KennyS's prime as a player has transcended history and become legend at this point in time.
More than four and a half years into the past, the French then 19-year-old French AWP prodigy displayed the highest skill ceiling and performance peak Counter-Strike: Global Offensive had ever witnessed. A seemingly impossible degree of excellence and consistency that spanned four offline tournaments and numerous online cups, leagues and qualifiers.
Infamously, this peak came with kennyS's Titan team hamstrung and thus he was the first "best player in the world" the game had seen who lacked the help to win trophies. Yet he dominated individually nonetheless. Given all the resources, he made magic with them and defied all expectations and principles of role balance.
Nobody could play kennyS' style to the effective level he manifested and nobody could play against kennyS at the time. The mighty pronax led FNATIC, now enshrined as one of the greatest teams ever and at the time the consensus best, took numerous losses as a result of outrageous kennyS performances.
Not until NiKo's emergence in mousesports in 2016 did another player work with as little and yet stake a claim to being the best.
Not until s1mple's prime in Na`Vi, three years later, was anyone able to hit a peak of skill and performance comparable or better.
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This was a run of form that stretched the boundaries of what was possible from not just an AWPer but any player in any role on any team. A black hole of excellence that sucked all eyes in towards the singularity of one young man's unquenchable fire to win no matter the odds. His flick shot was art. His movement poetic. His confidence unbreakable.
For an almost four month span the answer to the question "what does it take to be the best Counter-Strike player" was simply and solely "kennyS". Nobody else stood a chance. To this day, the echoes of this 19 year old sniping maestro's impact ripples through the passing years of history.
Before I can tell you the tale of kenny's prime, though, it's key to understand where he came from to ascend to such absurd heights of play.
kennyS came into CS:Source late in the game's competitive history, due to being only 16 when he was recruited by VeryGames, the best core in the game's history. While he showed some potential in the waning days of Source, it would be the arrival of CS:GO and a new circuit of opponents that elevated him to super-star status.
kennyS was already a strong player, easily among the best in the world, upon the game's release and his VeryGames team famously lost only to NiP in the finals of the first four offline events they attended. Losing to NiP would continue to be a familiar pattern and months later VeryGames cut kennyS, replacing him with Source legend shox in May of 2013.
Expectations for the young player had been too high, with Ex6TenZ and his VeryGames team not only used to winning tournaments constantly in Source, unable to get over the NiP hump and wanting to play an all-rifle game. The AWP was far less prominent in the early meta, with NiP famously winning seemingly everything without an elite sniper.
"If I was surprised? Yes and no. I expected them to make this decision, to be honest, I was prepared for this. [...] this was a huge slap in my face and a blow to my motivation." - said kennyS to HLTV.org
Another slap in the face was seeing shox and VeryGames win big trophies and, around five months later, conquer NiP and take the top spot from them.
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In the mean-time, kennyS was grinding away in the other French teams of the time, working to prove VeryGames wrong and again earn a spot in the only French team capable of championship glory.
As if to showcase his incredible skill, kennyS posted monster numbers as the Nostaglie mix won the Prague Challenge, beating top team Na'Vi in the final. This despite Nostaglie containing two French players who barely spoke English, two Polish players who didn't speak French and a Russian with broken English. kennyS was that good even a year into his CS:GO career.
kenny was granted his chance at redemption when shox left Titan, as VeryGames were now called, only a year after joining, in May of 2014. VeryGames had been the best team in the world and shox the best player, hitting his own marvelous peak, but both were burned out from experimenting with living in a gaming house and the burden of high expectations now they could beat NiP. There would be no major or era for VeryGames and so they built around another super-star.
This edition of Titan was still a world-class squad, evidenced by defeating major champions Virtus.pro, playing returning world number ones NiP close in a number of series and reaching the final of the stacked Gfinity G3 event. kennyS was arguably the best individual star in the game from the Summer of 2014 onwards, but failure to progress from the group stage of the ESL One Cologne major triggered the first "French shuffle", as it was dubbed.
kennyS had never finished top four at a major to that point and had never even won a big international tournament featuring all the best teams. As individually excellent as he undeniably was, the validation of team accomplishments weighed upon him. His stats were in line with prime coldzera numbers, despite playing with the AWP and having to carry for his team to win.
