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EnVyUs: France’s Legacy

Sep 182018

Earlier this year, in the month of June, Team Envy ended their French CS:GO adventure by bidding adieu to the lineup led by Vincent “Happy” Cervoni as well as their Academy team. Thus concluded a four year and two-month long tenure for the Frenchmen and his multiple successive squads under the colors of the North American organization. Now that the curtains have closed and the audience has filed out of the theater, it is time to look back on their journey and put together what it all meant — and what they accomplished.

Red Hot French Players

 

It all began in February 2015. The organization decided to step into the game, not by signing an up and coming team that would climb their way up, but by signing a team who was already at the very top. So, they set their eyes on a squad that was flourishing under the LDLC tag at the time. The quintet led by Happy had secured the first Major victory for France at DreamHack Winter a few months earlier, and they were off a fresh victory at the MLG X Games Aspen in January. This signing was a very big step up for the players, who could then be accompanied by a level of support they had not experienced before. For the organization, this was the best signing they could have hoped for in their first foray into an established game. And so, alongside Happy, they welcomed some of France’s finest, as Édouard “Smithzz” Dubourdeaux, Richard “shox” Papillon, Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey and Nathan “NBK” Schmitt became the Counter-Strike incarnation of the Boys In Blue.

 

The wait for results didn’t last very long after the organization switch. Just a month later, in March, Envy welcomed their first trophy. Alongside a top four at the first Major of the year, ESL One Katowice, the new squad brought home two titles from the Gfinity Spring Masters and the StarLadder StarSeries XII to establish themselves as one of the best teams in the game. During this period, they were a solid lock for the top four of nearly every tournament they entered. Continuing their momentum from the LDLC days, Envy were dispatching opponents left and right with their trademark aggressive style, served by a combination of skill rarely matched in the history of the game, and led by one of the most highly skilled in-game leaders. The loose system that he let his teammates thrive in both rewarded individual initiative, and it provided a source of improvement for players that knew how to develop their ability to maximize their effectiveness by factoring in the key elements of their in-game situation. The result was a unit that was very hard isolate and pick apart, as their unpredictability and firepower neutralized their opponent’s plans.

 

Their main threat that year took the form of Fnatic, a team that went down in history books as one of the most legendary teams to exist in the game. They were an extremely gifted squad in terms of skill, and their leader, Markus “pronax” Wallsten, was excellent at adapting in the middle of games, sometimes even individual rounds. That year went down as the next greatest episode in the France - Sweden rivalry, continuing what started with VeryGames and the Ninjas in Pyjamas a couple of years earlier. Early on, it looked as though Fnatic had the upper hand, as they handed Envy multiple disappointments. At the second Major of the year, ESL One Cologne, both teams reached the finals, and the Swedes managed to defeat the Frenchmen on the grandest stage, in a close finals that had fans of both teams clutching onto their seats. But as the year developed, Envy would return the favor, and most importantly when it mattered the most, in Cluj-Napoca at the DreamHack Major. Taking revenge for Cologne in the quarterfinals, Envy would go on and win their second Major title. And thus they cemented themselves as the best team in the world at the end of the year, for the second time in their existence, and within a year of joining Envy.

 

“When we entered the competitive CS:GO scene in 2015, we knew we were going to help our French lineup achieve amazing things. The players were dedicated and highly skilled and our organization worked around the clock to make sure we achieved something great. The result was double digit international championships including a Major win.”

Mike “Hastr0” Rufail, CEO of Envy Gaming

 

Pro Means Professional

 

As we know by now, 2015 would be their best period in their four and a half years run, as Envy faced multiple challenges from then on. 2016 was still a good year as they earned several top four placements, alongside two gold medals at medium sized events. It was at that time that it became visible how Envy would face the obstacles that came their way in a different manner than what the French scene had become accustomed to.

