Photos: By DreamHack
The French CS:GO scene is in a reign of terror. It was once a premier region as they competed for the biggest titles, majors, and eras. Sadly, that part of history has long since passed. In 2017, the French kingdom tried one last hurrah to come back to the top with the formation of the super team, the lineup that had: Richard “shox” Papillon, Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro, Kenny “kennyS” Schrub, Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt, and Dan “apEX” Madesclaire. There were moments in time where that potential looked realized, but it was never consistent. By 2018 the French Kingdom had split into warring tribes as Shox leads G2 and NBK leads Vitality. Both believe that they have the answer as to what will resurrect the French Scene. Soon their answers will be put to the test as they will have their first clash against each other at the Majors Challengers Stage at IEM Katowice 2019. The French Civil War is set to begin.
Shox and NBK-, A Union that Worked
Let us look back at the most successful French lineups in CS:GO history. Among them the two best were the VeryGames lineup of 2013, the one that had: Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans, Edouard “SmithZz” Dubourdeaux, Adil “ScreaM” Benriltom, Shox and NBK-. This was the team that usurped the throne from NiP and became the best team in the world in 2013.
The other lineup was the LDLC/EnVyUs lineup that had: Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey, Vincent “Happy” Schopenhauer, SmithZz, Shox, and NBK-. This was the lineup that fought head-to-head with Fnatic from 2014-2015 and could have created a two-team era before Fnatic surpassed them.
Both French lineups couldn’t be further apart in approach. The Ex6TenZ lineup was a fairly balanced roster that had a good amount of skill, tactics, and role balance. The Happy lineup played a looser style predicated on their skill, ability to trade, and Happy’s conceptions of the meta. While both sets of teams have three players in commons (SmithZz, Shox, and NBK-), the two critical pieces were Shox and NBK-.
The two of them are have disparate views on CS:GO and that philosophy has bled into how they conceptualize rosters, find success, and play the game. If a team can get the two of them to work together, then they get a special kind of chemistry that becomes even greater than the sum of its parts.
If you consider their approaches and skills as players, this dynamic makes sense. The two of them represent polarized ideals in how to compete at the top levels of Counter-Strike. In simple terms, Shox was the right hemisphere of the brain, while NBK- was the left. Shox’s brilliant talent is a product of his creativity and emotions. A flamboyant personality whose personality and soul seems to flow into his game. His mouse and keyboard became his paints and pastels as he creates vivid plays that evoke an artistic soul. He is someone whose overall skill set allows him to play any role in any style, a player blessed with a level of skills and intuition that others can only dream of.
In contrast to that is NBK-. He is the swiss army knife of Counter-Strike. Someone who has crafted his style of play to be practical and diverse. He can fill any role the team needs, play any position, and do it at a world class level. Practical, decisive, and efficient. No one in the French CS:GO scene can do what NBK- does. If you counted all of CS:GO history, the amount of players that have played as many roles and spots as NBK has at a comparable level can be counted on one hand.
Art and science, the yin and the yang. While the two of them have found great success working apart, both attained their greatest triumphs working together. These team ups rarely lasted long however as their clashing ideologies were irreconcilable. The best way to describe that clash is through their motivations. Both want to be the best in the world, but that means different things for both of them.
Shox is someone who believes that being the best only has meaning if he can express his sense of individualism through the game. For him Counter-Strike isn’t just a competition, but an expression of self. For NBK-, it is all about the victory. He believes in a logical disciplined approach that creates a steady and consistent framework that helps break down the game and create the best possibility for victory. With such disparate views on the ideals of winning, it wasn’t surprising that the two split ways in 2015 and wouldn’t team up again until the creation of the superteam in 2017.
The Ambitions of the Super Team and What Broke them Apart
Both Shox and NBK- share the same ambition of wanting to be the best in the world. That is why they were willing to unite together and create the G2 super team of 2017. On paper, the lineup looks like perfection. Shox as a superstar lurker, kennyS as a superstar AWPer, apEX as the entry fragger, NBK and boddy as role players. The role balance, raw potential, and spread of skill across the five players felt perfect. This was a team made to not just win tournaments, but fight for eras.
That never happened as the team was inconsistent. They lacked a leader, someone who could give them a consistent way of thinking about the game. In an interview with HLTV, Shox commented that,
“I changed the team style like three times during last year because I tried to find a solution where everyone in the team can agree with how we play, with everyone fitting in it.”
This was a statement iterated by many of the G2 members of that squad. They were never able to find a consistent identity or approach throughout their time together. By the time 2017 was done, a clear rift had started to grow within the team NBK described this in his interview with HLTV,
“The main difference compared to G2 is that we had a problem of let’s say work styles. Some people in the team wanted to work a specific way and the other half of the team didn’t, so we just clashed and there was some unhappiness on both sides.”
The desire to win burned within both NBK and Shox. Both came up with wildly different solutions that were predicated on their world view. NBK believed that their weakness was the lack of a leader with a consistent vision of how they wanted to play the game or set a culture for the team. He believed he could be that leader for the team.
