Yevhen Zolotarev, CEO of Na'Vi: "The year was basically a failure."
Screengrab via: NaVi | YouTube

Yevhen Zolotarev, CEO of Na'Vi: "The year was basically a failure."

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In an interview with, NaVi CEO Yevhen Zolotarev looks back at disappointing 2017 and looks towards the future. The interview has been condensed for the readers.

About Dota 2

The Dota 2 roster saw a lot of adjustments over the past years, and it seems you’ve predominantly been recruiting veterans. In 2017 we saw the addition of rmN-, Biver and Crystallize. Why did you make the sudden switch to young talent?
We wanted to create a mix of youth and experience, but it didn’t work out the first time. You also can’t really say that we exclusively recruited youngsters, as for example Pajkatt is very experienced.

The first iteration didn’t go down as smooth, however we’re very happy with the current roster, including Crystallize. I think in the future we’ll be looking at picking up young players as well.

Many young players are quite restless. What has you experience been with the less experienced guys?
I won’t conceal that for me the human characteristics play a significant role when we look to recruit a player. If the initial selection is based off statistics, recommendations etc., then the follow-up for the recruitment process is a personal conversation. Our guys are really easy going. It was very easy to work with Roman, Malte and now Vlad. Crystallize absorbs information like a sponge. He’s the least problematic and conflict-averse member of the team.

Recently we’ve seen Dendi  show up at tournaments. Previously he was constantly criticised, yet now he’s praised. What happened?
From a personal point of view, Dendi hasn’t changed whatsoever. From the perspective of his team, he has received a lot of support. Esports is an industry where your physical form doesn’t matter much, however your mental state is of cardinal importance. When your team believes in you, your captain, your coach — performing becomes a lot easier. At the moment we have a flourishing atmosphere, one that helps him show his true self.

Dendi and XBOCT at the SL i-League Invitational Season 3
Dendi and XBOCT at the SL i-League Invitational Season 3

Would you say 2017 was a successful one for the Dota 2 team or not?
There’s no point hiding the fact that the year was basically a failure. A peak morale stress point was when we failed to qualify for The International, a first for our organisation. Everyone was disappointed: the players, myself and the Dota 2 management.

The human characteristics play a significant role when we look to recruit a player.

Despite the aforementioned, we conclude 2017 on a positive note. We’ve got points to our name and are actively fighting for a direct invite to the next International, we’ve got a solid roster, and, most importantly, we’ve got our own playstyle that appeases our fans. We had a decent showing at the Major, although our result against Evil Geniuses could have been better. We received points at the Minor and won a small event in the Adrenaline Cyber League 2017. The victory was made even more precious as the grand final was against one of the strongest teams in the world, We’re optimistic about the future.

What goals has the roster set out for 2018?
The goal for most teams in Dota2 is simple — The International. The system is such that you need to accrue sufficient points over the season in order to lock in a slot. In light of this, all of our resources will be applied to ensure participation at TI.

Despite this, teams have missed tournaments which could yield points. Are they tired?
Of course, the players burn out a little. They play loads of online qualifications, two/three offline tournaments in a row, constant flights, jet lag - all of this takes a toll on them. We’ll be skipping certain minors, but only in the event that we have to go through qualifications.

About League of Legends

Na’Vi haven’t had the best of runs in League of Legends. Did you want to create a roster composed of the very best?
The market in League of Legends is a bit bloated. In the last year wages in LoL have become, in my opinion, inadequate. In Na’Vi, where the wages are average, we simply couldn’t attract top players. Gambit Gaming and had much more to offer.

The issue isn’t in our inability to pay up, the question was more whether it made sense or not.

The issue isn’t in our inability to pay up, the question was more whether it made sense or not. If you’re paying for something you need to understand what it will subsequently yield. In the case of LoL and Riot the yield simply wasn’t substantial enough. Views grew, but from the perspective of the players’ media exposure and interest towards content, CIS was rather questionable. Investing more money into this title, I thought, didn’t make much sense.

