After conquering the world, Vitality look toward the future

Luís Mira

Team Vitality co-owner Neo and CS:GO duo apEX and Magisk spoke with Dexerto about the off-season roster changes and the reasoning behind moving on from dupreeh.

Entering the player break, Vitality had what in traditional sports is described as a good headache. Or, as Vitality co-founder and owner Fabien ‘Neo’ Devide put it, “a problem of rich people”.

Vitality had ended the tournament season as the No.1 team in the world, finally breaking their Major duck and giving Mathieu ‘ZywOo’ Herbaut the trophy he had been chasing since he started playing — and in front of the organization’s own fans, in Paris, no less.

With a solid foundation to build upon, Vitality looked set to keep the same roster heading into the off-season. After all, if something isn’t broken, why try to fix it?

But then that tweet happened.

Player agent Jérôme Coupez’s tweet announcing that Shahar ‘flameZ⁠’ Shushan was exploring his options set in motion a chain of events that ended with Vitality signing the young Israeli to replace Peter ‘dupreeh’ Rasmussen, the winningest player in CS:GO Major history.

Vitality picked up flameZ in the off-season, replacing veteran dupreeh

It was a matter of opportunity, with flameZ’s OG deal about to expire and many elite teams vying for his signature. With the Israeli’s arrival, Vitality bring the team’s average age down by nearly two years to 24.3 as they look to build towards a future with Counter-Strike 2 in mind. At the same time, they add more firepower to the squad with the sort of selfless entry-fragger player they had been missing.

Shortly before the ‘Match of LeGGends’ showmatch against NAVI in Berlin, Neo, Dan ‘apEX’ Madesclaire, and Emil ‘Magisk’ Reif sat down with Dexerto to talk at length about this roster change and what it means for the team’s future. This conversation has been edited for clarity.

Changing a player after winning a Major is not something that a lot of teams have done. What was the logic behind the move, and when did you start considering this possibility?

Neo: We are working with cycles. I think that’s a really weird name for it, but this is what we are doing most of the time. When I contacted zonic, I told him that the main objective of Vitality was to be a Major winner at some point because my only responsibility as owner was making sure that ZywOo would become a champion on the biggest stages. It was the reason why we built this team and switched to international. We had ups and downs in 2022, we didn’t have the best year. I think everyone has stepped up massively in 2023, but we wanted to be future-proof and ahead of the curve. For us, it was also about having our final version and final lineup for CS2, and it was also the next step forward to be sure that we can project ourselves in a new two-year cycle.

And the opportunity became public with flameZ — I think it was through his agent on Twitter. dupreeh is a fantastic player, he was doing a great job and we were not sure that we wanted to make a change, it was only if we had a crazy good opportunity, with a player who fit our playstyle and identity, and that also ensured that we could maybe be a bit more future-oriented. For us, the opportunity was addressed by the staff after the tweet of Jérôme Coupez, his agent, and then it became an internal discussion between the coaching staff and ourselves about what we should do, the timing and stuff. From the outside, it looks a bit unfair, because dupreeh didn’t deserve to leave in that way, after winning such a great event and playing that well, but we thought it was the best for the project, even if, on an emotional level, it was really complicated to do and a really hard decision to make as an organization.

What was dupreeh’s reaction like, when you spoke with him? Did he understand that it was a business decision?

Neo: dupreeh is a great professional, with a perfect work ethic. To be honest, of course he was surprised — and I don’t want to speak on his behalf — and felt that it was probably not 100 percent deserved, and he thought that this team had more to show and to prove. And I agree, he was not wrong. It was just an opportunity that we had, and he understood the business decision and the opportunity that it represented. He reacted like a champion because he is a f**king champion of the game and pure class. He was definitely upset and thought that the team could do more with him, but, at the same time, he understood our point of view. I have massive respect for him.

What are your first impressions of flameZ? How is his integration going?

apEX: I’m not going to lie, we haven’t had much time yet. We have only had three days of practice because we wanted to get some rest after the big season we had. But we can see that flameZ is really motivated. The good thing is that he’s asking a lot of questions and trying to fit into the system as well as possible. I don’t want to talk bullsh*t. I don’t know much about him. I will get to know him with time. But he’s surely a great piece and a really nice human being. We have known him for some time because we saw each other in tournaments. He’s a really good human being and really easy to talk to. I think it will be kind of easy to fit him. I don’t know if it’s going to work out immediately, but he’s really nice and ready to put in the hours to fit into the team. He also knows the opportunity he has, to play for a team like ours, because we’ve been doing really well. For him, it’s also a really nice opportunity, one that he deserves.

