Cloud9’s VALORANT team has exceeded expectations, but they’re not done yet
by Brian Bencomo
LOS ANGELES -- Before the VCT Americas season started, Cloud9 head coach Matthew “mCe” Elmore told Nerd Street that he expected the team to be competitive. Few outside the organization (myself included) likely believed him given the sudden changes on the team.
At the time, the team had dropped two proven winners, Jaccob “yay” Whitaker and Anthony “vanity” Malaspina, and had signed two largely unknown Tier 2 players, Jake “jakee” Anderson and Dylan “runi” Cade. In a stacked league with the reigning world championship team and some of the best Tier 1 VALORANT talent in the world, how competitive could Cloud9 be?
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Nearly two months later, Cloud9 have finished the season with a record of 8-1 -- good enough to be first in the league if not for a loss to 2022 VCT champions LOUD, the other 8-1 team. They won the most maps of any team in the league (17), lost the fewest (4) and had by far the best round differential (+70).
Despite his confidence at the beginning of the season, C9 surpassed even mCe’s own expectations.
Photo credit: Riot Games
“Coming out as potentially a one-seed was definitely not on my bingo card,” mCe told Nerd Street after the team beat KRÜ to wrap up the regular season. “It's really impressive, and through our whole regular season, we played phenomenally. We looked shaky a couple different times, including today, but like, for the most part, that's one of the better regular seasons I think I've ever been a part of with a team in terms of how well we played week to week.”
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After losing to LOUD in their second game of the season, the team rattled off seven straight wins and looked nearly unbeatable. It led VCT Americas caster Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson to claim at one point near the end of the season that the team appeared to be playing the second-best VALORANT in the world after reigning international champions Fnatic.
During this stretch of dominance, Cloud9 dropped only two maps, including one in their last game against KRÜ, a team that went winless this season. Contrary to what people watching might have thought, C9 weren’t just taking it easy or trying out new strategies or hiding strats. MCe gave all the credit to KRÜ, a team that lost many close maps throughout the season.
“I think they just came out and outshot us and that's something we're not used to,” he said. “I think one of the last teams that really came out and put us down was LOUD in terms of we were talking about like ‘wow, like the gunfights that they win are just -- they're so good.’
“And all these teams in this league are capable of doing that. We've just been on the better end of the deal. Whereas KRÜ came out and, I mean, they put us down. [Santiago "Daveeys" Ruiz] looked like the best player in the world, the first two maps, and [Angelo "keznit" Mori] had a crazy performance throughout … props to them that they just came out and probably should have won that bo3.”
But they didn’t, and instead C9 won that best-of-three series. So what’s been the key to C9’s success all season?
“Basically, we have a really high win percentage on rounds that most people don't in terms of how we approach our eco rounds and anti-eco rounds very, very closely and carefully,” mCe said. “We're not scared to use utility into those rounds if we think we can win rounds, and we've done a really good job converting those rounds.”
Photo credit: Riot Games
Of course, despite dropping yay and vanity, Cloud9 began the season with a solid core of Eric “Xeppaa” Bach, Nathan “leaf” Orf and Jordan “Zellsis” Montemurro. Leaf has emerged as one of the top players in the Americas league. He’s second to LOUD’s Erick “aspas” Santos in rating and K/D but first in the league in ACS.
But it’s been the poise and performance of jakee and runi that have really been a revelation for mCe and everyone watching.
“I think the craziest thing is how calm under pressure for the most part they've been,” he said. “I've been really impressed because you're obviously getting thrown in, like Jakee has played qualifiers to get to ascension, but he's never really played [at this level]. He played Tier 2 NSGs, everything like that, but this is a very big step up.”
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MCe had nothing but praise for his two young recruits.
“Not only are you playing with players you potentially look up to, but you're also playing against players that you look up to,” he said. “So that's a lot of weight on a young kid’s shoulders, and you're playing in front of a live audience. Your first matches you have to replace the players that you're replacing, so it's like, I'm astounded how well they've performed considering everything else outside the game affecting them. And I'm very proud of the both of them for how well they've played throughout the regular split.”
Photo credit: Riot Games
Jakee has not really had to replace yay as leaf has become the team’s star duelist. Still, jakee has emerged as a top Omen player and has had some great games, most notably against NRG when he put up a 283 ACS and 53 kills.
Despite dealing with nerves playing in VCT Americas, jakee told Nerd Street earlier this season that it was after the NRG game that he really felt comfortable and felt that he had arrived.
Meanwhile, runi who did replace vanity as the team’s in-game leader has been praised on broadcast for his in-game calling and has put up some great numbers despite also having IGL responsibilities. He’s top 10 in rating and has been incredibly clutch. In fact, runi had the most clutches (15) in the league this year and the fifth-best clutch percentage at 25%.
C9’s most important matches of the year
Despite the pride he takes in C9’s impressive regular season, mCe’s focus is on his team’s next match in the playoffs.
“Unfortunately, now it doesn't matter,” he said. “So no matter how well we played before, if we don't continue that trajectory, it doesn't matter. So our whole attention now needs to turn forward to what's about to happen, and the next two bo3s are the most important bo3s we'll play this entire year.”
He knows the playoffs are different from the regular season and might affect how Cloud9 performs. However, mCe thinks a playoff best-of-three win will change everything for his team.
Photo credit: Riot Games
“We just have to come out and win the bo3, just one of the next two and we're in, and I think pressure’s off at that point,” mCe said. “I think as long as we win one of the next two, there's a chance that we win the first season of the Americas league, but I think people's nerves might get to them in those first two bo3s. After we win one though, we're gonna play looser, you'll see.”
C9’s next bo3 will come against either NRG or Evil Geniuses, and if they win it, they’ll qualify to compete internationally at Masters: Tokyo. If they win, they will likely get a matchup with LOUD and a chance to avenge their only loss this season, but mCe is not looking that far ahead.
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“We gotta get there first. I think that's the biggest thing is, there's a chance we don't play LOUD again, whether they lose a match, we lose a match, something happens. All these teams that are in playoffs are very good,” he said. “So, I'm not worried about LOUD, I'm worried about our first match because that's arguably the most important because if we win one, we go to Tokyo … so our main focus can't be on LOUD. Yes, it would be nice to play them again and potentially see how we stack up. But my whole focus is on our first match, not a theoretical match that could happen.”
MCe isn’t looking too far ahead, but he is obviously thinking about Tokyo.
“We got our visas and everything approved and got them back with our passports. So that was kind of neat,” he said. “Obviously, all the teams in the Americas have those right now. But it's like, ‘wow, we might actually be able to do this.’
Cloud9 will get their first shot to book their ticket to Tokyo on Wednesday at 5 p.m. PT.
Lead photo credit: Riot Games