Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács was the star of Natus Vincere throughout the year and that earned him the 11th spot on our Top 20 players of 2014 ranking presented by Xtrfy. He mainly stood out at smaller events like Game Show League and SLTV StarSeries IX which Na`Vi won, but was nevertheless one of the best AWPers and entry killers of the year.
The most famous Slovakian player Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács has a lot of experience at the top level, stemming from late 2009 and his CS:Source days when he rose to the top as an 18-year-old.
It didn't take him long to establish himself as a star after CS:GO came out despite having troubles to settle in a team, as he finished 2013 at the 10th spot of our Top 20 players of 2013 ranking.
Near the very end of 2013 he signed for Natus Vincere and immediately shown that he will be the star of the team with his performance at SLTV StarSeries VIII Finals.
Having failed to make it past the group stage at DreamHack Winter, Natus Vincere had to qualify for EMS One Katowice. After making light work of Norwegians partyastronauts, the Ukrainian-Russian-Slovakian side had to put in a lot of effort to defeat Mikail "Maikelele" Bill and Faruk "pita" Pita's team called TBA, later known as Property.
But when that first major of 2014 came around, Natus Vincere were disappointing and they failed to make it out of the group stage. What's more, they ended up last in their group after losing convincingly to LGB and then losing a close battle against Kenny "kennyS" Schrub's Clan-Mystik.
Not a good start to the year at EMS One Katowice
Even though GuardiaN did relatively well against his French AWP counterpart, he overall disappointed in the tournament by managing a kill in only 38% of the rounds (20 out of 53) and ending up as Na`Vi's worst rated player with a 0.86 rating.
After that the squad unsurprisingly skipped Copenhagen Games after their fiasco at the previous year's edition, so their next event was one on home soil in Kiev, Ukraine – SLTV StarSeries IX Finals.
With the world's top three teams according to our April ranking attending - NiP, Titan and Virtus.pro - Natus Vincere, who were ranked 12th at the time, weren't expected make any waves at the event.
However, they came out swinging and in one of the most dominant fashions anyone did throughout the year they won the tournament, taking down NiP 2-0 on two occasions and Titan 2-0 in the upper final.
GuardiaN was one of the biggest reasons for that success as he excelled with the AWP and was the team's main entry killer. We described his performance in more detail in our Top players article after the event, where it was noted he was only second to his teammate Denis "seized" Kostin in the MVP race.
GuardiaN's 1-on-3 clutch against NiP at SLTV StarSeries IX
Having hinted at a world class level with that performance, Na`Vi went into DreamHack Summer as one of the potential favorites. But at the start they were in for a cold shower as they found themselves on the wrong end of one of the year's biggest upsets, losing to an unproven squad FlipSid3 in the opening match.
They came back from the abyss and defeated the young Swedes in the group's second place decider 16-5, while GuardiaN had one of his best highlights of the year in that match - an ace with a 1-on-4 clutch.
Ace with a 1-on-4 clutch in the FlipSid3 decider at DH Summer
Despite that GuardiaN didn't really excel in the group stage, but then he stepped up to defeat Virtus.pro in the quarter-final, having an impressive Man of the Match performance on map two (28:11, 1.93 rating, POV).
He continued with great play in the semi-final against Epsilon, top fragging with 42:27 (1.33 rating) to lead the team into another final. However, he did not perform well against NiP on stage this time, recording only a 3:17 score on the first map and ending up with 0.48 kills per round as Na`Vi lost to the Ninjas 5-16, 16-19.
Nevertheless, despite his overall inconsistent performance which resulted in having only the third highest rating in the team (1.13), his play early on in the playoffs was one of the main reasons they made it so far.
Less than two weeks later Natus Vincere were on a plane heading to Dallas, Texas for ESEA Season 16 Global Finals. However, they had to make the trip without Ioann "Edward" Sukhariev whose passport was lost by the US embassy during the visa acquiring process, so he was replaced by the team's former player Arseny "ceh9" Trynozhenko.
They did manage to beat the two second tier North American teams, Manajuma and NetcodeGuides, but couldn't put up the needed fight against compLexity and in the lower final vs. Virtus.pro, finishing 4th in the end.
GuardiaN was the star of the team from start to finish, having a rating above 1.00 in 8 of their 9 maps, and especially excelling in the last series despite the 1-2 loss to the Poles.
