The best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player in the world is an AWPer. That statement would have seemed inconceivable even as short a time ago as a few months. Firstly, due to the overwhelming dominance and grinding consistency of NiP, at least up until the Summer, there has rarely been an opportunity for any player other GeT_RiGhT to truly hold claim to being the world's best player. That Swedish rifle maestro has shown such consistency in his performance and resilience to return to the top, with his team, time and time again, that the only player who has ever truly threatened his spot was shox, who was hard-carrying Titan for around three months in the latter half of 2013.
Secondly, it has often been the case that the AWPer has been a marginalised role in CS:GO, considered less viable in terms of dedicated usage of the weapon and teams being built around star snipers. Where the latter years of CS 1.6 saw a revival of AWPing, to the point that every elite team eventually needed a strong sniper, CS:GO had seen its first few years of play dominated by strong rifle teams and AWPers tending to be punished by the cost of the weapon and the low return on investment from kill bonuses.
That Kenny "kennyS" Schrub has become the best CS:GO player in the world as an AWPer both tells the story of the evolution of his career and how the top level teams have learned to integrate the weapon and its unique strengths into their overall playing schemes. A player who was once the outsider on one of the world's best teams is now the star of the same team and his story has come full circle, but with much development having taken place during the cycle.
It's no coincidence that kennyS' rise to the top of the individual player food chain has coincided with his first ever high level offline title in CS:GO. The world's most dangerous one-dimensional star has become the most well-rounded sniper in the game and carries his team on his back.
The odd man out
For kennyS, VeryGames is the team he always should have been playing with. When he joined up with their Source team in 2012, a former team-mate of NBK's, they found an immediate synergy and would go on to win numerous events over the last stretch of Source's competitive life-span. Heading into CS:GO, kennyS was frequently cited as one of the ex-Source stars to watch in the early tournaments. While 1.6 fans knew only too well how dominant players like GeT_RiGhT and f0rest could potentially be, Source fans were quick to point out that kennyS' AWPing would be a factor in the new title.
The early CS:GO tournaments saw the same story play out over and over, as VeryGames could handle every other team in the field, consistently and convincingly showing themselves to be contenders for the title, only to fall to NiP in the final and with an obvious gap, be it psychological or stylistic, between the two teams. As the star name, kennyS naturally came under the closest and most brutal scrutiny. With legendary Source leader Ex6TenZ showing the CS:GO world the power of tactics, contrasted against NiP's free-flowing style of play, the man blamed for VeryGames' inability to beat the Ninjas was kennyS.
In truth, kennyS had some fantastic games during this period of late 2012 and early 2013, some of them event against NiP. The problem for the Frenchman was that his play truly did not synch up with that of his team and their overall approach to the game. He could find himself out of position and killed too easily, without the back-up or cover a dedicated AWPer requires to exist in his comfort zone. His ability to hit precision shots with unbelievable speed was no less astonishing back then, but his kills could not impact the game in the same way as carries like GeT_RiGhT, shox or Dosia's could.
A kennyS versus NiP round might look like so: kennyS miscommunicates or mishears some information, perhaps tunnel-visioned on his position or a specific opponent, then attempts to rotate over to a position, kills two NiP players with a beautiful exhibition of skill, only to die to the last one and the round's efforts turn out to be all in vain. A special player, but also a special problem.
It's easy, and entirely understandable, that Ex6TenZ and VeryGames would lose patience with kennyS. His talents could not be denied and yet neither could the difficulty of the task of finding a way to bring a player with such a differing play-style in line with the overall focus of the rest of the unit. Sometimes a roster change really is the easier option, when contrasted against trying to change a player's nature.
When RpK retired, it left kennyS in an even more precarious position within the team, tasked not only with being the chief star, but also now paired with the equally talented and yet at-times similarly questionably fitted ScreaM. ScreaM had the benefit of being the new man in the team, so some missteps here and there could be more easily forgiven, but kennyS and VeryGames now lacked for the clutch play and decision-making of the veteran RpK. As teams like Virtus.pro and Western Wolves rose up to challenge the top two teams, VeryGames began to slide down the rankings and no amount of wonderful highlight clips from kennyS could halt that descent.
"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."
-kennyS on his departure from VeryGames (HLTV.org, 2013)
Ejected from VeryGames, kennyS was quickly old news, as far as the elite teams were concerned, as his former team's new recruit, shox, quickly adapted and filled the gaping holes kennyS had never been able to cover. There were no debates left to be had over whether VeryGames had made the right move, it seemed self-evident by their results and improved chemistry, even winning their first offline event to also feature NiP in attendance.
