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The labors of Stewie2k

Stewie2k (Jake Yip) has become one of NA's best CS:GO players while on Cloud9
Photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL.

Jake “Stewie2K” Yip’s rise to power is one of the most inspiring stories in Counter-Strike. It signifies the arrival of the next generation of NA stars. Perhaps more importantly, it symbolizes the never-ending quest to win, personified in his own journey from FPL to the leader of one of North America’s best teams. His road was fraught with the sort of obstacles unique to the NA scene. Every time he reached one level of success, he was forced to take on another challenge seemingly beyond his powers. These are the labors of Stewie2k.

The initial impetus that propelled Stewie2k onto the Cloud9 roster was partially due to luck. At the time, Sean Gares had left the team, and C9 was late to throw its hat into the ring concerning roster shuffles. The organization and Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert had contacted as many players as they could, but all of the players they wanted were already contracted or unwilling to move to North America. In a Hail Mary throw, Cloud9 gave Stewie2k a trial. It turned out to be the best recruitment by C9 in the last two years.

His first task was simple but essential: learn how to function as part of something bigger than himself. Until that point, Stewie had only been known for doing well on FPL. Joining C9 with a tryout, the community was right to wonder exactly how well he could transition his formidable skills into a team role. It took him a few months to acquire that new skillset as he learned what it meant to play on a professional level; his style became less reckless and more team-oriented. But that wasn’t enough to raise C9 out of mediocrity. For the team to succeed, it needed a leader in addition to the aggressive star player Stewie was anticipated to become. N0thing had been doing the role but lacked the decisiveness needed to make tough decisions and keep the team on track. Cloud9 did not know what to do.

This was Stewie’s second labor. Whether it was the fecklessness of management or the reluctance of the players to assume the burden, Stewie found himself the primary mover in regards to the in-game leader role. He became the entry fragger so he could give space to the rest of the team; his natural skills were such that he immediately provided huge impact from that role. As for leadership, he had the team recruit Alec “Slemmy” White, and Cloud9 improved quickly. Cloud9 earned its first good result at a LAN with that group with a semifinal finish at DreamHack Austin 2016.

Slemmy was fine as leader, but his individual performance lagged far behind what was required to compete at the top level. Cloud9 needed more firepower to round out the roster, but with everyone else in NA contracted, it was unclear where to go. Again Stewie found an answer for both problems. He took the in-game leadership role himself and persuaded C9 to recruit Timothy “autimatic” Ta from Team SoloMid. No one tagged autimatic as a promising new talent, but Stewie knew better and bet on his potential.

The two became NA’s dynamic duo: Stewie broke sites open and autimatic played off the newly created space to finish the round. With the IGL role accounted for and a new prodigy under its wings, C9 entered the apex of its CS:GO existence. Cloud9 became the best team in NA, which culminated in its two best results of 2016: Second place at DreamHack Bucharest and first at the ESL Pro League Season 4 finals. Within one year, Stewie had gone from C9’s last ditch attempt to complete the roster to a franchise player, star, and leader both inside and outside the game.

But the challenges never stopped. In order for Cloud9 to take the next step, the team needed to drastically change something, whether it was in-game or through roster changes. Stewie believed in his teammates so he attempted to change the in-game conditions first.

Cloud9 tried multiple approaches this year in attempt to reach next level. Stewie tried to motivate the team through his charisma, and later tried having autimatic take on leadership duties so Stewie could focus more on his individual play. Neither worked in a smooth fashion. Eventually Stewie had to solve the problem again. This time, he altered his own leadership style, opting to call and execute slower paced rounds. That was one reason for Cloud9’s surge at ESL One Cologne in July. But that proved a one-off performance as Cloud9 dropped out of the Krakow Major in the group stage. Stewie2k was then faced with his third challenge and the most difficult one yet.

He had to kick one of his beloved teammates. By that point, he had tried everything else he could to keep the roster together. N0thing was an idol to Stewie and a big brother figure within the team. But he had to harden his heart and make a choice. If he wanted to preserve his aspiration to make C9 more than a big fish in a small pond, he had to bench n0thing. Separately, Shroud had lost motivation for the game and benched himself. This gave Cloud9 two openings in the roster, which the roster used to recruit two talented prospects in Will “RUSH” Wierzba and Tarik “tarik” Celik. This roster on paper has the most firepower C9 has ever boasted, but it also presented Stewie2k with his newest labor: how would he set up the team?

So far this has proved an ongoing challenge. There is no definite answer in terms of optimal configuration. Stewie2k, autimatic, RUSH and tarik are all versatile players. On top of that, the mantle of figurehead is in contention. Tarik has proactively voiced his desire to be IGL and showed some capacity for it at the end of his OpTic career, while Stewie only took up the role because no one else could. This is a team challenge, but Stewie is still the spiritual leader of the team, the captain of the enterprise.

Stewie is a player who has been forced to find an answer for every labor he has been given. He has met every challenge boldly and discerned the appropriate answer the same way he plays Counter-Strike: going in first and persistently trying new ways to solve the riddle in his own unique way. He forced himself to be the spearhead regardless of how strong the setup was and made something happen in the game.

This was mirrored outside of the game as he tackled each challenge with which he was confronted. When Cloud9 needed an in-game leader, he has become that leader; when the team needed a new player, he found one. When Cloud9 needed to change its tactical style, he pored over the demos to pinpoint the weaknesses. When C9 needed another roster change, he pulled the trigger despite whatever discomfort and animosity it could summon. Although he hasn’t passed every test with flying colors, he has eventually passed them all.

Stewie2k’s continued labors have been the undertaking that reflects his growth as a player and as a person. It shows the perpetual roadblocks that confront those who aim to be become the best in the world, as well as the dedication and grit it takes to get there. I don’t know if Stewie will ever fulfill his dreams, if Cloud9 can ever be recognized and praised in the ways we once lauded NiP, Fnatic and Luminosity. But his own unending persistence, his personal skill, and his ability to overcome hazards that would crush lesser men are the marks of a legend. It’s up to him to see if he can make the ultimate goals happen.

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