A Tale of Two Teams: The fall of Cloud9 and Team Liquid’s claim for the crown

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Since the rise of Team Liquid in late 2015, there has been a changing of the guard within the North American CS scene. The veterans of NA, Cloud9, saw a decline in performance to the point where they didn’t even qualify for ESL One Cologne 2016. But the scene was very different only a year ago.

Coming off the back of winning the NA Offline Qualifier for ESL One Cologne 2015, with the help of recent roster addition Ryan ‘fREAKAZOiD’ Abadir, Cloud9 were looking hot. Prior to this, they had an incredible run of 3 second-place finishes in consecutive tournaments, only losing to fnatic, Na’Vi and Team SoloMid (now known as Astralis). However, at the major they bombed out in the group stage, winning only one BO1 game against Mousesports on de_overpass, the score being 16-10. In contrast, Team Liquid didn’t qualify for the major, losing 0-2 against Counter Logic Gaming, who, like Cloud9, would also go out at the group stage.

Following Cologne, both teams enjoyed relative success. Cloud9 lost in overtime to NiP in the ESL ESEA Pro League Invitational, placing 7-8th, but came back rejuvenated at Dreamhack Open Stockholm, winning the event by beating Dignitas 2:0. After this, they placed third in the Crown CS Invitational, losing a BO3 series 2-1 against the Australian Team Immunity. On the contrary, Team Liquid played in 7 tournaments before Dreamhack Cluj-Napoca, of which they won 4, beating CompLexity in a BO3 and besting Luminosity Gaming in both a BO3 and BO5. They also won CEVO Season 8 (NA), placing above LG and Conquest, who ended up in second and third, respectively.

However, Team Liquid’s successes since Cologne in August would be marred by their poor performance at Cluj-Napoca in October. They placed joint last place, losing to Ninjas In Pyjamas 13-16, with C9 also performing poorly, going out in joint 12th place. This failure to perform at majors pushed Sean ‘seang@res’ Gares to leave Cloud9, unhappy with the team’s level of commitment. This unexpected exit prompted the organisation to search for a new 5th player. This would be no easy task as there were slim pickings when it came to available IGLs in North America. Their search, which culminated in the signing of Jake ‘Stewie2k’ Yip, even saw NiP’s GeT_RiGhT linked to the NA team.

The lead up to the start of 2016 saw Team Liquid’s Nick ‘nitr0’ Cannella and Jonathan ‘EliGE’ Jablonowski develop great team play skills, being able to push and hold sites exceptionally well as a duo. The team won ESEA Pro League Season 2 (NA) and came third at IEM X San Jose, losing to Na’Vi 2-0 in a BO3. In contrast, Cloud9 placed last at two consecutive events.

Going into the New Year, both teams managed a win at different tournaments, albeit against other NA teams. This is the point where we start to see a gulf developing between the two teams. Cloud9 either won or placed highly at many North American tournaments, more than Team Liquid, but they played in much smaller tournaments with lower-tier teams. However, before MLG Columbus (the first major of the year), C9 took a win at the iBP Invitational over Team Liquid 2-1.

At MLG Columbus, the first North American major for CS:GO, expectations of the NA teams were high. There were four teams representing the home nation: Cloud9, Team Liquid, CLG and Splyce, who were allocated their slot once The Mongolz announced they were unable to attend due to visa issues. Unfortunately, half of these teams bombed out in joint last place, with CLG and TL advancing to the play-off stage, where they would meet.1447794481.4434

Team Liquid took the first map, de_cache 16-13 and promptly closed out the series with a 16-6 win on de_mirage, the map that would soon be the bane of their time at the major. Advancing into the semifinals as the last hope for NA, they faced the boys from Brazil, Luminosity Gaming (now known as SK Gaming). LG had only lost one map so far in their major run, conceding de_cache to a revitalised Virtus.Pro in the quarterfinals, but they ultimately won that series. What happened next would go down as one of the biggest chokes in CS:GO history.

Liquid were up 15-6 on de_cache. They were on match point; all they needed was one round. But FalleN’s squad never gave up, pushing Liquid into overtime where they would eventually beat the Americans 16-19. They then moved on to the second map, de_mirage. Once again, Hiko, s1mple and the rest of Liquid made it to match point, but in an insane turn of events, LG’s Coldzera defied the game and performed a jumping-noscope double kill with the AWP as Liquid charged on to the B bombsite, picking up four kills in the round. This broke Team Liquid, and once again, they were unable to close the game and lost in the same fashion as the first map.

Since the events in Columbus, both teams have changed their rosters around. Following the incident between fREAKAZOiD and Oleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev, fREAKAZOiD departed Cloud9, making way for Alec ‘Slemmy’ White. On the Liquid side, they brought in Kenneth ‘koosta’ Suen in place of Eric ‘adren’ Hoag. However, this wouldn’t last, as koosta was soon replaced by CLG hotshot Joshua ‘jdm64’ Marzano. It was also announced that after ESL One Cologne 2016, the second major of the year, s1mple would be replaced by Jacob ‘Pimp’ Winneche, formerly on Team Dignitas.

This run of form from Team Liquid reached it’s climax at the major in Germany, where they had their best run of form at a tournament, let alone a major, to date. Liquid made it through the group stage with ease, and faced Na’Vi in the play-off stage, who they beat 2-1 over a three map series. Progressing, they faced the goliath of fnatic. Despite all odds, they managed to beat olof’s men 2-0, winning 16-13 on both maps. This set them up for a rematch with current Major Champions and the team that knocked them out just months before, SK Gaming. Alas, it was not to be a repeat of the stunning semi-final of Columbus, with SK taking comfortably winning on de_train and de_cbble (Cobblestone) 16-7 and 1-6, respectively, to take them to their second consecutive major title.

The story of Team Liquid and Cloud9 has so far been a turbulent one. Who could forget that Hiko himself played for Cloud9 only a few years ago? Cloud9’s wonder run of 2nd place finishes and domination of the North American scene is nothing if a testament to those players at their peak level, including seang@res’ tactical mind bringing the whole team together. On the Liquid side of things, they have risen tremendously from late 2015 to dethroning C9 within NA and becoming an international force to be reckoned with. Time will tell for both teams whether their recent roster changes will pay off. Will Slemmy and Stewie2k mold into C9 well and take them back to their winning ways? Will young Danish prospect Pimp be able to reach a similar level to s1mple or will he give better teamplay at the cost of less individual skill? We’ll have to wait and see.

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impAla

18 year old UK writer and coordinator for CS:GO and Dota 2 at BTG.