More than an Entry: The Evolution of apEX
Image Credit: Dreamhack
France has produced some of the most memorable names to ever have touched Counter-Strike. Players such as Cedric ‘RpK‘ Guipoy, often considered to be the greatest Source players of all time; Richard ‘Shox’ Papillon, the player with the most 1vX situations won in the history of Global Offensive; and Kenny ’kennyS’ Schrub, who is considered by many to be the greatest AWPer to have touched the game, have all hailed from France. To say the least, it takes a sizable combination of raw, mechanical skill and well-honed gamesense to stand out in the region.
An alternate way to make a name for yourself, however, is to be an innovative leader. Leaders such as Vincent ‘Happy’ Schopenhauer, whose game-changing strategies on eco rounds and forcebuys led to two separate major championships for France, also managed to find their way into the history books. Unfortunately, not everyone is born to be an aim star, and not everyone is a natural leader. For some, the path to success is more difficult. No player exemplifies this more than Dan ‘apEX’ Madesclaire.
Like many top French players, apEX began his career in Source. During his tenure with the game, he managed to find success with nearly every team he found himself on. However, as fate would have it, apEX rarely stayed on the same team for very long. It seemed as though every few months, he would be swept away to join another lineup, where he would win a tournament and then be traded. With the move to Global Offensive on the horizon, his last and longest-standing home in Source, Team VeryGames, would bench him.
During the move into Global Offensive, apEX’s successes were few and far between. While he would win small, local LAN events, he and his teams struggled to find success internationally. His woes would continue, as he bounced between six different teams between August of 2012 and February of 2014, when he found himself back on Team LDLC.com for the second time in Global Offensive. During these shuffles, apEX’s role in the game was as a pure entry fragger. Very rarely was he put in positions where he was to stand out; he existed in the game to get one frag and then be traded. His second time on LDLC, however, was different. This time, apEX was the star.
His stay on LDLC was turbulent at first. They bowed out of their first major together in the first round of the playoffs against Virtus.Pro. After some turbulent online placements following the tournament, their results began to pick up. They won Dreamhack Valencia and made it to the semi-finals at their second Major tournament together. Despite exiting the tournament in the semifinals, apEX was the second-highest rated player of the event, boasting a 1.38 rating across all of the maps LDLC played. His time as a star player proved the peaks he could reach when he was utilized right. For the first time in his professional career, apEX was on the same level as kennyS and shox, and his stats reflected that. During his time with LDLC, he posted a 53% entry win rate despite only attempting entry frags in 26% of rounds.
Unfortunately, shortly after his stellar performance at the major, the first of many French Shuffles happened, and apEX was thrust back into pure entry fragging for Titan. During his tenure with the now non-existent team, apEX would post some of his worst career entry numbers. Through Titan’s failures with this lineup, apEX’s entry win rate would drop to 49% while attempting to make an opening play for his team in 28% of rounds. It was clear that, under the system crafted by Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans, apEX was being underutilized.
When the second French Shuffle occurred, the prodigal son of entry fragging was transferred to Team EnVyUs, where he found himself back under the wing of Happy. Additionally, apEX finally linked up with one of the most well-known French support players, Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt. Despite being part of a new system, however, apEX’s entry fragging didn’t see a substantial improvement. Within his first four months with the team, he was taking less entry duels per round but only seeing a small improvement in his success, bringing it up to 50% success in 26% of rounds. Even so, his time with EnVyUs would result in his first, and only, major championship to date.
In the year that followed, apEX’s entry stats on EnVyUs dropped further and further. By the time the third French Shuffle hit, his entry stats were comparable to those from his days on Titan, with a 49% entry success on 27% of rounds with an entry attempted. In the wake of the shuffle, apEX found himself on G2 Esports, where his career would begin to take a turn away from his entry fragging roots. In his fifteen months active with the squad, his entry success would drop to 48%. More importantly, however, his entries attempted dropped to 22%. This implies that apEX was no longer exclusively playing that role. Instead, other statistics suggest that he had been moved into a support role. Unfortunately, at this point, he was relatively new to the role. Despite that, he was able to post a 74% flashbang success (with .05 flash assists per round) in his time under the leadership of shox, averaging a flash thrown in 42% of rounds.
