From college to the pros: Cloud9 jakee’s time grinding VALORANT is paying off
by Brian Bencomo
LOS ANGELES -- In late February, Jake "jakee" Anderson was playing VALORANT for the University of St. Thomas in Houston. A message from Matthew “mCe” Ellmore, the head coach of Cloud9's VALORANT team, got his attention.
It read “FREE AGENT!?!?” and let him know that Cloud9’s VALORANT team would be holding trials for players. The 20-year-old, who has been grinding VALORANT since the game’s beta release in 2020, couldn’t pass up this opportunity to play on one of the teams competing in the top-tier VCT Americas league.
Jakee first had to submit VODs of his gameplay before being invited to trial for the team. MCe liked what he saw and brought him in to participate in a series of amateur tryouts with a few other prospective players before he eventually began trialing alongside the team’s trio of Jordan “Zellsis” Montemurro, Erick “Xeppaa” Bach and Nathan “leaf” Orf.
“It came down to me and one other smokes player, and I was chosen and it was insane,” he told Nerd Street. “I felt like on top of the world.”
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Fast forward a couple of months and Cloud9 are 4-1, in second place in the highly competitive VCT Americas league. They’re behind only LOUD, the only team they’ve lost to and a team considered one of the best in the world. Ahead of the season, Matthew “mCe” Ellmore told Nerd Street he expected the team to be competitive, but few outside the organization likely believed him. With the team unexpectedly dropping star player Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker and in-game leader Anthony “vanity” Malaspina just before the season started, hardly anybody expected the team to win many games, much less be one of the top teams in VCT Americas.
Jakee said he has felt extremely satisfied lately in proving the doubters wrong, noting the many YouTube videos he has seen doubting the team.
“I was eager to prove them wrong going into the season,” he said. “But now it feels like it's just a matter of proving myself right. I don't need to prove anyone else wrong. I already know what I'm capable of.”
Lately, jakee has been looking more and more comfortable on stage. He had his breakout performance in the team’s fourth game of the season, a big win over NRG. He led the team with 53 kills, 283 ACS and a +13 kill/death differential.
Jakee said he has felt confident all season, but it was after the NRG game that he really felt like he belonged.
“We 2-1’d them and I performed exceptionally well, like beyond my expectations,” he said. “Like that's when I felt like I deserve to be here. I deserve to be a star. I deserve to compete against former world champions.”
Read more: VCT Americas will finally give North American VALORANT players a home crowd
At 4-1 with a spot in the playoffs likely secure, it has jakee dreaming of going to Masters: Tokyo, the next international tournament on the VALORANT Champions Tour calendar. If C9 can qualify, it would check off another one of the goals jakee has long set for himself.
“When I first started competing two years ago, the first was obviously go pro,” he said. “The second was playing internationally, and the third is win internationally. And those three goals are super, super important to me, and then the fourth is solidify myself as a star player.”
From radiant to Cloud9
Jakee set four goals for himself when he began playing VALORANT. Photo credit: Riot Games
Jakee has been on the road to being a star player since 2020. Prior to VALORANT, jakee had played Rainbow Six Siege and Fortnite, but VALORANT was different.
“This is the first game where, even since beta when I hit radiant for the first time, maybe I could do something with this,” he said. “So I thought to myself, let me just start competing. I played in every single tournament. If you look at my VLR I put in pretty much every single tournament that I could no matter who it was with whether it was with a set team, or with a group of five players. I just wanted all the experience.”
Indeed, if you look at jakee’s VLR profile, it includes over 250 matches since January 2021 at big and small third-party tournaments, collegiate matches and qualifying matches for the VALORANT Champions Tour.
He thinks all the match experience has helped him grow and improve as a player and is why he was ultimately able to secure a highly coveted spot with one of the 30 teams that’s competing in the upper echelons of VALORANT.
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“While I was trialing for C9, and I saw, probably like 20-plus people that I knew from these Nerd Street tournaments or from the Knights tournaments that were trialing for Cloud9, and that just goes to show like where they're pulling their talent pool from, like that's where the team's looking into the lower tiers like Tier 2 and Tier 3. They're looking from these Nerd Street tournaments, at Knights tournaments.”
Cloud9 head coach mCe’s ability to successfully find Tier 2 and Tier 3 players like jakee who can compete at the Tier 1 level is one of the reasons he’s considered one of the best coaches in North America. He’s earned this reputation since his days as a coach for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams and most recently for leading The Guard to be North American VALORANT champions and qualify for an international event last year.
Jakee’s litany of matches throughout his career is exactly the type of work ethic mCe looks for when scouting players for his teams.
MCe places a lot of importance on tournament experience for young up-and-coming players. Photo credit: Riot Games
“Playing in the small tournaments is way more important than what people think,” mCe told Nerd Street before the season started. “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.”
In recent months, jakee’s VLR profile also began to include matches for the University of St. Thomas. It’s still relatively rare for pro players in any esport to make the jump from collegiate to pro. However, jakee’s decision to go to college was a no-brainer because he got a full-ride scholarship from UST.
Read more: Nerd Street opens first collegiate esports venue at Rowan University
He said he got a direct message from UST’s former esports director, and there were many good reasons that pushed him in the direction of going to UST, including moving to Texas where his girlfriend was and playing on servers that had 5 ping. The scholarship was the cherry on top.
He had to drop out of college and move from Houston to Los Angeles in order to fully commit to Cloud9, but he said he plans to return to college down the line.
Adjusting to the pros
Halfway through the season, Cloud9 are currently in second place in VCT Americas. Photo credit: Riot Games
Despite how quickly he’s adjusted to life on a top-tier team and how well he’s performed in C9’s last two matches, he said he still gets nervous.
“I still get nervous in every single match,” he said. “I obviously have my own ways, breathing and stuff like that to calm that down where I do that for myself, and you'll see me breathe throughout different rounds and like making sure that I'm OK after a clutch or something like that.”
The breathing techniques are something he’s learned from the veterans on the team. He said they remind him to take a breath after clutches and to make sure to get his nerves under control so that they don’t get the best of him.
Read more: For Sacy and Ardiis, playing in North America is the realization of a lifelong dream
Jakee said Zellsis, Xeppaa and leaf have been helpful in a number of ways, including pointing out whenever he makes mistakes. He feels that he has improved a lot just through their tips.
He also appreciates how much of a hard-liner mCe is when it comes to highlighting mistakes.
“I think his sternness is one of his biggest factors as a coach -- it makes you know that you made that mistake and you need to fix it,” he said. “Even if it seems small to you like missing a molly in practice, or like swinging when you shouldn't have swung back, it can be the difference-maker between playing NRG and LOUD and these top-tier teams … so he makes sure that you know your small mistakes, because he wants everyone on this team to become a star.”
Rising above the North American competition
Cloud9 have a pivotal matchup against Sentinels coming up. Photo credit: Riot Games
Cloud9’s star has risen every week this season as they have beat every team they’ve faced except LOUD. Among the teams they have beat are three fellow North American teams -- Evil Geniuses, 100 Thieves and NRG.
There’s only one NA team left to beat in the 10-team league, Sentinels.
Read more: Sentinels IGL dephh proud of team’s performance against LOUD after challenging week
With so much success so far, jakee is confident Cloud9 can beat them.
“I think the only way Sentinels beat us is if Marved plays because he's clearly fixing their role issues that are really clear,” he said. “So I think if he plays they're gonna -- it's gonna be a close match, it's gonna go three maps 100%.”
Cloud9 will face Sentinels (with Marved) on Sunday at 12 p.m. PT.
Lead photo credit: Riot Games