apEX: "With ALEX, ZywOo and XTQZZZ, the next five years of French CS are going to be great"
Vitality are kicking off their 2020 campaign against Natus Vincere in their opening series of BLAST Premier Spring. The French team are hoping to build on their victory at EPICENTER, where they defeated a red-hot mousesports for the title.
In our first interview from the media day of BLAST Premier Spring Group B, we spoke with apEX, who brought us up to speed on the team's preparation coming into the event and the team's state of mind after the break. The recent 'HLTV Confirmed' guest also explained just why the team treasure Alex "ALEX" McMeekin so much, and heaped praise on coach Rémy "XTQZZZ" Quoniam.
EPICENTER was a fantastic conclusion to 2019, and it really showed the team's potential. Do you feel that finish had an impact on your mindset coming into 2020?
After we added shox to the team, it wasn't easy for us to practice because when we changed the players, we didn't plan for the change. We accepted every invitation we got, so we had a lot of tournaments for the second half of 2019, but we didn't have time to practice with shox, except for Malmö, where we had a great final, the rest wasn't really great. We didn't play well and we didn't have time to show what we are capable of, except ZywOo, to be honest.
Since we didn't qualify for the EPL Season 10 Finals, we had about two or three weeks of preparation coming into EPICENTER. The big goal of the team was to win the tournament, so what we learned from 2019 is that when we have time to prepare, we know what we are capable of. It had also happened before cs_summit 4 and the ECS Season 7 Finals, two events which we won. In both cases, we had decent preparation. We know that preparation will help us achieve great things this year, and that's the most important thing.
Speaking of preparation, you had a very solid chunk of time over January to prepare for BLAST Premier Spring. What did the team work on in this space of time, and do you feel up to scratch coming into London?
Our coach decided to start the year on January 5, so we were a bit early. I know that many teams started after that, I think mousesports started around the 15, Astralis maybe on the 11, just a week after. We decided to start early because if we have more events during the year, we will be better prepared before events like BLAST and IEM Katowice. We just started practicing, and it was great to be back.
Since we didn't have much time during 2019, we were focused on getting great practice and just tried to play as well as possible. It was a good time with the team, we had a two-week bootcamp and spent some time together outside of the game on weekends as well. We tried to do as many good things to improve our teamplay [as possible], both inside and outside of the game. We worked on CS as much as possible, trying to figure out our mistakes and all those things. I really liked January in terms of preparation, but thank God it's finished and now we have tournaments again.
During the bootcamp that you mentioned, did the team look at implementing any significant in-game adjustments?
To be honest, there are things we need to improve so we tried to work on the mistakes we made at EPICENTER. We won, but I don't think we played the best CS we could. Before EPICENTER we had changed a few positions on the CT side and a little bit on the T side to improve, but no, we didn't change anything. We're still doing the same thing, we're trying to just improve the team play, how we approach the game and things like that.
I also think that for a period of time we lacked firepower outside of ZywOo. We didn't play well enough individually, except ZywOo, obviously, as he was the best player in the world last year. We tried to improve individually and sometimes focused on thinking individually, rather than as a team. I think that will help us become a better team and win more tournaments than we did in 2019.
You spoke about shox's addition in a previous answer. Before he arrived, you had NBK- on the team, who fulfilled a list of roles on the team. Do you feel that the squad has a higher ceiling with shox on the team in comparison to when NBK- was around? How do the two teams compare?
To be honest, shox and NBK- are two really different players. I will say that at the beginning, shox improved our T side, but it was the opposite on the CT side because we lacked a real lurker. As many people know, shox is a real lurker and has been lurking for years. He's really helping us on the T sides by getting flanks, having our backs and providing information, but he's not a support player on the CT side. We tried to put him in a support role because we didn't have time to practice, so we put shox into NBK-'s positions, but it didn't work out at all, he didn't feel comfortable. We changed that before EPICENTER and now he feels ways better in his new positions.
To compare them, I think both teams have lots of experience on the big stage and on teams. They had two of the three best players France has ever had, I guess, with all the experience, titles and everything. They are a bit different in terms of in-game things, I would say. With Nathan, the only problem we had was outside of the game, not so much inside of it. Since shox joined the mood outside of the game has been really good, it's better than it was in the past with Nathan because of what I mentioned, we didn't agree on many things. I mean, the mood of the team is better, that's basically it.
In a recent HLTV Confirmed episode, the panel was discussing the topic of in-game leading in ENCE, and you mentioned that the squad is incredibly protective and appreciative of what ALEX brings to the table. Could you give a general idea as to how he has positively affected the team since his addition?
To be completely honest, as I mentioned on HLTV Confirmed, France has lacked impactful in-game leaders for a few years now. I think Happy and Ex6TenZ, or even shox when he was leading, weren't in the meta. It was like they were two years behind, in my opinion.
What I like about ALEX is that he is trying to figure out the best thing for the team. He works a lot with XTQZZZ on the way we play Counter-Strike, and that's really important because they agree on what we do. Since we added ALEX, I think we've improved a lot on our T sides, and, now, CT sides because he does both, whereas before it was NBK- doing CT calling, while ALEX did the T side.
I didn't mention XTQZZZ, but I have mentioned in the past that one of the things that helped us to improve was that we have XTQZZZ as coach. The guy is the best coach I've ever had, by far. He's doing such a great job. I've worked ubder him for over a year, and he's doing so much for the team. He doesn't speak English that much, so he doesn't do too many interviews, but his impact on the team is incredible.
We have ALEX as well, he was just a player on LDLC with Ex6TenZ at first, and after he became an in-game leader they did great with LDLC. They became 12th in the world rankings with the lineup, and I never imagined them being that good. Also, there's ZywOo, obviously; he's the biggest star. We had a superstar in kennyS, now we have ZywOo. I think that's who we have in France, and those three were really important for the French scene to improve time after time. I think with those three people, the next five years in French CS are going to be great.
On the topic of 2020, the team must have reassessed your ambitions following the in-game adjustments and the results achieved towards the end of 2019. What have you set as aims for the upcoming year?
For now, the goals are to win more events than we did in 2019, when we won three big events in cs_summit 4, ECS Season 7 and EPICENTER. Obviously the big goal is to win more than that, and another goal is to be the best team in the world. I think all of the teams in the top 5-7 want to be the best in the world, and we're going to give everything to achieve that. Then there's obviously winning a Major again for some of us, and for rookies like RpK [laughs]. It's the most important achievement in CS, and winning a Major is always great. I would say that's the main goal.
Now that we've discussed more general questions, let's talk about the opening series against Na`Vi at BLAST Premier. The team had a really solid showing at ICE despite just recently signing Perfecto and going through significant in-game adjustments. With these factors in mind, what is your outlook on the match-up?
I don't know exactly what to expect, but we played them twice recently at EPICENTER and Malmö, but they had GuardiaN as their AWPer. I know that as s1mple took over and he is in much better form than GuardiaN was, so it's going to change a lot. I expected them to get to the ICE Challenge final because they were the second-best team there, I didn't expect them to lose before that, to be honest. It's going to be a tough one, we don't know what to expect from Perfecto, even though we watched a few of the ICE Challenge games.
We know Na`Vi, they can just be really good, so we're not going to underestimate them because they had little preparation or whatever. We're going to approach them like normal opponents. We know what they're capable of with individuals like electronic and s1mple, so we're just going to give it our all and manage to win this game.