Another important caveat of apEX’s time with G2 was revealed in a vlog posted by the organization following a win at DreamHack Malmö. The team explained that, due to shox’s discomfort with calling on Mirage, they allowed apEX to take the helm as leader for the purposes of that one map. This proved to be a successful decision for the team, as they were able to defeat a strong SK Gaming on Mirage in a crucial decider map in order to secure a quarter-final victory on their road to winning the tournament.
However, following mixed results, apEX and NBK- were benched by G2. In the middle of 2018, the duo began practicing with a team that they then called Waterboys, five players who were either benched or teamless. The team was stacked to the brim with legends of the French scene, and, after successful results online against lower-tier competition, they were picked up by Team Vitality.
This time, however, apEX’s role was different. No longer was he a dedicated entry fragger. Now joined by Matheiu “ZywOo” Herbaut, apEX was no longer needed to open rounds up. In the system crafted by Happy and later perfected by Alex “ALEX” McMeekin, apEX’s role shifted into a support role. In 2019, Vitality reached the number two spot on HLTV’s world rankings, behind then-unstoppable Team Liquid. While most of this success was credited to ZywOo’s raw talent, many of the young stars’ frags were supported by flashbangs from apEX, who boasted the second highest flash success rate in 2019, at 78% success across 156 maps.
After spending a majority of his career forced to entry, apEX’s understanding of teams’ setups, common angles, and crossfires would turn him into one of the best support players in the game. Not only was he setting his team up for success, but for a majority of Vitality’s success, he was the only player other than ZywOo to have a positive HLTV rating. In addition to his flash support, apEX took on a more passive role for his team. For example, on CT sides, apEX’s job turned into a second contact role, typically waiting to throw counter-utility in hopes of preventing his teammates’ entry frags from being traded.
As 2019 entered its second half, Vitality entered a slump. ApEX’s impact began to dwindle, and, following the conclusion of the Starladder Berlin, the team would swap NBK- for shox. Despite winning one final tournament in 2019, this year would completely shake Vitality’s core system. Following the conclusion of IEM Katowice 2020, ALEX would announce that he was taking an indefinite break from professional play, leaving a void in leadership.
Team Vitality was left with a choice. They could either bring on a new leader to replace ALEX, or they could look internally. Many fans speculated that shox would take a leadership role in the team, but Vitality had other plans. Shortly after the British player’s departure, apEX took the reins as Vitality’s leader, picking up Kévin “misutaaa” Rabier as a fifth player. Their time with misutaaa has been shaky, yet promising. In a recap posted by apEX at the beginning of the player break, he admitted that while misutaaa is mechanically gifted, his understanding of teamwork was still shaky.
While Vitality’s results following this roster change weren’t ideal, they have managed to bounce back with multiple top four placements, and under apEX’s leadership, they currently sit at #2 in HLTV’s world rankings.
It’s hard to measure the impact that a leader has on the game in statistics. A leader needs to have a strong understanding of the game and enough charisma to keep their team’s belief in them. A crucial pillar of French CS is confidence. When French stars begin to tilt, they begin to fail, and this is where I believe apEX’s leadership is going to prevail more than any other French leader could. His ability to keep his team’s spirits up during tough matches may not be fully honed yet, but he still has plenty of time. His demeanor during Vitality’s many successes in 2019 became memetic at times, but also demonstrated his dedication to keeping the team morale high.
Hearing the name apEX immediately conjures images of entry fragging in the head of any CS:GO fan who has been around for awhile. Some players spend their entire lives in that role, just trying to perfect the craft as much as they possibly can. Others shy away and try to be something different. Entry fraggers don’t get the credit they deserve; their impact isn’t invisible, but their sacrifices are. It’s not easy to rush in first, knowing that you’ll either be the first frag in the round or get the first frag in the round.
Sometimes frags don’t tell the whole story though, and this is especially true for apEX’s career. All along, he was a soldier who simply obeyed orders. He played a very undesirable role, and as a result, he did not get his time in the limelight like many of the bigger names in the French scene. Despite this, his contributions to French Counter-Strike have been numerous, and his development as a player should be an inspiration to everyone who is stuck in those ugly, dirty, and downright shitty positions. You are never too far in your career to change your role. When you’re a ZywOo, a kennyS, or a shox, people know your name because you blow their minds with incredible plays, but we can’t all be stars. Some of us have to be the ones to set them up for victory. Maybe you weren’t born to be like ZywOo, but if you grind hard enough and never give up on improving, you can be like apEX.