Cloud9 turns the tables on the SK Era

Not all stories have auspicious beginnings.

By the end of 2015, Cloud9 was in tatters. It had lost all form from the summer months, and the team started to dissolve. Sean ‘sgares’ Gares was the first to leave, and in his place multiple possible names popped up, players like Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund and Markus “pronax” Wallsten — top tier players or leaders. It was clear there was a significant hole in the roster that needed to be filled.

Nothing came of it, and eventually Cloud 9 was forced to settle. And that was the start of Jake ‘Stewie2k’ Yip’s rise to prominence. Stewie2k wasn’t picked up with the belief that one day he could be a superstar in the game. He was simply the best of the available options. He had never played professionally for any team and was most well known for playing in FPL. Perhaps Cloud9 thought he could be a good player, or even a great player. He turned out better than anyone could have hoped for or imagined.

Stewie2k became Cloud9’s superstar, its leader and — after winning the ESL Pro League LAN Finals over the weekend — a champion.

His mindset for the game was incredible. He learned quickly, adapted to his teammates and was willing to dedicate himself for the win. Whenever Cloud 9 hit a problem, the solution came from Stewie2k. Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert had assumed leadership duties after sgares left, but the experiment was a disaster. So Stewie2k called in Alec “slemmy” White to help take over leadership duties after Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir also left the team. It was mildly successful, but slemmy was too much of a burden on the scoreboard, and the rumor was C9 was more of a democratically run team with Stewie2k and n0thing doing a lot of the work.

With already one foot in the door, Stewie2k took the entirety of leadership onto his shoulders. And then he made a genius move in recruiting Timothy “autimatic” Ta to the lineup. Autimatic had been a lurker for TSM with mixed results. Much like Stewie2k before he had joined Cloud 9, no one was looking to him to be the next great North American star. When he was recruited to Cloud 9, many expected him to be a role player, someone who supported Stewie2k, Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham and Mike “shroud” Grzesiek. Instead, Cloud9 received another monster who was hiding in plain sight.

The roles he took after joining Cloud9 suited him perfectly and in tandem with Stewie2k. The pair became two of the most dangerous players in NA and the world. It was a great combination of playmaker and consistent fragger. Stewie2k opened up the rounds by leading from the front and being the entry man. After he opened a site up, autimatic would destroy the opposing team while the rest of the team played around the incredible skill and firepower that these two brought to the table.

Doubts remained about this team winning an international event as Stewie2k was still too new at leading. It was great when it worked, but when it failed he had no Plan B and had to fall back on his teammates to help. When the leadership and form did coincide, Cloud 9 became one of the most explosive teams in the world.

And they proved it over the weekend. Cloud9 ran the gauntlet that was the round robin Group B stage and got finished second by beating FaZe, NRG, Ninjas in Pyjamas and Dignitas. Cloud9 then ran through OpTic and mousesports to get to the finals, where SK Gaming awaited.

SK had been the strongest team of 2016, having won multiple high-prestige events (including two majors) and earning top placings in various other tournaments. But SK’s reign seemed to be coming to an end. Going into the weekend, ESL Pro League was a must win for the SK era to stay alive. The only team that should have been able to challenge them on paper was the winner of the last major event, Dignitas.

With Dignitas falling in group stages, it looked to be a clear road for SK. In its home country of Brazil against a team it had defeated multiple times, this looked to be a sure thing. Unfortunately for the Brazilians, however, Stewie2k and autimatic gave SK the greatest tribute one can give to a rival competitor: Imitation.

The original Brazilian squad that was once named Kabum lit up the world in 2015 by defeating Cloud 9 at MLG Aspen Games on Mirage. No one had heard of them before and with it the Brazilians created one of the greatest rags to riches stories in CS:GO’s history. After multiple roster changes, mistakes and tournaments, they found themselves at the top of the world.

This time it was Cloud 9’s turn. After many roster changes, the youth of the world could no longer be denied. Stewie2k and autimatic had failed to lift the trophy at DreamHack Bucharest, as the old savvy veterans of VP refused to yield. This time it was a different story. Cloud 9 ran a huge CT-side against SK on Overpass, going up 13-2. Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo stopped them cold with another unreal performance on CT side Overpass that made him look like a god smiting intruders out of his domain. Eventually, SK seized the game right back and went into overtime to win the game.

If Cloud9 was mentally weak, this could have been the end. After getting so close and then getting the map taken out of your grasps, many players or teams would crumble. Cloud9 didn’t, and in a symbolic gesture repaid SK the favor for MLG Aspen Games. At MLG, the Brazilians were the ones to defeat the NA players and make Mirage their home map. This time the NA players came as the challengers and destroyed SK on Mirage.They then cleaned up SK on dust 2 and became the seventh different team in the last seven major tournaments to win.

The age of SK has ended, and it came at the hands of Cloud9. While Cloud 9 may not yet be an elite team, it rose a step up to where G2 and NiP reside. It’s a team that on the right day, in the right form can win an international tournament, an incredible feat as the last NA team to do so did it more than 10 years ago.

Cover photo courtesy of HLTV.org

Slingshot senior columnist. StarCraft and CS:GO expert who pushes narratives over numbers.

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