In a candid interview with Dexerto, Kenny ‘kennyS’ Schrub, one of Counter-Strike’s all-time greats, opened up about his mental health problems and in-game struggles. He is looking to return to competition and does not rule out a switch to Valorant if the CS:GO doors are completely shut on him.
KennyS can pinpoint exactly the moment when his career started to derail.
It was September 2017, and his G2 Esports team had just lifted the DreamHack Masters Malmö trophy after beating North convincingly in a two-map affair.
KennyS was named the MVP of the tournament, but he didn’t feel like celebrating. He was fighting internal demons at the time, retirement thoughts rattling around in his head.
“Before the event, I gathered my team and told them I didn’t want to play the game anymore,” kennyS told Dexerto. “I told them that I was going to make a decision during the tournament. I wanted to retire at this point.
“I had no fun winning the tournament or the MVP. I should have. I had a really weird mindset at this time. I won the tournament, I was the MVP and I was not happy.
“Now that I look back, I should have opened two bottles of champagne and poured it all over me, but that wasn’t the case.”
That was the last time kennyS won an MVP medal or a tier-one trophy.
He kept on playing, not because he had a change of heart, but because he didn’t know what else to do. He also didn’t want his career to end on such a sour note, fearing that he might regret what would have been “an emotional decision.”
But the problems didn’t go away, and his game began to suffer as he “fell into a depression”. “I had some good tournaments, some bad tournaments, some really good months, some bad months,” he admitted. “I became really inconsistent.”
Once one of the game’s most reliable AWPers, kennyS started to quietly fade into the background.
Rise and fall
KennyS burst onto the Counter-Strike scene at the tail end of Source’s lifespan, transitioning to CS:GO in the summer of 2012 alongside the rest of the VeryGames squad. Between 2013 and 2017, he appeared on every HLTV Top 20 player ranking (three times inside the top 10) and racked up ten MVP medals, one of which from the DreamHack Open Cluj-Napoca 2015 Major that he won with Envy.
By late 2017, kennyS’ MVP tally was only matched by Christopher ‘GeT_RiGhT’ Alesund, who had won ten medals between 2012 and 2014, nine of which were during NIP’s heyday, when the scene was still finding its feet.
By virtually every metric, kennyS was among the very best in the history of the game. But as he entered a dark period in his life, years of bad habits finally caught up with him.
“I always knew I had a special talent, and I always thought that would be enough,” he said.
“But at some point, it wasn’t enough, because there were other players who had as much talent as me but were also working really hard. And as people say, talent without work is nothing.”
In September 2020, after years of peaks and valleys, kennyS decided to buckle down and work hard following G2’s signing of Nikola ‘NiKo’ Kovač from FaZe in a mega deal.
The arrival of the Bosnian superstar gave kennyS a great boost of motivation but also a sudden sense of insecurity. It’s a recurring theme in the scene how NiKo has taken up extra duties when his teams aren’t clicking, and he keeps everyone in check with his demanding ways.
“I began working really hard, which I hadn’t done my whole career,” kennyS said. “I thought, ‘I’m not the face of G2 CS:GO anymore. I’m playing with NiKo, a really great and hard-working player. I need to step up.’”
The prospect of seeing NiKo free of the in-game leadership shackles and playing alongside his cousin, Nemanja ‘huNter-‘ Kovač, and kennyS left fans salivating, but the team flopped woefully.
A semi-final appearance in IEM Beijing-Haidian – a rather humdrum tournament – was G2’s best finish in the months that followed as the team suffered early exits at a series of big events. At the same time, kennyS started posting some of his worst career numbers, and his influence inside the server seemed to be on the wane.
In March, just days after an IEM Katowice group stage exit, G2 announced that kennyS had been moved to the bench as the team brought support player Audric ‘JaCkz’ Jug back into the main roster, sacrificing firepower in the hopes of becoming a more stable and well-rounded unit.
