Cloud 9 CSGO: How NA Won Their First Major

by Fabio

January 28, 2020, Boston, USA. Stood outside the Agganis Arena, one can hear the voices of thousands of people chanting “Send them home!” as the Cloud9 players are slowly creeping up on Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs, who is the last defense for FaZe Clan in this Major final. He risks a peek, but Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham is ready and waiting. One AWP shot later, the arena erupts into cheers as Cloud 9 CSGO have won the ELEAGUE Boston: Major 2018 trophy. 

This event is one of the most defining moments of recent CSGO history for a multitude of reasons. From the first ever North American team in a Major playoffs bracket, to NA’s constant struggles of keeping up with top of CSGO, we’re going to examine all the developments leading up to this historic Major victory. 

compLexity Gaming – The First Successful CSGO Team

In 2013, a year after Counter Strike Global Offensive had officially been released, the North American scene had not yet been able to secure any victories. At the first ever Major, DreamHack Winter 2013, compLexity Gaming secured a semi-finals finish. Back then, the lineup featured Spencer “Hiko” Martin, Sean “seang@res” Gares, Cory “Semphis” Friesen, Braxton “swag” Pierce and Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert.

They did well in the months after that, managing a few playoffs finishes. At the IEM Katowice Major, they finishes just shy of the Top 4. This lineup, with the exception of swag, was signed by Cloud 9 CSGO before the ESL One Cologne 2014 Major. There, once again, the team was eliminated in the quarterfinals. Still, they pushed the eventual tournament winners, Ninjas in Pyjamas, to their absolute limits with two 14-16 maps. At least Hiko graced us with one of the most memorable plays ever.

While most of these names have now gone down in CSGO history, back then, they were young and inexperienced. Especially the North American scene felt underdeveloped, with few opportunities for players to actually earn a living wage off of CSGO. Perhaps this is why some players took to alternative means. 

The iBUYPOWER Match-Fixing Scandal

In August of 2014, the iBUYPOWER squad stood against NetcodeGuides in CEVO Season 5. As the absolute favorites, iBP unfortunately lost 4-16. Right away, people accused them of match-fixing. But this kind of insult was always thrown around, so the discussion was quickly buried. In January, esports journalist Richard Lewis published a scathing article with burning hot pieces of evidence. Together with an employee of a popular betting site, he had uncovered that four of the iBP players had placed bets against their team for that specific match. 

This scandal shook the entire CSGO scene. The game’s developers, Valve, had to step in themselves. In a lengthy blog post on the scandal, they announced that the respective players would be banned indefinitely from any Valve-sponsored event. Other league operators quickly followed up by barring the players from their platforms as well.

The consequences for North America were tough. Four of the most promising players were suddenly gone. With the Cloud 9 CSGO roster struggling as well, the scene had no team left to cheer for at the big events.

NA Struggling to Keep Up

For the next few years, North American teams were always at the brink of breaking through. Cloud 9 had a three-event streak of second place finishes in the summer of 2015, but then completely broke down for the subsequent Major. 

In 2016, Cloud 9 finally managed to find the first international tournament victory at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals in Brazil. Much to the dislike of the fans, they defeated SK Gaming in the Grand Finals. This was a turning point for the North American scene. Slowly, star players started to form in the likes of Jake “Stewie2k” Yip, Timothy “autimatic” Ta and Jonathan “ELiGE” Jablonowski. When OpTic Gaming suddenly dismantled Astralis in the Finals of ELEAGUE Season 2, hope started to set in. This was been the first time that two North American teams had been able to secure tournament victories against European opposition. 

But in 2017, the outlook was bleak once again. Apart from one Grand Finals appearance at ESL One Cologne, no team was ever close to winning an important event for the duration of the year. As SK Gaming rose to become the best CSGO team, the North American scene struggled to keep up. 

Teams formed, reformed, disbanded, but were never able to strike the right combination of players to achieve something meaningful. Cloud 9 made a few playoffs appearances, but that was all that the North American scene was able to muster. At the last event of 2017, the Cloud 9 CSGO lineup flew out of the group stage after a 0-2 defeat to FaZe Clan.

Premonitions For “Major” Success

These few small victories had foreshadowed one important thing. North America was slowly rising up. Although they weren’t exactly winning trophies, they were gradually getting their top talent fleshed out and ready. In 2018, during the Boston Major, the Cloud 9 lineup consisted of Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham, Stewie2k, autimatic, Tarik “tarik” Celik and Will “RUSH” Wierzba. The first three had been a part of Cloud 9 for quite some time now and the latter two had been making waves with the OpTic Gaming squad in recent time. With this lineup, Cloud 9 CSGO had found just the right explosive mix. 

The Cloud 9 CSGO roster (via ELEAGUE)
The Cloud 9 CSGO roster (via ELEAGUE)

ELEAGUE Major: Boston 2018

C9 had to start their journey from the bottom up. During the Challengers Stage, they won against Team EnVyUs, Sprout and mousesports to advance to the Legends Stage. There, they struggled a lot more. Losing their first two matches against G2 Esports and Space Soldiers, they were already one map away from exiting the tournament. 

As Cloud 9 CSGO entered the Grand Finals, they were considered underdogs by quite a stretch. FaZe Clan had swept through the previous opposition on their way to the trophy, so there was no reason to expect anything but peak performance from them. Every single player on the Cloud9 roster was hopelessly outmatched in his role. FaZe had the better IGL, the better AWPer and, on top of that, Nikola “NiKo” Kovac. Who would ever predict them losing?

But C9 were immediately on their heels. FaZe only narrowly clinched Mirage on a 16-14 score line. Since this was Cloud 9’s map pick, the analysts expected them to falter on FaZe’s territory next. Instead, the NA squad confidently took Overpass, with Skadoodle, tarik and autimatic delivering star performances. This meant that the Grand Finals would go to three maps, with Inferno as the decider.

At one point, FaZe were leading with 13-8 and looked to finally close the game there. But the Cloud 9 CSGO squad fought back with all their might. In the end, the game went into overtime. The team was not ready to give up just yet. There, FaZe finally succumbed to the pressure. With a 22-19 score line, the Americans had won the CSGO Major trophy. As cheers erupted throughout the arena, the C9 players rose into the air and started celebrating.  

The NA Scene After Cloud9’s Victory

Unfortunately, C9 were picked apart as their players departed the roster soon after the Major. This was the end for the championship squad. Ever since then, Cloud 9 CSGO have only been a shadow of their former selves. But other teams have stepped in their place. Team Liquid and Evil Geniuses have won multiple international trophies against top teams. Some of the former Cloud9 players are onboard those rosters. 

Most importantly though, the Tier 2 scene had quietly been working in the background. Seasoned veterans like Hiko and experienced in-game-leaders like seang@res and Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz have quietly molded so many star players without ever getting the praise they deserve. Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken was first brought into the international spotlight under Sean’s leadership at Misfits and TSM. Keith “NAF” Markovic and tarik made it to the ELEAGUE Finals with OpTic because of stanislaw’s leading style. Damian “daps” Steele has transformed NRG eSports from a shallow domestic competitor into an international powerhouse. Now he doing the same again with Gen.G Esports. 

Read This: Team Liquid CSGO: The Best NA Team Ever

While many of these veteran players have long since departed the CSGO professional scene, they have raised a number of world-class players. These talents are now responsible for North America’s success in the international landscape. With Owen “oBo” Schlatter and Sam “s0m” Oh, even more aspiring star players are beginning to form. Despite of some departures in favor of the new game “VALORANT”, the North American CSGO scene has never looked this competitive before.

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