ScreaM retires from Counter-Strike: "CS has given me a lot; I wish things were different"
Adil "ScreaM" Benrlitom discusses his career and legacy as he embraces a new challenge under Team Liquid's banner.
As I begin talking with ScreaM, it becomes apparent that there's a lot he wants to get off his chest. He’s ready to move on, but something is still bothering him, eating him up. He wants to speak his mind.
He's had plenty of time to reflect on his career, having spent the last 11 months on GamerLegion's bench. You have to go back almost two years to find his most recent Big Event; more than three if you’re looking for his latest LAN title.
The purpose of the interview is to discuss ScreaM’s decision to walk away from Counter-Strike and further his career in VALORANT. The move is hardly a surprise, given that he’s been playing the game actively since the beta came out. His team, fish123, signed today for Liquid, who have in the Belgian the kind of marquee signing that most esports organisations can only dream of. He’s skillfully transferred his CS popularity to another game, in which he is rediscovering the kind of love that has come in short supply in recent years.
"I never actually thought about switching games because there's no game like CS for me," ScreaM says. "I grew up with CS, so I never thought about switching, but I knew that, one day, I would have to move on."
A good starting point for examining how ScreaM's CS career went off the tracks would be Mathieu "Maniac" Quiquerez’s interview with Aftonbladet in February 2015. The Swiss analyst, then a player for Titan, was explaining why his team would not have considered signing ScreaM if the Epsilon match-fixing scandal had occurred while they were looking for a new fifth player following’s Hovik "KQLY" Tovmassian’s shocking VAC ban.
"He [ScreaM] lacks many qualities you need as a professional player for a team as a whole," Maniac said. "My teammates have already played with him and when KQLY was disqualified it was quite clear that ScreaM would not be the profile needed even though his firepower is unbelievable – everybody knows that. You have to think about the big picture, like the strategical point of view, psychological point of view, clutch situations, dedication and all that stuff."
Maniac's comments caused quite a stir in the scene at the time. ScreaM had hopped on the fast train to fame since CS:GO's release, making good on the hype that had started during the late days of CS:S thanks to his incredible mechanics. His popularity continued to grow as he became the "headshot machine", but the one-dimensional tag stuck with him.
One question lingered: Was he truly cut out for top-level competition?
Despite the criticism, ScreaM isn’t one to mope or feel apologetic. If anything, he rues not staying true to his identity. He reveals he often had to change his style because of what his teams needed, losing himself and learning some hard lessons in the process.
"I think the only regret I have is that, at some point in my career, I doubted my game style," he says. "I tried to change to make people happy, to play in a different way. That changed a lot of things for me. At some point, I got lost, had to re-do everything, it took a lot of time. Now, I don't have this problem anymore. I've grown, when I was younger I was a little more emotional, I trusted people a lot, you know? For me, my teammates were like my friends, but that is not the case. People are not your friends in this game, they are just here to work, to compete, to be the best.
"It was also my fault. It's hard to say to the team, 'Listen, guys, I need to be free, I need to have my positions, I need to be in good positions so I can be the best in these positions'. In my teams, I always had other good players, and these players were taking these positions, while I was taking bad ones, ones where I felt I had to sacrifice myself, where I was not playing to my full potential. I feel like I never played to my full potential."
ScreaM points to his spectacular 2016 form as evidence that he was underutilized and mishandled for most of his CS:GO career. He and Richard "shox" Papillon were the star players of a fairly underwhelming G2 team that won the inaugural ECS season — where the Belgian won his only MVP medal —, took then-No.1 Luminosity to all five maps in the nail-biting grand final of the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals, and soared to second in the world rankings. The Belgian was named the ninth best player of 2016 — the second time he made the list after appearing at No.7 in 2013’s top 20 player ranking.
"I think 2016 was way better," ScreaM says when asked to compare the two years. "2013 was good as well, but 2016 had a lot of better teams and a lot more competition. It was a really good year for me. One of the best, if not the best, because I won a couple of things. I had more experience, I had really better game sense in general.
"That was, I think, one of the moments [in my career] where I felt the best. I was definitely the most comfortable in G2. It's not even about my aim: at this time, I was not even feeling the best about it. I always felt good in my career about my aim, I never felt like someone was better or that I couldn't keep up with the game. So many things happened that I just lost a lot of confidence, a lot of motivation. It was a downgrade a lot of times in my career. I was happy to play but I was not in the positions I should play."
ScreaM was fully enjoying life in G2, but it didn’t last long. After a disappointing run at ELEAGUE Major Atlanta, the organisation laid out a plan to build the French “super team” by signing Kenny "kennyS" Schrub, Dan "apEX" Madesclaire and Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt from Envy. The decision caught ScreaM by surprise and left him disillusioned with the game. That was the second time that he considered retiring from the game – the first was when he was released from Titan back in 2014.
