Cloud9: Examining The Path Of North America’s CS:GO Major Champion
By Dustin Mouret
On January 28, 2018, Cloud9 penned an exciting addition to the history books of Counter-Strike Global Offensive by winning the ELEAGUE Major in Boston. It is the first time a North American team has won a CS:GO Major and only the third big international title to be won by the region.
The championship came from a team where only one player, Tarik “tarik” Celik, had ever even reached the playoffs of a Major. For Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham, the championship in Boston carried a much deeper sentiment. Latham had been hunting for Legendary status ever since his first CS:GO Major at DreamHack Winter 2013. After nearly five years of chasing after the game’s most coveted accolade, including a year where he was perhaps the best AWPer in the world, he had not only reached his goal but soared over it, hoisting the trophy on home soil. To add to the occasion, Skadoodle had a career high performance in the grand finals, earning him ELEAGUE’s MVP award.
Cloud9’s Major journey was nothing short of spectacular. After riding the high of easing past the first stage, Cloud9 immediately plunged into the pressure of having to fight back from the brink of elimination in the New Legends Stage to make the playoffs. Once there, Cloud9 faced several elite teams ,including an absolutely grueling series against their usual kryptonite FaZe Clan in the grand finals.
The whole ordeal read like a movie script, with the American heroes defying the odds on their way to a perfect ending. There was no shortage of twists and turns along the way and the suspense of that final series for the trophy was enough to send you into cardiac arrest. Even now, with Cloud9’s victory cemented, it can be hard to grasp just how they were able to achieve such a momentous feat despite the many challenges they faced.
Heading into Atlanta for the initial stages of the Major, Cloud9 entered the tournament as the top team from North America and a true international contender. After taking Top Four finishes at IEM Oakland 2017, the last season of ELEAGUE Premier, and ESL One New York 2017, it was clear Cloud9 had talent and were forming the infrastructure needed for sustained success.
There was no doubt the skill ceiling was sky high for Cloud9 and there was mounting evidence that their team play was developing in the right direction. Tarik seemed to be growing into his responsibilities as a leader and a star player while Will “RUSH” Wierzba appeared to be adjusting well to his new roles while also maintaining vintage positions. Jake “Stewie2k” Yip and Timothy “autimatic” Ta were continuing to show top form throughout 2017, and Skadoodle seemed to find comfort in being a more supportive AWPer. In fact, Skadoolde’s tendency for more passive play was actually well-suited to a team now full of highly aggressive riflers. All signs and results pointed to the fact Cloud9 had climbed the international rankings and were now among the top teams in the world.
Despite their accomplishments up until this point, Cloud9 were certainly not the favorites to take the title in Boston. Instead, they arrived as a dark horse in a field of elite teams from around the globe. One such team was their nemesis, the international behemoth known as FaZe Clan.
During previous meetings FaZe asserted dominance over Cloud9, in some instances making it look all too easy to crush the American team. Outside of Cloud9’s biggest hurdle in FaZe were several other teams that had a solid shot at the first prize. SK Gaming entered the event as the best team in the world with unparalleled strategic superiority and a lineup loaded with talent and impact players. Despite the fact they had to use a stand-in, SK were still dangerous, as João “felps” Vasconcellos spent much of 2017 as a starter for the team where they experienced plenty of success, despite later troubles.
Among the other candidates were the Danes at Astralis, now with that starting lineup ready to go thanks to the return of Nicolai “device” Reedtz. Despite news of some adjustments to their roles and the fear of device perhaps not being in top form, they certainly had the tools necessary to make a deep run in Boston.
The Frenchmen of G2 also commanded some attention due to the skill of their stars and the fact that they had at times covered up their issues and achieved high placings. Mousesports also demanded some respect thanks to their overall firepower and explosiveness, which had led them to the podium several times leading up to the Major.
Outside of these notable names were other teams with players ranging from accomplished veterans to those of youth and potential. Yet, despite all of this, Cloud9 represented North America’s best chance to win a Major. They had the names on paper and the results required to back it up. This version of Cloud9 represented the “super team” North America had always dreamed of. But were they ready for the pressure of the big event? Could they overcome their rivals? It would be up to Cloud9 to capitalize on their strengths and pave their own way to glory.
Progressing beyond the New Challengers Stage
The Major certainly couldn’t have opened up much better for Cloud9. The Americans managed to run through the New Challengers Stage with little resistance as they powered past EnVyUS and Sprout in their opening games. In their third match, Mousesports posed a threat, but Cloud9 had already proven the ability to beat them. Just a few months prior at DreamHack Denver, Cloud9 defeated Mousesports 2-1 in the semi-finals on their way to a title. History repeated itself in their game against Mousesports at the Major and thus Cloud9 entered the New Legends Stage alongside G2 Esports as one of the first teams to progress to the Top 16.
