ODENSE, DENMARK -- G2 were not a team on most people's radars heading into the stacked ESL Pro League S8 Finals. They fielded two stand-ins in former teammates Kevin 'Ex6tenZ' Droolans and Edouard 'SmithZz' Dubourdeaux due to roster lock moves around the event. Both players had been kicked weeks prior for youthful upstarts Lucas 'Lucky' Chastang and Audric 'JaCkz' Lug from 3DMAX alongside coach Damien 'maLek' Marcel.
With the new line-up G2 had bombed out of Dreamhack Winter 2018 days before the start of EPL S8. They lost to South African side Bravado Gaming from left-of-field, leaving many fans and analysts wanting more from France's former premier side.
In Odense though, the temporary, but familiar, team has made a respectable return playing a close first half against Liquid and beating Hellrasiers in an explosive best-of-three. ESPN Esports caught-up with former coach, player and now stand-in SmithZz following their victory over Hellraisers at the end of the second day.
ESPN: In that last map it seemed you guys had a turning point when Hellraisers got to around 13 rounds. [Kenny "kennyS" Schrub] started hitting shots and your teamplay and set-ups came together to get a comeback going and close the game. Was there anything specific said that rallied the team?
SmithZz: Yeah, I think it was more the mood. Because we know any defeat will be the last match of this lineup. So we are like "it's not over till it's over." And they let us come back, and gg to them, but we did come back.
ESPN: This is the last 'hoorah' of this line-up with yourself and Ex6tenz standing in due to roster lock rules here in Odense. What does it feel like to suddenly come back into the lineup and win some big best-of-three's on LAN?
SmithZz: Yeah, it's pretty good. To be honest I wasn't expecting less. We played Liquid first match and we knew it was going to be pretty difficult. They are a top three team in the world. So it was pretty rough. Even more in a Bo1. But after that, I knew we had a chance against lower teams. Even though we didn't play together in a month ... I didn't really play CS [for a month]. Ex6tenZ as well. We didn't play at all. We just came here and was like "alright, let's go."
We come here and we play full team play. We just enjoy our last LAN together. The mood in the team is really good. Even the kick, Ex6tenZ didn't understand so much, but for me, it was sort-of my proposition to go away from the team because I didn't feel it anymore. So yeah, we are at this tournament like it's our last shot. We'll give it all to make it good.
ESPN: While you haven't played CS in a month, in that first half against Liquid, it was actually you and Ex6tenZ who were going big individually. How is it not playing for a month and then dropping big numbers against an elite team?
SmithZz: Yeah, I don't know. I've been playing CS for more than 10 years, and like, we know how to aim and play. And when I say we don't play CS for a month, we maybe play 2 or 3 hours in the last 15 days, just doing like pugs with friends or whatever. And yeah, it's just muscle memory or something. We just know how to play and that's it.
ESPN: What has the preparation been like for this event? Is there anything new in the structure you're running here or is it all just being picked up from where you guys last left off?
SmithZz: So basically after cs_summit we had one week of officials to qualify for a seperate league, so we play like, only officials. And then after the two new guys came into the team and tried practicing for Dreamhack Winter and the next LAN in Abu Dhabi next week. So this event is just basically an event we have to go because we qualified and there was roster lock. So, no, we didn't play as a team. Before every match here we just say "we play like this" and we try to be on the same page before a match. And that's pretty much it.
Concerning the game overall, it's Ex6tenZ leading. But when we can feel it's not working at all then we just play completely loose and like everyone bringing ideas and we just play as a mix.
ESPN: Have you managed to catch any of the games with LUCKY and Jackz so-far? If-so, what're your thoughts on the new additions? Do they fulfill what you thought the team had lacked this year?
SmithZz: Yes, I've been watching closely. I think they are good. I'm pretty sure it's going to work. It's what they needed. They didn't need just one replacement, not just two, but they needed two plus youth. They needed youth injected into the team, creating new dynamics and kicking the a** of the old guy in the team already [laughs]. I think they are really good, I hope for them that the Dreamhack Winter loss was not so hard for them last week. But as I know, it was OK and we'll see them competing next week in Abu Dhabi.
ESPN: Were LUCKY and JackZ on your radar before they replaced you on the team?
SmithZz:Yes, of course. I didn't know them personally, but our new coach Malek was coaching 3DMAX before so he basically knew them a lot more than us. And it was an obvious choice to take [a] young player from... And LDLC was competing really well at that moment and we didn't want to break that. For France. So, it was completely obvious to take those two guys.
ESPN: What about for yourself individually? After this event what are your plans for the future?
SmithZz: After this event I will take a few months off of the game to just think about what I want. If I have a project or something that I really have the fire in me to do then I will continue playing. If not, I've started streaming a bit last week and I enjoy it. So I'll see. I could transition myself. If I have a project as a player, coach, whatever, if it really drives me then I will do it. If not, if I have a bit of hesitation or whatever, then I will just step back and do something else. And that will probably, most likely, be streaming.
ESPN: You have an interesting perspective on the French scene, what were your thoughts on Vitality and their Dreamhack Atlanta run? [Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut] specifically has been attracting a lot of headlines.
SmithZz: I think Vitality as a whole is a pretty good team in-game. They don't have as much affinites between players and stuff out of game. If they keep winning it will be good for them. If they start losing it will be a problem. Now, they have a pretty good staff management around them so I think even if they start losing actually they'll be able to handle it and come back. But as I said, in-game they are really strong.
ZywOo is [amazing]. I've never seen a player like this. For me he is one of the best players in the world if he keeps going like this for sure. And with zero doubt I think he will keep going like this against tier one team because his game is really clean and neat. I hope them the best, I have friends in this line-up and if they encounter a problem they fix it.
ESPN: And what did you think about ZywOo before he joined Vitality? Hindsight is 20/20, but one of the criticisms levelled at G2 was that they never took the opportunity to pick-up a player of his level. Were you guys aware of his talent?
SmithZz: Yeah, of course. We were completely aware. There were maybe some people in the team, I won't say names, and they were like "ohhh, who is this cheater?" but I was like "no guys, you were once where he was. It was exactly the same 10 years ago when you start raising from nowhere and everyone was calling you a cheater. It's exactly the same and talent needs to be renewed in France."
But there are many others. Like LUCKY and JackZ are really good as well, they have really good stats also. But I think ZywOo is a bit apart and it was probably a bit scary for any big team to get him because he had no big LAN experience or anything. Vitality is making the good choice though. He is fucking insane and is fucking everybody up.