winz reminiscing about his career: 'I usually have a very good idea of where I stand individually...'
While modern-day esports fans recognize Michael "winz" Bignet as a skilled and versatile Overwatch player—who is ready to play whatever position his team needs—his career as a professional player began more than a decade ago. In the distant 2004, he was already representing ‘against All authority’, a brand veteran fans will recognize as a once staple name among the upper echelon the French esports scene.
While winz wasn’t a regular in the offline circuit at the time, he’d grow to be recognized as one of the best in the games he played. Throughout 2005, he became UT2004 world champion by winning ESWC in France, his home country. 2006 saw him earning the gold again, but this time for Quake 4 with notable wins over toxjq, now recognized as the greatest Q4 player, and Cypher, who would eventually become the best, and arguably greatest, Quake duelist to date.
After the introduction of Quake Live, winz gave up on the 1v1 mode due to a number of gameplay changes he didn’t enjoy and the continued prevalence of old maps. For several years, he wasn’t part of the highest level of offline competition, but eventually made a comeback in team modes and games, winning premier tournaments in Quake Live TDM, ShootMania, and most recently, Overwatch.
The interview takes a retrospective look at his career as a player. This, first, part aims to answer some of the questions his long-time followers might have, while familiarizing the new generation of esports fans with his past, prior to Overwatch.
In the second part, which you can find by clicking here, we focused on varying topics from the last fifteen months. Some of them are Rogue's time in Korea, players who are no longer part of the team, stats, and others.
Bonjour! The first game you won big event in was UT2004, but had you competed in tournaments for Q3A, or any other game, before switching to it? What other PvP games had you played on a high level previously?
Hello! I did indeed play and compete in Quake 3—it happens to be my very first game. I started playing on the Quake3 Demo back in 1999. I played it actively online and participated in LANs up until 2004, which is the year I switched to UT2004. I think my first LAN was in 2001 or 2002—it has been a while. [smile]
Quake 3 is the only game I’ve played on a high level and competitively before UT 2004.
About the same time was when the Painkiller world tour was going on and I've seen you comment about your regret of not getting into the game. How good do you think you would have been if you actually played the game seriously?
My regret was financial. When I tried the game, upon its release, the netcode was so bad it was unplayable online, even with the best of connection. So I just gave up thinking it wouldn’t be a missed opportunity, because at that point, esports was getting bigger and bigger with no sign of slowing down. But it did so big time, especially the fast FPS genre. [smiles]
It’s always hard to guess what would have happened in a hypothetical situation, but knowing myself and my capability to switch to another FPS, I don’t think it’s an unfair assumption to make that I would have been able to compete at the highest level.
In his 'Reflections' interview with Thorin, Fatal1ty mentioned that it was one of his favorite games to play. What were the strengths and problems with Painkiller, as a duel game, for you?
The strengths and problems really depend on your tastes, I suppose. It was a railgun-less very fast-paced game, closer in gameplay to QuakeWorld than it was to Quake 3. I was more the Q3 type—slightly slower, with more tactical positioning, and I’m a hitscan kind of guy. So I would have missed the presence of the railgun, but I wouldn’t say it is a problem; it very much is about personal preferences. The biggest issue [with the game] was definitely the netcode.
Going into ESWC 2005*, you had won a bunch of online cups and the French qualifier, but what did you expect from the main event? Were you already recognized within the French aFPS scene beforehand?
*ESWC 2005 for UT2004 was Winz’ first big offline win. He became a world champion on home soil, in Paris, and won $6,000.
The French qualifier was a formality, really. I was already competing with Europe’s best in online cups and beating up to win quite a few of them, so it didn’t come as a surprise that I ended up winning the French qualifier. From the results of the online cups, I proved to be capable of taking the main event home, but it was all about keeping my nerves in check. It was my biggest issue back then, before I turned 17 or 18 during Quake 3.
I think I was really good and capable of anything, but the stress to perform was affecting me in a negative way and it took me years to channel it and turn it into a strength. I’ve learned to deal with it through experience and it actually made me a much better player, too. Stress helps me be more focused [now]. When it clicked and I could finally handle it, I felt really confident—Overconfident during that one event WCG2004 France, in which I lost to an objectively weaker opponent in the final, because I was too reckless. [It was] a mistake I learned from and didn’t repeat after that.
Was I recognized before ESWC2005? I think it is fair to say yes. I came into the UT2004 very cocky saying that I would come and beat everyone within a few weeks—something I ended up doing [laughs] and won many online cups that same year in 2004. I’m pretty sure they already knew who I was going into ESWC2005! [smiles]
An interesting moment during the event was when you lost to DevilMC in the group stage, but there was some issue with the sound. In the semifinal, you met him again, but this time, you won in a fairly one-sided manner. Can you clear up what happened in the groups and how was the match in the playoffs different?
There wasn’t a [tech] issue; the issue was mine and due to inexperience. I was using open headphones in a very crowded and loud event—Rookie mistake. I could hear people in the background having a conversation and it was quite distracting [laughs]. UT2004 had very low-volume footsteps, so it definitely affected my game, but the bigger factor was that I didn’t know what to expect from DevilMC. He didn’t practice online, or participate in any of the online cups, so I was going in blind with nothing to watch and analyze, when he had plenty of content of me. He happened to have a similar game to mine and it surprised me. Slow, methodical, deadly, arely makes a misstep.
