Was Cloud9’s 2015 Summer Run Overrated?

Many have compared Cloud9's recent run to their fabled summer showing in 2015. How favorable is that comparison really?

Cloud9’s surprising triumph at the ESL Pro League Season 4 finals and their recent upswing in placements has invited comparisons between Cloud9’s current tournament spree with their now-fabled 2015 “Summer Run.” However, Sam “DaZed” Marine’s most recent Reflections interview called into the question the merits of Cloud9’s past achievements.

To start the video, Thorin asked DaZed to explain how Cloud9 was suddenly able to “come out of nowhere and become so good.” DaZed responded, “I mean, I don’t really think they were good. They just beat nV who was just an absolutely dead team… It was just a really overrated run to be honest.”  

Is the suggestion that Cloud9’s 2015 was “overrated” a reimagination of history warped in hindsight or is there some validity to DaZe’s argument? Did Cloud9’s three straight second place finishes over three consecutive weeks in the Summer of 2015 over-represent their actual strength as a team at that time?

Bleak Backdrop

Just like the start of 2016 without Sean “sgares” Gares, Cloud9 started off 2015 very slowly after Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan was brought in to replace their former star player, Spencer “Hiko” Martin. After a series of disastrous results, including a loss to the Timothy “Autimatic” Ta and Joshua “sancz” Ballenger spearheaded Nihilum team at the ESEA Season 18 Finals, Cloud9 dove deeper into the shallow North American talent pool, picking up Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham and Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir to replace an underperforming ShahZaM and Kory “SEMPHIS” Friesen.

While Skadoodle had long been seen as the leading North American AWPer whose return to the professional scene was highly anticipated following the banning of his former iBUYPOWER teammates, Freakazoid was a poorly known name to the community at large. Freakazoid was an active player in the final days of Counter-Strike: Source and early Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams, but he had a sustained period of absence in the mid-years of GO, leading to his relative obscurity in 2015.   

The new roster, with their known and unknown new additions in tow, played for the first time to disappointing results in mid-May at Gfinity Masters Spring 2. Cloud9 dominated the first match versus the Australian Team Immunity roster, but lost their next three matches to Virtus.pro, EnVyUs, and Titan all in decisive fashion. While none of Cloud9’s players stood out in their losses, Freakazoid struggled heavily as the team’s new entry fragger, finishing the tournament with a -46 kill/death differential and a measly HLTV rating of .72.

The new C9 played just one more LAN before their triple silver medal showing at Gfinity Masters Summer 1 in late June. Once again, Cloud9 played leading European teams in EnVyUs and Virtus.pro, leading to two losses and their group stage elimination. But this time, the matches were much closer, and Cloud9’s most skilled players, Shroud and Skadoodle, were able to have standout performances that were typical amidst their Summer run.

Despite the encouraging signs, by this point, it had been over six months since Cloud9, with Hiko, was able have their last impressive result at ESL One Cologne 2014. The addition of Skadoodle gave Cloud9 some needed supplemental firepower alongside their emerging star in Mike “shroud” Grzesiek, but in both tournaments since his comeback, Freakazoid was still overwhelming poor. In Cloud9’s Gfinity Summer match versus EnVyUs, Cloud9’s entry player found less than 30 kills across three maps while racking up 70 deaths. The poor performances of Freakazoid alongside Sgares, who has always struggled to put up numbers on LAN, and Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert, who has been frequently cited as an inconsistent performer, still seemed like enough to block Cloud9 from reaching the bracket stage, let alone the winner’s podium.

Sudden Success

A little more than a week after Gfinity Summer 1, Cloud9 and a very similar cast of top teams played at the ESL Season 1 Pro League Finals. To start their tournament, Cloud9 had to face off against the previous Gfinity champion, EnVyUs. Looking at each team’s most recent showings, there was a dramatic discrepancy in results. Cloud9 essentially finished last at Gfinity Summer in comparison to nV’s top placing, but Cloud9 actually found the victory in this opening best-of-one matchup. They met on Cache, where nV had beaten Cloud9 16-12 in their previous best-of-three, but here, Cloud9 pushed for and found a 16-13 victory, which allowed them to move out of the group stage, despite their proceeding loss to Virtus.pro.

Once they were out of the group, Cloud9 was forced to battle EnVyUs in another best-of-three, but once more, Cloud9 came up with the surprising win, with two straight close map wins on Dust II and Cache. Their second upset win over nV would fortuitously pit them against Counter Logic Gaming, Cloud9’s emerging North American rivals. The NA newcomers happened to be directly seeded in the semifinals after finding one of their rare upsets over a top team, besting the world leading Fnatic and a less impressive Keyd stars. CLG’s appearance in the semifinals was one of three total bracket stage appearances in 2015. Cloud9 took the series easily, winning 16-5 on Cache and 16-8 on Dust II.

In this series, Freakazoid was able to provide his first strong performances, finding 49 kills and a +13 differential with some high impact plays on a few key rounds on Cache. Also, as point of view streams with voice comms were made available by ESL, viewers and analysts alike observed the impressive efforts of Clould9’s captain and tactician, Sgares, who had frequently been criticized in the past for not being an assertive enough in-game leader.

After a long externed series of lackluster showings dating back to the previous year, Cloud9  was suddenly in the finals of $250,000 tournament versus the best team in the world, Fnatic. The series, played in the rare best-of five-format, was exceeding close. Cloud9 actually took the first map on Cobblestone, 16-14, but they were blown out on Cache, before losing another 16-14 map on Overpass and an overtime game on Dust II to end the series. Cloud9 would have to settle for second place.