 

During their trophy-laden run in their first year, Envy were playing with their manager, Jordan “Next” Savelli, behind them during games. While transitioning from LDLC to Envy, they parted ways with their coach Emmanuel “MoMaN” Marquez in the process, and had been without a coach since then. As the first bumps appeared on the road, Envy’s first option was to recruit a new coach, in order to bring a new perspective to their game and someone able to provide more than just emotional and psychological support during matches. In addition to that, and as the issues leaned on the side of strategic opinions, vision differences, and chemistry, they decided to try out Mathieu “Maniac” Quiquerez, after his tenure on Titan ended.  It was the perfect time, too, as he had just completed a master’s degree in institutional and organizational psychology. On paper, the combination of skills that Maniac could bring to Envy suited their situation at that time. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, but the attempt was clearly the right direction, and looked exactly like the right thing to do to improve the squad, so it had to be tested.

 

Shortly after, Envy made another decision that was in stark contrast to the practices of the French scene. One criticism back then, that is still sometimes mentioned these days, was that French teams are built up out of the same ten to twelve players, trying to find combinations that worked within the same group of people. Early in 2016, Envy broke the cycle and decided to look elsewhere for a fifth after they parted with kioShiMa. His replacement would be Timothée “DEVIL” Demolon, picked from one of the two lineups that LDLC was fielding at the time. It was the first time in a long time that a rookie was given the opportunity to climb a step in the French hierarchy. More than just a promotion for DEVIL, this was a key change in the French approach to building teams where finding a fifth with the right skillset, even if it meant having to help him develop in the process, was seen as a better option than yet another shuffle with Titan, now known as G2 Esports. G2 themselves followed the same path just a month later, when they signed Alexandre “bodyy” Pianaro to replace Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans.

 

It was also during that year that the scene began to witness top teams sign a second team, usually labelled “Academy”. Bigger teams picked up some of their country’s most promising players in order to help them develop their career and become valuable additions to the main team should they change their lineup. The concept had already been tested on a smaller scale for a year or two, but this was the year where marquee teams like Fnatic and North decided to invest heavily in Academy teams. Envy brought that concept to France early in 2017, when they launched EnVyUs Academy, with the goal of leveraging the talent pool in the lower tiers of French CS. The recruitment of DEVIL, although mature in its approach, didn’t bear the fruits Envy had hoped. The key lesson that was learned was that despite the best intentions and planning, the addition of a player may as well be alchemy, with the result, sometimes failure, only evident after the lineup has already played together for a while. Next and Hastr0 would realize that recruiting the right player could be a daunting task and that no matter how prepared, there was still some luck involved in finding a player who was the right fit for the team. 

 

An Academy is one way to solve this challenge, by preparing the next generation of players, and by shaping them along the way so that they can be a direct fit in the main lineup. Players from the Academy team would already know the playstyle of their big brother team, they would be ready in the need for a stand-in, or should anyone decide to stop and retire. 

 

Thus, early in 2017, Envy welcomed five new players under their Academy project, and started to help them develop their careers. The team would notably cement themselves as one of the best local teams, winning the ESL National Championship twice in France. That project bore fruits for the main team in 2018, as Envy decided to replace Christopher “SIXER” Xia, and promoted Ali “hAdji” Haïnouss from their Academy. This was an instantaneous step up in his career, and he proved that he could make the jump and land it with aplomb. 

 

Although this benefited Envy directly, this also helped the scene prepare for the future as it created a precedent for the local scene to have a healthy infrastructure to help up and coming players. Envy helped encourage a scene that tried to be proactive in the way new players come in, instead of just waiting for the next polished diamond to emerge. It was a long term plan that bore fruit almost immediately. 

 

“Being in Envy was a real step in professionalism. We entered a sort of new realm with the input they had at the time which was the most an org could offer in CS:GO.”

Nathan “NBK” Schmitt, ex-Team Envy player

Do, not Die

 

While Envy’s younger days were undoubtedly more successful, the organization still accomplished much in its latter years, just on a different scale. It's clear that Envy is a story of determination; Happy and Co. tried to find solutions for the team and for the scene, at times by changing players, roles, playstyles, you name it. The team kept on going despite the events of late 2016 and early 2017, during the inception of the French super team that would eventually end up in G2 Esports. While Envy had lost the advantage when it came to selecting the individuals they wanted, they remained focused on making the most of what was possible at the time.