It was the first time in kennyS’ career that he had found himself on the bench. Any player in that situation would be devastated. Instead, though, he was relieved.
“I think at some point it was not the right team for me,” kennyS explained. “With JaCkz on the bench, we had three players that needed someone taking space for them, and we had just AmaNEk doing that.
“It was really hard having three star players together and making all of them happy. When you know that NiKo comes in for a big amount of money, well, they better put him in the best possible positions. I lost space, and so did huNter.
“Despite the fact that I was working a lot, they decided to bench me, and I cannot blame them for that. Honestly, I was sad for an evening, but afterward, I was so relieved. It was a complicated situation for me.
“You always see it coming. I was at a bootcamp with them just before I got benched, I can tell you that I felt it. I also wasn’t confident at all. I had bad performances. That is a fact. It was getting super hard for me.”
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According to him, the pressure, both external and internal, had become too great to withstand. After ten years at the highest level, he suddenly found no joy in the game, and competing became “a nightmare”.
“At some point, it just changed me,” he said. “My girlfriend saw me, one day I just started crying because for six months I had been dealing with a lot of sh*t that had been thrown in my face.
“And then, you have one bad game, two bad games, you have a problem in your life and you just release the pressure. And the way I do it is by crying.
“It happened a lot in the last year, year and a half. I took the hits and at some point released everything at the same time. That was mostly why I felt relieved.”
Life on the bench
As much of a relief as taking a break was for kennyS, he did not hang up his mouse and keyboard after getting benched. Hopeful that the phone would ring, he kept working to stay in shape, and publicly stated his intention to continue to “grind CS” despite the appeal presented by Valorant.
Yet as the weeks and months went by, he came to the painful realization that his services were no longer in high demand.
With the rise of Valorant and the economic impact of the global health crisis, more and more organizations have moved their focus away from Counter-Strike. And for many of the teams that are still in it, strengthening their rosters often means waiting for contracts to expire or simply picking up lesser-known, cheaper options.
As blockbuster transfers have become a bit of a rarity in CS:GO, big-name players have frequently found themselves withering away when they get benched.
“COVID hasn’t been great to the game, and the fact that we are losing players is also making it really hard for organizations to invest, especially in a 26-year-old that is known for having a lazy mindset,” kennyS said.
“It’s the truth, I’ve been lazy my entire career. Obviously, now that I am where I am, I can say that I would have done things differently. But it is what it is. Everybody makes mistakes. The situation I’m in right now is also because of those mistakes.
“I didn’t have any interesting offers at all in CS. I got benched at a pretty bad time, I guess. My buyout is probably quite expensive, even though I’m probably losing value with time. I’m a big investment and I’m a 26-year-old player with a ten-year career. People might think I’m not the best investment, and I can understand that.
“I was a bit disappointed because I don’t want CS to die, even if I’m not a big part of it. I don’t think it’s going to die, but it’s definitely not in the best shape.”
As he put his esports aspirations on hold, kennyS found new ways to keep his mind occupied. He regularly streams his CS and Valorant pug matches, and produces new videos about both games to the more than 100,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel.
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Being a content creator, as refreshing as it is, presents a whole different set of challenges. “I thought I’d have more free time, but that’s not the case,” he said. “I haven’t had any holidays, I’d say I’m working even harder than when I was playing. But it’s been pretty fun. I’m working with the people I want to work with.”
In September, he attended the VCT Stage 3 Masters event in Berlin with his girlfriend, capturing behind-the-scenes footage to release on Youtube. According to him, it was a valuable and humbling experience that only reinforced his desire to compete again.
It also challenged some preconceived notions that he had about Valorant and its competitive scene.
“I was a bit frustrated, seeing the stage, seeing people scream when they won a tough round,” kennyS said. “I miss the competition, for sure.
“I definitely enjoy Valorant. The game is good. I’m a CS lover, but I’m not like, ‘I love CS so I hate Valorant’. No, that’s stupid. It doesn’t work that way, you’ve got to be objective, you’ve got to check the game and try it.