For kennyS, the world outside of VeryGames was only the group of French teams occupying a level distinctly below that of the top French side. For one of Source's brightest talents, destined to become the "next great French player", it was a humbling return to competing merely for quarter-finals spots at offline events.
Glimpses of light in the darkness
Despite never being surrounded by the kind of talent or support system that could have allowed him to realistically be able to win a big offline tournament, there would be highlights during kennyS' time in exile. At Dreamhack Summer 2013 he carried his LDLC team, featuring Happy, Maniac and apEX, to a top four finish, close even to winning the semi-final in two maps and reaching the fifth big final of his CS:GO career.
In July, he attended the Prague Challenge, in the Czech Republic, with the Nostalgie mix team (also featuring apEX, TaZ, NEO and OverDrive). With the old school 1.6 player OverDrive bank-rolling the trip, the other four players were essentially playing 4v5 when it came to facing the good players at the event. Even worse, kennyS' English was known to be shaky, so the team ended up relying on a very simplistic approach of having apEX and kennyS, the two French players, work as a two man unit, almost independently of the others, and NEO and TaZ, the two Poles, doing likewise.
What sounds like brazen madness, in fact allowed the players to play a free-range and individualistic style. This was kennyS' realm and he and apEX were arguably the stars of the tournament, helping their mix-team twice overcome first map deficits, against the British Anexis in the semi-final and markeloff's Na`Vi in the final, to win the tournament. kennyS was still one of the world's finest talents, this much was obvious. His problem, as ever it had been, was that he still lacked the right CS:GO team around him to allow that talent to dominate the game, in terms of rounds won.
For much of the rest of 2013, kennyS was not a factor of note for international viewers of the game. VeryGames climbed back into contention for tournaments and would eventually, for a span of around a month or two, become the world's best team, taking down the titles they had been unable to secure during kennyS' time with them. More tragically for kennyS, even his old LDLC team-mate apEX was enjoying more success than him. The French rifler had joined up with Clan-Mystik and shocked the world, defeating the dominant VeryGames to take the ESWC title.
One last dance
Before a miserable year of struggle could be put to rest for kennyS, there was one final event, the largest of them all: Dreamhack Winter, CS:GO's first major tournament, with $100,000 for first place. Attending with Recursive (kennyS, Maniac, Happy, GMX and Uzzzii), little was expected of kenny and the gang. In fact, the tournament's reliance on inferno as the map the majority of teams were most willing to play, due to the tournament having switched over to Valve's pool of standard maps, would play right into kennyS and Recursive's hands.
Playing all three group stage games on inferno, the French team and their star AWPer were able to run off a large amount of rounds against all of their opponents: NiP, iBUYPOWER and Universal Soldiers (now Virtus.pro). Playing NiP to a close 13:16 loss and defeating the other two teams, Recursive were somehow into the quarter-finals of an event they had no business progressing from the group stage of.
Those hoping for a miracle akin to Clan-Mystik's ESWC run would be disappointed though, as an opening map loss to fnatic on inferno suggested that the good times were set to come to an end. Despite pushing the series to three maps, kennyS again found himself close to getting the world's attention, only to not quite be in position to break through and accomplish it.
Perhaps this was it for kennyS, the star in the bad team where opponents knew they could let him go off for 20 or more frags, as long as the rest of the team got shut down and the requisite number of rounds were put on the board. Let kennyS have his highlight rounds, his movies and his acclaim, as long as we come away with the win.
The dark days
In February of 2014, kenny found himself joining up with Clan-Mystik, but under negative circumstances, as he had lost Happy to apEX's new look LDLC team. Understandably bitter about the situation, he was once again lumped in with the left-over players in France, playing for the third best team and not even the second. At EMS One Katowice, the second CS:GO major, Clan-Mystik battled in the group with the most parity, but could only manage a single victory over Na`Vi, as two losses to coL eliminated them from the tournament.
With LDLC reaching the quarter-final of that tournament in Poland, then going on to defeat Titan (the new name of VeryGames) in the quarter-final of Copenhagen Games, the following month, kennyS seemed a million miles from reaching his dream of event titles and the satisfaction of playing a meaningful role on a great team. Instead, he was seemingly relegated to watching all of the other French talent of the era enjoying their own varieties of progression and success.