 

That isn’t to say that the team necessarily worked on a smaller budget. They reinvested resources into their Academy project. This was a long-term project that required a lot of work, and it was not as simple as signing young players to wear a jersey and hoping for the best. It was a new team which needed its own management, but also the commitment of the main team and staff so that this new entity could learn, progress, and develop parallel to the main squad. For Envy, that meant that in a team that was already working around the clock to climb the ranks, there was also time to be invested by Happy, their coach maleK, and their manager, Next, into teaching their Academy teams the valuable lessons they themselves learned from their experience. 

 

The message was clear: if we can’t sign the best players, then we’ll make the best players. As a long term endeavor, results weren’t guaranteed to come quickly, if at all. However, we now know that it was the right course of action, not just for developing tomorrow's stars, but also for the main team. Envy had once again grown in a different way in the presence of adversity. 

 

Such work took place in the context of a team that had already reached the pinnacle of CS:GO in the past, and was determined to do it again despite all of the challenges that stood in front of them. In that case, Envy played for the long haul, not afraid to go the extra mile, instead of purely relying on roster changes as soon as something went wrong.

 

“I think the main takeaway I carry on with me is experience. I've been through all with Envy. The very memorable moments where we kept grinding to the top and achieving that goal for a very long period of time, and also the downs, where the team wasn't functioning and you have to work twice as hard to fix it.”

Vincent “Happy” Cervoni, Team Envy captain

 

An Envyable Legacy

 

By the time that Envy’s last act in France came to a close, they had tried everything. Yes, there were failures, but it is impossible to deny the impact they’ve had in the country’s scene.

 

"Although we weren't getting the results we wanted during our 2017-2018 seasons, we could always look back on the legacy we created and be proud of what we have accomplished. Very few teams can say they were the best in the world and we absolutely can make that claim.”

Mike “Hastr0” Rufail

 

First, they made their dreams a reality. A second Major title, a second period on top of the world; this was everything for France and they were the pride of the nation for a long time. During their apex, it was a never ending rollercoaster of positive emotions for the fans, both in France and around the world. Despite the criticism they received in the later iterations of the team, it remains true that no other French team has been able to surpass their legacy in the game, and very few teams in the world have a resume as prestigious as theirs in terms of success, Major trophies, and overall achievements. Envy represented the best that France could offer.

 

“Envy is what brought France a second major, that is something unforgettable.”

Vincent “Happy” Cervoni

 

Secondly, with their contributions to the development of the French scene, Envy became a team that gave opportunities to multiple semi-pro players and helped them develop their careers. DEVIL and Alexandre “xms” Forté had that opportunity thanks to Envy, who also furthered the careers of their Academy players, notably Audric “JACKZ” Jug, who is now making waves with 3DMAX in the European scene. The Academy team was also the home of hAdji for a time before his promotion to the main team. This kickstarted his career at the elite European level, as he is now one of the key players of a European team, Imperial, alongside other rising talents such as the Lithuanian prodigy Rokas “EspiranTo” Milasauskas.

 

Finally, Envy was a home. The home of nearly every top French player at some point in the last four and a half years, from the early lineups that won multiple tournaments and a major, to the latter ones that also fielded, at times, the CS Source legend Cédric “RpK” Guipouy, or the Belgian headshot virtuoso Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom. The organization gave its player an incredible level of support, and it showed that no matter how difficult it could be a times for the lineup, they could count on a support structure that was behind them through thick and thin.

 

“We had an amazing run, amazing historical rosters, hands down some of my best memories in CS.”

Nathan “NBK” Schmitt
 

Envy changed the lives of every French player that wore its jersey. They set a precedent for the professionalism of French teams, in terms of roster experimentation and testing periods, the prioritization of long-term solutions and investments into the future rather than taking the easy road. Though this is the end of the story for now, Envy will always be a part of French Counter-Strike history.

 

“I've not been in a lot of organizations but I will always consider Envy as my home, this is where I grew up as a player and as a person, and I will always be grateful for that opportunity.”

Vincent “Happy” Cervoni

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