The story of NAF Part 1: Immaturity early on, conquering ELEAGUE, and contemplating retirement on Renegades

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Highs and lows. Ebbs and flows. Every pro player’s career is going to have it’s ups and downs but there aren’t many in the professional Counter-Strike circuit who have gone through the trials and tribulations that Keith “NAF” Markovic has gone through to date. Going from standing on top of the world with OpTic by winning ELEAGUE Season 2 to contemplating retirement while on Renegades, from conquering Counter-Strike by winning the Intel Grand Slam in a stunning 144 days, to crashing out of the first CS2 Major in the qualifiers with a team that was pegged to make a deep playoff run.

There are not many things that the sloth hasn’t experienced in tier-one CS, but at 26 years of age, there’s still a lot of tread left on the Canadian veteran’s tires. Join us in this three-part series that delves into the life and career of one of the best players to ever come out of the North American region.

The early years

Fourteen years of age, but already thriving

Photo courtesy of ESL /Marcin Wróbel

Launching into his esports career back in Counter-Strike early in his teenage years, NAF cites his first big success in CS as making ESEA Invite toward the end of Counter-Strike Source. Closing out CS:S in Invite meant that by the time CS:GO came around, a fourteen-year-old NAF was already competing in the top division the region had to offer alongside the likes of legendary names such as n0thing and seang@res. As a prodigy at the top of the budding esports scene and attracting interest from a number of teams, it was difficult for the young Canadian to maintain his ego at times.

I bounced around so many teams because a lot of players, a lot of teams were interested in me, but I was definitely immature and I didn’t really handle the things in like the best of ways

Before the era of bright lights, sold-out stadiums, and multi-million dollar prize pools, there were online tournaments that rewarded winners with fancy new peripherals, like a mouse or headset. NAF’s first significant earnings from the video game he cherished came at the John Wick Invitational in October 2014. As part of the Denial lineup with nitr0, Daps, FugLy, and ShahZam, NAF and his teammates each netted $2,000—this was the moment he realized there was real money to be made in Counter-Strike.

NAF has since become synonymous with the Team Liquid brand, representing the blue and white of one of North America’s most prestigious Counter-Strike teams for over six years. However, many might not remember or perhaps have forgotten that long before he started his current stint with Liquid in early 2018, NAF briefly wore the Liquid jersey back in 2015. It was Eric “adreN” Hoag, coach of the renowned Intel Grand Slam-winning team, who brought NAF this opportunity while informing the Denial lineup that the Dutch-based organization was looking to make its mark in CS.

Despite this opportunity, the Canadian encountered issues outside the server that led to his departure. He was succeeded by Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski, the only player who has enjoyed a longer continuous tenure with Liquid than him. NAF continued to switch teams as he grappled with his own maturity challenges, despite the setback of his departure from Liquid. Reflecting on that period, he now sees the humorous side of how things unfolded. Recounting his brief stint with Luminosity, NAF shared that the team’s manager informed him that the other players no longer wanted him on the team. Although such situations are a natural part of competing, the way it played out still amuses the now 26-year-old.

I remember just being at like this house that we’re all in in Toronto and it’s like 12 AM. I’m just on a blowup mattress, no blanket, no pillow, just chilling, trying to sleep somehow in this house, and then my manager, my team owner, Steve comes upstairs or Steve. I don’t know. I think his name is like ‘Buyaka’. He just comes up and he’s like, ‘Yo, uh, Keith, can I talk to you downstairs real quick?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure’. And then he just takes me downstairs. He’s like, ‘Yeah, the team doesn’t want to play with you man, unfortunately, they want to cut you’ and this is at like 12 AM, 1 AM in the morning. And he’s like, ‘Do you want time to sleep, and then I get you a flight and then you can leave, or do you just want to leave right now?’ And I’m just like, ‘I just want to leave right now.’

Forming Conquest

The team that later became OpTic

Photo courtesy of ELEAGUE/Adela Sznajder

Prior to the bizarre dismissal, NAF recalls that he was on a voice call that he did not realize was about to change the course of his career forever. Informing RUSH and Daps that things were looking dire with his current situation, the idea of forming a team together was floated, and following the talk with his manager, his schedule was wide open all of a sudden. 

This trio would later form the core of Conquest, initially coming together under the Elevate banner alongside ryx and ShahZam. Although ryx quickly exited the team, reminiscent of Grandpa Simpson walking in and out of a door, his departure made room for a key addition. stanislaw, taking over from Daps, joined his fellow Canadians and ShahZam. Following impressive results, including a top-four finish at CEVO Season 8, this lineup was acquired by the Call of Duty powerhouse, OpTic.

NAF has unquestionably developed an aura of calm throughout his career. They don’t call him the sloth for nothing. But during his time in the green and black of OpTic, the cool, calm, and collected Canadian let his Call of Duty rage compilation impression out in a game versus Tempo Storm. In the short clip, which was captured by a Brazilian caster who had the voice comms enabled, NAF let loose on RUSH telling him to “shut his fucking mouth” in an uncharacteristically aggressive manner. Despite little to no context considering the rest of the world couldn’t hear what was said before or after the snippet, the community ran with this and the original YouTube video has close to half a million views. Despite all that was said about the “NAF rage” video, the man himself insists there was nothing toxic about the situation.