“Going to VCT has also given me a different approach to the game. You come from CS and you might think, ‘Oh, Valorant is easy’. But that’s not the case. It’s not because you’re a super good player in CS that you’re going to win everything and that you’re going to be the best. That’s not how it works. That’s not true. If you think that, you’re going to fail.
“I was like, ‘Maybe as a CS player I should respect the players that are performing well in this game’. Most of the players come from CS, but for example, I’ve been playing a lot with nAts, who is in my opinion the best player in Valorant. He comes from CS but he was not a pro. What makes the difference is that he’s working hard to be good.”
Valorant has been suggested as a potential career option for kennyS since his benching, and his name was at one point linked with Alliance. Questioned about the rumors, kennyS denied having undergone a trial with the team, though he said that he has had “a lot of offers” in Valorant. This is hardly a surprise, given his impressive Counter-Strike résumé and the level of success that former tier-one CS:GO players have enjoyed since transitioning to Riot Games’ title.
Though kennyS is enjoying his time as a content creator, he has no doubt that he wants to return to competition. The question now is whether he will do it in CS:GO – the game he fell in love with as a child but that doesn’t seem to love him back anymore – or in Valorant.
He is putting any decision on hold until after PGL Major Stockholm, only the second Major that he will miss. That’s when he will be able to assess whether there’s still room for him in the scene as top CS:GO teams will start making roster changes for the new season.
“Honestly, I don’t even know if my future is still in CS:GO,” kennyS said. “I love the game and I wish things could have been different. I wish I could change that, but I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity.”
If these words sound familiar, that’s because they echo the sentiments of Adil ‘ScreaM’ Benrlitom, who said in 2020 that he wished “things were different” as he walked away from CS and galloped off to new pastures in Valorant.
KennyS is able to find some comfort in knowing that other players have gone through the same conflict of emotions. “What ScreaM said literally speaks to me,” he said, laughing.
Reflecting on his career, kennyS said that he is “proud of what I’ve achieved, individually and trophy-wise”. Having become one of the faces of Counter-Strike, he admitted that it would pain him to leave the game through the back door.
“I don’t want to retire [from CS] like that,” he said. “Maybe I will have to, but it’s not really a nice thing, to retire that way.
“I want to show that my situation is the consequence of my mistakes, and I want to prove to myself and to everyone that I can learn from all those things and still be the player people want me to be and that I want to be as well.
“Winning one last tier-one event in CS would be really, really great.”
But just like ScreaM, who has kick-started his career in Valorant, kennyS won’t sit around sulking and waiting for the phone to ring. Having taken the time to take stock of his past mistakes and recover mentally, he’s ready to show that he still has a huge amount left to offer at the highest level.
— BLAST VALORANT (@BLASTVALORANT) October 4, 2021
On October 4, he was announced as one of Team France’s players for the Valorant charity event BLAST Spike Nations. And if the initial reception to the announcement means anything, he might find in the Valorant the kind of support that has been hard to come by in Counter-Strike.
“I’m almost getting a bit salty, I saw people wanting me to get benched, and when I got benched, they wanted me to come back,” he said. “I’m like, ‘I was there, you didn’t want me!’
“At the end, I had a really better mindset, I was doing things right, it just didn’t work out because of many reasons. I would be sad [to leave CS] because I know I have what it takes to be a really good competitive player, but if there is no space for me in CS I’ll find it somewhere else.
“For me, losing CS is a hard thing, and I think losing me is also not really nice for the game. But it is what it is. If people don’t want to give me the chance, they won’t, but some other people will give me that chance, and I’ll seize it.
“My mental health was really bad in these last few years and now it’s really good. That makes a big difference. At the end of the day, what I want is to compete, to achieve stuff. Back then, I was not thinking about myself too much, I was just living day by day. Now, I have plans. The most important thing is to have plans. As long as I have objectives to reach, I’m fine.”