Following their embarrassing loss to The Quest in the Closed Qualifier for the Americas Minor, Cloud9 CSGO fans were asking if this is the worst team to ever don the famous jersey and represent the org.
Whether they are is hard to say with the evolution of the game making it hard to compare levels, but one thing is for sure, this is one of the worst-run CSGO teams in the world, especially when you compare their results to their ceiling.
In 2018, Boston hosted a CSGO Major where C9 met FaZe Clan in the Grand Finals, lest we forget. And that wasn’t today’s FaZe, led by the ghost of Neo and carrying a washed Olof, that was the real deal, with karrigan in place and Niko still willing to listen. Despite the brilliance of FaZe, C9 came through and won, with an all-American team built out of exciting young talent in places, that had the potential to get even better.
A question of priorities?
While this was happening, so the story goes, their owner, Jack Etienne, was watching on with mixed emotions, knowing it would ramp up the pressure on him to support the CSGO side in a way he previously hadn’t. In the wake of that win new contracts were offered and signed, but since then it’s been all downhill for an org worth in excess of $300m, as they have treated the greatest FPS like it frankly doesn’t matter.
"I think because you work so hard, that's why the accomplishment feels that much sweeter and better. I'm very grateful that when things were hard, they never gave up – they just kept on grinding it out and refused to let failure be a choice." – Jack Etienne in the wake of London Spitfire’s OWL title
It’s not well remembered now, but in the run up to the Boston Major FaZe Clan had Cloud9 on toast, taking easy wins whenever the two teams would meet, including results at ECS Season 4 Finals and IEM Oakland 2017. The end of 2016 saw them ranked ninth in the world, and by 2017’s conclusion they were up to fifth. After winning the Boston Major at the start of that year you’d expect another improvement, but when Christmas of 2018 was in the books Stewie and Tarik had left, and C9 were languishing in 14th place in the world rankings.
The ascent to glory
The journey from FaZe’s whipping boys to World Champions was a long and arduous one, and took a good deal of blood, sweat and tears. The team spent a lot of time finding their style, with a leadership group rather than a single captain to rally around, and several members had to prove themselves. Tarik was apparently peanut brain, Stewie just a dumb kid who jumped through smoke, and autimatic spent most of his time in the shadow of his more boisterous, outspoken team mates, despite being a star talent in his own right.
That work, that finding of their self as a team and as players, took C9 months together, and many difficult losses. The young team had to shout veterans such as Skadoodle into shape, and only half managed it, with a famous clip of Stewie complaining he had died due to Ska not calling out an enemy coming from the Major itself. That work they put in as a group is what made them champions, and showed the commitment the group had to each other, and their shared goal.
The spiral starts
In December of 2018, Etienne was quoted in the Esports Observer as saying the following. “I literally felt when we won the Boston Major back in January like 'It can't get better than this'." What fans didn’t realise is that he was making an assertion of fact, rather than a prediction. Etienne wasn’t saying he’d reached his summit, but telling the fans not to expect that level of success again, or, with the benefit of hindsight, so it seems.
"Sometimes you need to recognise that the moment passed and that the best thing to do was to step away gracefully - let the players follow their careers," Etienne said. "It was about managing stars to keep their focus, and we didn't achieve that after the major. They weren't ready to recommit to Cloud9 even though they were still contractually with us, but I chose to let them pursue other goals." Etienne to ESPN
The statement above was made in an ESPN interview Etienne did with Timothy Lee, in which he implies the stars of the team were the problem, but that again looks from the outside to be false. While there is now evidence to suggest Tarik has shown himself to be a flawed team-mate, the likes of Stewie and autimatic are as laser-focused as any American pro, with the former leaving over a lack of commitment from the org to the game. Money is available everywhere when you’re as good as Stewie, but the sort of support he’s getting on Team Liquid now is worth a lot more if you’re serious about being the best.
A new low?
As for stepping away gracefully, it seems like the org didn’t follow their owner’s advice, and C9 fell to a semi-pro (at best) team in the NA Closed Qualifier. The players on the roster reacted with anger, as you’d expect, but when you compare Golden, Sick and cajunb to Tarik, Ska and Stewie it’s hard to feel this came as a surprise to the players. Maybe they can upgrade with the remnants of the Ghost roster, but that still leaves them a long way from the top of the tree.
Fortunately for NA fans, we have Team Liquid atop the rankings right now, and they look to be an elite team rather than a flash in the pan, but they only occupy land C9 willingly deserted after the players fought so hard to take it. To go from Thorin’s Miracle in Massachusetts to where they are today is a travesty, and inexcusable when you have the funding, history and foundation the org was sat on in the wake of becoming the first Major winners from NA in CSGO history.
Images: Helena Kristiansson / ESL