Virtus were definitely the better team in that match, but GuardiaN was the best player on the server as he had an 80:54 score with 0.99 kills per round. His third map performance was particularly impressive (28:16, 1.74 rating, POV) but it was far from enough as they lost 9-16.
GuardiaN was in great form at ESEA S16 Finals
He ended up with the third highest rating of the whole event (1.23) and had contributed in his personal year-high 69.6% of rounds, making it perhaps his best performance in 2014.
After a short summer break, Na`Vi once again had the task of qualifying for the next major, ESL One Cologne. This time their road was even harder as they lost 2-1 to London Conspiracy in the match for a spot and were sent to the lower bracket.
There they first had to overcome Planetkey, which they did thanks to a heroic performance by GuardiaN during double overtime on the second map (57:26, 1.76 rating, VOD). Then it all came down to another clash with Maikelele and his new team ESG, where the Ukrainians finally prevailed after three maps.
In our July world ranking GuardiaN & co. were placed at the 3rd spot, only behind Virtus.pro and NiP. Despite that, they opted not to attend Gfinity 3 to further prove themselves at the start of August, but instead focused on preparing for the upcoming major.
It all began well in Germany as they beat Copenhagen Wolves 16-6, but then a 12-16 loss against LDLC followed.
The group's second place decider saw them once again meet the Danes, and while GuardiaN was quiet in the first two matches he exploded when it was needed, tipping the scales in his team's favor in an overtime battle with a 35:19 performance (1.46 rating, 27 AWP kills) to pull them into the playoffs for the first time.
GuardiaN's POV vs. Cph Wolves at ESL One Cologne (35:19, 27 AWP kills)
But then in the quarter-final against fnatic, even though he was a hero of the second map victory with an ace and clutch to close it, he severely underperformed in the other two maps, having a kill in only 18 of 57 rounds as Na`Vi found themselves eliminated with a 14-16 third map score.
He ended up being the team's second best player overall due to that (1.04 rating), far behind Edward, but he was still a crucial part of getting out of the group.
A couple of weeks later it was time for the SLTV StarSeries X Finals, although now with a less impressive lineup of myXMG, HellRaisers and fnatic attending.
But once again they were unable to take down the Swedes, neither in the upper final (0-2) or in the grand final (2-3). They did manage to beat their local rivals HellRaisers two times though, and GuardiaN was the Man of the Match during all four of the map wins – including a 29:11 performance in a 16-6 win on Dust2 (1.96 rating, 20 AWP kills, 5 entry kills, POV) and 31:17 in a 16-14 Inferno triumph (1.52 rating, 5 entry kills, POV).
GuardiaN's POV vs. HellRaisers at SLTV StarSeries X Finals
He also played well against fnatic this time, so the Slovak ended up as the third highest rated player of the event (1.24), only behind two of the Swedes. He ended up being the only Na`Vi player with an above average rating and was by far the most valuable in the rounds they won, having scored a kill in 72% of them.
Their next event was a month later, Game Show League Finals, and the opponents remained almost the same with only Virtus.pro (without Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski) being there instead of fnatic.
And without the Swedes to spoil their fun, Natus Vincere managed to grab their second title of the year, defeating Virtus.pro 2-1 and then HellRaisers 2-0 in the upper final and 3-2 in the grand final.
GuardiaN was again the star of the team, although in a less dominant fashion as he didn't have any big performances, but he was one of the team's best in each of their wins. He ended up contributing with a kill, assist or survival in 69.5% of their rounds (or 92.7% of the ones they won) and had the team's highest rating of 1.13 – making him the MVP of the tournament.
Another smaller event was next in line, SLTV StarSeries XI Finals, this time with three French teams in attendance – LDLC, Titan and Epsilon.
But just like with fnatic last time, Na`Vi struggled against LDLC and finished 2nd after a big battle in the final (2-3).
GuardiaN was yet again the team's standout player, putting in several Man of the Match peformances. Firstly he was great on the second map against Epsilon as Na`Vi made a big comeback (28:16, 1.45, VOD) and then he was the best fragger of the grand final despite the loss.
GuardiaN had some heroics against LDLC in the StarSeries XI final
He actually didn't do so well in the upper final against LDLC having only 0.53 kills per round, and it looked like he won't be able to make an impact in the grand final either, having put in similar production on the first map.