Magisk: As Dan said already, it’s too soon to say. From three days of practice, you don’t get the full picture. I think the most important part is finding out how he likes to play and him finding out how we play. I think in the beginning, with Spinx, we made the mistake of not being aligned in terms of what we expected from him and what he expected from us. I think that’s definitely something that we’re trying to take with us and finding out how flameZ wants to play the roles and how we expect him to play those roles, and then finding out the best way to play. I think in the future we will definitely see his full potential, but that will take time, and no one can expect him to perfectly fit into the team after a few months. We saw that with Spinx. Sometimes it takes a lot of time, sometimes it takes less. I definitely think we will have to see with time. Overall, he is a hard-working guy and he’s really motivated, and that’s always good for a team, when you have a young guy who is really motivated and has a lot of things he wants to achieve. I think it’s time to see his full potential.

On a personal level, you played with dupreeh for many years and you won many tournaments together. What does it feel like to part ways with him after so many years, and where do you see his career taking him next?

Magisk: It’s always tough to lose a good friend and good teammate. It’s never fun. We achieved a lot of good stuff together. We also went through bad periods together. Losing a teammate like that is never easy, but it’s part of the industry. You have to be professional and you have to understand that, sometimes, these decisions are out of your hands. With that said, I think it’s important to say that investing in the future is never a bad idea. Obviously, I’m sad that I’m losing a good teammate and a good friend because he is a gem and he can be a valuable asset to a lot of teams. It’s quite difficult finding a person like dupreeh, especially in a professional scene like this. He’s really professional, he handles a lot of stuff with a big smile and, in that sense, he can contribute to a lot of teams. I hope the best for him in the future and I hope he finds a team that suits him well. He definitely deserves it. He’s a strong player and, on a human level, he’s just a really good person. I have nothing bad to say about him. After so many years, you’d imagine I could find a lot of bad stuff, but it’s really difficult about Peter. Of course, I’m sad about Peter, but I also look forward to getting to know flameZ as a person and as a teammate. I’m looking forward to the future because I definitely think there’s a lot we can achieve as a team.

Magisk and dupreeh played together for five years, on Astralis and Vitality

Talking a bit about flameZ and what he brings to the team. He’s more of an aggressive entry-fragger — something that maybe you were lacking a little bit with the previous roster. When JACKZ played for the team in EPL, did you realize that you needed a player like this?

apEX: To be honest, the period before JACKZ, playing a bit faster and with more explosion was a big tough because dupreeh is not that kind of entry-fragger, who can go in first. It wasn’t the plan to do that with him at the beginning. When JACKZ stood in, I told zonic that I knew how to use him and that we would play really fast during the group stage because I knew that this guy was fearless and really good aim-wise, so I thought it would be easy to use him like that. So we did it that way, and it worked out pretty well. Then, I had a talk with zonic about how my style as a caller is to call a bit faster. We were playing way too slowly, in my opinion, and then, when we took JACKZ, I could see that playing fast is easier and is good for me as well. I had always done that in the French teams.

I went to zonic and told him we had to have Peter do this role more and have him be someone who can run in first with me more. I was kind of the only one able to do that. While dupreeh was at home, he could watch JACKZ play, and he understood what he had to do. We changed dupreeh into more of an entry-fragger role and it worked out well for us. For flameZ, it comes more naturally and I think that’s good as well. But dupreeh did a really good job after we asked him to do it. Right after EPL, he improved a lot, and you can see that in his stats. I think he understood his role. He wasn’t the old dupreeh like in Astralis and we didn’t need that from him anymore. We had ZywOo, we had Spinx and also Emil, all of whom could put in the numbers. We just needed someone that could sacrifice himself and also be good at big tournaments, and that’s what he did. But now, we have in flameZ someone in this role in a more natural way. For him, it’s normal to run in first.

If for some reason, you couldn’t get flameZ, would you have signed a different player or would you have kept the roster as it was?

Neo: I think we would have kept the same players. We were not in a hurry to make a change. It was not our initial plan or our initial thought. Of course, when you have — I’m sorry, Dan — 30-year-old players, you are starting to question yourself because at some point, Spinx, Zywoo, they are 22, and Emil is 24.

apEx: 25.