What’s the deal with your roster? Even Riot Games confirmed that Na’Vi won’t be part of League of Legends.
It would be stupid to refute this, particularly since Riot confirmed it. Await an official announcement.

Is it possible to make a profit from League of Legends in the CIS region?
Well yes, but only if you have the top team. This pivots around your Worlds result. Additionally, Riot Games really restricts cooperation with sponsors in their league and this prevents you from gaining additional streams of income. Compensations which they offer organisations aren’t even enough to break even.

On CS:GO and roster adjustments

In August, you brought back Zeus to the core roster. With him we saw the arrival of Kane, who consequently replaced Andi. Was this decision an easy one to make?
Of course not. Andi was part of Na’Vi for a really long while. He began as an author on the website, slowly exploring the waters of analytical work, subsequently becoming a comprehensive analyst who had the chance to test himself out in the role of a coach. We still talk, he understands his shortcomings. He was far from being an ideal coach, nevertheless he persisted in improving himself and grew. I believe that Andi will become a top coach — he’s persistent and hard-working.

As for Zeus and Kane: they come as a package. They understand each other seamlessly and their cooperation is effortless. They proved their capability to deliver results with the Major victory in Krakow. Kane is a really interesting coach. He has out-of-the-box thought process and his understanding of the game is wholesome.

Zeus and Kane championing the PGL Major Krakow 2017 trophy
Zeus and Kane championing the PGL Major Krakow 2017 trophy

How does the organisation see Kane’s input? The community doesn’t seem to really like him.
It’s too early to judge according to results. The coach arrived when we swapped out GuardiaN for Zeus. There was a misallocation of roles at the time. Now that we’ve acquired electronic, it immediately became a lot more clear regarding player roles and positions. I think we can only really judge the coaching post-Major.

As for the community, they always look for victims. The most important part is for it not to meddle in affairs and impact the team. We’re pretty calm about it all in all.

As for the community, they always look for victims. The most important part is for it not to meddle in affairs and impact the team.

Zeus does content for both Na’Vi and pro100 simultaneously. Is there a conflict of interest here?
At the moment there isn’t, but one can potentially arise in the future. We’ve discussed this with Daniil. For now our paths haven’t cross from the organisational perspective. We’re in different weight categories for the time being. As for the future we’ll have to see.

What’s the situation with seized's contract?
Denis is on a two month loan to FlipSid3 Tactics. Additionally he has accepted to play for them during the Major in January. Currently he is contracted to us, and as such we have financial obligations towards him. As of January he will be part of F3, following which he will become a free agent.

Photo by: PGL
Photo by: PGL

Could you go over the negotiations behind the acquisition of electronic? At the time representatives of FlipSid3 said they would only release him for a massive buyout.
It was incredibly difficult. Over my entire career I’ve been part of transfer negotiations a total of eight times — these were the most difficult. He was a cardinal part of FlipSid3, they really didn’t want him to depart.

Over my entire career I’ve been part of transfer negotiations a total of eight times — these [for electronic] were the most difficult.

The initial conversation fell through: we entered negotiations after the Krakow Major, however still weren’t able to come to an agreement. This was not only due to the price, but also because it was rather immediate and they had to look for a substitute. In light of this the price was sky high. During the second conversation the situation was less rushed, and all we had to negotiate, really, was on the price.

Did electronic want to join Na’Vi?
All negotiations were made through the respective organisations, but I knew as a matter of fact that he really wanted to joined.

All Na’Vi’s players performed at the WESG European Finals. In light of their participation at WESG, according to electronic, the team will have little time to prepare for the Major. Why did the organisation allow them to participate?
Na’Vi wasn’t the only team to allow their players to participate at the WESG EU Finals. It’s not hard to understand, particularly in light of the prize pool for the main event. We need to have a mutual understanding when it comes to players’ wants, and the possibilities that present themselves. Sure, factually we’ve lost a few days, but nevertheless we’re happy with their preparation. Plus, they had a great showing at DreamHack, so we’re good.