But with Na`Vi's back against the wall he led them to win the next two maps with two outstanding performances. They won Dust2 19-17 as he scored 12 entry kills and had no entry deaths, ending up with 35:24 (1.42 rating, 26 AWP kills, POV), and then he had a similarly important display in a 16-12 win on Overpass - 30:16 (1.64 rating, 6 entry kills).
A few weeks later and after three smaller events in a row, Natus Vincere finally attended a big one – ESWC, where they even managed to top their group ahead of fnatic and reach the semi-final after taking out iBUYPOWER in the first playoff round.
But that's where their story ended as they lost to LDLC once again, and then also to Virtus.pro in the 3rd place decider.
Couldn't find a way to get past LDLC
GuardiaN was great in the group stage in wins against eNergy, k1ck and London Conspiracy, but he didn't continue in the playoffs where he even played below average (0.91 playoff rating).
He ended up with a 1.06 rating overall, and was still one of the best entry killers of the tournament with a 50:29 entry score (63% success rate).
In the period following the previous major, Na`Vi always reached the final or the semi-final of tournaments they attended but they could never beat fnatic and LDLC in best of three series, so they didn't go into DreamHack Winter as one of the favorites.
They didn't start too well at the last major, losing to Virtus.pro 2-16 in the group's first place decider. Then they only made it out of the group after overtime against FlipSid3, while GuardiaN was one of the stars of that deciding match as he recorded a 29:17 score (1.34 rating, VOD) and was a factor in all 19 of their round wins.
In the quarter-final the Ukrainians met dignitas for the first time ever on LAN and actually had no problems going through, winning 16-3 and 16-13, while GuardiaN had a solid performance as the third best in the team with 43:30 (1.25 rating).
However, they then ran into LDLC in the semi-final and that was once again the end of the road for them, as they lost 11-16, 11-16 while the Frenchmen went on to win the title.
GuardiaN had his best majors performance at DH Winter, although with a not too exquisite 1.10 rating, and again as second best in the team. He did however score the most AWP kills per round out of all players – 0.40.
In their final efforts until the end of the year Natus Vincere attempted to qualify for MLG X-Games Aspen, but lost to ESC in the first qualifier and gave up on the second one. Near the end of December they were ranked 4th in the world according to our ranking.
As the number one star of Natus Vincere, Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács was one of the best entry killers and AWPers of 2014. However, his most impressive moments mostly came from smaller events.
He helped Na`Vi win SLTV StarSeries IX and Game Show League, as well as finish second at SLTV StarSeries X and XI, and more importantly DreamHack Summer. At the majors he made it to the quarter-final of ESL One Cologne and at the very end of the year to the semi-final of DreamHack Winter.
He didn't really impress at the biggest events though, having only a 1.04 rating in the majors (the second lowest in the Top 20), and not excelling in his next biggest tournament either - ESWC.
In spite of that he still was one of the best players of the year, as his contribution at the other events was superb. With MVP-worthy performances he led Na`Vi to win their two titles, as well as reach the final of DreamHack Summer. He also excelled at ESEA Season 16 Finals where he was one of the best players of the tournament, and at the latter two SLTV StarSeries seasons where Na`Vi finished second.
In fact, he only had one bad event which was EMS One Katowice at the start of the year, while in the other nine he was always playing at least well, if not great.
One of the best AWPers and entry killers
He mainly made a difference with his AWP, which he used to score 0.41 kills per round, ranking 2nd in the world in that category. In fact, if we look at the rounds Na`Vi won, GuardiaN's AWP was involved in 37.6% of them which actually ranks first by a hair.
He also had the fourth most entry kills per round overall (0.15) while winning 60.7% of his entry duels (2nd highest success rate) - 47.2% on the T-side (4th highest). And once again if we look at rounds Na`Vi won, 22% of them came after his entry kills, which ranks 3rd.
In the end that was enough to get him to the 11th place, but due to the fact that he performed best at the smaller events and wasn't as great at the biggest tournaments he couldn't break the top 10.
Also notably he was one of the best players on Dust2 (6th with a 1.20 rating), Overpass (5th with a 1.17 rating), Mirage (7th with a 1.17 rating), as well as the less played Season (2nd with 1.24) and Train (4th with 1.24), while on the other hand he was only average (1.03 rating) on the map Na`Vi played the most - Inferno (23 times).
What is your take on Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács's performance in 2014? Is the 11th place the right one for him?