Cloud9 Blue started their journey in VALORANT with initial success and a high skill ceiling, making a few tournament finals in the early days. They were also home to one of the best players in the region, Tyson “TenZ” Ngo. But that early success would come crashing down as “TenZ and friends” (a joke moniker due to TenZ’s tendency to show up his teammates) fell apart in the VALORANT Champions Tour era.
In November of 2020, Cloud9 would bomb out of the first major Riot Games-run tournament, First Strike. They were swept by T1 in the first stage of games. Subsequently, the team started to bleed players. The first to go was in-game leader Josh “shinobi” Abastado in December of 2020. Then, in January of 2021, the team’s star would take a break from competition (a decision that is now definite).
At that point, Daniel “vice” Kim picked up the IGL role for the team, a position he didn’t have experience playing. Also, Cloud9 lacked an identity as a team thanks to roster changes and role switching. Without TenZ, Cloud9 became the friends he left behind.
“It was pretty dire for a bit. I’m not gonna lie,” current Cloud9 IGL Mitch “mitch” Semago said.
New faces join the Cloud9 Blue front office
However, later that month, the organization brought over new management along with Son “xeta” Seon-ho and Yoon “Autumn” Eu-teum from the now-dissolved Cloud9 Korea roster. As a result, the new player and coach helped forge a fresh direction for a team during a transitional period.
“Before we had Autumn and xeta. It was like we were lost,” Nathan “leaf” Orf said.
Autumn brought over slightly new ways to think about the game. His setups and defensive map control philosophy helped add structure to Cloud9 according to mitch.
With the exit of TenZ, leaf said that management and coaches became more vocal and direct about what the team wanted to do. Goals became more transparent as the VALORANT Champions Tour started. But, the team still went through a few growing pains with the new additions.
While the team was assembled, not everyone was on what would become their current agents. For example, Xeta came over from Korea as an Initiator player, supporting his teams on Sova and Breach. While he did play that for a time, he quickly switched over to Duelist in Stage 1 Challengers 2 and then back to Initiators after the event. Leaf, now a Duelist player, played a majority of his first outings on Cloud9 on Omen. Additionally, mitch — who is now the longest tenured player on the team — has swapped between numerous roles around this time. According to the Cloud9 IGL, these switches and changes hurt their early VCT chances.
“Always trying to try something new kind of threw us off for a bit,” mitch said. “But once we settled on something, I think we got a lot better.”
Cloud9 lost two players and added three more over the course of three months in 2021. Mitch became the sole remaining player from the original roster during the TenZ era. The team went through multiple six-man rosters to get to its current state with players from their now-defunct Counter Strike team: Ricky “floppy” Kemery and Erick “Xeppaa” Bach.
Some players enjoy the competitive environment; others think it’s a hindrance and disrupts the communication of the team. According to xeta, the pressure brings out the best in him.
“You have to survive,” he said.
Cloud9’s current VALORANT Champions Tour run
Now, with defined roles and a structure around the team, Cloud9 looked in form at Stage 2 Challengers 2. Even with the fast addition of floppy to the starting lineup, and the team’s set roles, they ran through the Upper bracket to the grand finals. They swept the competition 2-0 on their way, soundly defeating a T1 team that has gone through similar philosophy and roster changes.
Ultimately, Cloud9 lost to Sentinels 3-0, but they qualified for Challengers Playoffs; a far cry from missing all of Stage 1 and the first Masters event. They fought their way to the top three at the Masters 2 qualifying event, defeating NRG and Envy but losing to Sentinels and Version1.
ggs to @version1gg we made a good run with it being ricky's 2nd tournament of val 😀 very proud of da bois and im sure we'll only be back stronger! Lots to learn from that as well. Lots of improvement in the NA scene as a whole and it's great to see 🙂 See u for Masters 3!
— Nathan (@leaf_cs) May 2, 2021
While qualifying for the LAN was the goal for mitch and Cloud9, dropping out of Challengers Playoffs is not the end of the world. For most of Cloud9, Riot’s end-of-year tournament, Champions, is where their aspirations lie after all of the growth the team had undergone.
“I’d say success is getting there and even winning it,” mitch said. “I want to win everything.”