shox and the quest to rediscover greatness
With G2 about to play their first match in the ELEAGUE Major Boston's New Champions Stage, we took a look at the numbers put in by Richard "shox" Papillon in Atlanta in his team's 6-0 run in the first two stages.
As the Agganis Arena opens its doors to the public for the playoffs of the ELEAGUE Major, there is a sense of relief and excitement surrounding the G2 camp. Almost a year after one of the worst-kept secrets in recent Counter-Strike history was made public, the French team seem to be finally capable of reaching the heights that many had expected.
It is not like the first year of the new G2 team, headlined by the shox-kennyS combo, was without success. But the sporadic title runs could not erase the image of a team who struggled for form, both online and offline, which was hardly befitting of a roster that no adjectives initially sounded exaggerated to describe.
Following a torrid end to 2017, with early exits at ELEAGUE Premier, IEM Oakland and BLAST Pro Series, and no appearances at the offline finals of Pro League or ECS, G2 looked like an enigma as they travelled to Atlanta, rumour-hungry critics circling like vultures. But, only two weeks on, they are one of the hottest teams still in contention for the Major title, and much of their recent rise in form lies on the shoulders of Richard "shox" Papillon.
The 25-year-old took the ingame leadership reins in April 2016 following Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans’s departure as the team sought a new vision after having to deal with countless frustrations. And he certainly surpassed everyone’s expectations, helping to dispel the myth that calling and top fragging could not walk hand in hand. He led the team through their best period ever, highlighted by an international title (ECS Season 1) and two other final appearances (ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals and SL i-League StarSeries Season 2 Finals), averaging ratings of 1.25 or higher at these three events.
At times, it clearly looked like G2 were punching above their weight and that, sooner or later, their flaws would be exposed and they would struggle to remain relevant on the world stage - and that is precisely what happened after the player break. The French team failed to keep up during the final months of 2016, but shox was still named the 6th best player of the year - quite the feat for a player who had spent the better part of the year leading a pack of overachievers.
So when ELEAGUE Major 2017 came to an end and G2 and EnVyUs swapped players, many got excited at the prospect of having shox lead a more skilled roster, with Kenny "kennyS" Schrub - an enormous improvement over Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux - by his side. But 2017 ended up being a rather disappointing year for the 25-year-old, who failed to make the top 20 ranking after four consecutive appearances - three of them on the top half of the list.
shox ended the year with an unimpressive 1.05 LAN rating - significantly lower than his 2016 average (1.15). It was easy to feel the frustration that shox was experiencing at the turn of the year: his best performances had come at events where G2 had not had much success, while he had been little more than a spectator in the team’s title runs, at DreamHack Open Tours (1.06), ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals (1.04) and DreamHack Masters Malmö (1.00). At each of those three events, shox had been ranked fourth in the team - an indication that he had been relegated to a secondary role in the squad’s hierarchy.
But as ELEAGUE Major Boston rolled around, it became evident that G2 had realised that, in order to become a top contender, they needed to unlock shox’s potential and play to his strengths. He led the charge for his team in the New Challengers Stage with an impressive 1.42 Rating and 93.0 ADR, his lowest rating (1.32) coming in the overtime win over Vega Squadron, who had just shocked FaZe in the previous Swiss round.
And while it was easy to play down shox’s stats based on the level of the opponents, there was a clear sign that the Frenchman’s fortunes were turning: those had been his three best maps in a row on LAN since April 2017, when he had helped the team to cruise past the Swiss stage at the SL i-League StarSeries Season 3 Finals with convincing wins over NiP, HellRaisers and SK.
During the qualifier, Dan "apEX" Madesclaire revealed that shox had gone back to being the team’s lurker as they required him to be their star player, and the 25-year-old also openly discussed this matter, confessing that he needed to give "way more responsibilities" to his teammates in order to feel comfortable with his own game again. Freed from the shackles of a strict system, shox continued to play at an extremely high level in Atlanta, helping G2 to make another flawless Swiss run, this time in the New Legends Stage, boasting a 1.30 Rating and a 1.33 Impact (ranked third in the team) and a very high 83.8% KAST (joint highest overall with apEX).
A quick look at shox’s LAN stats shows just how dominant he has been at the Major, after a year in which his level had significantly dropped, compared to 2016. It is a fair assessment, however, that G2 were not properly tested in Atlanta - their only top 10 opponent being Cloud9, who have looked somewhat shaky -, and it is only natural that shox’s numbers will drop once the competition toughens up, in Boston.
Still, the immediate positive response to G2’s new system makes it hard not to envisage a bright future for the Frenchmen and for shox, who has rediscovered his joy. The time may have come for G2 to finally reach a Major final - after being within touching distance of one in Cluj-Napoca -, but even if that is not the case, fans of the French team will still have a reason to rejoice: the shox we all knew is back.