Cloud9 goes back to the future in Dota 2 for another TI run

“To be honest, everyone’s sort of similar. We’ve all gone to different teams where we’ve had some success, so we’ve all learned different things that we can now bring back to the team. But I’d say all the strengths and weaknesses of the players are still the same things.” — Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling

The International 5 was the epoch where everything broke apart. It was the tournament that broke apart Secret, once heralded as the super team that would hold the scene squirming under iron thumb. It marked the end of an era in Chinese Dota, as the Chinese veterans were superseded by the younger generation. More memorably, it was the cemetery where Cloud9, famous clown car and heart attack inducer, was buried. Among all of the Dota 2 teams in the world, Cloud 9 was the strangest. I often describe it as the team that could throw the unthrowable game but by the very same token win the unwinnable game. Cloud9 was a theorycrafter’s wet dream, the closest thing Western Dota had to mad artists, players on the bleeding edge of the meta. There was never a team like it, and no one matched it during C9’s leave of absence. And now that team has returned.

It was a long road back as each player took different paths. Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao, the figurehead of the team, metaphorically sold out. All the teams he had made up to that point had a guiding philosophy: he refused to join with anyone who had won an International, as he felt he could never prove his worth as a player or leader with that cushion supporting him. Yet after TI5, he joined up with Clement “Puppey” Ivanov on Team Secret. The duo skyrocketed to the top, culminating in multiple tournament victories: Secret even briefly claimed the title of best team in the world after winning the Shanghai Major. Yet internal problems ensued and after a disastrous last place finish at TI6, EternaLEnVy was done trying to make an all star team to beat the world. His new stack would return to first principles, guided by the power of friendship and the touch of madness that had defined his previous squads. Thus, Team NP was born.

The first player to join was Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling. After being kicked prior to TI5, Aui’s career took a startlingly auspicious turn. He secured a spot on Evil Geniuses, who needed a support player, which led to several first place and second place finishes. His unique support style and hero pool turned out to be key for EG during its journey to take TI5. But all that success didn’t secure his spot on the team. As it turned out, he was causing doubt and dissent within the team, and Peter “ppd” Dager didn’t hesitate to throw his ass out to the sidewalk immediately after TI5. It was perhaps the most high-profile, quizzical kick in Dota 2 history if one didn’t know the context. Aui tried to head another strong NA team in Digital Chaos with underwhelming results. The team had talented players but was never able to unite as one. From there, Aui bounced around the scene, doing another stint on EG before transferring to a coaching role on Secret. He had largely faded into obscurity before getting a call from EE.

Pittner “bOne7” Armand didn’t enjoy such a stellar follow up. After Cloud9 disassembled, he tried his hand at creating an all-Romanian stack. He drifted from Kaipi to Prodota and back to Kaipi, never finding any success comparable to his time on C9. The experiment ultimately collapsed and he rejoined Team NP as a coach, though he was released earlier this year. Many theorize this was the world’s most elaborate kicking of one player.

The man that replaced his past role was Arif “MSS” Anwar. Despite spells on EG and mousesports in the early days of Dota 2, MSS was widely known as a mainstay on Tier 2 teams. Whether it was a lack of results or the right connections, he had not managed to maneuver himself onto a top-tier NA organization in three years; at the time EternaLEnVy contacted him, he was relegated to the equivalent of a pub stack. But he was the classic archetype of an EE pickup. MSS was slightly obscure, immensely talented and possessed that mercurial streak emblematic of the old C9 squad. When NP was formed, MSS joined and has become the most consistent player throughout the team’s tenure.

Johan “pieliedie” Astrom and Adrian “FATA-” Trinks rounded out the roster. After being a standout player on Liquid, enjoying two second place finishes at the Majors and several tournament titles, FATA took a break in September of last year; burnout and growing disillusionment were the undertones in his departing message. He eventually returned to pro Dota on B)ears, a mix team with high-level players from all across the globe. With lethal threats in all five positions, B)ears almost qualified for the Dota 2 Asia Championship in its first outing. Yet all the formidable talent couldn’t substitute for a lack of leadership. The team soon made a habit of losing focus past the laning stage, being sloppy in map movements and flubbing team fights. Two weeks after the team disbanded, FATA joined NP.

Pieliedie joined Secret alongside EternaLEnVy, but unlike his friend, PLD’s desire to remain on a promising team outweighed the sting of personal slights. EE left amid turmoil, accusing Puppey and Secret director Kemal Sadikoglu of bullying and more sinister behavior. PLD stuck around and tried to make the best of the situation. Although Secret remained strong regionally, it never found any international success.

Pieliedie and FATA- joined NP on May 4. Four of the five players from the old Cloud9 squad had reunited: EternaLEnVy, Aui_2000, FATA- and pieliedie. The only new member was MSS, who cheekily claimed he was bOne7 on Twitter . It was a shocking development as no team had ever reformed quite like this. It was hard to know how the team would fare as it was a literal blast from the past.

Traditional wisdom claims the current era is by default the strongest. Teams from the past shouldn’t realistically compete in the current era, as the new generation of players are mechanically superior and teams have further developed their overall strategies and tactics. By that logic, NP was an anachronism and should have failed. Instead it was as if nothing had changed. At the Manila Masters, NP showed dominant form and right when you dared to hope NP could win a tournament, it classically lost to EG again to get the bronze. At the Zotac Cup Masters, NP destroyed the field and played against Newbee in the grand finals to take second place. At The Summit 7, NP took top four before losing to the eventual champion Virtus.Pro. The team then went on to take first place in the TI7 qualifiers.

The crowning moment of NP’s return was a perfect moment of poetic justice. With enough results under its belt to attract bigger organizations, Team NP was acquired by Cloud9. Once again, the players will bear the beloved logo as they head off the TI7. Team NP has time traveled from the past and will look to rectify it at KeyArena.