NEW YORK -- "I can't ... it feels so f---ing, so good," Natus Vincere (Na`Vi) AWPer Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács, one of the best players in the world, tells host Paul "Redeye" Chaloner as tears roll down his face.
Na`Vi just won $125,000 and a giant trophy after being down 0-1 against their eastern European rivals, Virtus.Pro, in the grand finals of ESL One New York.
"I'm feeling pretty emotional, it's something huge for us," GuardiaN told ESPN.com after the big win. "We lost five at least $250,000 events in a row in the finals or the semifinals. Finally, we got it after a huge dedication to the viewers and everything. It's still emotional; I was even crying after the game. It feels very good."
Another storybook moment in the history of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has been written in front of 8,500 people at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. Na`Vi, which has been considered one of the best teams in the world for quite some time -- but have never closed it out with a major tournament victory -- has finally gotten what they came for.
"The feeling of winning between the last win and now has been a long time, so of course it feels good. And it felt very bad to lose in the finals so many times. I think it was six or seven times, even more maybe," GuardiaN exclaims. "Of course it feels nice, we're all happy."
Earlier this year in April, Na`Vi lost in the grand final of North America's largest Counter-Strike tournament, the Major League Gaming 2016 Columbus major, to the best team in the world, SK Gaming, which was known as Luminosity at the time. Several weeks later, the team lost to Ninjas in Pyjamas in Malmö, Sweden.
The rough year was a catalyst for change. In July, the team decided it was time to move on without former in-game leader Danylo "Zeus" Teslenko. That decision caused them another loss, GuardiaN said, as the team's mentality was in the dumps at Zeus's final tournament with them, ELeague Season 1 Playoffs.
"At the first ELeague, we were first in the group. We passed the group stage and lost in the semifinals against Fnatic, I think," GuardiaN says. "But that was already after we told Zeus that we were changing the team [and removing him], so the mentality of the team wasn't so good. We just tried to win but with that mood, you just can't do it."
In Zeus's place, Na`Vi added former Team Liquid AWPer Oleksander "s1mple" Kostyliev. While he was considered one of the most talented Counter-Strike athletes in the world, he has struggled to stick with a team because of his abrasive personality, as well as struggling to fit in other in-game roles. S1mple, for his part however, said on Twitter that Na`Vi was his "dream team" prior to being added to the lineup.
"We lost five at least $250,000 events in a row in the finals or the semifinals. Finally, we got it after a huge dedication to the viewers and everything. It's still emotional, I was even crying after the game." Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovács
"From the beginning, s1mple was just a rifler, seized was the secondary AWPer, but still after some games and events, we had to change because s1mple is s1mple," GuardiaN explains. "S1mple is just awesome with every gun. He's just an all-arounder, so we gave him the secondary AWP."
For s1mple, ESL One New York, his offline debut with Na`Vi, goes down in history as one of his best performances, alongside his time in ESL One Cologne 2016 with Team Liquid, where he led the North Americans to a second-place finish.
Prior to the final, s1mple made a highlight play on his former teammate Nicholas "nitr0" Cannella, as he threw his gun (the AWP) over a wall near the B-site on Dust 2. This distracted nitr0, allowing S1mple to go through the outlet on the wall and shoot nitr0 in the head to clutch the round.
"I thought that he was going to think, for one second his mind is going to be confused, distracted and that's one second for me to kill him," s1mple told ESPN. "I heard he planted the bomb by the window, somewhere near it so I moved my crosshair on his head. It worked."
After originally leaving Liquid in April after Malmö, s1mple returned home to Ukraine. He expressed, on his Twitch stream, his loneliness in Los Angeles, where he lived during his time on the North American squad. Now with Na`Vi, he's back home in Kiev.
"It's very comfortable [playing on Na`Vi]," he says. "It's very easy for me to travel to the office and go back home. It's very nice to practice and play official matches from home so I can meet my friends, talk to my parents and my family. It's better than it was in Los Angeles."
S1mple says he has a hard-earned respect for his current teammates, especially GuardiaN, who is among the best in the world according to most analysts and experts of the game. Following a disappointing online Starladder finish, where Na`Vi took 13-16th, the team made in-game role changes. Former secondary AWPer Denis "seized" Kostin relinquished his role to s1mple and moved to in-game leader, something s1mple says he's happy about.
"Guardian was always the best, the MVP player for me, every time," s1mple exclaims. "It's obvious that he's the main AWP player. Then Valve made the new [coaching] rule and me and Seized changed roles because Seized became in-game leader and it's very hard to play with the AWP and coordinate the team; that's why he gave me the secondary AWP role. We may need a little bit more time because we have new roles, new in-game leader and we need more time to practice."
Looking forward, Na`Vi has three large events in sight. First, the team will travel to Moscow, not far from their home in the Ukraine, to compete in the Epicenter tournament, where they'll face Fnatic, G2 Esports, Ninjas in Pyjamas, SK Gaming, Virtus.Pro and Team Dignitas.
"We can say that Moscow will be the homesoil for us, kind of," GuardiaN says. "Everybody can beat everybody, it'll be hard. I think it's 50-50 and we are not overconfident, we are confident in our game, but we will see."
After, the team will then travel back to Atlanta for the second season of ELeague, where they'll face Astralis, SK Gaming and Alternate aTTaX, arguably the hardest group in the entire event.
"Now with the new season, first, we're looking forward to it because ELeague is something awesome. It's probably the best event we've been to in terms of organization and everything, so hey, we are looking forward and will practice a lot," GuardiaN says.
And to end the winter, the team will travel to Atlanta one more time for ELeague, but not just the normal season. In January, ELeague will play host to the first Valve-supported major tournament of the year at the Fox Theatre. Na`Vi, because of their top-8 finish in Cologne, will automatically receive a berth and a high seed at that event.
GuardiaN says they'll wait and see how the winter pans out before concerning themselves with the major, but s1mple says he expects a lot out of his team.
"First of all, we expect to get out of the group [at the major]," s1mple explains. "We need more practice so we'll have a good time practicing before the major because every team is gonna play the major qualifier and we're gonna practice a lot. I'm pretty sure we're gonna prepare for this major and try to win."