It was a lucky to have him in my group, because it allowed to go in the semifinal knowing that and adjust my style for him. Be even more careful [than usual].
The Unreal Tournament series was quite popular back in the day, so surely it isn’t as terrible of a game Quake fans would have you believe, right? What were UT2004's strong and weak points in terms of gameplay for you?
Most of the Quake players dislike UT2004 because of its movement system. It isn’t as smooth as Quake and I understand the sentiment. I do have a preference for Quake movements as well, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy UT2004’s movements. I guess I have a higher tolerance to changes than most Quakers, as proven by my career. [laughs]
Again, it’s all about tastes. UT2004 was the perfect fit for me, because it was the heaviest hitscan [aFPS] game there is. I loved that aspect because that’s my style, but I definitely wouldn’t call it a weak or a strong point.
How developed was the duel metagame in UT, compared to Quake 3 at the time and Quake 4 next year? As someone who came over from Q3A, was the UT community unaware of some concepts which helped you win?
UT2004 was less about items and more about fighting, or rather, about how you engage a fight. Obviously, items had an impact, but not the impact they had in Quake. You can win UT2004 duels against an opponent of roughly the same skill level without taking any big armor, because the weapons were just that strong and you could make up for the stack difference (health and armor) with just a couple unanswered shots. [ This is ]A feat much harder to accomplish in Quake. Item control is a skill you have to master when playing Quake.
The couple of things that struck me regarding UT players is that they didn’t seem to care all that much about the 5HP vials, even though they were the only way you had to get your health above 100HP. They were incredibly powerful with a non-decaying health pool above 100HP (unlike Quake*). The second one was their misuse—or rather their poor use—of the shield UT2004 had. Players often took long range exchanges below 70HP instead of having the shield up. It made no sense to me as the highest hitscan damaging weapon, Lightning Gun, did 70 damage per shot. Not a favourable [risk-return] trade-off in terms of risk of the dying against no risk of dying.
*In Quake games you have the opportunity to stack armor and health up to 200, but whenever the values are above 100, they start decaying, slowly bringing the player down to 100/100.
Coming into the next ESWC 2006 (Quake 4), a bunch of people and most notably Vo0, had said to look out for you. However, from what I’ve read, no one actually thought you can beat toxjq in the groups, or let alone win the event. What were your own expectations?
I usually have a very good idea of where I stand individually, so I knew what I was capable of. I wasn’t going in the tournament as a favourite, but I knew I was capable of beating everyone.
The event was actually only a week before WSVG Dallas, which was the start of him winning 11 out of 12 duel tournaments. Was toxjq already as good as he was during the streak, or did losing to you and Cypher at ESWC cause him to change his playstyle in any way?
Yeah, he was [already] at the same level, you don’t become significantly better within 4-5 days. However, knowing toxjq very well, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was feeling some discomfort regarding something [at ESWC] that prevented him from playing to his full potential. He is quite sensitive to minor things others can’t see, be it monitors, input lag or anything else. I remember our game on the small stage of the second group stage and my thoughts were “well, we both played quite bad haha”. It felt somewhat random.
Do you recall your preparation for the match with him? How much did seeing the demos of cooller beating him at the two previous events, CPL Winter and DreamHack, help with the match-up?
I don’t prepare for someone in particular—it has always been a futile exercise in my eyes. Players adapt their style and decisions depending on whom they’re playing and the situation. Trying to look for patterns or habits might prove itself counter-productive as you might be expecting something they won’t do. My opinion is that the best preparation prior to a tournament is to play as much as possible so [you] feel confident in your own game.
You mentioned that you know toxjq very well, and I saw a more recent game of you against him from QuakeCon 2014, in which you won again, albeit in a close fashion. Do you think you have some sort of stylistic advantage against toxjq?
That game was just a warmup game between two friends, before his official match. It didn’t mean anything.
However, toxjq is one of, if not the, best hitscan player out there—he is insane! You can’t go against him, hit 30% shaft and rail, and expect to do well unless you outplay him massively in the item control game, which, really, happened to be his only weakness. I’m one of the few players who can fight back with roughly the same level of aim and it definitely gives me an advantage over other players when it comes to dealing with such a beast.
Do you have any theories about why he failed to maintain his nearly unbeatable level once everyone returned to Q3 and later on Quake Live?
toxjq is a very skillful, aim-heavy player. The reason he didn’t dominate on Q3 and QL the way he did on Q4 was because both Q3 and QL are a bit slower and more tactical. Q4 fit his style perfectly, because timing and item control didn’t matter as much there. Scores [in Q4] were much higher. You can see games ending in 1-0, 2-0, or overtime at a high-level in QL. That wasn’t a thing in Q4, he could just run around and do his thing with his aim. Also, maps were a bit smaller with fewer items.
toxjq is a pure fragging machine, Q3 and QL duel were the games other players could compensate his insane fragging power with more stack through item control. Without that, nobody really stood a chance.
