Stewie2k: The CS:GO Sisyphus

What does Stewie2k have in common with the boulder carrier of Greek mythology?

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.

In 2016, despite the veteran presence of Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert and the star power of Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham and Mike “shroud” Grzesiek on Cloud9, the 18-year old Jake “Stewie2k” Yip somehow became the storied franchise’s star player and captain, despite having no previous high-level competitive experience. However, his impeccable rise to form over the past year has to be somewhat tied with tragedy.

Both Stewie2k and Cloud9 struggled heavily during their initial foray together, but by the time Alec “Slemmy” White was added to the team, Stewie2k started to find his form, quickly becoming the star player of the team. However, beyond the occasional upset, C9 still failed to impress regularly and could not qualify for a Valve Major for the first time in the organization’s history in June. Then, after swapping out Slemmy for Timothy “Autimatic” Ta, Stewie2k bizarrely took over tactical control of the team to highly surprising results. When Cloud9 started the regular ESL Pro League Season 14-0, spectators were already gearing up to call the new iteration of Cloud9 the best team in the region. When Cloud9 started to perform on LAN, even winning the ESL Pro League Finals in São Paulo, some of the same cohort were gearing up to call the Stewie2k-led Cloud9 the greatest North American Counter-Strike team to ever touch Global Offensive.

But that dream also dissolved at the ELEAGUE Major Qualifier. After dropping out of the group stage in three high-level tournaments in the immediate wake of their EPL victory, Cloud9 failed to advance through the swiss-style qualification for another Valve major. They went 2-3, but needed a third win to advance. Strong individual efforts of Stewie2k and his new partner in crime, Autimatic, were not enough.  

A woefully inexperienced player, first considered to be just a joke, a smoke-pushing onliner, miraculously transitioned from an underperformer into perhaps the most valuable overall player in North America, but his individual growth was outpaced by his encumbrance. He found only fleeting success before falling back towards the precipice of failure.

From the Bottom

His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing.

Stewie2k only started playing Counter Strike in the summer of 2014, but he quickly reached a semi-professional level, joining Kyle “OCEAN” O’Brien’s SKDC by March of the following year. From there, he bounced around a bit, but only played in two LAN events before joining Cloud9: the November 2015 RGN Pro Series Championship and the undersized 2015 Northern Arena event of the following month. With Torqued at RGN, Stewie2k didn’t have a particularly strong showing, as the team was quickly eliminated in the group stage, having found just a single win over CLG.Red. He looked better with Splyce at Northern Arena 2015, clearly performing as one of their better players, but still the competition was not especially fierce as he went up against the likes of Method, compLexity and CLG.Red. However, this time, Stewie2k and co. would advance out of the groups to face CLG.Blue, the male team, in the semifinals, but they still predictably lost their best-of three amongst highly variable performances from Stewie2k himself.

Looking back, Stewie’s offline showings, and even his official online matches, presented very little evidence to suggest a climatic rise through the competitive Counter-Strike scene. Despite having a very high apparent skill level, his overtly straightforward style of play, constantly pushing and taking aim battles in nearly any situation, hardly demonstrated his own competence positionally or strategically.

When C9 officially picked him on Jan. 11, 2016, just four days after his 18th birthday, the public reaction was in no small part negative. Not only did Stewie2k show a limited amount of potency in his official matches versus weaker competition, he was also replacing their veteran in-game leader, Sean Sgares Gares, which obviously created a role imbalance on the team, as an entry player was coming in to replace an in-game leader.

In terms of firepower, other rumored pickups, such as NiP’s Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund or CLG’s Tarik “tarik” Celik, were far more attractive choices, while other accomplished, competent in-game leaders, such as Markus “pronax” Wallsten and Fatih “gob b” Dayik, were also available to more directly replace Sgares. The sole redeeming quality to the pickup seemed to come from the young player’s burgeoning reputation in pugs and FPL matches, where he very frequently excelled. Still, many saw the addition of an unproven, unaccomplished neophyte the beginning of the end of Cloud9’s reign as the leading North American team and their tenure as a frequently competitive international squad.

