After BLAST showing, ZywOo is keen to end Vitality’s ugly Katowice record
Vitality star Mathieu ‘ZywOo’ Herbaut spoke with Dexerto about his goals for 2023 as the team prepares to play at IEM Katowice.
ZywOo hopes that the fourth time will be the charm.
IEM Katowice has always been a thorn in Vitality’s side. In 2019, 2020, and 2022, ZywOo was powerless to prevent his team from crashing out of the tournament before the playoffs. Even in the pandemic-hit 2021 edition, held entirely online, the team couldn’t go beyond the group stage.
ZywOo is determined to end that streak and finally set foot on the Spodek Arena stage.
“For Vitality, Katowice has not been the greatest of tournaments,” he told Dexerto last month. “It’s really important for the team’s confidence that we have a good start to the year.
“If we have a good start, maybe we’re going to be stronger, individually and tactically.”
The early signs are positive, with Vitality topping their group in the BLAST Premier Spring Groups after beating Astralis, Evil Geniuses, and world No.1 Heroic. That run gave the team an extra few days to prepare for IEM Katowice as they skipped the BLAST gauntlets, while it also installed them as one of a number of potential candidates for the title in Poland.
The first half of 2022 was marked by FaZe’s dominance, but the narrative changed after the summer break. ESL Pro League 16, the IEM Rio Major, the BLAST Premier Fall Final, and the BLAST Premier World Final each crowned a different champion, which ZywOo views as a positive thing for the scene.
“I’m happy to see that any team can win,” he said. “It’s not like the Astralis era, the Liquid era, or the NAVI era. Anyone can win a tournament right now, also because the level of CS is really close right now.
“It’s really hard to win trophies right now. When we don’t play as we did in our good moments, it’s going to be really hard to win games.”
Fixing what is wrong
2022 was a difficult year for Vitality, despite the high-profile arrivals of Peter ‘dupreeh’ Rasmussen, Emil ‘Magisk’ Reif and coach Danny ‘zonic’ Sørensen. The glaring communication issues took their toll on the team, which looked out of sync, bereft of ideas, and over-reliant on ZywOo.
A victory in ESL Pro League Season 16 after the signing of ENCE star Lotan ‘Spinx’ Giladi restored faith in the project, but it was soured by a dismal run that saw them place 12-14th at the Rio Major and 5th-6th at the year-end BLAST Premier World Final.
“We expected more trophies, more victories,” he admitted. “But things didn’t go as we wanted.
“International teams are always hard at the beginning because of the language and all the changes. For me, the language was kind of a barrier at the beginning. I was really bad. Right now, I’m good. I can speak with everyone.
“When we look back at 2022, we are a bit sad about our results. We won EPL but we wanted more. It was up and down.”
ZywOo noted that, while Vitality have not lagged behind their opponents in the tactical department, the team still needs to “click more” on the server. Significant efforts seem to have gone into making sure that Spinx is more involved in the action. After averaging a disappointing 1.03 HLTV rating in his first four months with the team, the Israeli star put in a 1.32 rating in the BLAST Premier groups.
“He is one of the best riflers I have ever played with,” ZywOo said of Spinx. “Vitality and ENCE do not have the same play style, so he had to change [the way he plays] a bit.
“It was hard for him [at first] because he was not used to it, but he’s working hard with apEX. He is also a smart player and is trying his best in every practice and every official match. I have no doubt he can come back stronger. Maybe he will be even better than he was at ENCE.”
An eye on the Major
As important as these first months of 2023 are, ZywOo said that the team has one target in mind for the season: making sure they hit peak form at the BLAST.tv Paris Major in May.
The event will be a landmark occasion for French Counter-Strike, and Vitality — who have only reached the playoffs of a Major twice and have never gone further than the quarter-finals — want to make the most of this opportunity. That includes giving French fans, especially the organization’s ultras, the Golden Hornets, something to cheer about after the country’s scene, once vibrant and flourishing, fell out of the public consciousness.
“It was really sad to see,” ZywOo said of Golden Hornets’ presence in the arena that staged the PGL Major Antwerp playoffs, Antwerps Sportpaleis, where Vitality did not get to play. “I was like, ‘There are only 200 or 300 of them and it feels like there are 5,000 people screaming and cheering for everyone’.
“I think we need to play in front of them to see the power of the Golden Hornets. I was really sad when I was in the FACEIT booth watching the games.”
2022 was another year that left a sour taste in ZywOo’s mouth as his individual brilliance did not translate into major achievements. An impressive 1.42 HLTV rating in the BLAST Premier groups is a strong indicator that the French AWPer remains at the peak of his abilities and will once again contend for the title of the best player in the world, but he insisted that will not mean anything if it does not lead to titles.
“I don’t really care about the HLTV ranking because it’s about one year, it’s not one goal or one precise moment,” he explained. “For me, the goal is going to be to win the Major.
“I don’t set any individual goals. The most important thing is to have team goals. And our goal is to win the Major.”