The French scene has long been at odds with itself. The historical internal problems of its top teams have largely characterised their narratives. It isn’t about a top French team earning a series of incredible series LAN wins over elite teams. It’s about the politics and web of relationships stopping them from doing so. With regions around the world, even their kindred regional spirits North America, finding success in the absence of a top French side, the scene has been clambering for a solution.
Ex6tenZ and SmithZz joining G2 alongside KennyS, Bodyy and shox has set the line-up to become great with a select roster move down the line, but in the short-term, has failed to yield results. With Envy roster exploding, a diasporic apEX and NBK, and some young talent, underneath the doggy-paddling of G2, a brooding domestic counterpart has been lurking. Made-up of apEX, NBK, Happy, Rpk, and Zywoo, this potential monster will be playing under the Team Vitality banner and look to do what G2 couldn’t and without the poster-boy superstars KennyS and Shox.
Vitality is what Envy in the last French shuggle should’ve been. In-lieu of not being able to source the traditional ‘tip of the spear’ players, Vitality have sourced the best of the rest, taking a reasonable gamble on Zywoo as their AWPer in doing so. Happy, apEX, Rpk and NBK all have an interwoven history together, from Rpk and NBK having played together on the successful CS:S VeryGames lineup to apEX and Happy winning Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca 2015 in the ever volatile Envy roster of old. The backbone of this side are not strangers to each other, but between the G2 rejects of apEX/NBK and Envy refugees of Happy/Rpk, have had very different playing histories.
To understand Vitality and how they may function, it’s worthwhile to understand some of the throughlines/contextual threads of what each player brings. The dynamic is likely going to see Rpk/apEX towards the front of the fragging pack and together, which is an interesting dynamic on its own to explore given the differences in their most recent past-lineups.
In all of his line-ups, apEX has been righteously type-cast as the dogged entry-fragger. This historical role has existed as a derivative of the ‘third star’ framework. That is, the player who doesn’t necessarily need to post big numbers for his team to win, but will often enough have a big game to push his team over the line or supplement a lacking performance from the primary carry. Interestingly though, as his career and time with G2 waned on, his role in calling mid-round scenarios and actively contributing to macro play increased. He’s been more vocal in interviews about his impact on the teams tactics, and had seemed to be bigger than a linear entry at the end of his time on G2. Alongside happy and NBK, apEX’s mind for the mid-game will be an important supportive layer to aid Zywoo at different points of the round. Or, with two excellent callers at the helm, we could see apEX return back to what apEX has always been best at, finding headshots and having the odd 90+ ADR game in a big series.
If apEX was the hard-done-by entry-fragger, then on the other end of the spectrum was Rpk. In Envy, Rpk was totally centred in their system as the primary star. He was given all the positions he wanted, had say in calling timings around his individual plays and would enter sites second or third, baiting off of ScreaM and xms. This was encouraged in Envy for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, they lacked sorely for consistent win conditions elsewhere. It wasn’t as though ScreaM, happy, xms or SIXER could regularly post monstrous games and close rounds. While Rpk mightn’t of been the best player in the world at this job, in Envy he was. Second, Rpk overtime became a legit top ten rifler in the world at points on that roster. There was no reason to ever shuffle the system away from the Rpk focus because Rpk actually was quite good at being the carry relative to the rest of the side. In Vitality, with apEX likely being the hard-entry, Rpk will be given the same T-role as he had on Envy. The same though, mightn’t be said for his CT-play as with NBK and Zywoo on the team, there could be more demand on specific spots.
For Rpk, Vitality will be his true test as an international entity: given the same spots and responsibility, but not the same love and care - will he rise? Given his importance in essentially being that middle-round glue, how Rpk will answer this question will also likely answer Vitality’s immediate run of form upon launching into officials.
The difference between Rpk and apEX’s recent career up until joining Vitality is profound, but it’s also representative of the differences Vitality as a whole will have to reconcile. Zywoo lacks experience on an international stage, but has four veteran hands to guide him up to a confident level. His ability to perform in a relatively high pressure role while being surrounded by players whose collective pro experience outnumbers years he’s been alive will be a challenge. Another contrast exists between that of Happy and NBK, both callers in their time, round-closers, major champions and vocal about how to play the game. It’s been years since they’ve played together, and while respect may exist between them, time spent away is time spent further developing a unique approach. Hopefully between them, and the team as a whole, their inherent skill ceiling and need for a top French team will transcend any differences that may arise in getting there.