Cloud9's key to success in VALORANT Champions
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Cloud9 VALORANT’s biggest strength can be summed up in one word: adaptability.

Their path to VALORANT Champions came through the North American Last Chance Qualifier, where they were the heavy favorites to come out on top but, surprisingly, dropped their semifinal match against Rise. Still, the loss only fueled them to perform even better, and Cloud9 raced through the lower bracket to meet Rise again in the grand final and trounce them 3-0. 

Throughout the LCQ, Cloud9’s ability to adjust and adapt on the fly was on display. They dominated their map picks and clutched tiebreaker wins. At the same time, they were able to find and lean into the playstyle that worked for them. Cloud9’s usage of Erick “Xeppaa” Bach initiating on KAY/O was unique among the competition, with only one other team – Version1 – selecting the agent all tournament. According to Sentinel player Mitch “mitch” Semago, everyone on the team is able to adjust based on what is required of them.

“What sets us apart is the fact that everyone on our team can flex to a ton of different agents,” said mitch. “That will keep us nice and fresh throughout the tournament with [few] counter-strats available to other teams.”

Cloud9 Blue at VCT North America LCQ before their VALORANT Champions qualification
Cloud9 Blue at VCT North America LCQ. | Provided by Cloud9

Mitch also said that Cloud9 has been specifically working on their versatility so they can handle whatever comes their way at Champions, a tournament where the competition will be significantly tougher than anything they’ve faced before. They’ll be up against juggernauts Vision Strikers and Fnatic right off the bat in the group stage, meaning they’ll have to lean into the creativity that makes them special for a strong start in the tournament.

“I think we’re really good at making decisions on the fly compared to other teams right now,” said Sova and Skye specialist Son “xeta” Seon-ho. Before making the switch to VALORANT, Xeta was a professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player, where he played on South Korean team MVP PK. Notably, the core of MVP PK would go on to form the core of Vision Strikers, the best team in South Korea and one of the favorites to win all of Champions.

“I’m pretty excited to play against Vision Strikers just to see the anime battle between xeta and his former teammates,” Mitch said. “Not too sure who our biggest competition is because we haven’t scrimmed other teams at the event. I would say Envy because we both know each other’s playstyles really well.”

Xeta, however, has his eyes set on someone else.

“[I’m looking forward to playing against] nAts,” xeta said, referring to Gambit Esports’ Ayaz “nAts” Akhmetshin. “Not only because he is the winner of the last Masters, but also because I wanna see his aggression and lurking plays as a Sentinel. It would be good to see how I can deal with a Sentinel with his style.”

Cloud9's Xeta at First Strike Korea before qualifying for Champions
Xeta playing for Cloud9 Korea. | Provided by Riot Korea

Xeta is a seasoned pro when it comes to playing big tournaments, especially on LAN. Cloud9 consists of esports veterans like xeta and mitch alongside younger talents like Xeppaa and Nathan “leaf” Orf. They were supposed to have their first LAN experience as a team during the North American LCQ, but a bevy of false positive COVID-19 tests among players led to the cancelation of the offline portion of the tournament. As a result, Champions will be Cloud9’s first LAN as a team, something that all the players are looking forward to.

“I think playing on LAN will help the team’s performance because of ping,” said xeta. “And personally, I prefer to play on LAN because it gives me confidence. Generally our team doesn’t really feel pressure or anything as far as I know.”

Regardless of the players’ varying experiences playing onstage, one major roadblock remains: As Cloud9, they’ve never played against any VALORANT team outside of North America. Luckily, team leader Anthony “vanity” Malaspina has been to an international VALORANT LAN before; he attended Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavík with his former team, Version1. His leadership and experience will be invaluable in getting Cloud9’s mentality to where it needs to be and keeping the team focused in their first major high-pressure outing.

Version1's Vanity poses for promotional picture at Masters 2
Vanity attended Stage 2 Masters as part of Version1. | Provided by Riot Games

“I think our team’s key player will be vanity,” xeta said. “He already has experience dealing with European teams and other regions’ teams, so I think that’s huge.”

Of the three North American teams at Champions – Sentinels, Team Envy and Cloud9 – Cloud9 is viewed as the runt of the litter. Sentinels and Envy have both proven that they can perform well internationally, whereas for now, Cloud9 is still playing catch-up. But by perfecting their own style and being able to adapt to whatever comes their way, they could very well challenge both Sentinels and Envy for the title of best team in North America.

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