In the ESWC2006 finals you met Cypher, who hadn't lost a single map the whole event, while beating both toxjq and cooller and was the huge favorite, but you stopped him 2-1. Was his form during the event comparable to his peaks later in Q3 and QL? If so, were you just playing above and beyond at the event?
Hard to recall [laughs]. I think it’s fair to say he played slightly below his level on the big stage. He was 16 [at the time] and it was the first big event for him, but that’s one of the parts you have to master if you want to call yourself the best. I still think I was above [his level], but it probably had an impact as to why the deciding map wasn’t close at all. I think he crumbled under the pressure in the deciding moments.
Is there any specific reasons you didn't become more active in the circuit? You had just won your second ESWC in a row, having beaten two of the best Q4 players and the game had a bunch of tournaments with first place prizes between $5,000 and $20,000 throughout the next year*.
Honestly, at the time, being 18 and with close to no English skills, I was just afraid to travel by myself. It’s one of my few regrets. I wish I had, but it’s so easy to say that now.
*For comparison, while it's worth noting that nowadays salaries are considerably more prevalent, even in a fairly new game like Overwatch, APEX’s first place prize is $14,739 per player.
In 2007's ESWC you finished third to av3k and cooller—which is a good finish on paper—but Toxjq, Cypher, fox and DaHanG were all in Dallas for WSVG. Were you still as good as the previous year compared to the best players? Had you already started playing less Q4?
I wasn’t as good as the previous year, no. I had planned a bootcamp, which had to be cancelled last minute due to my bootcamp partner being stuck in the US. I had definitely played less Q4 than I had the previous year and the bootcamp was needed to step it up to the [level of the] best.
Nowadays, you seem to be quite level-headed and mature, even when you express confidence. However, from browsing ESR it seems that some people claim you weren't always like this. Did you have a different mentality back then, or was it more of a byproduct of the scene and the community?
It is absolutely true. There isn’t much to say about it besides that everyone grows up ... eventually. [laughs]
You've been outspoken about your dislike of QL's time limit being reduced to 10 minutes in duel. Was that the deal-breaking change for you, or was it the tipping point when combined with the rest of the changes? How much of an effect do you think it had on the state of the scene early into the game?
It was one of the few factors that made me dislike QL’s duel mode, but not the only one. The 15 years old maps were another one.
The biggest effect a smaller time limit can have is [causing] more volatile outcomes. QL in duel is a lot about map control and racking up the frags when you have it... well, depending on the map. On some maps it was very, very difficult to break said control against a player of a similar level, Aerowalk for example. It can take few minutes to break it, but once it’s done it is too often, too late. The player with the lead just has to play slow and passive and delay each of his deaths to win the game. You don’t have the time for a comeback.
That is an aspect about the game I dislike.
The outcome of a game with two players of similar level could be decided on the first randomized spawn and more often than not giving an advantage to one of them.
I’m a competitor at heart and my philosophy is that no factor besides you playing better should be the deciding factor on the outcome of the game.
You are quite the competitive individual and mentioned that you favor hitscan weapons. Is there any particular reason you never got into Counter-Strike on a professional level, especially when Global Offensive started returning to popularity in 2013?
Just not my kind of game, I prefer fast paced gameplay. Realism takes the fun out of games— this isn’t the way it should be in my opinion.
Additionally, the random factor I was talking about in QL is present in CS:GO... times ten. Pistol rounds create [up to] a six-rounds difference (you win three, opponents lose three). Kills can be solely based on unlucky timings since you die so fast. One kill can be the difference between a fine economy or a shattered one.
No wonder you see so many upsets on CS:GO; some people would argue it makes the game more exciting and I would agree, but only to an extent. As a player, I find it frustrating to lose due to something else than my own poor play.
They should consider making it even spicier and have Bo1s in groups. Oh wait..
You played in several Shootmania tournaments and have been vocal that it was mostly because the developer was throwing money around to promote it. Did the it have any redeeming qualities as a game, though?
Just nope. The game was spam-based and very limited. Not enjoyable. Its current state is a deserved one. Perhaps next time the lead dev won’t be as stubborn, and will actually consider the opinions of knowledgeable people.
You've mentioned that if one masters Quake, they can master any FPS. Please elaborate on the statement for fans who haven’t played or watched Quake. Does that hold true for a game like Overwatch, considering it has abilities and etc.?
Quake is the hardest FPS game to master there is. It’s the game with the most advanced movement mechanics. It takes years to become good enough to challenge the best players. I would argue if you manage to reach a certain level on Quake, you can most certainly reach a top level in most other FPS as long as there is motivation and dedication. But Quake players proved me wrong for the most part in Overwatch, so I’m not sure anymore. ;)
Photo credits: TBS, Shootmania
About the author:
Hello readers, I go by the ID RadoN! I’ve been following different games within the esports industry ever since finding out about it in 2009. The titles that I follow closely for the time being are Overwatch, CS:GO and Quake Live, while occasionally dabbling in SFV, Dota 2 and LoL. If you wish to reach out, follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on esports and gaming, you can find me on twitter at @RadoNonfire.