The return of the prodigal AWPer
kennyS' world changed on April 28th, as it was announced that shox would be leaving Titan and they were bringing kennyS back in. Reforming the line-up of early 2013 (kennyS, ScreaM, NBK, Ex6TenZ and SmithZz) certainly seemed a gamble, as that team had never even made the final of an offline event with NiP in attendance and it had been the most troubling period in kennyS' time in the team. The crucial difference, as it would turn out, this time around, was Ex6TenZ and Titan understood now what they had in kennyS.
Rather than build their playing style around the rifle-men of the team, leaving kennyS as a player put in awkward positions or operating outside of the approach of the whole unit, this Titan team would be built around kennyS. Put into all of his aggressive AWPing positions, he would be encouraged to buy the sniper rifle and take his shots, with the team playing a pick-based game, relying on his efforts to trigger the rest of the round. This was Titan and Ex6TenZ buying into and embracing kennyS style CS:GO, who would have ever thought it possible?
This new approach for Titan was quite the departure from the old style of precision execution of pre-planned tactics, but they had bought in and they were going to ride the kennyS train as far as it could take them, tickets stamped and seats in first class for all. The initial results were quite promising, as the team defeat EMS Katowice champions Virtus.pro in a Bo3 at SLTV StarSeries IX, before losing to NiP and Na`Vi.
At Dreamhack Summer, a painfully unlucky draw, especially contrasted against the cake-walk to the semi-finals fellow French team Epsilon received, saw Titan facing NiP before even the semi-finals could arrive. A reasonably close three map loss denied Titan a chance at a top placing, but the signs of improvement were there to be seen.
The crowning moment of this line-up's time together would come at Gfinity 3 in England. After kenny had saved a group stage game against Virtus.pro on mirage, Titan seemed to power up entirely and hit peak form. Passing by iBUYPOWER and the new fnatic line-up in three map series, they were into the first big final of kennyS' CS:GO career since Dreamhack Winter of 2012. Facing a Virtus.pro who they had slain in two maps in Kiev, perhaps now was the time for the story-book return to Titan to receive a pleasing ending. Instead, the Virtus.plow arrived and even kennyS could not stand against it.
The third major in CS:GO history took place two weeks later: ESL One Cologne. Titan had embarrassingly been ejected in the group stage of EMS One Katowice, but their G3 result with this new line-up looked to give them the opportunity correct that mistake on their part. Instead, the same story-line played out, as kenny and company lost a heart-breaking over-time game to Cloud9 and fell in brutal fashion to Dignitas on nuke.
Give me the right team and I'll show you the right player
The devastating elimination in Cologne sparked a flurry of roster moves between the top French teams, as Titan looked to bring in apEX and KQLY from LDLC, sending out SmithZz and ScreaM. The problem was that this caused NBK to decide to depart from the line-up, reuniting with shox in LDLC. Picking up Maniac as the replacement for the out-going NBK, Titan had arrived at a line-up of players with whom kennyS had already ben a team-mate of at some point in his career.
With ScreaM gone and no shox for many months, this was a team that more than ever understood that kennyS was their star player, the man who would lead them to glory or disappointment. The bold approach of the previous months would continue onwards, this time less with players from a different mindset adapting their player and more-so an entirely new framework put together around the AWPing of kennyS.
The first offline test would be Dreamhack Stockholm. Despite giving up first blood to LDLC in the group stage, Titan would prevail over NiP, winners of ESL One Cologne, to move on to the semi-final. Facing fnatic there, favourites for the entire tournament and the team destroying everyone online, the series would become the kennyS and KQLY show. kenny was a dominant force with his AWP, aggressively picking opponents and locking down angles.
Titan's ability to integrate KQLY's more passive style of AWPing, denying entry entirely into sites and slowing pushes to a stand still, resulted in a flamboyent and dominant second map close-out on dust2.
In the final, kennyS was in full carry mode, pushing his team again and again through difficult times on the second map which would eventually clinch them the title, over rivals LDLC and NBK, no less. kennyS had won the first big title of his CS:GO career, playing in the team which had thrown him to one side, a piece impossible to fit into their impeccably precise jigsaw puzzle. The teacher and the problem student had found common ground, at last, and it had resulted in a championship at a tournament featuring the likes of NiP, LDLC and Dignitas. GeT_RiGhT, f0rest and shox would be the ones watching kennyS lift the first place cheque, for once.
Lessons learned wandering in the wilderness
Looking back, it's not as simple a story-line as Ex6TenZ and Titan not knowing how to use kennyS during their VeryGames days. The game was being played quite differently back then, with far less emphasis or understanding on how to use a dedicated AWPer. More importantly, the kennyS of early 2013 was a far more one-dimensional and exploitable player than the man helping Titan claim the Dreamhack Stockholm title in September of 2014. His time spent wandering the wilderness of lesser French teams had taught kennyS much.
