Brothers in arms Russian and Ukrainian players on an esports team based in Kyiv have claimed the world title in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is one of the most popular multiplayer first-person shooter games around, and the unofficial CS:GO world title now belongs to Natus Vincere (NAVI), a team based in Kyiv comprising Russian and Ukrainian players. In the final game of the latest Major Championship tournament (held in Stockholm over the past two weeks), NAVI defeated the European team G2 Esports by a score of 2:0. For the first time in the tournament’s history, the winning team claimed its crown without losing a single map in the game. During the competition’s closing ceremony, NAVI player Kirill Mikhailov even proposed to his girlfriend. (She later said yes.)
Sponsored by the game’s creator, Valve, the Major Championships are considered to be the world’s most prestigious CS:GO competition. The 2021 Stockholm tournament featured a $2-million prize pool, half of which went to NAVI. The final match attracted a record audience of almost 2.8 million viewers — several thousand more people than the crowd that recently tuned in to watch the recent annual world championship for the video game Dota 2.
NAVI is one of the toughest CS:GO teams in the world, but this is its first Major championship. In past tournaments, it’s lost three times in the finals and three times in semifinals. NAVI is the second team from the former Soviet Union to triumph in CS:GO, joining the ranks of Gambit Esports, a Moscow-based team made up of Russian, Ukrainian, and Kazakhstani players who won in 2017. This year in Stockholm, NAVI defeated Gambit Esports in the semifinals.
Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, a 24-year-old Ukrainian national on team NAVI, was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Kostyliev has ranked as the world’s top CS:GO player for many years and served as the captain of multiple top Ukrainian teams, but this is his first Major championship. In early 2016, he moved to the United States and joined Team Liquid, which defied expectations by reaching the semifinals of the MLG Major Championship: Columbus. Two years later, now as team captain for NAVI, Kostyliev played one of the finest matches in CS:GO history, though his team ultimately lost.
Politicians in Kyiv and Moscow who normally agree on nothing have both congratulated Team NAVI and claimed its victory for their respective nations. “For decades, our esports athletes have won titles, distinguishing Ukraine on the world stage. Yesterday was no exception,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted on Monday. Lawmakers in the State Duma, meanwhile, also celebrated the championship. Dmitry Svishchev, who sits on the legislature’s Physical Education and Sports Committee, said “the breakthrough in Russian esports is no surprise.” Conservative lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, meanwhile, said the CS:GO title means Russia is “now a leading power in esports” and advocated including “this kind of sport” in Russia’s extracurricular education program. “It’s better than sitting around and binging awful TikTok videos of Danya Milokhin and Morgenshtern,” argued Milonov.
Last month, another team of Russian and Ukrainian players won the The International tournament for Dota 2 (a multiplayer online battle arena game, also created by Valve), claiming the largest single prize money payout in esports history: $18 million. Spirit was also the first team based in Russia ever to win the competition. Natus Vincere won the first The International tournament in 2011 (when the grand prize was just $1 million.)