B1ad3 on Intel Grand Slam prospect: "I think it can get in our heads really easily"
Natus Vincere head into the Pro League playoffs as heavy favorites to take the title, but pressure is mounting as the players sit just three matches away from an Intel Grand Slam victory.
Hot off a win at IEM Cologne before the tournament break, there was little doubt whether Natus Vincere would make the playoffs of ESL Pro League Season 14. Any early trepidation regarding their form following the end of the break and return to online play was swiftly quelled as the Russian squad took Group C by storm, stamping their authority over fnatic, MOUZ, Evil Geniuses, and FaZe, with only BIG briefly putting a halt to the CIS side's momentum.
The single series loss has done little to dissuade Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy's troops in the break since the end of their group, and the team now have their sights set on one thing; an Intel Grand Slam victory, which they would secure if they win ESL Pro League.
"We're trying to focus on the Intel Grand Slam," the 34-year-old coach said in a press conference ahead of the playoffs when asked about what winning ESL Pro League would mean to NAVI. "It's a little more motivating than winning the [EPL] title because only two teams were among the past winners, Astralis and Liquid, so we want to write down our name in history."
B1ad3 further explained that had Pro League been on LAN, the team's desire to win the event on it's own would be much higher. But with online events looking the same for much of the past year and a half, the achievement of winning the Intel Grand Slam is instead what the team is looking to for motivation as they fight through the playoff bracket. Valeriy "B1T" Vakhovskiy, for one, expressed frustration in the return to online play, having had a strong debut for NAVI in his first offline showing.
"I'm a little bit disappointed, because playing on LAN has totally different emotions," B1T said. "Obviously after a big win you expect to play as many LANs as possible, and right now we just have to move everything online, which is not cool."
Sitting between NAVI and a chance at the Pro League trophy and Grand Slam victory are three matches: their upcoming quarter-final bout against ENCE at 16:00 , and if they advance, a semi-final against Liquid or Heroic, followed by the grand final where they would meet either OG or Vitality.
For B1ad3, the two teams NAVI would meet in the semi-finals are the biggest challengers, alongside Gambit — although with Vladislav "nafany" Gorshkov's men eliminated by Vitality on Thursday, one less obstacle stands between NAVI and the tournament trophy. The coach's immediate concern is regarding NAVI's own form coming back from the break, saying that they are "not in the best shape" — something that Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev thinks will be less of an issue after the team has spent the past week practicing and preparing for the bracket stage.
"We had a small break for electronic's birthday, and now we just have more time to watch what our enemy is going to do and play more scrims," the 23-year-old superstar explains. When asked about how their map pool has shaped up with all of this practice and the integration of Ancient, s1mple didn't hold back in sharing his thoughts on the map.
"I think everyone who picks Ancient is taking a gamble," he states. "They're doing a coin flip because there is always something new on this map, some molotovs, some nades. We're always ready to play this map if anyone wants to pick it, of course we're practicing it. All other teams have more chances on this map because it's new."
The statement holds up to scrutiny as well, with NAVI currently sitting on a 4-2 record on the map with wins over Astralis, MOUZ, and Gambit. Even more fearsome though, is their record on Nuke (9-0), Mirage (12-4), and Inferno (8-3) — all staple maps in the pool, and ones that teams often don't veto. NAVI's struggles lay in Dust2, where a fluctuating record leaves them open to some upsets; however, the team's overall form across the remainder of the pool leaves them unlikely to lose a series outright, especially when paired with the fearsome form of s1mple.
Even with a week off from officials, Natus Vincere seem prepared as they look toward the three remaining matches in Pro League, after which their attention will turn to IEM Fall CIS, where they'll look to confirm a Legends spot at the PGL Major. For now though, Season 3 of the Intel Grand Slam is what the team are fully focused on, and B1ad3 hopes to take some of the pressure off his team as they make a bid to secure the win in Pro League.
"I think it can get in our heads really easily," he says of heading into the playoffs of EPL just one tournament win away from the Grand Slam win. "The thought that we are really close to the Grand Slam, that with each step we are closer and closer to writing our names down in history. I think for us it's very important to have a proper mindset and just not to think about it all and just play, think only about the game to show the best. It can only distract us, so we'll try not to think about this."