The early kennyS relied upon his team to create the game without him, building up the tactical approach and his kills simply contributing one less opponent to worry about. His rotations were questionable and he often looked out of place, a man whose strength was the AWP on a team who wanted to attack quickly and without hesitation with a primarily rifle-based approach. That bad marraige was always going to have to come to an end, even if there had been good times early on.
In teams like LDLC, Recursive and Clan-Mystik, kennyS was relied upon entirely to be the star keeping his team in the game, against better opponents, or leading the way, against lesser. To have teams leaning on him so heavily forced kennyS to embrace the difficulty of what would otherwise be uncomfortable positions for a sniper, either without proper cover or another player to make the entry first and scout opponents's positions. Now kennyS would play like a man with his back to the wall, nowhere to go but forwards and swinging.
The kennyS of the post-VeryGames era was able to learn his own internal game rhythm, knowing that since he needed to have the AWP every time it was available, he had to find the shots and angles which could allow him to be effective, regardless of his performance level on that day. The kennyS of late 2013 and 2014 could lose two duels in a row and take the third anyway, knowing he had to take that kill to give his team a chance of breaking open the game, rather than being blown out.
There was always debate before, over who the best AWPer was. No there is no question. Nobody can exert the kind of impact on the game with an AWP that kennyS can. kennyS can do the impossible with the AWP, as witnessed by his aggressive pick-based style on the terrorist side of inferno. Most AWPers need an entry man in the form of a rifler to scout corners that have to be peeked. kennyS does not, he will take the entry position himself, so at home is he with knowing he will be required to immediately fire upon spotting the enemy. Live or die, kennyS' commitment to a peek is absolute. A smoke has always been the simplest way to cut off an AWPer in CS, but kennyS moves through smokes aggressively and uses their cover against his opponents.
kennyS' firing motion is as pure they come, no hint of hesitation detectable. Even with some of the world's best AWPers, one can see when their game is off or their accuracy not at its usual level, as the raw mechanical sequence of acquiring the target, setting the shot up and then ensuring a hit slows down and is able to be processed for the chain of decisions and mechanical movements it represents. When kennyS fires, there is no chain, it is simply a single action that occurs in response to seeing the opponent. It seemingly does not matter the position or opponent, they appear on his screen and he makes them disappear. Wax on, wax off.
There are many AWPers in the world, but only one kennyS. GuardiaN may have the fastest firing speed in the game, but kennyS is right there with him and boasts a far more devastating hit-rate. Where the Slovakian can be seen to go away from the sniper rifle when his performance is dipping, kenny is still there, deep in the trenches and with the team on his back, prepared to risk and take the next AWP shot. With kennyS, it's not a question of confidence, merely opportunity. Give me the AWP and give me another shot, I'll get him next time.
kennyS does not play a cerebral game, at least as one might conceive of such an approach. He is not a player with a pre-meditated idea of what he should do in a round and how it should play out. Rather, kennyS is a creature of instinct, tuning into his own sense of what should be done in a given moment and when. If before he was the man who could not understand or execute what Ex6TenZ asked of him, now he is an elemental force set loose upon the world of CS:GO, listening to the language of the game and responding through the words of his play. That those words can speak so loudly now, speaks to a young man who has finally found his voice.
The special sniper
It's not simply that kennyS plays a style that is unorthodox to the conventional approach we see from most top CS:GO players, it's that his style "shouldn't" work, but he makes it effective. It works because playing in a manner which would incorrect for all beginning players and even other top players in fact lines up best with kennyS' individual strengths and his unique developments as a player, thanks to his toil over the first two years of CS:GO competition.
Nobody can play CS:GO the way kennyS can because nobody has been put through the unique struggle kennyS has. Many a player would have retired or been relegated to obscurity, placed in his position and given the resources he has had to work with for over a year. Instead, kennyS finds himself on top of the world and at the zenith of his career as a professional. Overcoming his own weaknesses and self-doubt, kennyS has elevated his game by virtue of embracing his unique qualities and skills as an individual.
"Anyone can try. 'I try hard, but why doesn't it work for me?' types of thinking don't get you anywhere. If you don't have good results there is a reason for it. Take full advantage of your individuality, and with it surpass your competitors."
-sAviOr, Korean four time StarCraft: Brood War champion and legend, asked for advice for those who wish to become pro-gamers.
Photo credit: fragbite, Dreamhack