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Luci Kelemen
Written By: Luci Kelemen

Writes about way too many things. Has way too many opinions. Wants to tell all the interesting stories in the world.

January 7th, 2022

The new international Vitality roster is perhaps the most interesting project heading into 2021, featuring a fragment of the legendary Astralis side augmented by the best coach in the scene, a world-class AWPer and a smartypants IGL, the pieces are there to recreate the magic. Whether it can actually work is a different question entirely.

Ol’ Astralis and ex-Vitality: was it time to move on?

Before we can discuss the new-look Vitality side, we’ve got to take a look at why the previous squad was blasted apart at the end of the year. Despite finishing the year strong, the French squad was nowhere close to the level required to challenge Na’Vi for the top spots and their lack of consistency has also been an issue throughout 2021.

According to an interview with Vitality CEO Fabien "Neo" Devide, the decision to make the change was made over half a year ago, with the players definitively told a day after their elimination from the Major. The joint goal is to increase the team’s competitiveness and also Vitality’s reach to an international fanbase.

Meanwhile over at Astralis, it was clear that a combination of Father Time and the departure of daddy device destroyed the magic. Though the signings of k0nfig and blameF seem to be decent moves so far, the crippling lack of a reliable AWPer made it impossible for gla1ve to cobble together any sort of a title challenge so far. Clearly, that won’t be an issue over at Vitality, with ZywOo arguably being superior to latter-day device in terms of reliability and impact.

Of the two teams, Vitality look like the more likely team to make a significant leap forward right now. Lest we forget, they also wrecked Astralis at the year’s final competitive event.

zonic’s new project: are the pieces all there to challenge?

Clearly, the Danish mastermind sees this as the best way back to the summit. “If it was about my family, it would have been a Danish team. If it was about money, it would have been a different team. I chose the team that I felt was the most competitive,” he said in an interview with Dexerto. Notably, sports psychologist Lars Robl was also poached from Astralis, a potentially significant jigsaw in the puzzle.

There’s no denying that ZywOo is one of the best players in the scene, and unlike Xyp9x, neither dupreeh nor Magisk (who’s previously had a stint on an international squad with OpTic) seemed to experience such a massive downturn in form as to justify jettisoning them from zonic’s plans. Both the coach and the players are on record saying that they’re eager to get back to the top (not that they could really say anything different in interviews, though it certainly would be fun to read). Brains? Check. Firepower? Check. Motivation? Check. It may very well work.

Roles-wise, this now roster promises to be an exciting blend of youth and experience, with misutaaa’s rapid improvement despite his young age suggesting he’s the right Frenchman to keep for the future alongside ZywOo to lock down the entry fragger role. We’ve come a long way from this:

There’s no denying that Vitality have been shockingly top-heavy: ZywOo’s near +1000 K/D last years while the rest of the team is near even or worse, figures that have been even more comical in past years. As we’ve seen with s1mple’s career up until 2021, this is just not enough to sustain a team on top of the rankings list, no matter just how good that individual player is in CS:GO matches. It definitely won’t do against this Na’Vi side. These roster moves should amount to a decent increase in firepower should it all pan out according to plan.

It will also be fascinating to see how zonic and apEX will cooperate in- and outside the servers: their relationship could very well make or break this project and there's definitely going to be a lot more malding going on during the games than in zonic's previous project. This can’t become a Cloud9 scenario where one of them departs a few months into it all.

The real question is whether it’s possible to truly challenge for the top spots with an international squad. Unlike most other esports, the rapid pace of comms in CS:GO makes it very difficult to get things right when some or all members are communicating in a second language, and so far it’s only been the first iteration of karrigan’s FaZe Clan that ever really got close to those coveted era-defining levels. Whether French and Danish talent can mix well is something we can only find out in practice, but we’ve seen how players like FalleN and coldzera lost a step when they moved to international rosters (even when they were closer to their prime: think the original MIBR roster with tarik and Stewie2K).

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Going from an all-French squad to an international mix has to be seen as a downgrade from a comms standpoint, but for what it’s worth, it was a necessary one: even former coach XTQZZZ said that this would be Vitality’s last all-French roster, and he did so as far back as in September 2019. There just isn’t enough upcoming talent in the domestic scene. And if you have to go international, getting the #1 coach in the world and the still-strong supporting elements of the former world-conquering Astralis side seems like a good way to go.

The lay of the land: what are the opponents like?

The changes made to Vitality’s roster can only be properly weighed in the context of what their rivals have been up to in the off-season. Sticking with the December 20 HLTV rankings from last year (the last one still featuring the old Liquid side, making it the most accurate snapshot from a competitive perspective), Vitality were ranked #2, albeit quite far from Na’Vi. They were in fifth place even before winning IEM Winter, ranked behind G2, Gambit and Heroic but ahead of NIP, VP and FaZe.

This makes everything but a sustained challenge against Natus Vincere the only state of success for this new roster, especially seeing just how strongly the all-French squad finished the previous year. The pieces are all there even if this move turns out to be a sidegrade, and if the communication aspects can work out, it might turn out that Vitality ended up with the better half of Astralis heading into 2022.