Vitality is a team designed by one of the greatest minds in French Counter-Strike and fuelled by soon-to-be one of its most prodigious talents. On-paper, with names like Rpk, NBK, and apEX, Vitality oozes prestige. Historical winds fill the sails of fan’s expectations, and jaw-dropping highlights from their superstar ZywOo teases a course towards promised land. With so much narrative clout and hype, they’re a team that demands attention, but often it’s mischaracterizing, or at least, distracting from what they really are.
Are we framing them as a line-up with two ex-major winners, one of the hottest superstar talents in the game and looking to revive a once great region? Or is Vitality a team that should be content with sitting at the bottom of the top ten, occasionally punching up to find upsets against top five teams?
Vitality’s overall feel undoubtedly comes from the mind of NBK. They deploy many set-pieces on T-side, play active, thoughtful mid-rounds and strive towards executing a logical branch of Counter-Strike. “They actually have the fundamentals down,” said SPUNJ on the analyst desk in Katowice. “This might be the first time in maybe forever that we’ve seen a French team actually playing the modern meta and make it work.” This more structured approach, however, is heavily contrasted by the individual tendencies in the team.
RpK, apEX and ZywOo are more aggressively inclined players who tend to play more as individuals and less as a unit. This sees Vitality often find the opening kill in a round on T-side, but fail to convert this into a round win. “It's quite surprising for us how bad our T sides have been, because they had been pretty good online, especially T Inferno,” said ALEX at Katowice. “I think it's not down to the gameplan, it's more down to individuals not doing what we should be doing.” This was especially prevalent at IEM Katowice as they started to have their game tested by increasingly higher ranked opposition. This could be seen statistically, as well. Vitality, before the playoffs, had the highest percentage of opening kills in a round on T-side, but the fourth lowest conversion of 5v4 rounds into wins.
Vitality were 1st in opening kill % but had the 4th lowest 5v4 round win % prior to the playoffs in Kato.— Max (@max_melit) February 27, 2019
Renegades with the 4th lowest opk% but 3rd highest 5v4%.
Superstars make games easier but they don't out-right get you series. Just one piece of the puzzle. pic.twitter.com/VaM36mKWbO
Vitality’s lack of cohesion, in this sense, is the big asterisk next to their potential rise out of the tier two. As NRG displayed last year, and Renegades and ENCE both have at IEM Katowice, the current era of play demands more than just star talent. The most successful of the tier two sides are those who play greater than the sum of their parts and look to be efficient with their firepower. The wins ENCE and Renegades found at Katowice were done on the back of solid, punishing play with good, but often not great, individual performances across the board. The fragging of Vitality feels either too inconsistent or top-heavy for them to consistently compete at that top eight level. At least, by what we’ve seen in their first few LANs as a side.
While Vitality might not have the teamplay as some of the teams they strive to beat, they can still separate themselves apart through the services of ZywOo. Where Renegades and ENCE have a finely tuned system, Vitality have a burgeoning superstar that can take over games. While he had a quieter major than what we expected, ZywOo has proven himself over the last three months to be one of the most mechanically gifted players in the world and a confidence to match. On the analyst desk in Katowice, seangares went as far to praise ZywOo’s ability by saying that if “you put ZywOo on a team that’s solidly in the top ten, they become a top three team in the world. That’s how good I think ZywOo is.”
Visually, it’s hard not to get caught up in this wave of hype. ZywOo is able to find frags and move around the map in a way that is only comparative to the absolute apex of AWPers. He is dominant in a way that defies belief and can convert even the most staunch critic.
In this sense, stock should placed in Vitality when considering them both conceptually and in-reality. Broadly, they’re striving towards a more textbook, fundamentally sound approach. In-practice, they lack the teamplay to make this work. In-lieu of cohesion though, they have a young, potentially game breaking superstar AWPer who is often joined by either NBK or apEX to force games through skill. Over time, the hope is that these two different levels of their game can come together; that the inherent skill and experience of the line-up can develop and integrate into NBK’s vision for their approach.
As Vitality consistently show against lower tiered sides, and also against Na`Vi, there is definitely the groundwork for this unification of win conditions to occur. But with already a roster change in the first four months as a side, and the issues they started to show at Katowice, there’s definitely fault-lines as well.
The next few months will be important for Vitality. We know they can take big names, and good teams in-form close, but their only victories are still over lower-tiered opposition. They still need to run the gauntlet of many closed online qualifiers to get to LAN and may not be attending big events consistently. Whether they become scary to teams in groups at big LANs or just in the playoffs of a Dreamhack open event will become apparent with their next few tournament results.