In this tournament, Cloud9 was given a straight path to the finals by being put up against a suddenly slipping nV and an unaccomplished CLG team, but Cloud9’s hair-razor loss in the finals was surely indicative of some waxing proficiency. Also, play from Cloud’s non-star players earlier in the tournament was yet another encouraging sign for the suddenly surging team.

At their next tournament, Electronic Sports World Cup 2015, Cloud9 would again find high placings amidst deceptively weak competition. In their group, Cloud9 would have to face off against the Flipsid3, Keyd Stars, and the Canadian Pug Team Boreal Esports, who previously competed under the tag Ze Pug Gods.

Under either nom de guerre, the Boreal squad never found success on LAN before or after this tournament. Keyd Stars had some upsets and would become a world leading team as Luminosity much later after a few key personnel changes, but at the time, they were still hardly a top international team. Flipsid3 was forced to play with a mixed language sub in Hiko to replace one of their better players in Georgi “WorldEdit” Yaskin. Thus, Cloud9 won the group 3-0.

Cloud9 then got another easy draw in the bracket stage. In the quarterfinals, Cloud9 would be matched with the pre-Hiko Team Liquid, who also made it out of an exceeding easy group. This was Liquid’s first and only exit out of a group stage at a significant international tournament in 2015. Versus Cloud9, Liquid was able to put up a fight, winning 11 rounds on Overpass and 14 on Dust II, but Cloud9 still took the easy 2-0. Their win once again be them put up against EnVyUs.

While DaZed’s assertion that nV was “dead” may have been a bit exaggerated at the Pro League Finals, the descriptor was far more fitting in the ESWC semifinals. nV lost 16-8 on Train and were perceivably frigid towards each other on Cobblestone, permanently force buying and infrequently communicating, despite a close overtime scoreline that resulted in a narrow defeat. Edouard “SmithZz” Dubourdeaux and Richard “shox” Papillon would leave EnVyUs soon thereafter.   

With another 2-0, Cloud9 entered the finals undefeated, but this time, they would be up against the number three team in the world, Na’Vi. But in even in the finals, Cloud’s ESWC performance closely mirrored their Pro League showing. Cloud9 got crushed on a single map, Inferno, with an embarrassing 16-3 scoreline, but played extremely close maps otherwise. The series closed with split 16-14 wins, Cloud9 taking Dust II and Na’Vi winning their own specialty map,  Overpass, to secure the championship.

At both the ESL Pro League Finals and ESWC, Cloud9 was given an easy group, followed by a matches against nV, who was fracturing internally, and a weaker North American team. While Cloud9 did perform adequately in both finals, taking a map off of both teams with other close contests, they didn’t win either series. All of their wins came against weak or weakened teams, but they couldn’t beat top teams. Thus far, while Cloud9 was ostensibly playing at a high level, their second place finishes did overstate their actual accomplishments.

Crowing Achievement and Final Considerations

What broke the mold was the FACEIT 2015 Stage 2 Finals, which took place the following weekend.

In their first game of the group stage, C9 was given a relatively easier opponent in Team Kinguin, who had just formed two months prior and had just added Dennis “dennis” Edman to the lineup at the start of the month. Cloud9 struggled against this squad later in the year, but took this match comfortably 16-7 on Dust II.

With their win, Cloud9 had a chance to make in it straight into the semifinals, but they had to defeat their very recent conquerors in Na’Vi. With three bans each, the two teams ended up on Cobblestone, which had not been played in their previous final. After the first half ended 8-7, with Cloud9 taking the slight advantage, Na’Vi surged late in the game on their way to an apparently inevitable win. It was only a fortunate round 30 force buy victory that gave C9 the unexpected 16-14 victory.

As Cloud9 advanced into the bracket stage, they were finally given a difficult opponent before the finals in the form of Fnatic. Once again, playing against a team who bested them in a previous final, C9 was able to exceed expectations at FACEIT. With Fnatic’s stars having an off-event, C9 took Mirage comfortably 16-7, and despite the best efforts of Pronax and JW on Train, Cloud9 completed the series and won in double overtime.

Cloud9 defeated both the number three and the number one team in the world, who had both beat them previously, to make to their third straight finals, but there they faced off against the number two ranked TSM, to whom they would once again fall short. After a 16-14 loss on Cache, they crumbled on Mirage, 16-2. Continued poor individual performances from Freakazoid and Sgares, alongside the spotty play of n0thing, negated career-peak play from Shroud and Skadoodle.

Cloud9 only took down one top team, not named EnVyUs, in a best-of-three series over their three tournament runs.

They had two stars in a powerful run of form and a highly proficient in-game leader, but how would the highly inconsistent, but rarely superlative, n0thing have been able to perform versus a TSM, Virtus.pro, or NiP if they had played them earlier or more often in their summer run? Would Freakazoid have been able to find one of his rare solid showings in one of these key matches or would he have put up terrible numbers as he so often did throughout his tenure on Cloud9?

Did Cloud9 have enough firepower to best Fnatic or a full-strength EnVyUs regularly? Could Sgares and company match the tactical prowess of TSM or Na’Vi?

Despite their on-paper impressive triple second place showings, we just don’t know. There just isn’t enough data against intact top teams to suggest what would have happened with any certainty.

In the modern era, Cloud9 has been storming since picking up Autimatic, placing second at North Arena Toronto, top-four at StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 2, and second at DreamHack Bucharest, all culminating in the decade-long drought destroying victory in São Paulo this past weekend. While many have seen Cloud9’s current tournament spree as the spiritual successor to the 2015 summer run, I’d suggest that a conflation of the two can only misrepresent the accomplishments of each, overinflating one or the other through comparison.

A misidentification of near-greatness or the potential for greatness for its true actualization can only diminish legacies and mar dynasties-to-be.

For compliments or complaints, you can find me on Twitter @WallabeeBeatle.