We sat down with the IGL and coach duo in G2, Richard "shox" Papillon and Damien "maLeK" Marcel, after their run at the ESL Pro League Finals in Odense, to hear about the structural changes going on in the team.
G2 said goodbye to Edouard "SmithZz" Dubourdeaux and Kévin "Ex6TenZ" Droolans in Odense, where G2 fell just short of making the quarter-finals by losing in a three-map ordeal to Renegades. Now, the French team will look forward to reuniting with Lucas "Lucky" Chastang and Audric "JaCkz" Jug to play at the PLG Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi before the winter break.
In a long interview, shox and maLeK opened up about several topics, ranging from the structural changes happening since maLeK was brought on to be a link between management and players, to the roster changes that happened in the team, the renewed energy the older players are getting, saying goodbye to old teammates, and what the future beholds.
What was the feeling in the team coming to Odense with the old roster?
shox: This tournament was a way to really say goodbye to this lineup. Even if our roads branch off in different directions, we all respect and understand each other, so it was a way to take advantage of having one last tournament together. We were able enjoy ourselves and show some appreciation for each ohter. We did what we could, considering that we haven't been practicing together for a month. Of course, it would have been nice to make it onto the stage one last time, but we leave with good memories and that's the most important thing.
You say you got some pleasure from playing this last tournament together. Is that something important after several stressful months, to find pleasure in playing again?
shox: I'm not sure how to answer this because it wasn't necessarily about the joy of playings itself, it's simply about playing together one last time, knowing we all appreciate each other. We had to make changes because of our results, but playing together has always been a pleasure.
Talking about having to make changes, maLeK, can you tell me a little bit about the new players and how they came to be a part of the team?
maLeK: Yeah, bringing on Lucky and JaCkz was actually quite a natural process. Before getting to the point of making changes we thought about what we needed to do, structurally... To give a bit of background, when I was brought onto the team as a coach, it was also to be a link between team and management. To be able to make decisions without being too emotionally involved and to get G2 back at a high level.
There's a whole process going on now, and changing the lineup is one part of it. It's something we shouldn't be afraid of, it's not something frightening. At the same time, there has to be a process created around the team so that they have a solid backing outside of the game, be it psychological matters or things regarding practice, and whatever other things become our day-to-day guidelines.
A while back we sat down and started thinking and we realized that saying something like "We need to be back in the top 5 in six months" is nonsense. We just have to be ambitious, which is really important, and we decided we needed to make changes and bring something fresh to the team, which is what we did. I already knew the new players from before, and they're two very hard working guys with a mentality we haven't seen in France in a really long time. It's very easy to spend time with them, and I think even Richard [shox] felt that when we bootcamped in Berlin. I saw him have fun in the game, not only when we were practicing together, but also outside of the allotted time, letting himself be taken over by the youthfulness, hunger, and curiosity of the new additions. You can see it already, and it's a very important dynamic.
Richard will be back to leading now and Lucas [Lucky] will help him. Lucky has a very particular profile. I haven't seen anybody in France like him in a very long time. In fact, there's no one I can think of to compare him to. He's very young, so he has a lot of desire. He's an AWPer/rifler hybrid, and he's very cold-blooded. During heated moments he's very cool and his decision-making is on point. He's also very serene with his communication and will be good in addition to shox's creativity.
As far as JaCkz, he's great. He's a guy that makes me think of Moneyball, the movie about statistics in baseball. He's 26, not a youngster, but he already refused to play for Vitality and LDLC (several times) to stay with his friends and play with them. Now he's feeling like he's in good shape, so he decided that he didn't want to do that anymore and that he wants to take advantage of joining a team like G2. I worked with him in 3DMAX and it's amazing because he's a guy that's just full of sunshine and in high spirits all of the time, which is great. On top of that, he's a very skilled player and he fits well into the team.