It was a far different story for Cloud9 once they entered the server for their first match of the New Legends Stage. Despite beating G2 at ELEAGUE Premier 2017 in the quarter-finals, the Frenchmen proved too much for Cloud9 in Atlanta, and the Americans took a fairly one-sided loss on Cache. While Tarik looked sharp, as a team Cloud9 were unable to get much going on their terrorist side as G2’s adjustment of Nathan “NBK” Schmidt taking the secondary AWP crushed them early on. Despite taking the first two rounds of the next half, G2 were quick to break Cloud9 and took the match 16-8.
In their following match, Cloud9 faced the Turkish squad of Space Soldiers, a team that had shown promise for some time but were certainly an underdog against the likes of the Americans.
They met on Cobblestone, a map on the shallow end of Cloud9’s map pool. Here, Cloud9 never got rolling in the first half as counter-terrorists and found themselves down 4-11. While they managed to rummage a bit of a comeback in the second half on the attack, it wasn’t enough. They lost 13-16, leaving them 0-2 and facing elimination from the tournament completely.
It was a stark reality for Cloud9, with North America’s hopes resting solely on their shoulders. They were on the verge of walking away in utter disappointment. For Skadoodle, it would be yet another Major in his five year career where he failed to attain Legendary Status. As for the rest of the lineup, players who showed so much ability before might now fail to realize it on the world’s biggest stage. The situation looked grim indeed, but Cloud9 weren’t finished. Instead they kept their heads about them as they headed into the uphill climb.
Pushing through on the verge of elimination
Cloud9 entered their next game against North American slayers Virtus.pro; it was "now or never". But going into this match VP were certainly not the same Polish powerhouse they once were. Outside of EPICENTER, VP left much to be desired and despite the fact they always seemed to show up for the Major it didn’t seem that way this time around. Cloud9 went on to make quick work of them on Mirage. Next, Cloud9 faced off against Astralis. Outside of defeating their countrymen at North, Astralis looked very vulnerable throughout the tournament and far from their normal level. With Astralis looking out of form, Cloud9 were able to bombard the Danes on Train, putting them one game away from finally attaining their place in the playoffs.
In their final match of the New Legends Stage, Cloud9 found themselves pitted against Vega Squadron. The CIS team had turned plenty of heads in the Major as they progressed to the Top 16 of the tournament 3-1, including a win over FaZe.
Once inside the New Legends Stage, Vega Squadron defeated North in their opening game, continuing to look dangerous with their relentless aggression. However, they were swiftly defeated by FaZe in their rematch and also looked powerless against Mousesports. Cloud9 continued that trend as they defeated Vega Squadron 16-4 on their home map of Mirage. The Americans had done it.
From 0-2 down and facing the long trip home, Cloud9 had attained Legendary status and a shot at something even more. A huge weight had been lifted as four of Cloud9’s players had reached the playoffs of a Major for the first time. With the pressure of what was expected of them now somewhat relieved, it was time to focus on the trials ahead. Cloud9 found themselves with a difficult bracket ahead but it is important to note they had already proven they had the tools needed to get the job done.
Preparing the tools for the job
Over the course of the Major and throughout their podium finishes in late 2017, Cloud9 had proven they had the firepower to contend with the best of the best. Tarik in particular had been playing the best CS:GO of his career and was growing into a true leader. With the help of autimatic, Stewie2k, and their coach Soham "valens" Chowdhury, Cloud9 were able to throw a lot of different looks at their opponents on both sides of the map.
For starters, on their terrorist side, Cloud9 showed strength in swarming and trading bombsites, a trait Tarik and RUSH were all too familiar with thanks to their former days with OpTic Gaming in late 2016. This style allowed Cloud9 to make optimal use of a lineup chalked full of aggressive rifles whom all had experience playing an entry fragger role. While this explosive style formed the foundation of the Cloud9 offense, they also at times demonstrated the ability to take on a slower more map control based approach when necessary.
At times there were even able to pull off elaborate fakes or executes to change things up. All in all, Cloud9 were more tactically diverse than many may have expected from a roster that on paper looked to be built with firepower in mind as opposed to strategy.
On the defense, Cloud9 had shown the ability to be very dynamic in their setups. They were great at throwing in double AWP setups across different players depending on the map and could fight to deny map control while also having solid anchors in the sites. RUSH was particularly great at this, with the A bomb site on Mirage and Inferno as prime examples.
