EnVyUs: The Puzzle in Blue

The Boys In Blue could be interpreted as a cautionary tale that roster changes are not always the answer to seemingly unsolvable issues and can in fact lead to larger problems down the line.

Regardless of how bad things got during Fabien “kioShiMa” Fiey’s tenure in the team – and that stretch in early 2016 included placings such as the 1-4 run at ESL Barcelona, where they were admittedly set up to play Fnatic three times, and a last place finish at IEM Katowice, leading to the Frenchman’s dismissal – the team was still defending major champions when it brought in Timothée “DEVIL” Démolon. And they had taken Fnatic down in two group stage best-of-three series at ESL ESEA Pro League Season 2 Finals in December, and at SL i-League StarLadder XIV Finals in January. At a time when Fnatic was unbeatable, EnVyUs remained their kryptonite.

In the history of CS:GO, the only other defending major champion to have made a roster change prior to defending its title was Ninjas in Pyjamas in 2014 following ESL One Cologne – when Robin “Fifflaren” Johansson chose to retire in early November, following a group stage exit at ESWC. We may never find out whether kioShiMa was the problem, but we do now know that DEVIL certainly is not the solution – not by himself, anyway.

In 2016, Kenny “kennyS” Schrub has continued performing at a godly level, which – together with apEX’s sudden ascent to early LDLC and Titan era level of play – helped the Frenchmen win Gfinity Invitational this past weekend in Birmingham. Vincent “Happy” Schopenhauer’s individual level of play has cratered this year, though you would not know by looking at his never-changing facial expressions.

DEVIL has arguably improved as the year has went on, but still frankly seems out of his depth competing with EnVyUs. Finally, the former Swiss army knife of the Counter-Strike world and one of the more versatile players in the world, Nathan “NBK” Schmitt, has had his own struggles – though they may be more a product of his environment, given the fluctuations as he can also reach high levels of play at times.

In an earlier tweet I alluded to the fact that EnVyUs seems to have sizable dis-synergies as a team. Great teams are better than the sum of their parts, whereas the opposite seems to be the case with the Puzzle In Blue. This roster boasts some of the best talent in the world in kennyS, apEX, Happy and NBK, and yet they still struggle looking like a top-tier team – at least too much of the time.

Some say the team has lost its hunger, given a comfortable salary with regular additional paychecks from leagues with revenue sharing, and events such as ELEAGUE that pay every participant. I have no insight to their inner workings, but certainly it is clear something is missing. There have been rumors of a potential French Shuffle 3.0 throughout the year, but given G2’s success there has been little reason for it to go through so far.

Assuming the contracts of EnVyUs and G2 expire at the end of the year – which, by the way, is no more a safe assumption in the era of organizations wanting to lock down their players for as long as possible, even at a higher price point and some additional risk – we could technically see changes at the end of this year, right in time for the roster lock ahead of ELEAGUE’s major on January 22-29.

Still, today it makes little sense for an organization to let go of talents such as kennyS or NBK. FaZe’s entire business plan for its CS:GO team seems to be accumulating assets – in this case contracts – and then selling them off as spare parts to the highest bidders. As far as business goes, that can be highly profitable – just look at how many contracts G2 unloaded before signing the current French team from free agency.

Happy is the team’s oldest player at just 24 years of age – compared to the likes of Virtus.pro and NiP, it is easy to forget just how young the Boys In Blue are. In a perfect world, all of these players would have at least five more years of professional Counter-Strike ahead of them – and perhaps more. But it would be hard to argue against this likely being the peak of their powers. I would suggest you ask someone who fell from the top, but EnVyUs can simply think back to late 2015. They know how fleeting success can be.

In late November last year, almost exactly ten months ago, I wrote about what I believed were EnVyUs’s issues after its major win. My hypothesis then was that EnVyUs achieved its success too easily for its own good, leading to complacency and not necessarily learning how to work out any issues, if there were none initially. If that were the case, it would still make sense today – because they would lack the experience of making the team work from issues, when things do not click.

In a way, that is not too dissimilar to what I wrote about GODSENT days ago, only that EnVyUs presumably has the right pieces – a great AWPer, one of the best entry fraggers, and perhaps the world’s best role player. But they too have changed in-game leaders a number of times, further suggesting they may be out of ideas. And Happy’s leadership has been questioned more times than I can remember by now, though his very thoughtful interview from January still makes me think he could right the ship.

This past weekend’s Gfinity win proves EnVyUs still does have what it takes, regardless of earlier issues. But as NBK has said, this is not a team built for quarterfinal exits – they expect to win, and nothing else. Can they continue this way? For how long?

I still do not know what to make of EnVyUs. To me, they remain a Puzzle In Blue.

Cover photo by Carlton Beener/ESL, eslgaming.com

lurppis is a former professional Counter-Strike player whose team was ranked the world's best in 2007 and who led Evil Geniuses for two years. Since retiring, he has been an active member of the media.

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