game (138 matches)
On a roster of relatively unproven players, SoNNeiKo stands as the veteran leadership for this Na’Vi roster. The Captain and Support began his career back in 2014 as a member of Power Rangers, playing for the squad for around 5 months before being picked up by Na’Vi in April of 2015. He would spent nearly 2 years with the Na’Vi organization, attending 2 TIs and a Major with the squad before leaving to join the roster of Vega Squadron in November of 2016. After just 4 months with the team though, SoNNeikO parted ways with Vega Squadron, returning to the roster of Na’Vi in April where he has remained ever since. As the team’s Position 5 Support, SoNNeikO has focused on heroes with strong defensive capabilities and team fight power, favoring the likes of Disruptor, Oracle, Phoenix, Silencer, Chen, Lich, and Winter Wyvern this season. With an average of 13.13 assists per game this season, SoNNeikO still sits on the lower size of the spectrum among players in the field for this event (twenty-seventh highest average among all players). However, his average leads the Na’Vi lineup, making him the squad’s primary and most consistent play maker heading into TI9. It is clear that the members of Na’Vi are going to have to step things up if the team wants to find success in Shanghai, but with SoNNeikO representing a fairly consistent option as the team’s Captain and Support, the team at least has something to build upon heading into this event.
Andrey “Mag” Chipenko (Coach)
While Mag certainly has an extensive amount of experience at the professional level as a player, having played from 2010 through 2018 in both DotA and Dota 2, his career as a coach has been significantly shorter. Prior to the start of this 2018-2019 season, Mag had not official experience as a coach at all, but his insight has certainly appeared to be beneficial for the Na’Vi roster over the course of this season. The team’s play has not always been consistent, but with Mag as its coach the squad has managed to put together some respectable performances on the international level, including Top 4 finishes at The DreamLeague Season 10 Minor, the MegaFon Winter Clash, and ESL One Mumbai 2019. The step up from events like that to the TI stage is certainly a significant one, and it is one that Na’Vi may not be ready to take. But with Mag working with the team behind the scenes, the squad will at least be in a somewhat more favorable position heading into TI9 than it would be otherwise.
Keys to Success at TI9
Coming into this event, the term “success” has a number different meanings depending on which team one is discussing. Obviously, the ultimate measure of success for any of the squads attending this event would be to walk away from Shanghai with the Aegis of Champions in hand and the title of TI9 Champion. Considering the fact that only 1 of the 18 participants at TI9 will be able to do that though, and also considering that not all of these teams are regarded as being on an equal footing in terms of skill and experience, a “TI Champions or bust” mentality won’t fit for every squad in the field. With that in mind, this section is not a “do these things and win TI” sort of list in terms of keys to success. Instead, success in this section will be marked in a team’s ability to play its best level of Dota and put itself in the best possible position to push as far up the event standings as it reasonably can.
Rely on MagicaL for low-risk production
Coming into TI9, none of the member of this Na’Vi roster can be considered to be among the elite players across most of the major categories, as the team is still relatively unproven and inconsistent at this stage in the team’s development. However, there is one aspect in which Na’Vi has a player near the top in his position, with the player being MagicaL. While his production is not among the highest with solid but unimpressive averages of 7.26 kills and 9.27 assists per game, MagicaL’s true strength this season has been his ability to produce at that rate without putting himself in proportional amounts of danger. The Midlaner comes into TI9 averaging just 3.02 deaths per game, with that average being the third lowest at his position and the eleventh lowest average among all players at TI9 in general. The ability to produce without racking up deaths is a skill that even the most talented of players seem to struggle with at times, and to have a Midlaner that has been capable of doing just that is incredibly impressive, especially when one considers that MagicaL himself is still young and relatively inexperienced on the international level. If Na’Vi is going to have any chance of putting together a deep run at TI9, then it will have to heavily rely upon MagicaL to continue mitigating the amount of danger he puts himself in while increasing his production in terms of kills and assists.
Be more active with Blizzy, Zayac, and SoNNeikO
Speaking of increasing production, Na’Vi comes into TI9 needing better results from another portion of its roster as well, with the team’s Offlaner and Support duo needing to step things up on the TI stage in Shanghai. Coming into this event, the trio of Blizzy, Zayac, and SoNNeikO are averaging a combined 37.92 assists per game, and average that is just the thirteenth highest among the 18 Offlaner/Support trios in the field at TI9. If the team is going to truly contend with some of the elite squads in the field for this event, then that trio is going to have to create more opportunities for the rest of the roster to get ahead of their opponents. The best way for that trio to potentially increase its assist average would be to take a more active role in the team’s game plan. However, it is important to note that “active” does not mean the same thing as “aggressive” as the trio of players are not likely to have a greater impact on the team’s games by simply throwing themselves at the enemy more often. Instead, the squad will have to look to set itself up for success with things like improved rotations, warding, and scouting, finding more opportunities to harass its opponent without necessarily forcing the issue and putting the team’s cores into potentially dangerous situations. Of course, accomplishing this against some of the strongest teams in the Dota 2 world at TI9 is certainly easier said than done, but Na’Vi is going to have to do something to improve its play if it wants to find any real measure of success on the TI stage in Shanghai, and that improvement most likely has to begin with the squad’s Offlaner/Support trio.
Expectations at TI9
Na’Vi comes into TI9 as one of the most legendary organizations in the Dota 2 world, but the squad that makes its way to Shanghai is not the same one that dominated the game all those years ago. Na’Vi has fallen one some rather hard times in recent years, but this rebuilt roster finally has the organisation and its fans hoping that it could be on its way to returning to prominence within the Dota 2 scene. Of course, the squad still appears to have a long way to go if it wants to be counted among the elite teams in the game, as Na’Vi’s 2018-2019 Pro Circuit season was solid, but not overly impressive. The team’s standing within its home region has been improving rapidly thanks to this current roster’s efforts, but its standing on the international level is not nearly so high coming into this event.
As previously mentioned, this 2018-2019 season saw Na’VI return to a place of relative strength within the CIS region, as the squad posted 10 Top 4 finishes in 15 total regional appearances this season (not including open qualifiers). The squad endured challenges from regional rivals like Team Empire, The Pango, Team Spirit, and Gambit Esports to emerge as the CIS region’s second best squad behind Virtus.pro. The problem for Na’Vi over the course of this season though has been its inability to consistently carry that regional success over onto the international level. The team made 4 appearances outside of the CIS region over the 2018-2019 campaign, and did manage to earn Top 4 finishes across 3 of them. However, 2 of those 3 Top 4 finishes came outside of the Pro Circuit, and its lone finish outside of the Top 4 was a disastrous 13th-16th place finish in the squad’s lone Major appearance of the season. Against non-CIS teams in the field for TI9, Na’Vi comes into the event holding a 17-21 overall record, and while that record is not nearly as bad as it could be, it does not appear to be anywhere close to enough to see this Na’Vi squad as a legitimate threat in the field for TI9.
With that in mind, Na’Vi come into this event with relatively low expectations, as the squad would need to put together a truly inspired performance to make itself an actual threat in Shanghai. The team’s new roster does have a lot of potential, but its players still remain somewhat unproven at the highest level of international play. The team’s improvement over the course of this season has been impressive, but we just haven’t seen enough to have any real confidence in the team’s ability to contend with the elite teams in the Dota 2 world. With all of that said, Na’Vi will enter TI9 expected to finish in the lower sections of the event standings, with the squad needing improved performances from across the entirety of its lineup to have any real chance of pushing itself further up the standings at TI9.