In Shox’s case, he believed that the team chemistry was wrong. The in-game leader problem was the biggest issue, but beyond that, the players hadn’t come together as one unit. This is best exemplified from a pre-game speech he made that was later published on youtube,
“We must feel alive, we play CS, we play together….If a mate is struggling, let’s go help him….It’s like a war, we are in this together, we are in the same fight. We are the five fingers of one hand”
Shox had plans to bring back Ex6TenZ and SmithZz into the lineup while removing NBK and apEX. This created an awkward situation in the G2 camp, but it also coincided with Shox’s surgery. This allowed G2 to give NBK- and apEX a trial period to prove that their lineup could work while Shox recovered from his surgery. The line-up failed to produce the results and once Shox came back into play, G2 benched both NBK- and apEX.
A Parting of Ways
Shox’s proposed lineup that came after the super team was himself, SmithZz, Ex6TenZ, bodyy, and kennyS. He believed that this team would have the chemistry to eventually compete at top levels. While we can laugh at it now, there was a rationale behind it. Ex6TenZ was the only remaining choice for an experienced in-game leader, which was the role that the previous G2 lacked. SmithZz was always Shox’s partner-in-crime and someone who was valued for his teamplay in the past. Bodyy was a valued role player in the system and someone Shox liked working with. While the overall firepower was low, Shox and kennyS could make up for it with should both of them reach peak form.
There was clearly a hint of nostalgia when this lineup was created, but it did coincide with Shox’s ideals. He understands that Counter-Strike isn’t won through just the best five possible players, but rather the right five players coming as one.
As for NBK-, he was a utilitarian to the end. He tried to get back into the G2 lineup, but Shox refused on the basis that he didn’t fit the team identity. Soon after, NBK- considered going to an international squad before finally settling on building up a second French team in Vitality.
The Vitality project is an interesting one as it advertises itself as something new for the French scene. As NBK describes it from a youtube video,
“For me, Vitality has the pretensions and means to bring something new to the French CS scene. To have real infrastructure that will allow long term development.”
For NBK-, this was a long term goal of his as every French team he had joined was never able to last beyond a certain expiration point. The conceit of this team was different. NBK- and apEX had similar views on the correct culture that was needed. A structured style of play backed by disciplined practice. The two of them formed the core of the team and then recruited the biggest prospect in the French scene, Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut. They rounded out the team with Cedric “RpK” Guipou and Happy. RpK was a natural shoe-in as he showed himself to be a strong player during his time on EnVyUs. As for Happy, he was the most experienced player that they could get at the time and hoped that they could rejuvenate his career by having NBK- be the in-game leader.
Both French squads focused on long term growth. The G2 squad was trying to resurrect SmithZz as a player, Shox rehabilitate from his surgery, and try to get KennyS back into form. As for Vitality, NBK- had to dedicate himself to the craft of in-game leading and create a cohesive identity for his team.
Neither side had any particular success early on. The G2 roster didn’t have enough skill to compete. There was too little skill on the team and they were unable to deliver enough results for G2. In the end, roster changes had to be made and Shox’s experiment down memory lane ended as the team removed SmithZz and Ex6TenZ for Lucas “Lucky” Chastang and Audric “JaCkz” Jug.
This was a surprising move as it wasn’t started by Shox, but rather the organization itself. Damien “maLeK” Marcel talked about the changes in an hltv interview where he talked about how the young players could bring back the spark that Shox was missing. Shox himself confirmed this in the same interview,
“We still love the game, we love playing and competing, but when we see the new guys, they transmit hype… and a feeling that I don’t even know how to describe; it’s when your heart beats faster, you get goosebumps, that excitement before playing a match… Things that get a bit lost after playing hundreds of matches a year”
As for Vitality, they were unable to integrate Happy into the team and decided to go to a different direction as they recruited Alex “ALEX” McMeekin. The community was surprised that they decided to go with ALEX over Francois “AmaNEk” Delauney as the latter was hyped up as a rising French star. For NBK-, it wasn’t just a matter of skill, but also personality,
“A lot of people have been expecting AmaNEk, but, again, it’s a matter of personality, where he’s a bit more like Happy himself, and ALEX has a role of taking care of — especially on the CT side — trinomials, binomials, so directing ZywOo and RpK. He was in-game leading for LDLC, so he is pretty used to that and, on top of that, he can also focus on himself again” – NBK from an HLTV interview
The move ended up working as Vitality qualified for IEM Katowice 2019.
A Reunion and a Battle
The last time NBK, apEX, KennyS, Shox, and bodyy all set foot in the same LAN was at IEM World Championship 2018. At that time all parties realized that the all-star lineup could not fulfill the ambitions they had of becoming the world’s number one.
During that period, the world and France’s standing in CS:GO has changed. Once a nation that fought for eras, now they are have fallen to the wayside as other teams have surpassed them and taken their place. It is a dark period for French CS:GO, but there is still hope. After all, France still has the talent and players. For the French, the crux of the matter is how to do it. What are the right mix of players, the right roles, and the right approach?
Those questions will inevitably be answered by one of two people: Shox or NBK-, G2 or Vitality. In some ways this conflict was inevitable. The two of them have always had a disparate ideals when it came to playing Counter-Strike and now that conflict is writ large in French CS. Now both sides have aligned, the trumpets are sounding, and the French Civil War is set to begin as the two teams will finally meet to compete at the IEM Katowice 2019 Major.