In the French shuffle, most of the talent collected in LDLC and kenny was offered a spot but declined it. His Titan line-up was good, with enormous highs and a unique double AWP setup - unthinkable at the time - but would see LDLC go on to become the superior side and eventually a major champion.
kennyS' peak during this period was an MVP level performance at the second Dreamhack Stockholm Invitational. In front of the Swedish crowd in the globen he trounced home favorites FNATIC, who were set to become the best team in the world and history, and took down LDLC to take his first big international title of note.
Only three tournaments into the new line-ups tenure together, second star and fellow AWPer KQLY was VAC banned and subsequently banned indefinitely from competitive play. Titan were also punished by being disqualified from the upcoming Dreamhack Winter major. Worse still, LDLC's super-team composition meant there was practically no talent to replace KQLY in their side. Ex6TenZ convinced old team-mate and Source GOAT candidate RpK to return from two years of inactivity.
The former Source god had played the first four events of CS:GO with VeryGames, but quit after finishing runner-up to NiP all four times and surveying what was then a fairly desolate scene in terms of prize money and potential for growth.
Hamstrung without KQLY and experiencing heavy teething problems reintegrating RpK, who had to be micromanaged by Ex6TenZ initially, kennyS was the only game in town if they hoped to grasp at even a faint glimmer of victory.
Ex6TenZ composed a system that ran all resources through kenny and rather than buckle under the weight of being asked to do it all, kenny flourished like no player had ever before.
The best player in the world accepted the challenge of playing with a hamstrung side and transcended Counter-Strike for a span of almost four months. Online he was unplayable, but counter-intuitively he was even more dominant offline. From November 2014 to March 2015, over five offline tournaments, he would post numbers only matched by s1mple's deification in 2018.
In the aftermath of KQLY's ban and rivals LDLC winning the Dreamhack Winter major, Titan headed to the offline finals of ESEA Season 17 in Dallas, Texas. This came prior to RpK's return from self-imposed exile and the team used coach ioRek as a stand-in. The French player had won a major with emuLate in CS 1.6 all the way back in 2007 and even been part of the shocking one-off run of Clan-Mystik to beat VeryGames and win ESWC 2013, before dropping off heavily and retiring from competitive play. Now, a year later, he would attempt to keep his head above water playing for Titan against some of the world's best teams.
In the second round of the upper bracket, Titan met FNATIC. The Swedes had only just experienced their first ever finish outside of the top four with this line-up, forfeiting the quarter-final of the major to LDLC, and sought to maintain their top spot in the world rankings. They had won three straight offline events prior to the major.
FNATIC narrowly took the series in an overtime third map, but kenny's 87 kills were the story of the match. If it was going to be this heavy a weight to carry, even the best player in the world would surely break in no time. Titan would drop to the lower bracket and be shocked by iBUYPOWER, with kennyS again posting huge numbers and Titan again losing an overtime deciding third map on inferno.
The nature of these losses were to become a microcosm of kennyS's plight: dominating individually under the most trying of circumstances, only to lose series and overtime inferno games, even if he was the best player in the server by a country mile.
Recovering from playing MVP level Counter-Strike and still finishing 5th-6th, kenny got some respite by representing France in the offline Electronic Sports European Championship event. Playing with team-mate apEX and three members of the major champion LDLC, France won the event besting Sweden and twice taking down Poland, though admittedly Sweden did not send their best individual stars.
In January of 2015, Titan attended the ASUS ROG Winter offline event and finished runners-up to NiP. The tournament was deceptively strong, with former major champions Virtus.pro there, a HellRaisers core that had been still a solid squad for most of the previous year and the same NiP who had taken new recruit Maikelele all the way to the major final in their first outing together.
At his first event playing alongside RpK again, kenny posted huge numbers, even racking up 43 kills in the final against NiP, but saw his team unable to secure victory again. Tradition back then was that only a player from the winning team could be awarded MVP and so kenny had to watch as Maikelele's NiP's streaky sniper, took home said honours.
The following month, Titan flew to Sweden for the IOS Pantamera tournament. Despite being the first edition of the competition, it held a very strong field of competition. Major champions and MLG X Games Invitational winners LDLC, now EnVyUs, were there, along with runners-up of both events NiP, the FNATIC side who had been world number ones until the major and the always elite tier Virtus.pro. The final spot was taken up by Norwegian side LGB, who admittedly were the odd men out, but featured future CS stars Rain and jkaem.