There was a lot of speculation around ZywOo, what he would do when he finished school, and he finally ended up in Vitality. Had you thought about picking him up?
maLeK: It's a tricky question for a couple of reasons. We've known for a while that he's a good up-and-coming player, but he wasn't available for a long time while he was studying. When I got to G2 and we started to restructure the team he was already on Vitality, so I can't really say much, but perhaps shox has some thoughts...
shox: Yeah, I had seen him about a year and a half ago at a regional LAN, in April, and I Tweeted about him. I said I had the impression of watching myself at his age because of the way he played. I told G2 back in the day that they should keep an eye on him and that teams are going to fight over him when he finishes school, but nothing ever materialized.
You already played one event with the new players, DreamHack Winter, how was it for both you and for them?
shox: It was great, it really was. They're very refreshing. We've been playing CS for so many years, especially Kenny and myself. I'm the oldest guy on the team these days... wow, it sounds so weird to say that! But yeah, without even really noticing it, the flame kind of died out. We still love the game, we love playing and competing, but when we see the new guys, they transmit...
maLeK: a hype...
shox: a 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, even if you're still happy to be playing. Sure, it still can still happen at a Major final or something big like that, but to see them just as excited at a DreamHack Winter was something that I hadn't felt in a long time. It was very pleasant, it's really great. I think we have more to learn from them than they do from us. Okay, scratch that, but it's definitely 50/50, let's put it that way. [laughs] But, you know, I remember it, going to your first events and being really happy to play. You don't think about anything other than playing CS, having fun, and destroying your rivals.
The past few years have certainly not been the best for France, and we questioned everything, sometimes even too much. Now it's time to just accept that sometimes you'll die, that sometimes you'll get eco'd, that things won't always go your way... It's Counter-Strike. That traumatized us these past few years, it paralyzed us. Lucky and JaCkz don't have these bad vibes, and I think that's a huge thing that we need to get from them. We've lived through some experiences that have filled us with doubt. We've gone in every different direction, losing ourselves along the way. Now it's time remember the basics, have fun, and see what happens.
We don't need 8-hour debriefs if we lose a map. I'll give you an example: When we'd win a map 16-14, we'd all be happy and the match debrief would last 20 minutes. If we lost 14-16 and got knocked out of the LAN, the debrief would last eight hours because of two rounds. You see? Not having these traumas is one of their strengths, and thanks to that, the three other guys, especially Kenny and myself because Alex is a bit younger, we can get untangled. We had somehow gotten completely tied up without even noticing it, and now seeing the new guys I realize that they are the key.
maLeK: It's the first time, and I can't be sure because I haven't been on all of the previous rosters, but I think it's the first time that some young players are brought on to a team and they're not treated like the little new guys being told: "Hey, look at me and learn." We are all really together and equal, and we really have to focus on their mindset and their way of doing things.
It's almost the end of the season, but you're traveling to Abu Dhabi next for PLG. With a fairly new roster, what's the mindset heading into the last tournament of the year?
maLeK: There is never a good time to make roster changes. The Major is coming up in February and the player break is later this month... We'll have some matches in Abu Dhabi, and we're going to be in the spotlight, but personally, I'm not too caught up in it. What's important to me is going into the winter break with all of the necessary ingredients to prepare for the next cycle, which begins in January. We'll probably have a long period of bootcamps ahead of the Major, and it's good timing for us to be dangerous by the time IEM Katowice rolls around, which is something we've been thinking about since we made these roster changes. It'll be good, though, we'll all be sitting side-by-side and we'll play some CS.
There's the Major, which is an immediate short-term affair, but is there anything a bit more long-term in the sights?
maLeK: We're not going to put pressure on reaching goals, what's important is to be ambitious and to not get caught up on things that we don't have direct control over. From the beginning, we need to have high standards, be it in our practice, our mindset... and that doesn't mean making things complicated, it may even drive us towards simplicity at times. Then it's about growing and evolving so that G2 will be a competitive and high-level team. There are a lot of things I could develop on, but basically what we want is to make this sustainable. That's our main goal, to get back to basics and make everything sustainable. The Major will be an interesting first objective, where we'll fight against the best teams in the world, but what I'm interested in is that we become a headache for any team that plays us. I want every round a team plays against us to be hard, I don't want anybody to have an easy match against G2 in 2019.
shox: Coach says there's not gonna be an easy match against G2 in 2019, and that's that. GG coach.
[shox and maLeK bump fists]