How bodyy is relishing his new role as the leader of DBL PONEY
Inspired by Gambit's example, the 24-year-old is betting on the squad to be his ticket back to elite-level competition.
The last time I saw Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro, we were walking side by side at the Chongqing Olympic stadium, exiting a tent behind the main stage, where he had just played his final series for G2 at the WESG 2018 World Finals, topping the scoreboard with a 1.59 rating in the third-place decider match, a 2-0 victory over fnatic.
The news of him being replaced by François "AmaNEk" Delaunay in the team’s starting lineup was already public by then. For a while, he’d struggled to find his best form and become a more proactive player on the server, something he had discussed at length with teammates, coaching staff, and other French players that traveled to China for the event while sitting on tiny stools in the street, hunched over platters of grilled skewers near the hotel where the tournament’s group stage took place after long days of round-robin matches. But no mental preparation could stop the wave of emotions that overtook him after that match against fnatic as he walked out of the field of play, misty-eyed, and into the tunnels that made up the stadium’s bowels, leaving behind a three-year journey with G2.
bodyy’s heartbreak didn’t end there, however, as the two years that have passed since that match in China have been a struggle to get back to competing at the highest level. At the tail-end of 2019, he put together a team that reunited him with two of his former LDLC White teammates, AWPer Antoine "to1nou" Pirard and in-game leader Matthieu "matHEND" Roquigny, to try to rekindle the magic that had helped him break out when he was 19 years old. They were joined by David "devoduvek" Dobrosavljevic and a rookie, Michael "MIKE" LIm, although the former didn’t last long and took a spot in Heretics, cashing in on an offer that bodyy had previously refused in order to try and make this FiveG team work. A newcomer, Aurélien "afro" Drapier, was brought on to fill the vacancy, although he had to give up his preferred AWP role to the more experienced Belgian sniper. Try as they may, FiveG fell apart after several months with no organization to back them or breakthrough results that could justify keeping the squad alive.
bodyy ended up signing with LDLC in June 2020, marking a return to a professional environment with a salary, stability, and a structure. He was joined by his FiveG teammate afro, who kept playing rifler roles, in a cast that already included Christophe "SIXER" Xia, Lambert "Lambert" Prigent and Ali "hAdji" Haïnouss. Early on things went well, everyone found their place on the team and they made some deep runs in the online cups that had become more and more popular for second-tier teams during the pandemic. "We had good momentum, and we all had a good time playing," bodyy recalls, "but we took a big blow when we came back from the summer break. I don't know why, I couldn't tell you what happened, but the results weren't as good anymore. We weren't able to find our previous form despite having a bootcamp and making changes to roles and the way we played the game. By the end of it, we weren't all on the same page anymore and we had different understandings regarding both the game and the project itself."
At this point, bodyy, who had been giving Lambert a hand as a secondary caller, started to have doubts regarding the team’s philosophy and the general direction in which it was heading, a sentiment shared by afro. "The guys who stayed were on one side, while afro and I were on the other," bodyy says, "and we all agreed that it was best to break it up. It was a mutual agreement, they didn't really want to continue with us because we took up too much space in their project and we didn't want to continue with them because we felt like we weren't getting the results we wanted." Released from their contracts at the end of the year, the pair went their separate ways, with afro deciding he wanted to continue playing without a pause, standing in for TheDice, while bodyy extended his holiday break and retreated to his family’s home in France to mull over his next move.
While ultimately unsuccessful, both FiveG and LDLC were pivotal in bodyy's growth inside and outside the server, helping him mature and pushing him to develop the leadership traits he was lacking when he was benched by G2.
The second-best French team at the time, Heretics, disbanded just as bodyy was considering his options, freeing up his former G2 teammate Lucas "Lucky" Chastang. The two players had enjoyed their time together and got along well the few months they played together, and the makings of another FiveG-like project started to materialise. When bodyy watched afro play while standing in for TheDice in his original role, as an AWPer, he immediately realized his former teammate should also be a part of this new project, but this time manning the 'Big Green'.
One of the turning points in the creation of this new team, dubbed DBL PONEY by manager Vivien "GoY" Goyon, was a conversation bodyy had with another one of the original players in the budding lineup, Audric "JaCkz" Jug, who was on loan from G2. "I had started to ask myself more and more if I should take more of a leadership position after my time in LDLC," bodyy recalls. "I wasn't sure at first, but JaCkz was the one who really opened my eyes. He said it could be very beneficial for me because of my personality, since I'm quite altruistic and I like to be the sort of player that can make his teammates better."
Then and there, bodyy decided to take the poney’s reins. "This role has really helped me a lot," he now says, looking back at his decision. "I haven't had too many shortcomings yet and I'm developing as much as I can as a captain. I have the impression that I actually play better when I have some responsibility — I find myself performing better individually when I'm aware of everything that's happening on the map. I have very autonomous players, but I really do feel like I become much better when I have a role that forces me to take a proactive stance."