"I was going to quit CS a long time ago, before I joined Epsilon," he reveals. "I was going to quit because that hurt me so much that I just didn’t know what to do anymore. I was so lost. And the same happened to me after G2 kicked me. This time it was even worse. I didn't understand why it was happening, I never got a reason or anything. I was feeling pretty good in this team, I really liked the work and the people. We had really good chemistry. When I got kicked, I didn't know what happened. I didn't have any answers in my mind and I never got them. That really let me down."
To rub further salt into his wounds, a highly-enticing move to FaZe, in which ScreaM would reunite with his former Kinguin teammate Håvard "rain" Nygaard, fell through at the last minute. "FaZe asked me and we practiced together one or two times," he says. "They wanted NiKo, but it was difficult to get him at first, so they approached me. They managed to find a solution with NiKo so they ended up signing him, and I actually understand it. He's like a top three player. It's understandable, but it hurt me. I was told that my contract was coming, but the next day I got the message that NiKo was joining."
He decided to join Envy, but nothing was ever quite the same, inside or outside the game. A sense of frustration began to set in and he became louder, harsher and more judgemental. "I was speaking out a little bit more, which I had never done when I was younger," ScreaM explains. "Before, I was letting people do whatever they wanted. [But now,] If I didn't like something, I was going to say it. I was hard on my teammates in terms of mistakes and all." He endured a largely frustrating 16-month stint under the North American organisation which culminated with the team suffering relegation from the ESL Pro League. "I really tried my best in Envy, we had good potential, a really good team, but every time we went on LAN we could not play the same as when we were playing online. But Envy was one of the best experiences I had in CS. We played together for a long time, we travelled so much together. We have a lot of good memories, even though we didn't win anything big. Envy is a really good organisation."
And then came GamerLegion, his last team. ScreaM doesn’t want to get into detail about what went wrong or why he spent so much time on the bench. He insists he has good memories of every team that he represented. "Even GamerLegion, but a little bit less because I didn't play so much, only a few months, four of five, I don't even know how many."
The Good Game League, in the Polish city of Poznan, was ScreaM's final Counter-Strike LAN. It was a rather humdrum tournament with a €100,000 prize pool, held beside the football pitch of Stadion Miejski, with only a few dozens of fans in the stands. Hardly the proper venue for one of the icons of the game to play his last competitive match, which, as fate would have it, was against his former team of G2. He didn’t know it then, but team issues and Covid-19 would deprive him of the chance to choose his goodbye, to leave the stage on his own terms.
I ask him if he would have liked to have had one last hurrah to repay the passion and enthusiasm of the thousands of fans who followed him over the years in Counter-Strike. "Of course," he answers without even thinking. "I'm not satisfied, but what can you do, you know? The opportunity I have right now is on VALORANT and the problem is that being on the bench for so long doing nothing wasn't good for me. I need to have motivation, to have a goal. It's not possible to stay on the bench and do nothing because I have so much potential. If people don't want my potential in CS, I'll show it in VALORANT."
ScreaM burned bright during the early years of Counter-Strike but his career flamed out too fast. Having spent the last two years away from the spotlight, is he worried about how he will be remembered in the scene? "My legacy is my brother," he says, laughing, mentioning how Nabil "Nivera" Benrlitom is now carrying the family name. "He is keeping up the legacy. I think my name will stay in CS. Besides, I’m not going to be too far away, I might stream some CS and I’ll always try to keep up with the community, to try to give them something. But I trust my brother, he's going to do well in CS. My name... our name will not be forgotten so easily."
Before ScreaM signs off and closes this chapter of his career, I ask him if he’d like to offer a final message to his fans and the Counter-Strike community at large.
His voice wavers as he tries to gather his thoughts. After a brief pause, he says: "I just want to thank everyone who supported me because, even though I was never in a great team — I was in very good teams, but I was not the kind of player who won a lot of things or who was the MVP of every tournament —, people always respected me and gave me a lot of love and a lot of support. I don't know if it will be the same in VALORANT, but in CS it was really insane, even after all these years. I struggled, but a lot of people kept supporting me, and that was really important for me. That was actually one of the only reasons why I stayed in the game when I wanted to leave. I saw that a lot of people loved me and they wanted me to play.
"I had a really good time. All my life was in CS. It's not a farewell. I have to move forward and think about my future. CS has given me a lot and I wish things were different. I wish I had a better reputation towards players. I wish I were used a little bit better in CS because I know I could be in the top 20 players every year if I were used correctly.
"The community has always been amazing to me, so I'll always remember this. You have haters everywhere, but a lot of people gave me a lot of love."