If the world final of WESG coincides with other events where Na’Vi receive a direct invite, what will be the course of action?
Organisational tournaments take precedent, however it depends. If we’re talking about a Major, an ESL event or something larger, there’s no question. However if we’re taking about a DreamHack event or an event with a small prize pool, then we’ll allow the players.

The celebration ceremony at the WESG European Regiona Finals
The celebration ceremony at the WESG European Regiona Finals

What would your outline of 2017 be for the CS:GO team?
Generally speaking it was a failure, much like Dota 2, however the conclusion of the year was comparatively good. We didn’t secure a single title, the most recent one being the ESL One New York 2016 cup we secured in autumn 2016. Our performance at the Major was unfortunate, we lost the Legends title. We had issues with the roster.

The conclusion of the year leaves us optimistic. We won at DreamHack and three of the guys had great runs at the EU qualifiers for WESG. By the way, the guys returned from the event in great spirits, and that’s a positive for Na’Vi. Everything is great right now and the team is ready to destroy everyone in their way.

What are your thoughts on roster adjustment leaks? Frequently we see v1lat and Korb3n publish information about your rosters before official announcements, and, on occasion, your own staff does this.
We take it with understanding. Everyone wants to hype it up. I understand that from a content creating perspective it would be great to be the exclusive source, securing all the views and such, however in practice the players mingle, someone knows something about something, someone overshares, someone leaks something. I’m used to this.

As for internal leaks, we need to address these. The most recent Dota transfers were near perfect, with no leaks. As for CS:GO, the electronic transfer was like the Neymar transfer to PSG. Everyone knew about it, the question was more whether it would actually happen or not.

On PUBG, Overwatch and more

Recently we see progressively more esports-oriented and competitive titles. Have you eyed up any new games you’d like to enter?
We don’t have anything concrete on titles that we actively pursue to enter. As for browsing we have our eyes on a few things — PUBG, and the Overwatch franchise. We await future stages when they expand the geographical locations. There are titles that approach us themselves. And there’s Valve who also plan to release a title similar to Hearthstone [Artifact — Ed.].

Overwatch isn’t particularly watchable either, and isn’t esports ready, but what Blizzard is currently doing is a breakthrough.

Do you believe that PUBG can take off as an esport title?
Personally, no, but this is esports, so who really knows. Currently the game isn’t optimised from a spectating standpoint and isn’t massively competitive. If you analyse Twitch then it’s mostly people watching streamers, not professional players.

A lot is dependant on the publisher and the ecosystem they create. In my opinion Overwatch isn’t particularly watchable either, and isn’t esports ready, but what Blizzard is currently doing is a breakthrough. Franchising is quite interesting and can work out.

If the franchise system takes off, wouldn’t everyone start using it, causing organisations to have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to participate?
All systems are different. Even systems of a single publisher, Valve, in Dota 2 and CS:GO is different. LoL has a different ecosystem, a closed one. Overwatch has its own. I personally think they each have their place in the world. We’ll have a bit of everything.

Na’Vi publish a lot of content involving players, whereas in other teams players generally decline participation in such affairs. How did you manage to explain to the players that this is important?
This depends on the individual. Some people are happy to participate in social media activities, some less so. There aren’t any instruments employed to facilitate this outside of  conversations and explanations to players regarding the importance of this content. Every player that represents Na’Vi is a brand of their own. This is of their own interest. Those who understand this reciprocate happily and participate, those who deem this secondary, pass. Despite contractual obligations we never force anyone.

Na’Vi parted ways with ESFORCE. In the announcement it was stated that the media rights are transferred to Zero Gravity Group. Will ZeroGravity control the organisation?
He’s the owner — he won’t affect the operational functions or seek to micromanage the organisation. We discuss strategical aspects of the organisation, such as its development and entry into new titles, etc.

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