Cloud9 burst into the ELEAGUE Qualifier in Atlanta, Georgia on January 12th, tearing their way through to a 3-0 first-round qualification for the main event group stage. After beating EnVy (16 – 11), Sprout (16 – 5), and mousesports (16 – 5), Cloud9 felt confident going into the New Legends Stage the following weekend.
Cloud9 started off the group stage with a disheartening, but forgivable loss to G2, the only other team from the qualifier to also qualify on a 3 – 0. The Cache match started out with G2 taking 10 of the first 11 rounds on CT side. Ultimately, Cloud9 could not bring the score back and lost 16-8.
The next day, Cloud9 narrowly missed making the comeback against Space Soldiers on Cobblestone; after going down 4 – 11 on CT side, they could only push back to an eventual 16 – 13 loss.
The first loss hadn’t seemed so bad until they dropped to an unexpected 0 – 2 scoreline. In the Swiss round system, 3 losses is elimination. On the verge of going home, Cloud9 had reached the low point. There was nowhere left to go but out, or up.
If they were to go on, Cloud9 would have to put their losses behind them and focus on the three straight maps they would need to win. They would have to come out of the valley. “3 in a row is very possible,” RNG’s Noah “Nifty” Francis encouraged Jake “Stewie2K” Yip on Twitter.
Nobody knows what happened that evening, but something clicked on. They faced Virtus.Pro first on Mirage, a team that had been responsible for many of their previous Major group stage eliminations. C9’s growing confidence was palpable in the way they played; Stewie played aggressively, bordering on disrespectfully; Timothy “autimatic” Ta’s sprays were deadly. They ran out of a 10 – 5 CT side straight into a 16 – 7 finish and lived to play another day. It was almost as if they had forgotten they already had 2 losses and one map could send them home; a different, reckless Cloud9 had come out to play.
Cloud9 rode the momentum and did not look back. They ran over Astralis the next day on Train in much the same fashion. Will “RUSH” Wierzba played as solid as a rock in A main and Ivy, while Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham’s AWPing started to come alive. Tarik “tarik” Celik’s role as in-game leader did not slow him down at all in fragging. They carried that momentum into their Round 5 game that evening, closing Mirage against Vega Squadron 16 – 4. The hyper-aggression left Vega Squadron paralyzed and unable to make any plays. They had completed the reverse sweep; Cloud9 qualified for the New Champions stage with their backs against the wall, 3 – 2.
They had already made history. Cloud9 would finally make a major playoffs appearance. Skadoodle broke a streak of being sent home in his last 8 major group stages. After Liquid had exited the major early in the group stage, Cloud9 was the only American team left. The Boston, Massachusetts home crowd needed someone to cheer for.
The reborn Cloud9 was playing to their maximum capability: RUSH as the rock solid rifler who could hold bombsites on his own, Skadoodle returning to a top-of-the-line AWPer, and the versatile, bloodthirsty trio of Stewie, autimatic, and tarik, who could all interchange entry, secondary AWP, and lurking duties.
The casters kept calling it “confidence.” What they meant was “hyphy.” With a measure of respect and mental fortitude, nothing could stop C9 from continuing their rampage.
The draw did not go easy on them. Their quarterfinals match was against G2, who had made it through to the New Champions stage unscathed, on a perfect 6-0 run. Looking for vengeance from the group stage, Cloud9 took Mirage 16 – 8 and Overpass 16 – 7. The extreme aggression allowed to CTs on Overpass played right into the style C9 had been using. Every one of the five players was making doubles, triples, and quads. Add in a roaring loud Boston crowd, and G2 didn’t stand a chance.
Their semifinal matchup was against SK. “It’ll be a tough match,” said tarik after their G2 match, “but Cloud9 will win the major. This is our major right here.” It was looking good when C9 choked SK out of Mirage 16 – 3, but Cobblestone was a more of a wild ride. SK took 7 straight rounds, then C9 took 7 straight rounds, and then SK took 9 more, only letting C9 reach 8 – 16. However, the fatigue for SK really started to set in; after a 5-hour struggle to win their quarterfinal earlier that day, another 3-map match was just too much, and Cloud9 ran into the finals 16 – 9 on Inferno.
Their opponents were FaZe Clan, the superteam that finally came to fruition. They were the heavy favorites coming into the tournament to win it all. No one would blame Cloud9 if they lost to FaZe Clan. Making it to the finals and getting past G2 and SK could have already been a story for the books. In an esport dominated by European and Brazilian teams since the beginning, a North American finals apperance would be remembered forever. No one had expected C9 to make it to the finals–not even RUSH or Skadoodle. But like true competitors, Cloud9 was not satisfied. Nothing but the win would be enough.
Sunday, January 28. The first map told a different story from the projections. On their map pick, Mirage, C9 drove the scoreboard up to 8 – 1 before FaZe slowly started swinging the momentum back. C9 held on until 12 – 7, when FaZe choked their economy out and ran away with 8 straight rounds to take it to 12 – 15. There was a glimmer of hope when C9 took 2 more rounds, but ultimately FaZe stole C9’s map pick in a deathly close 14 – 16.
Fans could have given up then, with Overpass coming up, one of FaZe’s best maps. The deal looked sealed. But Cloud9’s confidence did not waver. With the crowd at their backs, cheering for every kill, they stole a 12 – 3 CT side and reached map point at 15 – 4. FaZe put up a big fight to come back to 15 – 10, but ultimately C9 only needed the one round and stayed alive to see a map 3.
At this point, it felt like C9 had been narrowly robbed of Mirage, and they had smashed FaZe on their own map. It was an easy judgement to say C9 was playing better than FaZe. The trophy was in sight.
FaZe rose to the challenge and made Inferno into an absolute thriller. C9 took 4 rounds after losing the pistol, but Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács’s AWP started to shut down round after round for C9. Skadoodle and crew kept it close, but FaZe held onto the lead to force match point at 11 – 15. FaZe were one round away from winning the major and everything would be over. C9’s economy was wanting. It looked extremely improbable.
And they did not despair. In four clenchingly close rounds, tarik clutched. Stewie clutched. They refused to give up. It was a fairytale unfolding before Boston’s eyes; Cloud9 drove the game into overtime. Neither team was ready to give it over. Stewie’s sentiment rang true; after coming so far, they couldn’t lose now. And FaZe wasn’t going to give it to them.
Cloud9 burst through the CT side of overtime, taking the first three rounds. They were one round away from winning the whole thing, after coming back from 11-15. But in a fourth round bizarre smoke walk by, the fast banana control was thrown off and they lost the round. The fifth round came down to a 1v2 clutch by Stewie2K, and he lost by a single bullet. The sixth round came down to a 2v3 clutch, which they turned into a 2v1, which they lost. It went into double overtime.
They kept their cool. After losing the first round by a bullet and half a second, it went into overdrive. An ace from tarik’s AWP. Disadvantageous peeks won in apartments. A team hold in A. A scuffle in B site that settled into a 2v1 for Cloud9. And it was Skadoodle with the final AWP shot to win it all. Boston went wild, and so did fans all over the nation and the world.
It couldn’t have been a better 3-week journey, the final could have not been any more thrilling, and it could not be a more historic moment. North America was victorious. Cloud9 was victorious. All the striving had come to a happy ending.