You know, obviously with that video happening people can say what they want but he was definitely by far one of my favorite teammates if not my favorite teammate to play with because I just enjoyed them as a human being and as a teammate and all that I think it was always this fun… But I also remember even the next round it was like all right like all good drop me a gun.

The bond between NAF and RUSH was evident, and the level of play that both reached together at OpTic was exceptional. The team was most well-known for their run to the ELEAGUE Season 2 title, triumphing over an Astralis that hadn’t quite hit their era-defining dominance. Although he posted the highest rating on his team for the tournament with a 1.28, and a staggering 1.50 rating against the Danes in the finals, it was his favorite colleague, RUSH, who ended up taking the MVP honors home instead. While the elation of winning his first international tournament was evident, NAF admitted to being bitter that he did not get the flowers he felt he deserved with the bestowing of the Most Valuable Player award to him.

Despite the success that OpTic achieved by winning ELEAGUE, making the finals of ECS not long after, and successfully qualifying for the ELEAGUE Atlanta Major to conclude 2016, there were still some issues in the team’s chemistry. One of the key issues that NAF noted from that time pertained to the fact that stanislaw was not a fan of him, but also that it was somewhat warranted considering his immaturity that had caused problems in the past. What wasn’t warranted however was how stanislaw left the team.

Following a disappointing run at the Atlanta Major which was characterized by a lack of practice due to their Spanish AWPers visa issues prior to the event, stanislaw would depart controversially. Showing up to practice one day, the team was left puzzled by the absence of their IGL. Waiting and waiting, there was still no word until finally, the leader of the team finally messaged the team to inform them that he had departed the Green Wall for the blue and white of their North American rivals, Team Liquid.

A common problem that has debilitated NA and still haunts the scene to this day is the lack of IGLs in the region. Following the loss of their captain, the team would continue to limp onwards, not ever progressing back in the direction of title contention that they had once enjoyed. RUSH and Tarik would soon depart for another NA titan known for their blue and white kits in the shape of Cloud9, which was a bitter pill for NAF to swallow as opportunities in the top NA teams continued to pass him by and the team that he had watched rise from humble beginnings to a genuine threat internationally crumbled around him. With just himself and his Spanish compadre Mixwell left, the decision was made to cut the Canadian and rebuild around Mixwell with an international lineup. 

It was very disappointing to see all my teammates go upwards whereas I went straight downward so after that time it was somewhat difficult and depressing to deal with

In place of NAF, the decision was made to enlist Kevin “HS” Tarn alongside Mixwell, alongside former NiP stars Aleksi “Allu” and Adam “Friberg” Friberg, with the roster being rounded out by future four-time major winner Emil “Magisk” Reif. Standing in for the first week of games, NAF recalls that he learned a lot in that time and that the team was so impressed with his performances that they wished that his talent was going to remain on their side of the server. 

Despite some initial conversations and the bizarre offer of living with Allu to continue with OpTic, NAF would subsequently move on to the next chapter in his career. In terms of the next steps for the young sloth, two real options were laid on the table in front of him. On one side, there was a group of North American Misfits led by the legendary seang@res. The other option was to embrace his rebellious side and join Noah “Nifty” Francis and his gang of Aussie Renegades.

A brief stint with the Aussies

A short-lived tenure with Renegades

Photo Courtesy of StarLadder

Ultimately, NAF’s loyalty would extend to a team that had formed down under. Despite growing up on completely different continents and coming from distinct cultural backgrounds, NAF immediately felt a positive connection with the Australian core. The experience and talent of the roster complemented his own skills, making it an attractive destination after his time with OpTic. Upon joining, NAF’s laid-back personality, which meshed well with his new teammates, was evident. In a move similar to his current role with Team Liquid, he was willing to take a backseat in terms of roles to ensure his teammates were comfortable.

However, this accommodating mentality soon began to impact NAF’s mental health. During his initial weeks with the team, NAF cited this period as one filled with depression. Realizing that his former teammates, with whom he had achieved success at ELEAGUE, were advancing in their careers while he felt he had regressed, weighed heavily on him.

After playing on Renegades for a little bit like I said I fell into a deep depression. I actually told them within a month of playing with them that I didn’t want to play with them anymore. I had a talk with Jonas the owner and snubs and I was telling them I can’t play anymore, I just don’t have it in me to play anymore. So at that time I was contemplating quitting Counter-Strike because I literally just didn’t have it in me to play anymore.

While the option of giving up seemed like an appeasing one at the time, this story is being released in multiple parts for a reason. Asked to finish out the year by management, NAF obliged in fulfilling his obligations with the team and went into the home stretch with Renegades having a “do-or-die” mindset. It was with this mindset that we saw the animal that he was truly capable of becoming. He wasn’t a nice, chill sloth. NAF was a cold-blooded killer that was going for the jugular in this stretch. NAF would average a 1.26 rating for his time with the Aussies and net himself another international trophy at SL i-League Invitational Shanghai 2017, finally claiming that coveted MVP he had missed out on at ELEAGUE Season 2.

In the face of despair and defeat, having the freedom of a star player and an IDGAF attitude certainly helped NAF showcase his true individual ceiling and secure further honors that he could place on the mantel. He was a man who was down and out, despondent when comparing the success of his peers around him. After finishing out the year with Renegades and watching his former teammates RUSH and Tarik when North America’s first-ever Major with Cloud9, NAF would receive a Steam message from a familiar face.

nitr0.

Stay tuned for Part 2

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