And those dour expectations were very neatly met in C9’s initial forays with the young pugstar. Cloud9 only made the round-of-six at the not especially stacked Global eSports Cup – Season 1 LAN, thanks to a single best-of-three win over a very mediocre Method team. And in line with much of the public’s expectations, Stewie2k frequently showed up as a one of the team’s worst performers.

Then, at the MLG Colombus Main Qualifier, Cloud9 barely squeezed through, but again, Stewie2k showed none of his FPL flair as his more individualistic play was very frequently shut down. And moving forwards, he, like the rest of his team, looked very lackluster at the major itself, losing two one-sided maps in a row to find a very early elimination, while their North American peers in CLG and Team Liquid both managed to make their way into the playoffs.  

Stewie2k rapidly rose up through the North American scene, somehow managing to land a spot on its most prestigious team just a year and a half after picking up the game, but simply joining his more experienced teammates wouldn’t lead him to any immediate success. He had to personally take up the slack and output more if C9 was to rekindle any of their past prowess.   

Driving in the Doldrums

There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night.

Cloud9’s poor performance at the major triggered the departure of Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir, who chose to jump ship over to Echo Fox in order to rejoin Sgares. To fill the slot and turn around Cloud9’s Terrorist-side play, which had been disastrous under the leadership of N0thing, Freakazoid would be replaced by Without a Roof’s in-game leader Slemmy.

With Slemmy in tow, Cloud9 T-sides looked like less of an issue as the team as a whole started to have more competitive results. At DreamHack Austin, they placed top-four while nearly besting Tempo Storm in the semifinals, and at the ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals, they fell out in groups, losing another close series to another decent opponent in Team Liquid.

Then, the team looked even better at ELEAGUE Season 1, as they went 3-3 in groups and defeated Renegades in a best-of-three in order to meet the reigning number one team in the world in Luminosity in ELEAGUE’s first televised match. Despite losing, Cloud9 once more turned up for a very competitive contest: taking map one, going to overtime in the second map, before falling valiantly in the third. Then finally at ECS, while Cloud9 would again fail to advance beyond the group stage thanks to a surprise upset by TSM, they still managed to win another nice best-of-three over Astralis before taking the early exit.

Their results were still hardly awe-inspiring, but their post-Freakazoid form still looked far more encouraging than their opening tries in the first three months of the year. And at the head of this small-scale resurgence was Stewie2k. Instead of Cloud9’s former stars, Shroud and Skadoodle, Stewie2k and N0thing actually became the team’s two standout performers following the pickup of Slemmy, with Stewie2k starting to actually turning in star-level performances, albeit with some inconsistency. Regardless, Stewie’s surge to low-level stardom couldn’t yet turn the team around.

At the main qualifier for the next major, ESL One Cologne, Cloud9 took two easier wins versus Empire and TyLoo, but their three losses to other mid-tier teams in mousesports, EnVyUs, and G2 still knocked them out of the Swiss-style qualifier.

After this failure, Cloud9 again made a roster move in hopes of remedying their 2016 woes. This time, however, Cloud9 looked to improve their dwindling firepower by adding Stewie2k’s friend Autimatic, formerly of TSM. Again, the move wasn’t especially attractive. Autimatic had only performed adequately as TSM’s lurker in comparison to their more standout players in Hunter SicKMims and Russel “Twistzz” Van Dulken, and while Slemmy was never an especially competent performer individually, Cloud9 looked noticeably improved tactically following his addition. Further fanning the flames, in the wake of the roster move, it was also publically stated that the still fresh-faced Stewie2k would be taking up in-game leading responsibilities, which still sharply contrasted with his ongoing reputation as a raw, mistake-prone player with a limited understanding of the game.

Touching the Top

His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing.

Despite these very legitimate concerns, Cloud9 came out of their late summer swap swinging. Adapting a more default and dry entry heavy style of play on their T-side with a more skilled lineup on the CT side, Cloud9 immediately found dominating online results that were eventually backed by an extended string of very impressive offline placings. They finished second at Northern Arena after losing a close, controversial finals to Immortals. Then, against world class fields at StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 2 and DreamHack Bucharest, C9 finished top-four and second respectively.

