The Problems with Cloud9
Although they have cemented themselves within North American Counter-Strike: Global Offensive history as being the most talented North American team, Cloud9 is far from perfect. In fact, lately they have had very poor results, with a 9-16 placing at the latest major, ESL One Cologne, last place at ESL ESEA Dubai and 4th out of 6 teams at the Crown Invitational. These results are poor in the aspects of any Top 10 team, but the Crown result is especially embarrassing considering Cloud9 was expected to finish in 2nd place due to the event having 4 Australian teams which isn't a region known for great skill in Counter-Strike.
These events have consequently put forward the question as to what’s wrong with the team that looked so good half way through this year? The answers are very simple. Many of the problems that Cloud9 faces are simple problems that most North American teams face, but much of them are also unique to the team and what is going on individually for each player. Today, we’re going to investigate what’s problematic for Cloud9 from a strategic perspective and a performance perspective.
What's right with Cloud9?
Firstly, they are one of the very few North American teams that have their roles correctly set, this is key to having a stable and consistent team in any region. Cloud9 is equipped with Sean “Seang@res” Gares as a very focused leader, Mike “Shroud” Grzesiek as a main fragger, Ryan "fREAKAZOID" Abadir as an entry fragger, Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham as an AWPer and Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert as a secondary fragger. This is one of the very few things that makes Cloud9 stable and consistent, especially within their region, as 4 out of the 5 players know their positions, what guns they are using and what their teammates are doing. Unlike the old Team Liquid rosters, Cloud9 had established what was so key to many of their victories, that being, having a proper entry fragger and using the AWP via Skadoodle effectively within the environment of most maps.
Beyond that, both Shroud and Skadoodle are the best and most consistent players on their rosters with the most skill. They consistently, put frags on the board and make the team as stable as they possibly can, much of this is because they place very safe Counter-Strike, with very little aggression. What’s really great about Skadoodle and Shroud though is their ability to compete with the best of Europe, and for sure at those three events where Cloud9 placed 2nd, they did look like they were within the Top 10 players of the world, with Skadoodle hitting AWP shots consistently. And with Shroud completely tearing the opposition apart left and right. It was on those days, they really played the best they’d ever played. Which is somewhat strange, because they are the real big play makers in the team, which would usually be acclaimed for aggressive players such as Olof “Olofmeister” Kajbjer or .Jesper “JW” Wecksell
Undoubtedly though, what makes Cloud9 so successful is fREAKAZOID, without him most executes on the T side would be fruitless and the gaining of an advantage on CT would be difficult. It’s key to have a great entry fragger to have a successful team, without that very key advantage you can easily lose a round off players not trading correctly or a well placed nade.
Essentially, Cloud9 needs the advantage so much considering that they don’t have the skill level required to compete with the other Top 10 teams.
Ultimately, fREAKAZOID does his job well in the scope of who he’s facing and how much support he has, but it’s not like he’s the best entry fragger, not even within his region, but he is dedicated and he sticks to his role. That’s admirable and the qualities that you need in a player, especially for a region where rosters are in constant flux, all in all he keeps the game stable and the team dynamics in check, whilst performing at a steady level.
But what of Seang@res? He alone can really change how well Cloud9 does... Without Seang@res, many of Cloud9’s victories would not have been possible and their results are dominantly based off how well Seang@res can read the enemy team, pick apart their tendencies and create successful executes and strategies.
It is evident that from Cloud9’s many ‘Top 2’ placings that Seang@res had a very successful period of using his players correctly, and by understanding his enemy’s movements and tendencies, especially against Team EnVyUs and fnatic. Seang@res also has for most of his time been the player who has sacrificed the most for his team, firstly by playing the AWP role in the older rosters, but also being the in-game leader. Both roles are incredibly hard to balance, but it just goes to show that Seang@res really is the glue of Cloud9, without him, probably most of C9’s rosters would have broken up or lost faith in each other, whether that be through bickering or a lack or coordination and unity. For that, Seang@res is probably the guy that you’d want on every roster, mainly because he doesn’t care about statistics or glory, he merely cares about winning and having a great team.
What's wrong with Cloud9?
The big problem with Cloud9 is that not all their individuals are evenly or highly skilled, even within their region. Take for example Seang@res who is their in-game leader, he currently holds a HLTV.org rating of 0.87 overall, this is an extremely low rating for a player on a Top 10 team. Even within his region this is still a low rating, but unfortunately there are almost no alternative players to replace Seang@res with that are comparative or better at their role. Not to mention, that he is the glue of the roster, without him as stated earlier, any future rosters would most likely dissolve. Therefore, how can a Top 10 team be reliant on only 4 out of 5 of their players against the other Top 10 teams? Sadly they can’t, which means Cloud9 suffers from the lack of a balanced consistent set of players, an issue which also plagued other teams such as Mousesports where Fatih “Gob b” Dayik is also a low rated player on a potential Top 10 team. At the end of the day frags do need to be put up on the board and playing with 3 to 4 skilled players isn’t going to cut it, certainly against the Top 3 teams.
Continuing on the point of individual skill is fREAKAZOID who is the dedicated entry fragger, now much of Cloud9’s game plan and strategies rely on fREAKAZOID as stated earlier. Once again, fREAKAZOID has an issue where he is the second lowest rated player on the team, be that as it may it’s understandable as he is the entry fragger, he isn’t expected to go huge and make the 3k’s and 4k’s. But he is the sole player who can make or break the success of Cloud9, in that, if he gets picked he gives the advantage away far too easily, but if he gets the job done and exceeds expectations he can open up a bomb site for the team or gain information.
