From being accused of cheating to the #1 player in the world, ZywOo's short career has only gone one way, and that's up!
Having started the year as ‘the French Prince That Was Promised’, Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut has now claimed the top spot in HLTV’s top 20 players of 2019 list despite missing out on the Esports Awards PC Rookie of the Year prize to Fortnite World Cup winner Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf.
To some, this placing seemed inevitable. The 19-year-old Counter Strike prodigy has not had a negative event since the online DreamHack Open Valencia 2017 Europe Closed Qualifier in mix team ‘Magicians’ and is yet to go negative at a LAN tournament.
With his first LAN under his belt before he was even a teenager, his path to the top looked set to mirror that of fellow Frenchman Kenny “kennyS” Schrub, someone who also started playing at an early age and went on to set the scene ablaze.
Instead, there were a few barriers to ZywOo’s entry into professional Counter-Strike.
In 2018, G2 Esports were crumbling and it would once again be veteran players, not the young talent, that were recruited.
It has since been said that suspicions from the G2 camp in regards to ZywOo’s legitimacy were to blame for him never being considered for the team.
The infamous 2014 VAC wave that stunned the professional scene disqualified both Titan and Epsilon Esports a week before the DreamHack Winter 2014 Major. While a French team (LDLC) went on to claim the title, the impact Hovik "KQLY" Tovmassian and Gordon "Sf" Giry had on the players and teams around them has not been easily forgotten.
Team EnVyUs had offered a substantial amount for him back in 2018 but ZywOo instead focused on finishing school and sitting the baccalauréat.
Understandably, this initial decision to turn down thousands added to some suspicion within the CS:GO community, while others saw the merit to his decision, providing a backup if a career in esports wasn’t to be.
In the end, it was Nathan “NBK-” Schmitt, an unmatched kingmaker who had been removed from G2, that first gave ZywOo a chance at a strong professional debut in October 2018.
Flanked by some of France’s most iconic names, ZywOo would start strong and not slow down for the rest of that year.
2019 saw five MVP medals awarded to him despite Vitality’s varied form. Wins at cs_summit 4, ECS Season 7 Finals and EPICENTER 2019 were three of those medals. Second place finishes for Vitality at ESL One Cologne and DreamHack Masters Malmö were enough for ZywOo to take the accolade over any player on the respective winning teams.
Like ‘vintage’ kennyS, ZywOo has more than carried his team with an AWP in his hands. The addition of Alex “ALEX” McMeekin cannot be overlooked as a factor in Vitality’s 2019 growth, but it was the superstar performances of ZywOo that have led to their wins.
Past conflicts between more experienced players have caused issues when forming teams due to multiple ‘French shuffles’ involving the same handful of names. Less experienced players who have had no involvement in such drama have been needed for a long time and both ALEX and ZywOo were absent from the upper echelons of French Counter-Strike during these milestone shuffles.
Those who know ZywOo don’t just praise his in-game abilities. It is often said that he is humble. respectful and lacks the ego one might expect from a young Counter-Strike talent.
When speaking to HLTV ahead of the top 20 list being released, ZywOo was not concerned about being the best player in the world and instead expressed his gratitude towards Vitality and those who had supported him in his debut year.
"To be in the top 20 would be a bonus for me, and I can only thank Vitality and my teammates for helping me to grow as a player. I also have to thank everyone for their support, I have no words to describe how important it is to me. The amount of support I have received is just incredible."
Other up-and-coming players have been held back by their own behaviours ranging from an inflated sense of self-importance to toxicity, racist language and even threatening the lives of players around them.
As 2020 sees CS:GO enter a new era of leagues and circuits, this could be another year in which ZywOo dominates while challenged by the likes of 2019 top five players including Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, Nicolai “device” Reedtz and Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski.
We could also see the rise of new young talent having their own breakout years, dethroning the long-established veterans that have seen better days and taking the places of those finally stepping away from the mouse and keyboard.
Images via Starladder | Flickr