Having not qualified for the aforementioned MLG tournament, the most important big event following the major, Titan had much to prove and a field that would make it nearly as difficult as possible. Titan's group stage run was the stuff of a Hollywood movie script. Playing each of the top ranked teams on arguably their best map, Titan won their first four games, securing the top seed for the play-offs, before being blown out in the map Best-of-1 by VP on cache. kenny was a beast across all of the victories and no team came within three rounds of victory before the map ended.
The top seed meant Titan would wait in the final to play the winner of the third place decider. As that match was the much anticipated revenge rematch of FNATIC and nV, their finals opponents were guaranteed to be a line-up that had occupied the world number one spot. FNATIC continued to hold an edge over nV and kenny would face the team he had almost single-handedly beaten at ESEA finals.
In one of the most epic performances ever witnessed, kennyS put up 76 frags to only 48 deaths over two maps that his team lost. The latter a supernova event of 50 kills in an overtime loss on inferno. Students of antiquity will recall the myth of Sisyphus, cursed to push a boulder up a hill every day, only to see it roll down again and be forced to start over the following day. kenny found himself in the same positions, on the brink of beating the world's best teams largely by virtue of his own force, only to lose the series and typically on inferno.
In a controversial move never again witnessed until s1mple's 2018 run, HLTV broke with their tradition and awarded kennyS the MVP medal, despite finishing in second place. Who could deny him such individual honours after that performance? It was an effort unrewarded by the outcome that could break a man.
It's a failing of highly competitive people that they are often unable to acknowledge they were out-performed or out-played if they manage to scrape the victory nonetheless. FNATIC reclaimed the top spot with their finals win at Pantamera and could easily have defaulted to saying "CS is a team game and it doesn't matter how much or how little you win by". Indeed, they had names like KRiMZ, JW and an emerging olofmeister, who were all players they could have put forth and proclaimed the best player in the world. Instead, a rare and entirely authentic moment of humility saw olofmeister explain to aftonbladet:
"Let me put it like this: Even if I never was a hotshot in 1.6 I still played gatherings with some of the best players in the world and I wasnít afraid of anyone. I've never been scared of anybody in CS:GO, but Iím scared of KennyS. He is the only one Iíve ever been scared of. You can end up in a duel, where you have the upper hand but it doesnít matter because you know that he might ñ or even will ñ make the sickest shot ever so you donít have the courage to do anything. When you face any other player you feel much more confident.
ñ In terms of individual skill he is the best, no doubt."
That interview was published on the 12th of March, 2015. Just over a month after the Pantamera final and mere days before ESL One Katowice, the 5th major, began. FNATIC would win said major, with olof taking MVP honours and spawning his own peak, taking the crown of best player from kenny.
To again witness such a display of sportsmanship would take until s1mple's peak in 2018, when his Na'Vi side rarely won tournaments but even the Astralis players, who were winning practically everything, acknowledged s1mple as the best player in the game.
Before the major could begin, kenny's Titan had to qualify, due to their inability to attend the previous major. At the first ever major offline qualifier, kennyS faced a familiar story-line, forced to carry his Titan squad with unreal numbers and in close games, but the much lower level of competition could not prevent him from qualifying for another major. Over 102 rounds played, kenny delivered 105 kills to only 66 deaths, averaging over a kill per round played - unthinkable numbers.
Heading into the first major of the RpK-infused line-up, hopes were high for Titan to make an impact on the field. Their group seemed reasonable enough, with only fellow Frenchmen nV as a clear concern. After losing a close game to said rivals, Titan quickly bombed out with an embarrassing loss to the German PENTA. Most distressing of all was kenny's own performance, which was far from the MVP calibre standard of play he had set. The man who'd had his aim stuck on automatic for four months hit a cold patch at the worst possible time.
Those hoping for a bounce back would never get their wish, as this event marked the beginning of kenny's sharp decline from the position of world's best player. From the next event, a StarSeries S12 tournament where Titan managed fourth place, onwards, kenny would never again be the same force in the server. To make matters worse, shortly after StarSeries, the AWP, kenny's weapon of choice, was had its movement speed nerfed. Coming on the 31st of March, almost hinting at it being a sick April Fool's joke, kennyS found that not only had his form begun to desert him but now the game would clamp down more on his role's impact anyway. The last vestiges of hope withered.
