This isn’t the first time that the French scene tries to rely on interbreeding and cross-trades to create a team that is finally more than just the sum of its parts. Like the Habsburgs of old, their efforts yielded less and less results over time until new blood was introduced. However, this roster shuffle promises to be very different to the ones we’ve seen in the past: it looks like everyone’s in agreement that there isn’t enough domestic talent to create more than one effective team, as evidenced by G2’s attempts to go international. A lot more money is required to make a move, a plethora of international free agents are vying for spots all over the place and the dead weight has finally been cleared out – not to mention the fact that there’s a legitimate superstar to plan around.
It took less than a day after Vitality were eliminated from the Berlin major to depose NBK- from the active roster, cementing his slow-motion fall from grace in the side. Don’t forget that he started out as the full-time in-game leader when the side was formed, then slowly handed over partial calling responsibilities to ALEX, eventually reaching the point where he had to be judged by his frags rather than veterancy. Of course, the story is never this simple, and he was in fact the only player alongside ZywOo to show up in the early stages of the event, something that should be kept in mind even when evaluating his admittedly horrible performance against AVANGAR. As many in the commentariat have already established, the current Vitality side basically started out as his pet project, and his sudden removal is sure to generate further resentment in the already drama-dominated French scene.
Then again, maybe a bit of ruthlessness is exactly what’s been missing from the mixture all this time. It took years to realize that the presence of players like HappY or SmithZz limit your potential (either due to the fact that they were fully figured out or that they were not effective enough on an individual level), and it’s no coincidence that it was the same timeframe it took for a new generation of talent to arrive. The interlocking and petty nature of the French shuffles were a puzzle with no real solution, and it took brand new talent (and a British IGL) to kickstart the growth we’ve seen in 2019.
There’s also no longer the illusion that the country has enough of a talent pool to support multiple top-tier teams. This is also evidenced by the fact that G2 are looking to turn international, with rumors flying around that they’re courting parts of the CR4ZY lineup. It makes sense, even if raiding a fellow 2-3 New Legends Stage finisher doesn’t exactly scream ambition. Name recognition aside, kennyS and shox are not what they used to be, at least in the sense that they can’t carry as hard against top sides as they’ve done in the past. The results are simply not there to justify such an approach. Right now, it looks like Vitality will be the French team, stockpiling as much of the individual talent as possible as others look for players elsewhere.
Of course, tantalizing questions remain. Precedent is not on Vitality’s side when it comes to integrating shox in this kind of a fashion, with a dedicated IGL and a better individual player already there to begin with. The move seems like a huge risk and a downgrade from a team chemistry perspective, and it will be one of the most interesting storylines for the rest of the year for sure. NBK- is without a doubt worthy of a spot on a top team, but one has to wonder about the available slots going forward. The FaZe logo flickers in the mind as you consider the possibilities. Similarly, kioShiMa is still out in the cold looking in, not quite setting the world on fire so far in New York but putting himself in the shop window nevertheless.
With all pairings split up and new talents changing the calculus, it’s a brave new world for French Counter-Strike as we collectively step into the unknown of the post-Berlin major world. Last time around, financial realities blocked many of the tantalizing roster moves and Astralis’ total dominance dampened the hype around the possibilities in the rest of the top ten. There’s so much more in flux right now, big-money moves, big-name orgs and mouth-watering prospects to look at. If the ubiquitous French shuffles become less insular as part of this process, their own CS scene will be all the better for it.
Photo credit: HLTV