Confetti rains from the sky as the lights shine down on center stage at the Paladins World Championship. Elated with joy, the crowd roars wildly for their champions. Smiles cross the faces of the five players on stage as they realize their dreams have just become reality. Natus Vincere are finally the World Champions.
For Na’Vi, the road to the moment spunkki held the championship trophy above his head in triumph was less than ideal. It meant doing something most of the team’s members had never done before: achieving first place at an international LAN. For Faenex — a new frontline personality who has quickly endeared himself to Paladins fans — winning at Hi-Rez Expo was a dream start to his career in esports. For his teammate Unbelivable, taking home the championship title meant returning to a place of regret in hopes of finding redemption.
The road to any championship is never easy. There are unknown struggles, unexpected moments of hesitation and doubt, and a relentless slew of competitors who will stop at nothing to send you home and claim greatness for themselves. But in spite of the formidable path they had to travel, Na’Vi’s dominant performance at Hi-Rez Expo has finally landed them at the peak of Paladins esports. And with a roster that has slowly-but-surely developed over the course of a year by adding young, talented pickups such as Mutu, Creativs2, and Faenex to the veteranship of Spunkki and Unbelivable, this team has plenty of room to grow in the years to come.
Having achieved success at the biggest tournament of the year, what could be next for Na’Vi as they head into Season 2 of the Paladins pro circuit? While catching up with Faenex and Unbelivable earlier this week, I asked these two intriguing personalities what they’ve been up to since winning. Faenex had a light-hearted answer for that:
“We took a break…let it sink in that we won.”
It’s no surprise that Faenex wanted to take a breather, considering that his time with Na’Vi has been a whirlwind thus far. His first two LAN events after joining the team’s ranks were the qualifiers for the Paladins World Championship, and the World Championship itself. Faenex says it’s still difficult for him to wrap his mind around where his journey in Paladins esports has already taken him:
“For me, it feels surreal that we won. All I could think about after we won were flashbacks from last year when I first started playing the game. I saw all of these players playing on the big stage and performing — it was incredible to watch. To think of me, one year later, winning it myself…it just happened so fast for me. I can’t believe it, basically.”
On the other side of the coin, his fellow teammate Unbelivable had a different motivation for returning the the main stage at Hi-Rez Expo 2018. He wanted to right the wrongs of his past — one that still haunted him a year later. During our chat, Unbelivable explained this history rather pensively.
“Last year, I was chosen as a sub [for D69]. Everyone was looking at me to fill the shoes of Bugzy. It was a lot of pressure on me. When we were up 3-1 in the finals, and then losing 4-3…it was really hard to recover from that. It was really bad to lose that way. I always wanted to win the second one, since the first one was…really tough.”
From a bystander’s perspective, Unbelivable seemed to be the reason D69 even stood a chance without their captain, bugzy, in attendance for the 2017 Paladins HRX Invitational. When he took the stage, Unbelivable surpassed everyone’s expectations — except his own.
“Well, [it was my fault] because obviously Bugzy was such a big part of their team. It’s not easy to replace a player for a tournament like that. I also felt like I underperformed a lot of games. I took a lot of blame onto myself for the loss. It was hard…but I didn’t give up — so here we are.”
Clearly a sore spot, Unbelivable’s losses a year ago only serve to make his victory this year that much sweeter for the Estonia native:
“Doing it with my own team this time, it felt so much better. [It was] such a relief to finally do it. It feels amazing, really.”
After acknowledging the past and catching up with the two stars in their post-championship limelight, the conversation turned toward what the future holds for these World Champions. Season 2 of the PPL is right around the corner, and there are plenty of upcoming international events that Na’Vi will want to take part in. But Faenex knows that all eyes are on them:
“Of course we have a big target on our back. We are the team to beat now. I’m not going to be overconfident and think we will stay at the top, but I am confident we will stay around there. Being at the top is a good beginning, but that’s why we have to keep practicing, and why we don’t take a long break either [only 8 days]. You just have to grind and keep practicing to stay at the top, and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
With the Paladins Premier League about to kick off its second season, Unbelivable extends a message of hope to young players and teams who have dreams of succeeding in the scene.
“There was months where we lost most of our games, but we still stuck through, kept criticizing each other and kept improving. Some days were really rough…some days we didn’t win any games against the top teams….At the end of the day, practice makes perfect. And if you don’t give up — you can go really far.”
Some players find success quickly, and some have to battle back from the depths of despair. Either way, it’s encouraging to see both perspectives alive and well among the ranks of Na’Vi. This will give their team an added layer of depth and experience to pull from down the line. The future looks bright for Natus Vincere as they head into the PPL Spring Split, where both the trees outside and the players at their PCs will grow and flourish. But only time will tell if Na’Vi can continue to dominate the competition.
To keep up with Natus Vincere’s journey in the next phase of the PPL, be sure to follow them on Twitter (@NatusVincere). You can also follow the @PaladinsPro Twitter for news, interviews, and more as we kick off Season 2 of Paladins esports!