While Skadoodle and Shroud still had not found any of their old muster, N0thing and Autimatic stepped up, along with the team’s star and point man in Stewie2k as Cloud9 suddenly looked like a legitimate top-five threat worldwide. However, at ELEAGUE Season 2, Cloud9 showed sudden weakness as they failed to advance through a not so difficult group. They fell to both mousesports in an overtime best-of-one and to FaZe in an overtime laced best-of-three elimination match to take their first early tournament exit as a five-man roster.

Nevertheless, after their fall, Stewie2k and co. were able to have one more impressive showing at the ESL Season 4 Pro League Finals. There, in São Paulo, C9 accomplished what no North American had a done in over a decade at a highly competitive tournament: they won. After breezing through their group, they beat OpTic, mousesports, and SK Gaming, in front of a home crowd no less, in the playoffs to take the tournament outright, with Autimatic earning MVP honors.

While Autimatic had been decent on TSM, once he joined Cloud9 and started working in tandem with Stewie2k in more proactive positions across the map, he started to be far more effective in terms of even exceeding Stewie’s output at times. But Autimatic’s upswing was just one example of what Stewie2k seemed to do for the team in the second half of the year. In addition to continued individual performances, both Autimatic and N0thing found their strides as individuals, C9’s T-sides still looked much improved even without Slemmy, and Cloud9 results were amongst the strongest in the organization’s history. It was also publicly suggested that Stewie2k was actually the motivating factor in improving the tactics of the team in the first place, rather than Slemmy himself, further accentuating Stewie2k’s value to the team.

However, this surge of successes wouldn’t last. At three of their next four premier level  tournaments, Cloud9 failed to make it out of the group stage. Then, to cap off their apparent slide, they failed to qualify for the Valve Major once more. While they made it through their iBUYPOWER Masters group and just barely missed a group stage exit amongst strong competition at IEM Oakland, their decisive bomb outs at the ECS Finals, DreamHack Winter, and the ELEAGUE Major Main Qualifier very clearly demonstrated their dwindling capability.  

Stewie2k developed himself into an in-game leader and added a major secondary threat in his friend, Autimatic, to shove Cloud9 up into the upper echelons of the scene, but that peak lasted for just a fleeting moment before they fell down once again. Can we really expect Stewie2k to carry them back up to the top?

The Fruit of Futility

The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.

There was clearly some drop off in output from both N0thing and Autimatic following their EPL win and Shroud and Skadoodle have still not exactly pulled their weight in the second half of 2016, but some of the issues inherent to Cloud9 very much have to do with Stewie2k himself. Since taking over as the in-game leader in an official capacity, Cloud9 has not shown a clear order of preference in their map picks, playing every map outside of Nuke without often having specific standout maps or a true “home” map.

Even worse, some spectators, such as Richard Lewis, have suggested that Stewie2k has a hard time keeping his emotions in check during crucial games, which has led to lesser individual performances and lackluster team play. Furthermore, in interviews, Cloud9 players have also suggested that Stewie2k can often “run out of ideas” on occasion on T-sides, and there have also been times where Stewie2k has not elected to take timeouts when appropriate after long and extended series of rounds.  

And while you could be quick to praise Stewie2k’s leadership or system for helping invigorate his teammates in N0thing and Autimatic, certainly the opposite could be said for the team’s more struggling members. As slower players, perhaps Shroud and Skadoodle have been buffeted by Stewie2k looser approach, in comparison to Sgares’s more structured system where they excelled.  

In a highly competitive era of play, in a region long devoid of accomplishments, with limited support from his teammates, without a coach or mentor, while still trying to resolve his own personal iniquities, Stewie2k faces the seemingly impossible task of moving his team back up the competitive ladder. While a good roster move or the addition of the right support staff could certainly help Cloud9 achieve once more, the situation still looks dire.

For Stewie2k, whose remarkable progress has been inexorably tied to an ever increasing burden, whose only brushes with success were quickly met by a rapid decline, this enduring struggle must seem cruel, unwieldy, or even absurd.

But perhaps if he can bind himself to his burden, find solace in the struggle, and embrace the absurdity of his mission, he can to continue to fashion himself against the ceaseless impossibility of ascent and somehow win championships again.

Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

All quotes are of Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus

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