Alongside their diversity, Cloud9 simply played well off of each other, made plays when they needed to, demonstrated discipline and patience when required, and seemed to also rotate or hold their ground at the right times. However, it was tough to know if this would all hold up under the pressures of a Major playoffs. Without any true veteran leadership and the experience of competing in a playoffs so massive, it was hard to know if they could really keep moving forward. Cloud9 would need to be able to keep up their individual performance levels and seek even higher proficiency of their strengths in order to pull off the run required to reach the top.
Blazing through the playoffs
Cloud9’s first opponent would be G2, a team they had a mixed history against and was looking mighty sharp leading up to the playoffs in Boston. Yet, Cloud9 went on to hold a dominant position over G2 for the entire series and took the match 2-0 with little issues. On Mirage the Americans jumped up to an 8-2 lead from the terrorist side mainly by exploiting connector with a strong mid-control presence, which led to many successful A-split tactics.
G2 were able to adjust to close the gap, but Cloud9 would still take the first half 9-6 and then proceed to easily close the game on the CT side with a final score of 16-8. On Overpass, a map that had often given Cloud9 problems, the home team put up a massive 12 rounds in the first half on the defense. They simply out-fragged G2 across the board, at times using aggression to deny map control and information but at other times simply out trading their opponents in the sites with raw skill and highly effective counter utility. With such a massive lead it didn’t take long for Cloud9 to eliminate G2 from the event with a 16-7 scoreline and move on to the semi-finals.
It was certainly dominant series from Cloud9 in the quarter-finals as their entire lineup performed well. Not only were Cloud9 capitalizing on their expected strengths but they were also seeing somewhat of a vintage 2015 performance from Skadoodle.
Skadoodle’s firing speed looked like the days of old in this series and he looked far more assertive than one might expect. The team, by design, often had Skadoodle holding more passive angles, which was well within his comfort zone, yet here he looked to take the game in his own hands. Skadoodle had long been seen as a rather clutch player who specialized in late round scenarios, but now we were also seeing more from him in the early and mid round. It was an exciting performance from Cloud9, but it left many to wonder if they could really keep it up against the likes of SK and possibly FaZe, the latter of whom were sitting on the other end of the bracket.
In the semi-finals versus SK, Cloud9 kept up the trend of hot starts by taking a ridiculous 13 rounds on the offense on Mirage in the opening game of the series. Again, Cloud9 found a lot of success controlling middle and working into connector for executes on the A bombsite. Later, as SK rotated more players mid to try and adjust, Cloud9 shifted into some heavier B apartment plays to take advantage of SK’s vulnerabilities. Tarik and Stewie in particular had a lot of success finding opening kills and autimatic was consistent at finding trades. Skadoodle also continued to show great form and initiative as he topped the board for Cloud9 in the match. It was an easy ride to 1-0 in the series to say the least as they took the map 16-3.
While Cloud9 enjoyed an easier time on Mirage, SK were not finished. Valens made an error in the veto which allowed cobblestone through--a great map for SK and a weak point for Cloud9. Cloud9 went down early on their CT side and despite a bit of a recovery, the US team had no response for SK in the second half. Thus, Inferno would need to be played to settle things.
Inferno had proven to be an issue for SK in the past, particularly during the felps era of the lineup, so it left Cloud9 with an opening to the finals. The game started out close, but Cloud9 won a huge eco in the sixth round of their CT side, thanks to two kills from Skadoodle at B with a pistol and Stewie2k via a collateral frag using a saved AWP. From that point forward Cloud9 only allowed SK one more round in the half and raced to a 12-3 lead. It wasn’t long before Cloud9 closed out the map 16-9 and moved onto the grand finals.
An explosive grand finale
At this point Cloud9 had already surpassed all expectations. Not only had they made the playoffs for the first time but now they were in the finals, something a North American had only done once before in the Major circuit.
In the SK series Cloud9 continued to demonstrate they could be an elite team. They were getting sharper, becoming more decisive, and they were getting great showings from their entire team. It was as if they were unfazed by the pressures of being on this big of a stage.
They had kept their composure throughout this whole tournament up to this point, though it must certainly be emphasized that they rarely found themselves playing from behind. This was even more important to consider as they went into the grand finals as the clear underdog. FaZe had a huge edge over Cloud9 given their head-to-head history. It was going to take even more from Cloud9 if they hoped to be the ones dancing in the confetti alongside their hometown crowd at the tournament’s conclusion.