With an HLTV.org rating of 0.95 and an entry kill rating of 1.00, fREAKAZOID one of the lowest or most average rated entry fraggers in the world. Players such as Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund, who is a lurker has an entry frag rating of 1.07. Other North American entry fraggers such as Nick “nitr0” Cannella and Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski hold higher entry frag ratings of 1.07 and 1.09 respectively. When we move all the way up to the Top 3 team entry fraggers such as Dan “apEX” Madesclaire and JW, the gap is clear. apEX and JW hold an entry frag rating of 1.15 and 1.25 respectively. Again, in the scope of a Top 10 team, Cloud9 isn’t even close to the skill level of other teams in terms of their roles. The Top 10 mentioned players hold higher ratings against higher level teams, demonstrating the huge skill gap that Cloud9 has to face to even compete, let alone win.
This is the same problem the old 2014/2015 Titan roster encountered with apEX, where they didn’t have the most skilled lineup past Kenny “kennyS” Schrub and apEX, as a result they would be a great upset team but would fail to consistently place highly. In terms of how that Titan roster used their players, sometimes apEX would push and get picked, leaving his team at a severe disadvantage where otherwise they would have been better off playing him more passively. This is the same problem Cloud9 must face but with a much less skilled player against similarly or much more feared opponents. As an ingame leader, the real success to beating Cloud9 rests in studying the tendencies of fREAKAZOID and shutting him down to easily gain an advantage and the rest should be easy to deal with.
The last player of concern, is n0thing, who is the player who has never really fit into the lineup. There is no doubt that when n0thing is at his “A-Game” that he can compete with the world’s best, in fact he is a 1.6 legend. But unfortunately for a team like Cloud9 which is trying to become more structured, more tactical and more consistent, n0thing is the type of hot and cold player that they do not need. He is far too often off his game or doing unnecessary actions such as peeking too early or flashing into areas alone where there’s a barrage of enemies. These actions hurt the team dynamics of Cloud9 as they can’t be sure as to whether or not they can rely on n0thing to do the right thing, let alone be in form.
This extends into n0thing’s role within the team, what is he truly? At times he plays as a pseudo-entry fragger, other times a lurker, sometimes he’s holding a position etc. He never clearly has a defined skill set that is consistent, and thus his performances are all over the place. Former teammates Kory “Semphis” Friesen and Spencer “Hiko” Martin have opened up about how they saw n0thing as the weakest link, particularly due to the lack of a defined role, but they couldn’t kick him due to other issues within the team. Add this erratic play from n0thing on top of a team that already has two average skilled players and you have a formula for disaster, it’s clear to see why this roster sometimes gets poor results and ‘wows’ us the next.
Contrast this with what makes the Top 3 teams so great, which is that they have 3 solid players at almost all times. Take for instance fnatic, they have Freddy “KRiMZ” Johansson, Markus “pronax” Wallsten and Robin “Flusha” Rönnquist who consistently put out great performances and do as expected. Olofmeister and JW are merely the key to taking that team one step further and gaining the big frags or picks that the team needs to gain an edge. Another team that does this is TeamSoloMid, which has Nikolai “Device” Reedtz, Finn “Karrigan” Andersen and Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth who also put down consistent performances, with René “cajunb” Borg and Peter “dupreeh” Rasmussen being the difference makers.
n0thing is a player who has an alleged history of not turning up to practices and having disputes over what spots he’s playing, it’s clear to see that if anyone is to be cut from the squad first it should be n0thing. Mainly because he has no defined role, he doesn’t like to listen and he’s far too erratic in his skill level. The main reason that n0thing has and will continue to stick around is there’s a real lack of alternative players in the North American region with comparative skill that are consistent. But with rumours of GeT_RiGhT possibly moving to Cloud9, it is clear that the role of lurker may be enough to push n0thing out of the team.
Constantly, the North American region like to push how Cloud9 is a Top 10 rated team and how they are almost at the status of being a legendary squad. But the reality is that they are not, as some of their players are even average for their region let alone when paired against the players of the Top 5 teams. The skill gap between Cloud9 and the other Top 10 teams is immense, too immense that they soon may see themselves out of the Top 10 teams. This roster will find it hard to try and pull this off consistently due to that lack of skill throughout the roster. Indeed, this roster however has impressed, considering they overall are less skilled than the old roster with Hiko, which has led to them being cemented in history as the only North American squad to place Top 2 at 3 European LANS in a row.
Cloud9 was/is the living demonstration how having defined roles, set tactics and a lack of poor leadership can elevate a team to achieve results that teams full of skilled individuals only dreams of. However, this great performance more of an anomaly than the skill of the team being the main factor to their victory, most of it is actually attributable to players being in-form, a period of great leadership from Seang@res and the team playing a dying EnVyUs roster twice to make the final of two events. There is however, no denying that this roster has truly surprised many, and there is still the hope of an entire region vested within the team of possible legends.
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Special thanks and courtesy to HLTV.org for the images shown in this article. Do note that this article is the opinion of one individual and doesn't expressly reprsent all the opinions of the CS:GO community and other analysts.