Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I got myself into this situation.
Some stories make more sense when they’re told in medias res – this certainly holds true when it comes to the trials and tribulations of Cloud9, at least in Counter-Strike. On the surface, it looks like they’re a dominant force in the FPS scene as the winners of the inaugural Overwatch League under the London Spitfire banner and simultaneously being the defending major champions in CS:GO. The truth is, of course, nowhere near rosy, at least not in the realm of terrorists and the men in the gasmasks: this is the tale of their unlikely victory at Boston, everything that followed since, and the topsy-turvy road that led them to this point.
Catching a break
For the casual observer, the story of the major-winning line-up may seem like a fast-forwarded version of the life of a star, coming together from a hodgepodge of materials, shining with blinding light before its eventual collapse. What’s perhaps not as widely known is that its formation marked an end of an era by itself: the abdication of n0thing and shroud after the Krakow major last summer cut the cord on the continuity from the time the organization picked up compLexity’s core in mid-2014 as all of them were finally removed from the active roster by the end of the player break.
It was a turbulent period: the team has failed to even make it out of the groups in multiple offline events, and by many accounts, n0thing’s unwillingness to adapt to an entry-fragger role and supposed team chemistry issues led to an ambitious and contentious line-up change with the removal of those two players to make room for OpTiC’s tarik and RUSH, with the former picking up the IGL mantle. This change came shortly after an impressive second-place finish at Cologne, making many question the decision at the time, but the adjustment would finally give the team a decent structure and an unexpectedly effective setup that would culminate in their incredible run at ELEAGUE Boston – but while the individual players’ skill was never in doubt, it was impossible to predict what their team chemistry would be like and whether they would be able to get beyond the ills that have been plaguing North American Counter-Strike since what seemed like an eternity.
Their tournament results definitely improved around the time, even if nobody expected them to make real waves at the major. Still, making it to the semi-finals at ESL One New York and IEM Oakland – losing to the titans of FaZe Clan both times – and three smaller LAN wins marked a promising if still inconsistent period for the new roster.
The Miracle of Massachusetts
It’s safe to say that the early rounds at Boston didn’t exactly herald the shock result that was about to happen, with Cloud9 looking more likely to repeat their disappointing Krakow showing than to go all the way and win it: while they have gone through the New Challengers Stage undefeated, the first two wins came against EnVyUs and Sprout – not exactly world-beaters –, with only their victory over mouz counting as a truly impressive win.
The rest, of course, is history: after going down 0-2 and being a hair’s breadth away from elimination, the Americans fought back, exorcizing many demons along the way as they pushed past a floundering Virtus.pro, an underwhelming Astralis and Vega Squadron. From that point on, it’s as if they were magnetized by the crowd upon entering the arena: they’ve absolutely demolished the so far quite promising G2, keeping them to single digits on both maps. A brawl against SK and an unforgettable final against FaZe followed, and history was made.
Even then, it didn’t seem like the beginning of an era: the level of skill on display in the playoffs was clearly beyond the team’s usual capabilities – specifically, Skadoodle seemed to find a new level after finally making it out of the groups for the first time in his career after eight previous failures –, and the rapid rise and fall of Gambit also seemed to indicate that this title win is much more likely to be a one-of than a rise of a new juggernaut in the scene.
In the end, it indeed turned out to be a mirage: Cloud9 would fail to win any other title to date, immediately disappointing people by losing to domestic rivals Liquid in the cs_summit 2 final less than two weeks later. An embarrassing quarter-final defeat to Team One at WESG would mark Stewie2K’s final event in sky blue before his swap to FalleN’s then-SK Gaming side. Since then, Cloud9 failed to even make it to the semi-finals of any event they’ve attended, and their major-winning roster has eroded further after tarik decided to follow his fellow exile to become a part of the Made in Brazil project. For now, GoldeN and STYKO are making up the numbers, and you can’t help but feel that European top teams’ rejects may not be the way to go if you want to defend your title.
It’s quite possible that things will change again once the major’s out of the way, and there are certainly other promising North American prospects that you could raid even if an ex-major champion status doesn’t carry the same sheen as the status of “title holder” does. However the London rumble may go, it will likely mark the end of yet another era for Cloud9 – just like how the abdication of n0thing and shroud was considered as such org for a good reason. Now that we’ve established how the organization’s short and sweet period of glory came to be, it makes more sense to look at how their transformation from the compLexity core got them to that point. However, that is a story for another time…