Updated March 27
Cloud9 entered the 2023 VALORANT Champions Tour season as one of the favorites in the new VCT Americas league. They had a strong roster headlined by a player widely regarded as the best VALORANT player in the world, Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker. Despite a second-round loss in the season-opening LOCK//IN tournament last month, hopes were still high for the team ahead of the start of the Americas league on April 1. After all, they had lost to DRX, one of last year’s top teams and a squad that ultimately finished in the top four at LOCK//IN.
Everything changed earlier this month when yay and the team’s in-game leader Anthony "vanity" Malaspina were dropped from the team. On March 27, Cloud9 announced Jake “jakee” Anderson and Dylan “runi” Cade would be replacing them on the team. Yay and vanity have tons of experience as part of highly successful teams that have competed internationally the past couple years, whereas jakee has been competing at the collegiate level in recent months and runi was most recently the in-game leader for the Soniqs, one of the better teams that’s not part of the higher levels of the North American VALORANT ecosystem.
Matthew “mCe” Elmore still has high expectations for the team.
“I expect to be competitive, plain and simple,” mCe told Nerd Street during VCT media days before jakee and runi were officially announced. “We still have three extremely good players.”
Erick "Xeppaa" Bach, Nathan "leaf" Orf and Jordan "Zellsis" Montemurro are indeed extremely good and have had much success both domestically and internationally.
Leaf, Xeppaa and Zellsis celebrate after a win at VCT LOCK//IN. Photo credit: Riot Games
“Everyone thinks we're going to be terrible,” mCe said. “That's just not going to happen. So we should come out and be able to compete with most of these teams.”
If there’s any VALORANT coach who can say that with confidence it’s mCe, who has been known to bring out the best from his teams from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to VALORANT. He has a history of finding overlooked and undiscovered talent and seeing his teams perform better than expected.
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When mCe’s former team, The Guard, won the first stage of the North American VALORANT Champions Tour last year and qualified to represent the region internationally, it marked the apex of the rapid ascent of a young team full of relatively unknown players just a few months prior. The team defied expectations throughout VCT open qualifiers, shocked everyone by dismantling the North American favorite 100 Thieves by a score of 13-0 in a game, and beat the perennial North American powerhouse OpTic Gaming in the NA VCT Stage 1 final.
In 2021 when he was still coaching CS:GO, mCe told HLTV “I’ve always been able to get more out of a roster and players than what people thought could happen. I’ve consistently done more with less …”
That’s exactly what mCe will need to conjure from Cloud9.
For mCe, success starts with finding the right players.
“I think a big part of bringing out the best in players is finding the right players to work with to begin with,” mCe said. “There are certain characteristical traits I think that -- how people talk to each other, how they treat the game, how they … respect levels, different things like that, that they’re extremely coachable players and they’re people that genuinely want to be there every day and want to get better.”
He said that a lot of players have good aim, but not everyone can react quickly and calmly under pressure.
Leaf is the longest tenured member of Cloud9. Photo credit: Riot Games
“So it's like a combination of knowing what types of players can be successful,” he said. “Having a good peer system in terms of like your teammates, your staff, like culture, whatever, for them to look up to and then finding a guy that genuinely wants it. And that's really important for developing players.”
Looking for players competing in smaller tournaments at the grassroots of the VALORANT competitive ecosystem is obviously important.
“Playing in the small tournaments is way more important than what people think,” he said. “There's some players that are just sitting out and they're like, ‘Oh, I'm not gonna play this. This is not worth it for me to play, there's no benefit.’ When it's like, you should want to prove all the time that you're good enough or better or whatever, and just honing your skill set.”
He also thinks the VALORANT collegiate scene is promising, saying he hopes there can one day be a “pathway to pro” from college because of the benefits a college education can offer players who don’t make it to the highest pro levels.
Of course, Cloud9 and mCe aren’t totally starting a roster from scratch, as the team has three experienced players as its foundation.
MCe has coached Xeppaa and leaf before with Chaos in CS:GO. It was part of the reason he decided to join Cloud9 in the offseason. He knew he wanted to be with one of the partnered teams. When The Guard were not selected to be one of the 10 partnered Americas teams, Cloud9 became a natural fit.
Xeppaa and Leaf have been coached by mCe before. Photo credit: Riot Games
“I felt like the familiarity would be nice, not because of being friends with players, mostly because it's like, I know what they're capable of in terms of how good that Nathan and Eric can both be,” mCe said.
MCe still has his eye on his old team too. He said he developed close relationships with the players and staff at The Guard and looks back fondly on this time with that organization.
“I still go back, I check in with the guys every now and then, we scrim them,” he said. “We joke back and forth. So there's still a bit of a relationship there. Maybe not as close as we were when I was there. But yeah, I still keep track.”
The Guard are currently one of the top teams in the Challengers League. They might even be good enough to join the Americas league next year under the Ascension system that Riot Games has put in place for VCT. It’s a credit to a well-built team that started with mCe.
It remains to be seen how good a rebuilt Cloud9 will be this year with yay and vanity no longer on the team, but mCe’s track record suggests they might surprise some people.
Lead photo credit: Riot Games