The grand finals opened up on Mirage; common ground for both teams. Cloud9 again were able to start with a big lead as they sprinted to an 8-1 score. Again, Cloud9 were able to assert themselves in the middle of the map for their A side attacks as well as mix in some faster rushes on the B site. However, FaZe were able to adjust by playing retake A setups and at times getting aggressive on mid and disrupting Cloud9’s game plan.
This shift in play put FaZe right back in the game as the first half ended 9-6. Cloud9 responded by doing well at the start of their CT side and climbed up to 12-7. But it wasn’t enough as FaZe went on to win nine of the last 11 rounds to take the game 16-14. Here, FaZe were able to spread the map and find picks on a consistent basis, whitling down the Cloud9 defense all the way to the end. Stewie2k particularly struggled in this game and with the pick of FaZe of overpass on the horizon it was not looking good for the USA.
Despite all the well-guided assumptions, Overpass didn’t go according to plan. Cloud9 held their nerve after the loss on Mirage and absolutely pummeled FaZe in the first half as counter-terrorists. Cloud9 attacked FaZe with aggression on the A side as well, with autimatic on short B. With this, Cloud9 were always able to gain vital information on FaZe’s plans at at times shut them down outright before they even got rolling. The icing on the cake was a big 2v4 win on the eighth round, which allowed the Americans to coast to a 12-3 lead. From there Cloud9 jumped up to 15-4, but FaZe refused to tap out and strung together six rounds in a row to keep the game going. However, Cloud9 didn’t buckle, they eventually forced the series to a third map, Inferno.
The final map of the ELEAGUE Major Boston will likely go down as one of the craziest games ever seen in CS:GO. With everything on the line on this final map, Inferno went the distance, keeping everyone on the edge of their seats.
The first half would go 8-7 in favor of Cloud9 from their attacking side thanks largely in part to them controlling the economy early on. Despite a respectable start, Cloud9 quickly found themselves in dire straits as FaZe were able to rack up a 13-8 lead. From there they grinded rounds to 15-11. It began to look like Cloud9 had run out of gas, after such an incredible tournament from the Americans it seemed as though the tank might be empty.
But Cloud9 somehow kept their wits about them and made the adjustment of having Stewie2k take up a second AWP on the B bombsite. At first FaZe avoided it unknowingly as they attacked the A site, but RUSH and Tarik dug deep and fended them off to keep the match alive. Once FaZe shifted back to B Stewie2k and autimatic were there to greet them, forcing overtime.
Overtime quickly spiraled into total chaos. Cloud9 rocketed off to a 18-15 lead but FaZe just wouldn’t fall down. With their tournament lives on the line, Nikola "NiKo" Kovač hid inside a smoke at the top of banana, allowing four Cloud9 players to pass by. NiKo then stepped out to take down the fifth player in line and unfortunately for Cloud, by sheer chance, it was their bomb carrier which cost them the round.
In the very next round Cloud9 were able to trade their way into a 2v2 post plant in the A site but were unable to close as Stewie2k lost the 1v1 to Finn "karrigan" Andersen in pit. In a flash FaZe were closing the distance. In the final round of the first overtime Cloud9 again looked set to take the crown as they had a 2v1 at the B site. The title was theirs for the taking, yet they made an error and in the blink of an eye it all slipped through their fingers. At 18-18 another overtime would be needed to settle the score between two foes who were throwing everything they had at one another.
FaZe took the early advantage in another tense round that came down to a 1v1 leaving them ahead at 19-18 on their CT side. What transpired thereafter can only be described as true grit from Cloud9.
Despite being so close so many times to winning yet falling short, Cloud9 had somehow remained grounded in a state of exemplary mental fortitude. Cloud9 made some incredible calls on the remaining two rounds of their T half and took the lead back 20-19. From there, they saw the finish line and this time they didn’t stumble. Instead they crossed the tape and took the finals 22-19. It was an amazing effort, surrounded in suspense and a plethora of mixed emotions for all parties involved. Cloud9 had done it, they had made history for North American Counter-Strike in a way that no one else could in CS:GO’s five years of existence.
With Cloud9’s Major status solidified, the community now looks to reflect on their accomplishments and also inevitably wonders what is next for America’s team. Can Cloud9 as a team replicate what took place in Boston going forward? Will Skadoodle continue this level of play?
Certainly there will be many questions raised about Cloud9’s future. But what is undeniable is that Cloud9 proved themselves to be one of the world’s best in Boston. No matter what happens going forward Cloud9 will always have this moment, a particular point in time where they achieved CS:GO’s highest honor. Cloud9 are Major champions.
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