kennyS: "I knew that I would at one point switch to an international team"
We sat down with Kenny "kennyS" Schrub and Damien "maLeK" Marcel during DreamHack Masters Malmö for an in-depth interview about G2's decision to go international and about how the project is going so far.
G2's addition of Nemanja "nexa" Isaković and Nemanja "huNter-" Kovač was only finalized on the day before the start of DreamHack Masters Malmö, which left next to no time for the team to gel before the tournament, where they would be eliminated in the group stage.
During the playoffs, we managed to grab kennyS and maLeK to find out more about the decision-making process that led to the creation of the international roster and why the team didn't continue with a French lineup. The player and the coach also spoke about how the first days with nexa and huNter- had gone, how they tackled the lack of preparation in Malmö, the victory over FURIA and the close match against Astralis on Nuke.
Let's start with why you decided to make changes and when. Was it at the Major that you decided that that was the last straw or had you been considering changes even leading up to it?
maLeK: It was not just the Major. I think G2 had been willing to go international for quite a while now. They had been looking at how things had been evolving in the CS:GO scene and, for obvious reasons, if you put the language apart, the advantages are that the player pool is really big, there are a lot of countries and really good players are coming up all over the world now, and it's really exciting to see. I think it's really easy to understand them from this point of view.
We can say that we have been doing better, I think we can say that safely, and we wanted to keep improving. We have been hitting that ceiling where we could beat very good teams but not consistently enough, and one of the main issues was about the leadership, what people wanted to do in the team. It was really tricky from the inside point of view to really go higher without proper leadership and without a proper plan to actually build a strong, top-three, top-five team.
From what I understand from other interviews, mainly with shox, the organization offered you the possibility to stay with a French lineup, so why did you decide to go away from that?
maLeK: It's really easy. We don't want to make a lineup change if we don't believe in it. G2 proposed that the timing now was very good, that this was crunch time in CS:GO and that maybe it was a good time to jump into the international scene for all those reasons. Jérôme [NiaK] and I, we have the final decision, and G2 told us to let them know if we wanted to have one last chance to improve with a French team, to actually improve and reach the top five in the short term.
We were looking at how the French scene was and how we could improve the leadership, we had a few names, a few solutions, we were speaking with the players, but the only way to make that final decision and say 'okay, we're staying in France' would have been down to the seven of us - Jérôme, myself, and five players - trusting that we actually could reach the top five with these solutions. It is obvious to say now that we couldn't find a solution with everyone agreeing that it would be an improvement and that we could 100% become top five in the short term. This is the reason why Jérôme and I couldn't say to G2 that we would stay with a French lineup.
What was the decision-making process like from the point of aiming to go international leading up to the addition of nexa and huNter- and how much of it came from the higher-ups of G2, yourself as the coach, and the players?
maLeK: There are different layers. The first one, going international, is that if Jérôme, myself and the players who are remaining in the team weren't willing to go international, there would be a problem. Obviously, we wouldn't force anybody to do it. JaCkz doesn't speak English very well, so we first decided to see how long it would take, what we would have to do to make him feel good, about the roles, about everything. And if we really believed that we had all the support to actually go international in a few months, to deliver and feel happy in the team, then we could proceed. We made sure that was the case, we made sure that everybody supported that, and then we said to G2 that we were going international.
The second layer, Jérôme and I said that we wanted people that have a voice, that are really committed to CS and living the game, those kinds of players. A few options were Aleksib and nexa. Jérôme and I had to make a list, thinking about it and trying to find a fit with roles, as well. nexa and huNter- were fitting really well, we are really happy because it was definitely the first choice that we had. So yeah, the high management at first came up with the idea of going international and then the specific decisions were ours.
kennyS: I think we all got hyped by the decision. Going international was an exciting challenge, even though we all knew it was going to be hard. We know that, in the short term, we're not going to be as competitive individually and as a team as we would like to be. But, not going to lie, it's been super fun, we don't get frustrated when we play badly because we know why we are playing badly and we know that we did this to make things much better. That's the way we think right now, it's really exciting, it's new. I knew that I would at one point switch to an international team. I have played with everyone in France and I enjoyed it with everyone, but I also think that players need to refresh sometimes and I needed to do that, as well. I like the fact that I'm playing with players who respect me for the person and the player I am but also don't care about it. They don't judge me for who I was, they judge me for what I'm doing and the person I am now.
