XTQZZZ: "We need to stabilise in the top 10 and rebuild this project because a big part of it was destroyed when ALEX left"
HLTV.org sat down with Vitality coach Rémy "XTQZZZ" Quoniam to learn about the French team's new direction following the loss of in-game leader Alex "ALEX" McMeekin, and the signing 17-year-old Kévin "misutaaa" Rabier.
Vitality got off to a rocky start to 2020 as they were relegated to the BLAST Premier Spring Series Showdown after losses to Complexity and Natus Vincere in the group stage in London, and finished 9th-12th at IEM Katowice, where they were defeated by Astralis and FaZe.
Vitality's foundations were then rocked as ALEX announced he was stepping down from the team, leaving a void in a position that the French scene has had a tough time filling in recent years. The British tactician, who had guided the team to victory at cs_summit 4, ECS Season 7 Finals and EPICENTER 2019, cited personal struggles with the intense travel schedule of a professional Counter-Strike player.
Early reports mentioned Ali "hAdji" Haïnouss as the French squad's first option to fill the empty spot on the roster, but contract negotiations stalled and it was finally misutaaa who joined Vitality. The 17-year-old played his first ESL Pro League match on Monday in a 2-0 victory over GODSENT, ending the series with a 1.23 rating.
In his first-ever interview with HLTV.org, XTQZZZ goes into how Vitality and misutaaa's family were able to come to terms to make the signing happen, what the youngster's fate could mean for the hopes of other French up-and-comers fighting to make their way up the ranks, or the gamble that is making Dan "apEX" Madesclaire the team's in-game leader, among other topics surrounding Vitality's recent roster change.
How long had you been following misutaaa? Were you thinking about him before ALEX’s departure?
Vitality had been following misutaaa for quite some time and the organization was almost at the point of signing him as an "ambassador" to keep him close. This was was, of course, hastened by ALEX’s departure.
The first reports pointed to hAdji as a possible replacement for ALEX. Is that true? Why did you go with misutaaa in the end?
Yes, it’s true, but complications in the negotiations made the hAdji move impossible and we had to fall back on one of our other plans. misutaaa was a no-go because of his studies, but after negotiations for hAdji stagnated, we reached out to his family to see if we could find a way to reconcile his studies and his professional career. We reached a consensus and the organization and the player’s family have executed the plan, although it will demand a lot of responsibility both on the player's side as well as from the organization’s staff towards his family.
For people outside of France who don’t know misutaaa, could you tell everyone a little bit about him, his style of play, and why you think he’s the best option for Vitality?
Kévin [misutaaa] has already played a lot of LAN events in France despite being so young and he was the best option for us in the current context because all players are "locked". As far as his play, he has a tendency to anchor on the CT side although he likes to change it up. Nothing is defined for him on the T side as he still has everything to discover. In CS you have to know how to do everything, and our scene has often been hindered by all this talk of roles. You can have a preference, sure, but in a match you’re always going to find moments when you’re in the pack, or you're lurking, or you’re supporting your teammates.
apEX wrote in a Twitlonger post that "misutaa deserves his spot, we are going to try to give him the best conditions to perform and we will not use him the wrong way as we did in the past with a few other players." Could you develop a bit on the subject?
apEX is referencing the past, when up-and-coming players were used the wrong way. This ties into what I was just talking about earlier. For a long time, players were “used” in just one role and the teams that signed these up-and-coming players put them into roles that weren’t necessarily what was good for them. The advantage we have here is that misutaaa is young and he wants to learn everything, so in time we’ll see where he performs at his best and where we can make him better.
Did you think about signing an IGL? Were there other options that the public wasn't aware of?
No, we didn’t think about an IGL since nobody was free and there really aren’t many options to consider at this level in France.
apEX talked about the lack of leaders in France and said that some of the older IGLs fell out of the meta (including shox). Do you think that’s a problem at the moment?
It’s our biggest problem, yes, which is why we tried to bring one up in ALEX when he started to prove himself with LDLC.
Could shox have become the team’s IGL? Did you have that conversation before choosing apEX?
No, we didn’t have that conversation, I just asked apEX to become the IGL. It was, at the time, the best option. shox has other responsibilities in this team, as he has always liked, but it’s important that he stays away from this part of the game. He needs responsibility, but not the weight of the team on his shoulders. We’ve had a lot of talks about how he has to operate for the good of the team and for his own good.
Some pundits have mentioned that perhaps it would be good for Vitality to go international, like G2 have, in the absence of experienced high-level French-speaking players. Do you think Vitality could go that way in the future?
First of all, with everything that is going on, we couldn’t do that. We had roster deadlines for ESL Pro League and taking an international player would have been catastrophic when looking at group cohesion. A new player’s integration would have been very complicated. It can be done, but it will require time, and that’s exactly what we didn’t have. If we ever want to do something like that it has to be a huge move, not something minimal, and we were all in agreeance about that.
Have you talked to apEX about how he’s going to adapt to his new role? What type of leader he’s going to be and how will he learn? How can you help him?
Yeah, we’ve talked a lot about all of the mistakes we’ve made over the past year. The way I’m going to help him is pretty simple. We usually have this problem in France when talking about leadership. You’re supposed to lead the team depending on how you practice and how the team is performing collectively and individually, but most of the time it is the opposite that occurs: the leader sees only one way of doing things, his way, and all of a sudden it becomes hard for him to make his teammates perform as they all have different points of view. And that’s why IGLs are usually singled out. There’s a certain confusion surrounding being a captain and having "power". apEX has to be aware of this, and that’s what MaT and I are going to be looking out for. To be able to rally a team and lead is not just "doing whatever I want without any discussion". It’s very easy to say this now, but it’s going to be tedious ongoing work. If we can achieve that, that’s when we will get the most cohesion.
How long did you have to decide what to do after ALEX said he wanted to leave the team? What other scenarios did you have prepared other than misutaaa?
We had three days to choose, so frankly not an abundance of scenarios.
Did you consider playing with ALEX for a while, as he proposed, before signing someone? Why didn’t you do it?
No, I didn’t consider that. We didn’t do it because after ESL Pro League you have to get ready for the Major, then for BLAST Showdown, DreamHack Masters, etc., and we wouldn’t have had time to prepare for those events, although it wasn’t ideal to change now, either. With what’s happening with the coronavirus, preparation times are going to change, as we’re sadly going to see some tournaments get cancelled, but of course nobody can foresee what’s going to happen.
apEX had said the future of French CS with ALEX, ZywOo and yourself looked bright. Now that ALEX is no longer in the mix, do you think it changes anything?
I don’t know anything about that, but I want to point out that there are youngsters coming up in France now, misutaaa being the pillar, and we need to do good by him for all of them. If he succeeds with us that will encourage other up-and-comers in the scene to keep fighting.
Vitality had a rough start to 2020 at BLAST Premier and IEM Katowice. That situation was not made any easier by a roster change. How are you going to tackle the upcoming matches?
I’m not sure how it’s going to be in terms of going to events with all that’s going on. Everyone is in the dark. What we’re trying to do right now is build our new roster up and play good CS, the rest is out of our control. We’ve of course lowered our goals, but we need to stabilise in the top 10 and rebuild this project because a big part of it was destroyed when ALEX left. We need to rebuild our foundation.
apEX said his greatest challenge was to get his individual form back after six “terrible” months. Do you think becoming an IGL while trying to improve his personal performances could be too much for him to handle?
Honestly, it’s a gamble. We’re gambling on the future, which is something that happens every time you make a transfer. The difference now is that you usually think about the risk before you make the change. We didn’t have much time, so we did the best we could and I do think that apEX can make it. It will do him good to think about the team and not focus only on stats. Plus, he has always liked the strategic side, focusing on teamplay and human relationships. There are a lot of things in this role that line up with what he loves and I hope it will give him some freedom.
Vitality has several young stars across multiple games. Is there a method to help them flourish?
There’s regular scouting and tracking of youngsters. Vitality really cares about the pool of young players we have in France and in the future, the goal for them is to enlarge this pool outside of our borders. As far as the method goes, they really want the staff in different games to give young players a professional education and prepare them for their job (knowing the rules, how to act outside of the server, dealing with the media, etc.).
MaT was recently announced as the team’s assistant coach. What’s his exact role in the team?
He basically does the same things that a coach does. He works on our demos and those of our opponents, works on the human aspects of the team and helps make sure that there’s good group cohesion. We’ve known each other for a while now and we’ve always been in conversation about what's good for a team and what's not. It’s important that we’re always fresh, so splitting responsibilities helps us stay focused and at the same time it lets us spread out our work.
You have a performance staff with former professional players and coaches coming from tennis and poker. How do they work with the CS:GO squad?
They manage everything outside of the game. It used to be that I had to manage a bunch of things that had nothing to do with CS. This was because there wasn’t a link between the team and the organization when it came to things like performance metrics, or image and marketing, because Vitality has a lot of teams in a lot of games, so Vitality brought in people to act as links between the different parts of the organization.
As far as the team goes, they work with a mental coach, who teaches them to be disciplined and responsible, and the performance staff is also here to share their experience competing at a high level. We often forget that no CS player has been prepared for the life of a professional, including the sacrifices they have to make. We see the advantages of being a professional, but it’s a huge change for every player and they need some time to adapt.