Magisk: I’m getting older, sorry [laughs].

Neo: Sorry [laughs]. You have to surround them with [players from] the same generation. Of course, we had a lot of question marks with older players, and also with the transition to a new game. Usually, when there’s a new game, most of the time the youngsters take over because they are hungry, they can play like crazy without thinking about anything else. It was definitely in our mind but not a top priority. The only reason we made this change was for a player that we liked and that ticked all the boxes. I think flameZ was this kind of player, one who gave us a headache. It was like a problem of rich people, when you have a winning team, a Major-winning team, and then you can add a top prospect. It was a really tough conversation. Money-wise, opportunity-wise, future-wise, everything was aligned to make the move. Sometimes, you need to make hard decisions. I’m not afraid to make them because this is what we try to build with Vitality.

We want to make sure that we are at the top every year, and the thing I’m the proudest of right now is that we have been top 5 or top 3 almost always since we joined Counter-Strike. This kind of commitment and legacy, this is something that I’m really proud of. Right now, winning one Major gives us more appetite to win another one. In the beginning, you’re aiming for one, and then, when you have one, you want 10. That’s exactly what we’re trying to build, but with a lot of modesty and stuff like that. In esports, everything changes super fast, so we need to make sure we have plenty of time. Adding flameZ right now makes sense because there’s no Major at the end of the year. It’s a transition to the new game, and having a lot of time with a rookie to give him the right habits and methods is also great. Usually, in esports you don’t have time. Our main objective, and the main goal of this team, is to win Majors. So having eight months in front of us is also a luxury.

What are your expectations for the new season, now that you have a new player? How long do you think it will take to be at 100% with flameZ?

apEX: I really don’t know. We haven’t talked about it yet. I prefer having a team talk about that. For sure, we are one of the most exciting teams to watch. Having this young gun with us is adding even more firepower to the team, I would say. But I have no idea how long it will take. I don’t want to say two months, one month, or six months. I have no clue. We need to see. We have only been playing for a few days, and I cannot say much about that. Let’s see how long it will take. I wish we could be ready for Cologne, but if that happens it will be more like a one-shot than a team effort. I think we can be really good there, but most likely we won’t. We will have a lot of tournaments in the next two months without a lot of practice. We’re going to work a bit here and there. It’s going to be tough, for sure.

What are your thoughts on the off-season changes? In your opinion, which teams made the best changes?

apEX: It’s not done yet, but Cloud9. If they pick up electroNic and Perfecto, I think it’s going to be crazy. Individually, it can be something really great. I think they may have won the off-season. So many teams have changed so much, so I don’t know what to expect. NAVI changed three players, MOUZ changed two. A lot of teams have changed a lot of guys. FURIA as well. This off-season was the craziest we’ve ever had. Seeing NAVI going international when they have a crazy scene around them — but, obviously, with the war it’s pretty tough to take in Russian players. It’s crazy to see this many changes. It’s exciting. If the Cloud9 rumor is true, they are going to be one of the teams you have to be the most scared of.

Magisk: I think it’s really difficult to say who’s going to be the winner and who’s going to be the loser. There have been too many changes and a lot of teams have changed a lot. I think there are many big question marks. NAVI is going to be a big question mark. You basically have no idea. It really depends on the team chemistry, how they are going to fit together. In the beginning, when we became international, it was so much different because you have different cultures. I’m not sure people are ready for that, I’m not sure people understand the importance of aligning cultures and finding how to work together.

apEX: And playing the same CS. Thinking CS the same way.

Magisk: That takes time. You have no idea. They might be good for two months, but then, when reality hits, they start having problems, and they start not performing. How are they going to react? That’s the big question. I think Cloud9, if it’s true, is definitely exciting. But I also think it’s going to be difficult because you’re going to have a lot of star personalities. You’re going to have a guy like electroNic, he will probably have to sacrifice a lot compared to what he is used to. Is that going to interfere? He has also tried to be the in-game leader. It’s be a big question mark because there are so many star personalities. Perfecto is a really good anchor player but he’s not really an entry anchor. Who’s going to go in first? Ax1Le is not an entry-fragger, sh1ro is definitely not an entry-fragger. It’s really difficult to say how it’s going to work. That is definitely a team that could be really dangerous if they make it work. I have no idea, mate. It’s difficult to say what is going to happen.

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