Over the year, kenny would have one more flashback performance in Titan, at the Gfinity Spring Masters 2, but he was just another player again. A good player, but not the same unassailable giant. Shifting over to rivals nV in the second French shuffle, he had strong performances in their victories at Dreamhack London and Cluj-Napoca, the latter being the major and seeing kenny finally put one of history's most important trophies into his cabinet, as well as earning MVP honours at last from HLTV.
kennyS was the impossible sniper. Nobody had the strengths to pull of his style to the same degree of aptitude. No AWPer had ever been the best player in the world, but he soon cast aside that pattern to become the game's greatest outlier. The one man carry. No, not a man, but a monster, worthy of Greek mythology.
kenny's skills were a revelation. His firing speed was incredibly rapid, second only to sniping rival GuardiaN's debatably, but with an insane hit-rate that left his rival far from thought and his opponents speechless. Typically speed's reward is a greater variance of possible shots that can be hit and its cost is consistency in hit-rate. In contrast, slower more traditional snipers tracked their opponents and sacrificed speed to up their success in landing the shot.
kennyS' impossible pairing of all of the strengths of both styles and none of their weakness recalled the prime of Na'Vi's markeloff in the latter years of CS 1.6.
When kennyS AWPed every shot was a flick, as his inimitable hand-eye coordination seemingly never found an angle or travel distance it could not accommodate and still land first. To say kenny was at the cutting edge of mechanical skill would be to down-play his impact with the weapon.
Traditional principles of Counter-Strike play dictate that the tactic to neutralising a dominant sniper is to rush him with numbers, crowd him and force him to miss and switch to his pistol. kennyS again broke the game by showcasing some of the most ridiculous and unconscionable noscopes imaginable. As team-mate Maniac relayed to me: "when you rushed kenny the danger only increased". This came in a game that was infamous for the inaccuracy of its noscopes, contrasted against CS 1.6's perfect accuracy if not moving.
Perhaps kennyS knew something we didn't or was granted grace none of us shall ever receive, but his noscopes landed when they were supposed to miss. Only the likes of GuardiaN and s1mple have approached that level of power in close ranges fights.
Stylistically, kennyS was the complete package, despite his role. The AWPer has traditionally be one of the most limited roles, tasked with holding an angle, cutting off a section of the map or creating picks from a pocket of entry protection. kennyS was the entry player at times in Titan, ever eager to find and create the first pick. So deadly was he as the tip of the spear that Titan would often save and drop him an AWP even if forced into half-buys or giving him glass cannons, playing a risky game without armour. The most extreme example of this was seeing such a buy on the T side of nuke, a map other AWPers feared due to its neutralising effect but which could not stop kennyS.
Similarly, inferno is a map for sniping on the CT side, but so many big Titan performances had kenny displaying a masterclass of aggressive power sniping on both sides.
kenny's performance level was impossible. He seemingly never dropped off or levelled out. Whether it was online or offline, against the best in the world or the worst teams in the field, with help or without it, kenny was an unstoppable force. No elite player ever had less help, to that point in time, and performed at such a level, not least because no player had ever performed at such a level.
kennyS never met a peek he didn't like and his style was to impulsively repeek an angle over and over until he had decimated the opposition. Amateurs at home may not have realised such a style violated the fundamental principle of how to play out a numbers advantage, consolidating a kill into superior map coverage, as kenny was so effective such a style became the highest chance of winning a round regardless.
So unpunished he was that where even other primary AWPers would put down the weapon when they were not hitting their shots, kenny seemingly never had the big green rifle out of his hands. Such a style not only did not work for most others, with even the fantastic GuardiaN a notoriously streaky player at the time, but it should not have worked. kennyS had transcended the accepted paradigm of sniping.
Nobody could play at the level kenny could and nobody tried. Who else had struggled as he had to prove his worth? Toiled away with superlative match play only to lose so many games and in heart-breaking fashion? An uncertain but precocious boy had been forged into a near mythical creature, not crushed by the pressure but hardened into a diamond.
kenny's AWP was his pen and his play words which reshaped our world.
The French sniper went on to win a major and has experienced individual resurgences and success over a number of years, tied for second most HLTV MVP medals to this day, but nothing can match or return us to his dazzling peak.