It may seem unthinkable now with the London Spitfire and many other teams under their belt, but Cloud9 was not a household name in the first-person-shooter genre for a long time. The organization’s first foray into CS:GO – which would mark their maiden voyage into the world of FPS as well – came in the summer of 2014. Since then, their story was one of unfulfilled promises, constant roster upheavals, that magical moment in Boston and a long trek in the wilderness ever since.
Cloud9’s CS:GO adventure began with the acquisition of the ex-compLexity roster. The classic core of Hiko, n0thing, seang@res and Semphis were playing for compLexity at the time and were not at all pleased with the way Jason Lake’s org handled their situation at the time. They would have liked to attend more events and receive a higher annual salary, but the real sticking point was the sticker money – they didn’t receive any of the revenue Cloud9 made from the in-game items at ESL One Katowice where the team made the quarter-finals and managed to take a map off of NiP before bowing out. This was especially jarring if you consider that the iBUYPOWER side (who didn’t manage to win a single map) did receive a share. They were widely considered to be the best North American roster at the time, and their pickup seemed like a massive boon for Cloud9.
Their first event under the sky-blue banner was ESL One Cologne, the very next major. They would collect a memorable scalp against Titan, topping the group before losing to NiP 2-1 again in incredibly close fashion as the Ninjas only picked up the second and third maps by the narrowest possible margin, 16-14. A downturn in form eventually led to Hiko’s high-profile departure – by his telling, the legendary NA player couldn’t deal with a lack of internal cohesion and unwillingness to change.
His replacement was ShahZaM – now on compLexity in an ironic twist of fate – with the goal of increasing the side’s AWPing prowess, but it wasn’t quite enough to turn things around. He was released alongside Semphis only a few months later after the team somehow managed to lose to minnows Nihilum in the ESEA S18, marking the arrival of Skadoodle and Freakazoid. The latter infamously leaked the move on his stream by checking his e-mail inbox on air. A set of decent results followed as Cloud9 finished second at major LAN events throughout the second half of the year. Still, internal issues continued to plague the team, leading to seang@res’ departure early in 2016.
In retrospect, the arrival of Stewie2K marked the beginning of Cloud9’s brief transformation into real contenders, but it was a fairly controversial move at the time. Their performance at MLG Columbus 2016 didn’t assuage concerns as they finished bottom of their group, losing to Na’Vi and G2 in brutal fashion. The contrast was huge with Liquid’s Cinderella run to the semi-finals.
Shortly thereafter, Freakazoid stepped down to eventually join the Echo Fox project, and Cloud9 eventually settled on Slemmy as a new IGL after a set of players trialing for the side. While the team would win a small title in the form of iBUYPOWER Invitational 2016 in the summer, they couldn’t manage to find the sort of stability they were looking for as Slemmy left them before the turn of the year. His replacement was TSM’s autimatic, a roster change which seemed to bring out the best of the the side. Cloud9’s victory at the ESL Pro League Season 4 finals marked the end of a massive NA drought at international events.
An impressive playoff run at the ECS Season 3 Finals coupled with a shock second-place finish at ESL Once Cologne 2017 put them quite high on fans’ radar for the upcoming Krakow major, the first they would be able to attend after their disappointing collapse at MLG Columbus. Instead, they couldn’t make it out of the groups as they lost to Virtus.pro in the pivotal 2-2 game of the Swiss bracket. This marked the end of n0thing and shroud in the active lineup, severing all connection with the ex-compLexity roster.
By many accounts, n0thing’s unwillingness to adapt to an entry-fragger role and lingering team chemistry issues led to the ambitious – and contentious – lineup change as the veterans were forced to make room for OpTiC’s tarik and RUSH, with the former picking up the IGL mantle. Making it to the semi-finals at ESL One New York and IEM Oakland – losing to the titans of FaZe Clan both times – and three smaller LAN wins marked a promising if still inconsistent period for the new roster as they headed into the next major.
It’s safe to say that the early rounds at Boston didn’t foreshadow the shock result that was about to come, with Cloud9 looking more likely to repeat their disappointing Krakow showing than to go all the way and win it. While they got through the New Challengers Stage undefeated, the first two wins came against EnVyUs and Sprout – not exactly world-beaters –, with only their victory over mouz counting as a truly impressive triumph.
The rest, of course, is history: after going down 0-2 and being a hair’s breadth away from elimination, the Americans fought back, exorcizing many demons along the way as they pushed past a floundering Virtus.pro, an underwhelming Astralis and Vega Squadron to make it to the top eight. From that point on, it’s as if they were magnetized by the crowd upon entering the arena: they’ve absolutely demolished the so far quite promising G2, keeping them to single digits on both maps. A brawl against SK and an unforgettable final against FaZe followed as they etched their names into the annals of Counter-Strike.
Even then, it didn’t seem like the beginning of an era: the level of skill on display in the playoffs was clearly beyond the team’s usual capabilities – specifically, Skadoodle seemed to find a new level after finally making it out of the groups for the first time in his career after eight previous failures –, and the rapid rise and fall of Gambit also seemed to indicate that this title win was much more likely to be a one-off than a rise of a new juggernaut in the scene.
In the end, it indeed turned out to be a mirage: Cloud9 hasn’t won a single event since then and couldn’t keep up that level of performance even in the short term as they lost to domestic rivals Liquid in the cs_summit 2 final less than two weeks later. An embarrassing quarter-final defeat to Team One at WESG would mark Stewie2K’s final event in sky blue before his swap to FalleN’s then-SK Gaming side. Soon after, tarik followed as GoldeN and STYKO were picked up as replacements. They’ve eaten their way through two coaches and five players since their Boston triumph.
Who knows where Cloud9 are headed now? Their downfall after their win in Boston was swift, their replacement of major-winning talent scattershot and lackluster. The loss of identity still haunts the side, but now there are also prestige issues to consider. RUSH talked a good game in his recent HLTV interview about prioritizing a good team over keeping the major spot, but this may no longer be a matter of choice for them. Consider for a moment that refrezh’s decided to reject them for OpTic – what does that tell you about a team that won a major a year and a half ago?
Editor’s note: this is an updated and revised version of “Boston’s Champagne Supernova – The story of Cloud9”, an article originally published on August 18, 2018.