The pieces were all falling into place and Thomas "Djoko" Pavoni, who had played for Heretics as a stand-in during the team’s final days with Lucky and met afro briefly in TheDice, was brought on board. "I didn't know Djoko personally until I started to play more in the French scene," bodyy says, "but I noticed him quickly. He was in a top-four team but had the stats of a guy on a championship-winning team at local tournaments, so when we started DBL PONEY I immediately thought he would fit in. He's a guy that has crazy skill and there wasn't much I needed to help him with other than some principles and stuff regarding the way I wanted us to play the game. He understood everything instantly and just talking to him a bit I knew how to fit him in the team. He can play on the map’s edges, but he’s also an exceptional entry-fragger and a selfless player — we call him the pitbull because when he bites he doesn’t let go."
Back when FiveG was put together, it was under the premise of grinding from the bottom up, starting from scratch and working all the way to the top with a group that could grow strong together, drawing inspiration from the success stories of ENCE and Vitality. He maintains that philosophy with DBL PONEY but with a different team as a guiding light.
"I modeled much of this project after Gambit," bodyy says. "They have a close-knit team of youngsters and they played together for a really long time before breaking out, reaching an incredible level and skyrocketing in the HLTV rankings. Seeing that really makes me believe. I'm sure they had some individual offers from bigger teams when they were around top 30, not yet an elite team, but the fact that they stayed together and believed in their project really drove me to want to create something in the same vein. A team that can prove that group cohesion really does make a difference."
DBL PONEY started off with some promising results in smaller cash cups, winning one and coming in second in another, but then JaCkz was recalled by G2 to replace Kenny "kennyS" Schrub, leaving the team at a crossroads. "We asked ourselves first and foremost if we would continue playing, and the answer was 'yes'," bodyy says. "Then we asked if we should get a youngster, but there really wasn’t anybody that could replace JaCkz in terms of roles and experience."
The initial panic didn’t last long, and while several youngsters were initially lined up, big news came out of the OG camp when Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt was moved to the bench to make way for Nikolaj "niko" Kristensen. Immediately, the two sides got in contact and DBL PONEY was injected with another dose of experience — a huge boost as they went into a minefield of open qualifiers. "Picking up NBK- was completely natural," bodyy says. "We saw him benched and either he sent us a message or we messaged him to ask if he'd be interested, I can’t even remember. In any case, it was all very reciprocal and there was no need for any convincing that this was a good match. He wanted to keep playing while he was on the bench and we needed a player. Similar to our time with JaCkz, we got good results right off the bat, finishing second in Fantasyexpo, in which we beat Sprout and mousesports. We couldn't have asked for more, we were very lucky with the timing of everything to end up with a gem like NBK-."
DBL PONEY and NBK- played what was supposed to be their final match together in the Flashpoint 3 closed qualifier's fifth-place decider, a 2-0 victory over HAVU to secure the very last spot at the Regional Major Ranking event. But last-minute approvals from Valve, Flashpoint and OG, themselves a competitor at the RMR tournament, meant that the team and player can go on and compete at the all-important event together.
"We've thought a lot about what will happen when NBK- can't play with us anymore," bodyy says, "and we have already started testing several players. It's not something we're afraid of, we know it's not going to be someone who will be able to match what we can get from someone like JaCkz or NBK-. No player is going to make up for 10 years of experience like that. We'll have to work on forming a young player, but the pool in France is large enough that we'll be able to find someone with enough potential to match our ambitions and get them up to speed. We'll go as long as we can with NBK-, but logically he will probably only stay until the end of Flashpoint 3. He has to advance his career and we need to figure ourselves out, as well."
In their search for a fifth, DBL PONEY will have to be selective to keep the team atmosphere unchanged as a lot of care has gone into making sure that everybody believes in the project as a group and is comfortable with their place in it. For bodyy, as the captain, it’s important not only that the newcomer can contribute to the good mood that has been created, but also that he can also slot into the team’s style and fill the necessary roles. Much like Dmitry "hooch" Bogdanov when he spoke about EPG Family becoming stronger while playing without the backing of an organisation, bodyy believes that this team has formed deep bonds very quickly because of their situation. "We're all on the same boat, nobody has a salary, we're all just grinding to get out of the mud," bodyy says. "I feel like we're getting closer and closer to that, we're in a good cycle, qualifying for the RMR tournament and winning a good number of matches. We're No. 36 in the HLTV rankings, too, and all of this starts to put us on the map."
DBL PONEY’s search for a player continues as they field prospects including Pierre "Ex3rcice" Bulinge and Noah "Nono2K" Padovan in some of their lesser official matches, but right now they have their eyes set on Flashpoint 3 and have been practising with NBK- to make sure they’re ready for the task at hand as they will open the tournament against none other than their fellow countrymen of Vitality. "Of course the first match had to be against them," bodyy says. "But winning isn’t impossible, it doesn't seem to me that it’s the hardest of all possible match-ups. A team like Heroic is just as frightening right now, they’ve been having crazy results. Plus, derbies can be quite volatile."
Beyond Flashpoint 3, what lies ahead is what really matters, and for bodyy it’s getting back in the saddle and once again competing with the best in the world, as he used to do, day in and day out. Despite all the hardships that he has endured since leaving G2, the 24-year-old keeps a positive attitude and believes in DBL PONEY’s chances. "The sky's the limit, as they say," he says. "We qualified for Flashpoint 3 with limited resources and many of the other teams in the closed qualifier were in a much better situation, so to get these results after so little time together as a team... I can't say exactly where we'll be at the end of the year, but top 15-20 could be feasible."