There is nothing negative at all, it's really positive for everyone. nexa and huNter-, we have had three days so far and it's surprisingly going super well. They are really open-minded people, we all push together. We make a lot of mistakes, it is what it is, but it's really easy-going and we fix them without being harsh towards each other, we fix them by just working together. I also feel like it's always good to be able to mix your knowledge, to mix cultures, to mix mindsets. Not that the French mindset is bad, just that it's really different, and having a new perspective is super good, we all like what we have so far. It's just the beginning, right, but, in my opinion, it should grow easier and easier with time. It's already pretty easy for all of us to be together.
What do you see in G2's future with this move, then? Have you set any specific goals?
kennyS: We were already doing pretty okay, we were between top 6-8 best teams in the world, we had super high peaks, but our consistent level wasn't good enough, which means we were lacking some things, such as leadership and a proper anchor, for example. No, we have not set any specific goals, but the point is to do better than we were doing, to be more consistent, maybe reaching the top-five in the long term, but I think we're just thinking about playing good Counter-Strike, having fun together - because you don't play good CS if you aren't having fun together.
maLeK: I really think that if we get through that process of communication, if we get to know each other well, we will take a step further regarding what we have been doing this year. It's quite obvious and we can feel it straight away while we are playing, even though we have all those walls we need to break. What I feel from these first few days together is a natural discipline that nexa and huNter- are bringing just by being themselves. I think it will really help us reach that consistency and to play and learn from what we are actually doing, and then getting more and more dangerous. We will lift trophies at some point.
What are the initial impressions regarding the communication from the player side, how is it actually experiencing that in the game in a more serious setting than in FPL?
kennyS: From my own experience, I speak good English outside of the game, but it's always different in-game. It's a lot about new callouts, new names for principles, those kinds of things are really not natural for any of us, so it's all about memorizing stuff and getting used to it. Communication is key, CS:GO is a really reactive game, so the biggest issue is that there is a short delay between your brain and what you want to say. Obviously, it makes us not entirely focused on the game, which makes us not be at our best individually. That's something that we're willing to do because we know that, in the long run, once we have managed to handle these things, it's going to be much easier and much more natural.
Even though JaCkz doesn't speak English well, it's much easier to speak English in-game than it is outside because it's all about memorizing stuff, the sentences are pretty much the same, so we just have to get used to doing simple stuff and learn that and everything should be much easier in the future. I don't think the communication will take that long, to be honest. Maybe it's harder for some of the players, like JaCkz, but he's someone really natural, so even when he speaks French he makes people laugh. They like him, everybody likes him even if he doesn't really communicate properly yet, so I'm not concerned about it at all.
Touching on Malmö, you had a few surprising results but also tough losses like the one against fnatic. I'm guessing the expectations weren't particularly high when you met the day before the tournament...
maLeK: We met when we actually saw you in Vapiano [on Monday evening]. We had dinner, we met them, we didn't play or anything. The only thing we did was "hey boys, Nemanja, how do you want to call", you are sorting out these kinds of things the day before the game. We were sorting out 30 minutes before playing Astralis on Nuke, we knew that we could play the map, but it's funny because we made up like two or three plays and they actually worked out quite okay.
Was it a surprise that you could challenge Astralis?
maLeK: It was not surprising in the way that, if you believe in what you do and you actually have two or three good plays, you do them properly, you call them at the right time, you have players who can aim, so you can obviously win rounds. It's Counter-Strike, in the end. Playing Astralis 10 times on Nuke would have probably been different, but then if you have proper calls, if you are motivated and if you are good individually, of course you can beat anybody, even without practicing.
kennyS: It's also about communication. The fact that we decided what we were going to do at the beginning of the round helped, having something set makes you need to communicate less during the round. The longer the round is the harder it is going to be for us, especially at the beginning. That's also why fnatic smashed us that hard, we obviously didn't play well, they did, but also because they were pretty slow.
maLeK: Right, fnatic were really organized, they took every area, they were really cautious. I think Astralis even said in an interview after our game that they were engaging fights and things like this, so it's also one of the reasons we could actually catch them off-guard in some rounds, then the economy starts to fall and the game is getting tight. Basically, having big highs and lows in Malmö is the most natural thing because you cannot plan or rely on anything, you're just playing. When you go on FACEIT you will have +25 elo and -25 elo, but you can win 16-0 or lose 16-0, you never know. When we went to Malmö it was kind of the same, you don't rely on anything, maybe you can win and maybe you lose, you just play the game. Now we will begin to work and everything is just starting.
You have about a week before Pro League Group D. Do you think in that time you're going to be able to be in a position where you can challenge for that top spot for a place at the Finals among those teams, Na`Vi, Windigo, and HellRaisers?
maLeK: Anything can happen when you have good teams in a group. It's not that we need to win ten best-of-threes to qualify. We need to win one best-of-three and then you need to be good against teams that I think we can challenge, Windigo and HellRaisers, so yes, we can come first, but we can also have issues because it's really soon and we will have some question marks. But I really think we can do well. We have good facilities here, we are having a bootcamp here, it's very good, we play all day, we speak about everything and motivation is high. It would have been fun to have had the chance to practice for three days before DH Masters Malmö, I think things would have been different because we see a lot of improvements every day.
How do you think Vitality will do with this change, with shox coming in?
maLeK: The thing about shox, he is an amazing player, he can do anything if he wants to. When I say that, I mean that Richard needs to enjoy the game and what he's doing to be good and bring a lot to a team. He can be an AWPer tomorrow, he can be a leader, he can be a co-leader, he can be an entry, he can be a lurker, I swear, he can do anything. Now, he's even an anchor again like he was at the beginning. He has been a rotator for so long and he's doing that very well, too. So, for shox, it's really easy. You need to have a system where he feels great, where he feels happy to do the things he wants to do. Now they have ZywOo, they have great staff around them, and ALEX is doing a good job, obviously. shox is happy now so they will do great. As long as their system is healthy and they are feeling good, they will be good. You can't get away from that, they have the full package. The only thing that can happen is: it's the French scene, it's French CS, I don't think I need to explain, saying "French" is enough. As long as they are fitting well and they are happy, they will be really good. Once you see them underperform then don't try to see if he's good enough, just understand that they are French, there are probably some issues somewhere. This is how it works.
With your team moving to an international lineup, more of the French talent is moving away from the French scene, and there is a pretty big gap between the top two teams and the rest of the scene. NBK has now left to create an international lineup, as well. Do you think the scene will progressively continue to move away from French-speaking lineups because of these historical issues Kenny was talking about?
maLeK: The French scene might sound like a tough place now, but Vitality will probably do really well in the future, I think that's obvious. G2, we've got three French players, but we are going international, so that will put us away. But then there are a lot of possibilities with new players. When I say new, I mean it's not the same names again, there are new players who are actually good, who have great potential, they just need these little additions. For instance, if you take Heretics, Davidp is doing a great job at leading, Maka is good with the AWP, and if you take all the French names who are available, you can actually put together a team that can compete and reach the top 15 in the world. It's honestly something that can happen, so if they do the right moves, they will go in the right direction.
kennyS: But if you're looking for a new ZywOo or a new player who has been historically good, I don't think there are any at the moment, but I believe that you can create a good team out of the qualities of every individual and make something competitive out of it. Every five years, there are super big players coming out of France, which is something really great for France. We had shox, then NBK, we had myself, we have ZywOo now, it's obviously a talented country, but there are times when it's a bit harder to make everyone competitive. The French scene used to do better, but it is coming back to the top, and that's the main focus for everyone. I don't think we should be too worried about it, to be honest.