The coronavirus pandemic has hit PUBG just as it has many other esports, with offline events being cancelled. However, this has given rise to new events, and with it a new Raise Your Edge roster, one that has all the makings of a top-tier team.
However, to find the makings of the roster you have to rewind to January, when Benjamin "mOnKeY" Lartigue formed a reborn Exalt Gaming alongside fellow Frenchman Romain "Shiv" Hermann and Serbian Jovan "Naylup" Tomasevic, with German IGL Magnus "Udyr" Hartmann returning to the side he represented more than a year earlier.
The foursome quickly hit the ground running, first qualifying for and then picking up a respectable sixth place at the GLL Season 4 Finals. This was followed by a top-four finish at PGS Berlin - planned to be the first event in the 2020 Global Series.
Then, the pandemic hit. With RYE having finished below Exalt in ninth, then losing two players, the decision was made to start afresh. The Exalt roster were picked up by Raise Your Edge, and a new journey began.
Fast forward a couple of months, and after a disappointing 19th place at PCS1 RYE replaced Naylup with Russian star Roman "ADOUZ1E" Zinovev.
With the core of mOnKeY, Udyr and Shiv remaining untouched - the three having now played together for more than a year before PCS2, all the way back to their Reciprocity days - how was it welcoming the newcomer to the squad?
"We played with Naylup in Exalt, and we had a few names before him," says mOnKeY. "We had tryouts - Fexx, Kaymind, ADOUZ1E - and in the end we chose Naylup. But we always had ADOUZ1E on our minds since then, and he's one of the best in the world."
Known for being one of PUBG's top fraggers, and always likely to appear on highlights clips on social media, ADOUZ1E came with a big reputation. However, he wasn't quite as mOnKeY imagined.
"We didn't expect him to be like this - he's very talkative, almost like a second IGL. At the beginning, we were like 'oh, he's going to be a big fragger who won't talk a lot, just frag everyone'. But in the end he's someone who talks a lot, brings a lot of ideas and shotcalling - the perfect fit for the team."
And so, to PCS2. After a promising start, ending Day 1 in sixth place, the team ultimately finished in eighth place. A solid result given the strength of the region, but also a disappointing one for mOnKeY.
"We had three weeks to play in this tournament, and we had one good week, one bad week, and one decent week. In the end we were eighth, but we were super close to top three - like 20 points. If we could have transformed the bad day into a decent day we'd have been top five, and if we'd only had good weeks we'd have been top three."
So where did it go wrong?
"The lategame, obviously," mOnKeY says. "It's not a problem of communication, maybe more about the patience. I can't speak to the details - the team needs to discuss it - but the issue we have is the lategame."
This makes sense - there were several times where RYE could have secured victories, but ultimately didn't.
"When we have this free win, most of the time we see it. Out of 24 games, we had three or four free wins, but we got none. We were the only team in the top eight who had no wins."
So, a good performance given the new roster, but also one that speaks to the competitive nature of mOnKeY - always pushing to be better.
This is evident when our discussion turns to maps whether or not the likes of Sanhok should be included in competitive PUBG.
"In a competive way, Sanhok is not a good map for esports - Vikendi and Karakin also - because they are too small and competitively the design doesn't fit. Although we'd have to try Vikendi, play some scrims."
When I suggest pro teams could play those maps in more 'fun' events, that competitive streak comes to the fore.
"Like a Twitch Rivals? We played a fun tournament recently, and they added Sanhok. We're pro players though, competitive players - we're not really looking for fun."
One change that PCS2 saw was the shift to four-game days, spread over three weekends of play.
"It's completely new for us," mOnKeY says. "We were used to playing six games a day. To play four games is kinda too fast, we’d prefer to play five or six games a day. In the end twenty-four games is no difference though".
And how does one adjust, mentally?
"I would say when we play tournaments like this with four games a day it’s more about keeping your mind for the day. When we played six a day, we were like ‘yeah, if we fucked up the first game, in our mind it’s the warm up game’. With four, if you fuck up one game you can fuck up your mind for the rest of the day because you won’t have time to reset, to focus for the rest of the day.
"With six, you had more time to warm up, I’d say."
After a period of uncertainty thanks to the pandemic, the events are flowing thick and fast. PCS, PUBG Pro Sessions, PSL - the players are busy pretty much all the time as we approach the end of the year.
"We love it, we've been waiting for it," mOnKeY says of the busy schedule. "We need to remember that at the beginning of PUBG - perhaps two years ago now - we were playing four, five different tournaments a week. We were playing five days of tournaments a week, back to back."
"We were used to it, and we loved it because that’s the game we love to play. When we play only once or twice a week that’s not enough. When we have PCS2, DreamHack, PCS3, it’s good - but we’d love to have more and it’s what we’re asking for."
Again, that competitive nature coming to the fore, the need for rivalry. But it's also something that mOnKeY is thankful for, given how different it could have been given all that's happened this year.
"When lockdown hit, no LANs until at least the end of the year, we were like ‘oh, the game is dead’. Now, with PCS, it’s really good what they did. In terms of prize pool, date, how many events, it’s really honest. If we compare to other esports battle royale games I would say PUBG is one of the best in terms of prize pool, how many tournaments we’re playing, it’s really good."
The state of PUBG is a recurring theme on social media, with the current Beryl meta dominating. So what does mOnKeY think?
"One of the things we've been asking for is gun balance. For three or four months now, everyone has been playing the Beryl. Mini and SLR are fine, DMR is like fifty-fifty. But the Beryl meta has gone on too long, they've needed to fix the balance for like two months now."
For now, mOnKeY and his teammates are busy packing in the events before PCS3 kicks off. With a 19th place finish at the DreamHack Fall Showdown that ended this past weekend, it's clear there's still work to be done. EU is a strong region, and competition is always going to be tough.
"Europe is pretty stacked right now," Lartigue said just days after PCS2 ended. "We have a bunch of good teams - if you look at the PCS2 leaderboard, so many teams are so close to each other, even after 24 games. If you played 40, 60 games, everyone would still be close."
That's hard to deny: FaZe Clan won PCS2 comfortably after roaring back on 'FaZe Sunday', but behind them matters were much, much closer.
"We finished top eight - we were 20 points away from top three."
That's one good game out of 24 - so close, yet so far. So what is the objective for mOnKeY and his team at PCS3, to which they have a direct invite?
"Our objective is to be top five. We'll get this for sure - we have to, because we want to!"
I mention that this would be a perfect mantra to have as a tattoo.
"I'll put it on my leg!"
A busy week of PUBG action saw the final two regions close out their PCS2 events, with Europe being treated to yet another 'FaZe Sunday', Soniqs closing out an expected NA win, and Divine claiming the APAC crown by the skin of their teeth.
Header image: Daan Driessen | GLL