Back in 2011, I wasn’t much into Dota 2. Mainly because it was a closed beta and I didn’t have a key, but also because the hype of The International didn’t get to me. I wasn’t into any competitive scene at the time. I was however really into highlightclips on YouTube.
It was about Na’Vi’s run during The International 2011. It mesmerized me. I wanted to see more of competitive Dota 2, but more importantly, I wanted to see more of Na’Vi. I started studying the competitive scene, found out about schedules and live streaming and immediately followed the biggest tournament at the time, The Defense.
And there it was. The beginning of a rocky road. A road full of emotional rollercoasters. A road which ended this week. Natus Vincere has let go of its entire roster on Friday.
One could argue, that the Na’Vi that mesmerized and won over the hearts of many, hasn’t been that Na’Vi for quite some time. But what was this Na’Vi, what is the phenomenon behind not just the brand, but the players that have been so popular for the past 4 years? Well, buckle up, we’re going for a ride.
Na’Vi, in its prime, stood for aggressive Dota. As caster Luminous described it during The International 2012: "Na’Vi will gank you under your tower, kill you under your tower and then take your tower". Many failed to truly find a way to stop the Ukrainians from doing what they wanted to do. Thus, the team surrounding superstar Dendi was able so snatch almost every notable title leading up to The International 2012.
TI2 was the event that truly immortalized the Na’Vi roster. If you’re not familiar with it, let me introduce you to "The Play" - Multicam edition, because that captures the atmosphere the best. Many people that witnessed this magic unfold live (via stream or at Benaroya Hall) can still recite the words from LD and Luminous as if it happened yesterday. For me, it was a truly memorable moment. It was incredibly late, or incredibly early, in Germany, thus I had to contain myself to not scream like a little girl.
But it wasn’t just The Play. Na’Vi took out the Chinese power houses one by one. Puppey seemed to have found the magic trick to crack the overlords from the orient, but sadly, it wasn’t enough. Despite Invictus Gaming taking the title, what stays aren’t any memories from the finals, but the moments of magic that Na’vi pulled out of their hats on their way to it.
That was probably their biggest strength. They may not have been the most consistent team following their failure during the TI2 grand finals, but they were able to pull through to summon that magic. During their stay in China in 2013, they were considered weak. They were not at all the Na’Vi people remembered from 2012. They adapted however and grew together as a team and won the Alienware Cup against all Chinese teams.
In that very same notion, the team rose to the occasion to oppose the - at the time - allmighty Alliance during The International 2013. Most people were sure that the Swedes would take the title, but only the Ukrainians could contest them. On their way to do so, they yet again took out several adversaries, such as the dangerous TongFu, which later became the TI4 winning NewBee. Against TongFu, Na’Vi were cornered. But as always, they found a way to pull through. Using the now patched out Fountain Hooks - which was patched out just because of Na'Vi. Back then, you were able to reliably hook heroes and units to your fountain by using Chen’s Test of Faith, given you would get the timing right. With it, they turned a huge disadvantage around and won the game and the series.
Na’Vi may once again have not won the tournament, but they surely cemented themselves in their fans’ hearts. Unfortunately for them however, every fairy tale has an end. Following the conclusion of TI3, Na’Vi was not the team they once were. Alongside Alliance, they were not able to continue their dominant performances and slowly but steadily, the team was unable to reach top performances. The team however pulled through one last time and finished top 8 at TI4. It was by no means a glorious performance, not at all. Maybe it was them getting tired of each other and ongoing internal conflicts finally surfacing, or maybe it was their own lack of preparation, but Na'Vi were not the same anymore. In fact, the team not reaching the grand finals for the first time in four years could be considered the beginning of the end.
At the end of TI4, Na'Vi wasn't even a team anymore. The roster change after the event seemed like the only logical conclusion. With captain Puppey leaving and Kuroky following suit, the team lost two key members and were unable to find suitable, long-lasting replacements. Ever since then, they’ve been looking to find a solid performance, or even a stable roster for that matter. For the fans, only some of which remain, it was heartbreaking to watch.
Thus, the announcement of their departure doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. For some it might even be a relieve. It marks the official end of an era to a squad that introduced many souls to competitive Dota and made the stay much more enjoyable. A team that revolutionized the way people would approach the game. A name that stood for magic and dreams.
But who was Na’Vi? What was the roster, that despite various changes, won over the hearts of many? The squad was more just names on a screen. The players had personalities that enticed the fans just as much.
There was Dendi, the heart and soul of the team. A person, that seemingly never stopped smiling and laughing. Dendi became the frontface of Na’Vi, possibly even for Dota 2 in general. His recent disguise at The International 2015 and the reactions it caused, sum up what his relationship with his fans is like. When he got out of that Pudge suit, the stadium was seemingly unable to cheer and roar. Dendi cares for his fans, maybe just as much as his fans love him.
There was Xboct, one of Na’Vi’s first members. Xboct is the phyiscal embodiment of aggression. A player that feared no enemy and, despite the 4 meme around him, was at the top of the scene for the longest time. A hero for many, Xboct relentlessly pushed the boundaries of the carry role. You never knew if he was just being silly or next level. In fact, he may have not known himself most of the time.
There was Puppey, the veteran that used to be the brain behind Na’Vi’s success. Many consider him to be one of the best, if not the best captain and drafter in the world. A tactician that was able to figure out how to beat the seemingly unbeatable Chinese teams, a captain that knew what was best for his players and a person that was loved for his wit.
There was LighTofHeaveN, a player considered to be a legend by many. A member whose performance was always on point during Na'Vi's dominant era. A rock that the others could rely on. When people hit crucial Shackleshots, people used to call out his name.
There was Ars-Art, a one of a kind support that always pulled through for his team. An aggressive support through and through, able to pull out those magic moments. Known for being able to hit Leshrac stuns without needing a setup.
There was Funn1k, one of the strongest offlaners at the time with his signature Batrider. Funn1k knew how to excel at a variety of heroes and more than once decided games on his own.
There was Kuroky, who, until Vici Gaming's fy took the title, was considered the best Rubick player for a long time. Once considered a prodigy, Kuroky had a very calculated approach to the game and understood how to play a variety of supports in order to synchronize with his ever so aggressive teammates.
There was the former leader ArtStyle. Quite the veteran in the scene, leading the Ukrainians, together with Puppey, to the title in 2011. Unable to find success outside of Na'Vi, he left the competitive scene for a while. Unfortunately for him, his comeback has not been more of a success either.
There were others that contributed to the team's success that are still active at the moment, such as Goblak, Dkphobos, fng and Vanskor.
And then there are SonneikO and PSM, two players that tried to help bring Na'Vi back to where it was in their latest roster.
The team may be no more, but all these players are looking to start their new fairy tale. Dkphobos and fng already found it in Virtus.pro, Kuroky moved on to a very promising Team Liquid and Puppey has built up Team Secret from scratch, currently enjoying a lot of success and hype. The future for the other former Na'Vi members remains uncertain. Some are expected to do well, such as the very talented SonneikO. Wherever they go, will they be able to carry on the spirit of the old Na'Vi?