The NA Shuffle and How it Affected Cloud 9
ESEA LAN was disastrous for all the North American teams. Not a single map was taken by an NA team over a European one. But among the defeats, one was more evident than any other: Cloud 9’s defeat in the lower bracket by the hands of Nihilum in a 2-0 sweep only proved the fact that sgares’ lineup was past the decline and had touched the bottom, as evidenced by their previous LAN performances, and that something had to be done. And following what is becoming American tradition, roster changes happened after an ESEA LAN, called as per usual, the NA Shuffle. Cloud 9 decided to cut ShahZam from the team (Not to many people’s surprise), but also unexpectedly decided to release semphis. The two players who will be filling in their roles were revealed to be fREAKAZOID, who has recently come back from a break, and Skadoodle, the previously teamless AWP prodigy. As the icing on the cake, from the depths of the bans comes swag, who will be joining the lineup as an analyst.
Often criticized for his gameplay, ShahZam’s departure was not a shock to anyone. With the overall second lowest rating, beating only sgares, and a high degree of inconsistency in between matches, he was often seen as Cloud 9’s weak link. This is not wrong, but also a vague statement on his role on the team. ShahZam, to unlock his full potential in the past, was needed to be let loose and be supported by the rest of the team. He was definitely not the best fit for Cloud 9’s first dedicated AWPer experience. The pressure of the big events also seemed to get to him often, and was especially seen in Katowice, where his poor decision making and inability to win crucial aim battles helped the demise of his team. ShahZam is now without a team and likely not to play at the top level, at least for some time, but his experience could definitely help a younger, less proven team.
On the other hand, the second roster cut came as a surprise. Semphis, part of the core lineup since the compLexity days, was released from C9 together with ShahZam. His role had never been too clearly defined: he had been IGL, at one point AWPer, most recently rifler, supporting the stronger fraggers shroud and n0thing. While in the past he had problems pulling his own weight in the servers, those were gone in 2015: he was the man with the most frags on the team in their short lived Katowice run and his performance would often be crucial to the success of the team. The fact that his multifaceted role was very similar to sgares’, who could not be as influential in the game when it came to the duels and site takes but only as a leader of the team, made the latter more likely to be cut from the lineup and put in a coaching position, where he could lead the team but leave his spot to a more efficient player. But that was not the team’s final decision, which led semphis to find his new team in Nihilum, where he met up with his old teammate Hiko. Their raw mechanical skill and top level knowledge may just be what, given a few months’ time, will help Nihilum become a top contender for NA titles.
Formerly an A.V.A. pro and known for his incredible AWPing skills from his iBuyPower days, Skadoodle joins the team to replace ShahZam. Almost without a doubt the best AWPer in NA even after a season long hiatus due to the bans of his former teammates, his roster move to Cloud 9 came as no surprise after he and Hiko stopped being a package deal. Skadoodle was often crowned MVP of many iBuyPower games, where he was vital to the team’s defenses and could come up with huge, clutch plays when needed. Towards the end of the team’s lifespan, it was said that his communications were, however, lacking, (Some argue an episode of his silence has caused their loss against on the last map against fnatic in the finals of FaceIt LAN Milan). But he has had time to work on that, and together with his unmatched-in-NA skill, Skadoodle seems to be a total upgrade and a much better fit than ShahZam was for the C9 lineup.
The second pick up also comes from a hiatus, albeit a much longer one. fREAKAZOiD has come back to CSGO after a couple years of not playing at the highest level. Formerly a notable Source player and a mid-tier NA CSGO player on Homeless and Frost Gaming, he was never on any team that was at the top his region, let alone anywhere near the top international level, so this will be his opportunity to break in it. During his last season he was an above average player, but that was on a game with a radically different meta from today’s. fREAKAZOiD’s pickup is simply a gamble, also considering the fact that there were other, more proven riflers that were thrown around in the NA shuffle and even those that weren’t: with Cloud 9’s resources, buying out a necessary player would not have been a problem. However, if fREAKAZOiD can restore his old form and adapt to the new team and the big stage, he could be the strong fragger that C9 seems to be lacking at times.
The third pickup is the oddest one: swag, one of the players involved in the iBuyPower matchfixing scandal, has been recruited as an analyst. His ban forbids him from participating in any Valve event in the future, but from this position, he will be able to support the team without actually participating. From the PR side, which Cloud 9 historically is very involved in with all of its lineups, swag is also the best pickup from the banned players, seen by many as innocent or undeserving of a ban of this degree. However, there is a more practical reason for his pickup. While he might bring some experience to the table as an analyst, that is likely not what he can really offer to the team. He is now, however, tied to the organization. If, or more likely when, he gets unbanned, C9 would have access to one of the most skilled riflers in the region, who is also young enough to have a long career in front of him. There is little that can go wrong with this recruitment.
The AWP role on Cloud 9 has now been simply improved through the release of an inconsistent, at times underperforming ShahZam to a more solid Skadoodle. While that is a perfect roster change, the same cannot be said about adding fREAKAZOiD to replace semphis. The latter was finally playing well on the lineup and had a very similar but less performing player in sgares that could have been cut, while the former has not been a proven player in many seasons. It is good, however, to finally see this lineup try to make some drastic moves to change their results after years of changing them only when needed to do so and keep failing at obtaining better results. This lineup is on paper stronger than the older one to begin with, and definitely holds more potential to succeed than the pre NA shuffle one and definitely came out as the best post-shuffle team. Cloud 9 could have finally found the roster it needs to change their cycle of eliminations and sorrow.
All image credits to cloud9.gg