Les Misérables: the scattered talent of French Counter Strike
The French CS scene has had its fair share of scuffles and shuffles resulting in the big name players now spread between a handful of teams and free agency. What now?
The French scene of Counter-Strike has dozens of players that are immortalized in the history of the game. Two French lineups have won Majors and the skills of the biggest names are undeniable. Some of those names have been benched with no homes in sight and others seem to have lost their organization and their spirit. There will most likely be further shakeups in the scene before the year is over.
2017 saw G2 Esports become the French ‘superteam’, with the best players in France united under the same banner. For the first time, Kenny “kennyS” Schrub and Richard “shox” Papillon were on a roster at the same time after years of replacing each other in previous teams. Dan “apEX” Madesclaire came with kennyS from nV as one of the best, fearless entry fraggers in the game. Nathan “NBK” Schmitt, one of two players to be part of both LDLC and EnVyUs on their Major-winning runs, a key figure in all French shuffles, put aside his past issues with shox to join the project. Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro, a young talent scouted by shox, stayed as the fifth for the team.
Great expectations for the superteam failed to be realised, with wins at Dreamhack Open Tours and ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals halfway through the year failing to make up for disappointing results and failing to make playoffs elsewhere. shox as an IGL was not working, failing to inspire confidence in the players under him and his decisions were being questioned internally. Outside the game, the difference in approach to practice and behaviour added to tension in-game. At one point, the team considered kicking kennyS due to his lack of dedication and passion for the game before winning DreamHack Masters Malmo.
After making the playoffs at ELEAGUE Major Boston but failing to have much impact against Cloud9 in the quarterfinals, the superteam was as good as dead. Everyone knew changes were inevitable, but the changes that occurred were unexpected. NBK took over the IGL role, with Oscar “mixwell” Canellas standing-in while shox was benched, partly due to wrist surgery and also because his proposed changes were to bench NBK and apEX in favour of bringing back Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans and Edouard “SmithZz” Dubourdeaux. After only two months, these changes happened and NBK and apEX were benched.
While the ‘new’ G2 has promise and will look to defend their Legend status at the FACEIT Major next month, NBK and apEX will be notable absences as they will likely remain on the bench until October. NBK had previously attended every CS:GO Major and apEX had been to all but DreamHack Winter 2014, as the VAC ban of Hovik “KQLY” Tovmassian saw Titan disqualified. Rumours suggested NBK was to trial for Cloud9, but the NA organisation has signed Maikil “Golden” Selim and announced Martin “STYKO” Styk as their fifth for the Major. apEX was the first choice of Mousesports to replace the Slovakian on Mouz, but due to buyouts, negotiations fell through.
Envied by none
Team EnVyUs were the second best French team throughout 2017. While the team initially survived following its stars leaving to join G2, with a win at DreamHack Open Atlanta and semifinal finishes at DreamHack Open Valencia and DreamHack Open Winter, 2018 showed nV were struggling to be the second best team in France even with very little competition. Dreamhack Open Tours might have been on home soil, but EnVyUs failed to make it out of the group stage. This was the last in a long list of disappointing results for nV under Vincent “Happy” Schopenhauer in 2018.
CS:GO Asia Championships 2018 saw nV fielding what later become LeftOut for the EU Minor, with Happy and Cedric “RpK” Guipouy notably absent as Christophe “SIXER” Xia and Alexandre “xms” Forte were brought back to the team after they were benched in February. While many teams considered this French mix a threat, they came into the Minor with no practice according to new IGL Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey, and lost to ENCE and another French roster 3DMAX, who were using EnVyUs’s facilities in London before the event and were coached by none other than former nV coach Damien “maLeK” Marcel.
Ali “hAdji” Haïnouss joined The Imperial after LeftOut failed to make the Major and the rest of the team is weighing up its options. Meanwhile, Happy and RpK have since been playing in Tempo Storm, a fall from grace for a two-time Major winner once again abandoned by his team and left in the dust and a French powerhouse who some had even speculated could make a return to G2 sometime this year due to his performances on Team EnVyUs throughout 2017. With so many former teammates rejecting Happy, it is unlikely he will see the top of the French scene again unless he is able to change his entrenched approach to the game and leadership.
Following his removal from G2 in 2016, Ex6TenZ ended up in the least glamourous of the French teams, Team LDLC. The heyday of 2014 was long behind the organisation, with LDLC Blue and LDLC White being replaced by a new roster with four young players led by Ex6TenZ. With Ex6 being benched before joining G2 and a few months later, Mathieu “Maniac” Quiquerez announced his retirement, many saw this as the beginning of the end for LDLC.
However, François “AmaNEk” Delauney and David “devoduvek” Dobrosavljevic, who played for the Franco-American Misfits roster at ELEAGUE Major Boston, joined following their former organisation withdrawing from CS:GO. With LDLC relegated from EPL to MDL last season and with no events on the horizon, the future for the French duo, Alex “ALEX” McMeekin, Antoine “to1nou” Pirard and Logan “LOGAN” Corti, is uncertain. Former players Timothee “DEVIL” Demolon and Valentin “mistou” Balbastro have not joined another roster since their respective departures from LDLC.
Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut is the rising talent everyone in Counter Strike is watching. Having turned down $15,000 a month contract from nV due to wanting to finish school, ZywOo has instead been playing for against All authority for around a year. His performances in FPL have been unprecedented, winning his first month there in July 2017 at only 16 years old and a year later, won FPL in July 2018 to make it a third month of victory in a row.
The big decision for ZywOo could be whether he stays in the French scene or goes international. Despite the drama and complicated relationships, players like AmaNEk and devoduvek chose to return to it, yet NBK and apEX seemed keen to ‘escape’ the French bubble and branch out. North tried out mixwell as a fifth on their otherwise Danish roster, Cloud9 have picked up Golden as their leader and have chosen STYKO to remain with them throughout the month and MiBR are now two-fifths made in the USA with Tarik “tarik” Celik and Jake “Stewie2K” Yip having joined in the last few months. The move towards teams branching out of regions to find the best fit could mean ZywOo too could branch out, as well as the other French players currently in team limbo.
G2 could see a shuffle after the Major once again, with a question mark over the head of bodyy who was initially reluctant to support shox’s vision for the team, while the free agents left over from the disbanding of EnVyUs and young talent like ZywOo could join forces to make a team capable of challenging them. If not, the talent of France and Belgium could see itself further split apart in multinational rosters which could give the scene a breath of fresh air and leaves the door open for future French lineups without the controversies and clashes of the past limiting the options.