XTQZZZ on signing Kyojin: "The only hard and painful moment was telling RpK he was being benched"
Rémy "XTQZZZ" Quoniam took some time to chat with French coverage site 1pv.fr on Sunday in an interview that was originally streamed live from the Stade de France in Paris, where Vitality's CS:GO team are currently undergoing a three-week bootcamp in preparation for DreamHack Masters Spring and the first Regional Major Ranking (RMR) tournament of 2021 in Europe, Flashpoint 3.
The interview kicked off with the coach going back in time as he was asked to talk about the end of 2020, a sweet moment in which Vitality were able to claim the IEM Beijing-Haidian Europe and BLAST Premier Fall Finals titles after several second-place finishes on the way to becoming the third best team of the year behind Natus Vincere and Astralis.
"We didn’t let go, we made several finals and we didn’t have any doubts," XTQZZZ recalled. "We were just on the chase to get a title, we were the hungriest team and we just wanted to destroy everyone. IEM Global Challenge was a bit too much for us, but at BLAST Premier Fall we were at a level that this team had never been able to reach before. That was the key to our success at the end of last year."
The French squad wasn’t able to have a smooth transition into 2021, however, and ran into trouble early on as an acceptable third-place finish behind the top two teams of 2020 in the BLAST Premier Global Final in January gave way to poor results in the BLAST Premier Spring Groups and Showdown, as well as IEM Katowice and ESL Pro League Season 13.
"For the past two years, no matter the lineup, we’ve had trouble after returning from a break. Last August we made the ESL One Cologne final, but that was an illusion because we were really not playing well," the French coach said. "This time around, we came in third in the BLAST Premier Global Final, which we were satisfied with as a result, but we weren’t satisfied with the way we played. We have trouble switching back on after a break."
Vitality’s struggles this year have been heightened by several Valve rulings regarding coaching and six-man rosters that have harmed the French squad. XTQZZZ has had to take a step back and communicate less in-game to get his players ready for Valve-sanctioned events, in which he will no longer be able to actively participate during matches. They have also had to let go of the idea of using an expanded roster after setting a new standard with their mid-series substitutions following Nabil "Nivera" Benrlitom's arrival last year. On top of that, Valve reset the RMR standings, a hard hit for the French team as their extensive lead at the top of the ranking shrank considerably.
"We felt like we were robbed when it was announced, and it’s hard to accept even today," XTQZZZ said regarding the RMR reset. "It wasn’t unexpected that the Major would get canceled, but we just expected it would be pushed back to a later date. I agreed that there need to be more RMR tournaments because the season is long, but what we’re not satisfied with is that we’re now more or less all on equal footing. A 300-600 point difference is nothing, it can be lost in one tournament, and before we had [nearly] 2,000 points on the second-placed team.
"The RMR tournaments were really our central focus in 2020 and we’re left wondering if certain aspects of the year were meaningless in the end. It’s the same with the six-man roster, although I wasn’t surprised at all by the ruling because these days we make too many decisions based on social media and not logic. People were mad that we had six players and others with less resources didn’t, a debate that doesn’t exist in traditional sports, in which some teams will have 25 players and others will have 15 or 16, it’s just the way things are.
"The coaching rule, too. I wasn’t surprised with that. We live in a time in which we generalize everything, so a few guys that mess around get everyone banned because it’s just easier to make a blanket rule to make sure there aren’t any problems. I even tweeted out at the time that something like this would happen, and I don’t usually do that, but it’s a pattern in Counter-Strike, harsh sanctions are given out but the root problems aren’t dealt with properly."
After fending off fatigue and maintaining composure throughout 2020 — likely one of the reasons why they were able to perform so well in the second half of the year —, Vitality are now starting to feel many of the issues that other teams have been complaining about for months. This issue, XTQZZZ said, has been taking a toll on his players since the beginning of the year.
"We’ve had a wretched time," XTQZZZ admitted. "There have been a lot of personal problems in the team outside of the game. We started to ask ourselves how everything was going in general and we came to the conclusion that not so well. Our big advantage last year was that we were able to kind of brush everything aside, but now we’ve started to have a lot of the problems other people have been talking about since last year, such as feeling like we’re becoming robots or always on auto-pilot. The bad results have also created fatigue and we started to ask questions and to talk to each other, but it was impossible to get our form back. We tried to mix things up at Pro League but it didn’t really work out, and that’s where we’re at right now."
One of the ways Vitality are trying to turn their underwhelming year around has been with the addition of young blood, and following a pattern of supporting and investing in French talent, the team signed Jayson "Kyojin" Nguyen Van, a 22-year-old from the WonderKids school — where he played with Kévin "misutaaa" Rabier and Nivera — who was most recently playing in the French sub-top scene.
"We arrived at the conclusion that something had to change," XTQZZZ said regarding the roster moves. "Some people say that we should just hold out until LANs are back, but those people don’t realize how long the season is and we don’t know when LANs will be back. There are big tournaments being played in the online era and we have to respect our organization, which needs good results."
The signing has been a hard one to digest for many people and has generated a heated debate amongst French Counter-Strike fans after Kyojin took the spot that belonged to Cédric "RpK" Guipouy, one of the game’s legends and an affable personality loved by many.
"The only hard and painful moment was telling RpK he was being benched," XTQZZZ said. "He’s a great guy who even in this hard situation acted in an exemplary way. He understood we were always honest with him, and for us, it was very important that we did everything cleanly, too, so he was the first to be notified about it all. I really appreciate RpK, he’s a good friend, and I understand people will be upset about his benching. He’s an icon and he deserves every bit of the respect he's getting. A lot of it from the international community, too, which I was happy to see."
Regarding some of the criticism aimed at the change, XTQZZZ said that "there will be two types of people, some who will wait to see how this pans out and others who will lash out at us immediately. There’s nothing I can say to the latter. Regarding Kyojin, we’ve had access to the email from Valve clearing him, nothing is fake, and we’ve done our own verification. Nobody was complaining when he played local tournaments in France, it’s just happening now because he’s joining Vitality."
Towards the end of the interview, the 32-year-old delved a little bit more into the issues plaguing the team at a delicate moment in time, when "even ZywOo has been affected," as XTQZZZ explained. "Despite his youth, he’s the first one to come and tell me that he misses LANs. We all love our jobs and we’re passionate, but we all miss the crowds. We need to believe they will be back. Last year it was CS that was helping us get through all of this, but we've kind of lost that mentality."
After a two-week break from competition, Vitality will return to action later this week in DreamHack Masters Spring, in which a deep run could kick-start their season. On May 10, the team will resume their Major qualifying campaign, taking on the best teams in Europe in Flashpoint 3 as they hope to qualify for PGL Major Stockholm. XTQZZZ believes his team can get over their slump if everyone is on the same page.
"My first goal is to only have CS on my mind," the French coach concluded. "We got distracted, all of us, and we lost our individual form — that’s our biggest problem and we’re working hard to turn that around. We’ve always been a team that works a lot and if we all push in the same direction we can make it. We have talent, experienced players, ZywOo, two up-and-comers, and people supporting us, so I think we can get good results. I don’t know if we’ll win [the upcoming RMR tournament], but the goal is to qualify and we won’t give up on that."
The nearly 20-minute interview can be viewed in full (in French) below: