Saturday, 3 March 2018

Cloud9: The Great American Major Shuffle

A little over a month has now passed since Cloud9 did the unthinkable in becoming the first team from North America to win a CSGO Major tournament. ELeague Boston was the perfect springboard to the 2018 season for a team that was created during the great American shuffle of August 15th 2017 and have since gone on to a second place at CS Summit 2, a quaterfinal finish at IEM Katowice and in the process becoming ranked #3 in the world according to HLTV. The team were formed to be a North American champion and will be looking forward to their chances for retaining their Major title at Faceit London in September.

Looking back, the current version of Cloud9 wouldn’t have formed if it wasn’t for the poorer than expected performance at the PGL Krakow Major. After coming into the tournament on a good run of form. Cloud9 crumbled in the group stage and extended an unwanted streak of not making out of the group stage to four majors in a row. 

The team at the time of Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham, Jake "Stewie2k" Yip, Timothy "Autimatic" Ta , Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert and Michael "Shroud" Grzesiek all had the individual talent to progress further than they had, but each player was at a different point of their career. Autimatic and Stewie were two of the best young players in the North American scene and had a lot to prove, n0thing was coming to the end of a long and storied playing career, Skadoodle was horribly out of form and was struggling to find himself and Shroud had all but checked out from professional CSGO, spending most of his time publicly playing PUBG. The time for the first big roster overhaul in almost a year was here and it was a bumpy one for Cloud9 fans.

With both n0thing and Shroud making their exits from the team, speculation was in abundance as to who Cloud9 would be keeping, trading away or picking up. At one point there was talk that Autimatic and Stewie2k would be going to different organisations, there was the question as who the team would build around Autimatic/Stewie or Ska and finally who would be brought in as Cloud9 desperately needed a fragging IGL as it's was their biggest weakness. Then on August 15th it was announced that Will "Rush" Wierzba and Tarik "Tarik" Celik would join from Optic Gaming. 

The signings of Rush and Tarik were an upgrade for three reasons. The first was because in terms of play style, Rush and Tarik were the perfect fit for Autimatic and Stewie. Playing with the same aggressive style and tempo is something that the previous team didn't do. The second was the fact that Tarik openly wanted to be the teams in game lead from the start. This would allow Stewie to focus on his fragging and AWPing and not have the pressure of leading as well, taking some of the pressure away from him. Finally Tarik's leadership style would suit Skadoodle, giving him the occasional kick in the back side when it was needed. On paper this was the best team in North America and the one to give the fans the American major dream.

Things got off to a rocky start however, when after qualifying for the ESL One: New York tournament. Cloud9 had a horrible showing at Dreamhack Malmo, not managing to get out of the group stage. After this the team found their stride, with good placements at events such as Dreamhack Montreal and ESL One: New York. The team found a their stride at Dreamhack Denver, crushing an out classed BIG. This continued all the way through to the end of the season and the off season was a much needed time to complete the gelling process. 

At the start of the 2018 season came ELeague Boston. It was the first time that a major tournament kicked off a season, teams were cold and so nobody knew what to expect. Cloud9 started off strong in the new Challengers Stage going 3-0 with wins against Team Envyus, Sprout and Mouse. This changed drastically though when Cloud9 came into the Legends Stage. After a narrow defeat to G2, got hammered by Space Soldiers to start the major 0-2. Knowing that their backs were against the wall and one more defeat would knock them out. The team then channelled the energy from Cloud9 LoL because from there on in they ran the gauntlet, and it was a run that wasn't to be missed. 

They then went on to beat VP, Astralis and Vega Squadron, obtaining a map differential of +20 and finally making it into the playoff stage at a major tournament. The playoffs however were no easy feat. Cloud9 were facing a quarterfinals match up with G2 who themselves were ranked #3 at the time. They were also the team that had just beaten them in the group stages. However, G2 didn't pick the one map they had a clear advantage on, Cache. This lead to loud 9 getting revenge and beating G2 2-0 and in convincing style. Up next was the team ranked #1 in the world, SK Gaming. While Cloud9 had a good record going into the semifinal against SK, they are a team not to be underestimated at any point. The game was a seesaw battle, with Autimatic being his constant reliable self when it came to fragging and support from Tarik, Skadoodle and Stewie. Cloud9 beat SK 2-1 and advanced to the final vs Faze Clan. 

Facing Faze Clan was like facing an ultimate boss for Cloud9, as every other time in recent history the two teams had played each other, Faze clan had destroyed Cloud9. It was starting to look this way again after Cloud9 picked their best map Mirage and got piped 16-14. The writing seemed to be on the wall as map 2 was Faze's best map Overpass, a map that Cloud9 had struggled with in the past. However, Tarik (1.35), Skadoodle (1.33), Autimatic (1.31) and Stewie (1.29) all went into another level and managed to pull the series back to equal with a monumental team effort. 

That effort transferred over to the last map Inferno, which was another map that swung heavily in the favour of Faze. Nobody however seemed to tell this to Tarik. With support of his team, Tarik lead from the front, with a rating of 1.43, 38/25 kills to deaths and an ADR of 92. Tarik forced Cloud9 to make it to overtime. As the underdog the pressure was all on Faze and this showed as Autimatic, Stewie and Skadoodle all picked up incredible clutches, to stop Faze in overtime and win the game. Despite Skadoodle getting the MVP award for his clutch plays at the end, if it wasn't for Tarik the game wouldn't have gotten as far as it did and we would be looking at Faze's first major win and not Cloud9's. 

Form has continued well into the remainder of the season so far. A couple of second places set the scene nicely and although Starladder was disappointing. The levels returned in the unfortunate loss to Faze at IEM Katowice in the quarterfinals. With the team the way they are currently, the synergy and leadership is in place for Cloud9 to finish well at the remaining tournaments. Hopefully, when comes September, they'll be leaving London as back to back major winners.  

(*Picture from Dotesport)  

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