Up in the clouds of CS:GO elite

The Story of Cloud9 – Part 1

Cloud9 in 2014

Cloud9 in 2014 – the first roster. (Image credit: Cloud9 via Twitter)

Cloud9 is an American esports organization formed back in 2013. According to Forbes, Cloud9 is the most valuable esports organization in the world and its worth is estimated at $400 million. They have 11 teams that compete across 6 different games. This article will cover their CS:GO team and their success on the global level. Stay tuned and find out the whole story behind CS:GO team Cloud9, the first and only NA team to ever win a Major championship.

Establishment of The Team

Cloud9 entered the CS:GO professional scene pretty early, on August 1, 2014. The owner of Cloud9, Jack Etienne, witnessed the greatness of CS:GO first-hand at EMS One: Katowice 2014. He was thrilled and wanted to acquire a team as soon as possible to start competing in this game.

Jack saw an opportunity in compLexity Gaming players as their contracts were about to expire, so he made a move. The whole team reportedly left compLexity after they received a better offer from Cloud9.

The first roster was composed of:

  • Michael “shroud” Grzesiek
  • Kory “SEMPHIS” Friesen
  • Martin “Hiko” Spencer
  • Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert
  • Sean “sgares” Gares

First Appearance – ESL One: Cologne 2014

The first professional tournament Cloud9 participated in was actually a Major in Cologne. Due to the fact that team core finished in the Top 8 on the previous Major, meant Cloud9 got a direct invitation in the Legends stage. They swept the Group Stage with a 2-0 record and went straight to the Playoffs. The Quarterfinals match against Ninjas in Pyjamas started off well. It was a best-of-three series on Nuke, Dust 2 and Cobblestone.

The first map was Nuke and, at that time, NiP were known for their dominance on the map. NiP was a black horse and all the odds were against Cloud9, especially on Nuke. However, Cloud9 won the first map without any major problems. The final result was 16-8 and the Americans looked strong going into the second map.

The second map was pretty much tied but NiP prevailed and won by minimum difference, 16-14. Unfortunately for C9, NiP won the third map again with 16-14 and later on went on to win the championship.

Cloud9 - ESL One Cologne 2014

Cloud9 at ESL One Cologne 2014 – the first roster (Image credit: Liquipedia)

First Changes

After the Major, C9 stumbled across many problems. The rest of the year wasn’t so successful with bad results stocking up. They were struggling and losing one match after another. Their in-game leader Hiko was out of ideas and sgares decided to step in as a new in-game leader. What followed was shocking – Hiko left the team and he was replaced with Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan, a promising AWPer from Denial eSports.

Even with the new in-game leader and ShahZaM in the team, C9 still couldn’t win any high-tier tournament. Following the poor performance in both LAN and online events, both SEMPHIS and ShahZaM were released from the team so Cloud9 had to look for replacements.

fREAKAZOiD & Skadoodle Transfer

There was already some information leaked about the deal between Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir and Cloud9 so it was no surprise when he came to the team. The biggest surprise was the signing of one the best NA APW-ers – Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham.

Skadoodle at Cloud9

Skadoodle (Image credit: DeKay/DBLTAP)

He was formerly playing for iBUYPOWER, the most successful NA CS:GO team at the time. However, his team got banned after fixing a match for betting purposes. Further investigation showed that four out of five players received in-game skins after betting against themselves. Skadoodle was the only player who wasn’t tied to that scandal and he didn’t receive any ban.

As a free agent, he was tied to many speculations and one of them was creating a new team from scratch with former Cloud9 player Hiko. However, he decided to join the existing Cloud9 roster and pursue his dream to win a Major.

New NA Powerhouse Leading the Charge

With fREAKZOiD and Skadoodle in the team, and iBUYPOWER out of the picture, Cloud9 had the most promising NA lineup at the time. Finally, in the summer of 2015, Cloud9 hit a run of good results. They finished second at three high-tier tournaments in a row: ESL ESEA Pro League Season 1 – Finals, Electronic Sports World Cup, and FACEIT 2015 Stage 2 Finals. They were also third at CEVO Season 7 Professional Finals and first at iBUYPOWER CUP 2015.

The team was doing great up until the summer ended and sgares decided to leave due to internal issues with the team. At the beginning of 2016, n0thing took the in-game leader role. Cloud9 still had to replace sgares so they decided to sign controversial 18-years-old Jake “Stewie2K” Yip from SPLYCE.

The whole community was shocked and most of the fans were against this transfer. At the time, Stewie2K was considered as a prankster who could only perform well on online tournaments while pushing smokes and playing unexpectedly. No one believed there was a place for him in this team. However, with the raw talent he had, he started to play like a professional and managed to prove them all wrong.

Video credit: Vital CS:GO via YouTube

Here is what Stewie2K had to say on that occasion:

"I'd like to thank Cloud9 as an organization, and the team itself, for giving me this chance. Although the majority of the community may not approve of this decision, I fully intend to change their minds. This is a huge opportunity and I will do everything to reach my full potential and achieve the goals I've set for myself. The team believes in me and I am confident that playing alongside them will help propel me to new heights. I mean, after all, that is what team sports are all about."

The first Major of 2016 was MLG in Columbus. That tournament was a complete disaster for this team. In the Group Stage, Cloud9 played against Na’Vi and G2 and lost 9-16 and 3-16 respectively, finishing second to last at 15th place. Followed by a bad performance at the Major, fREAKZOiD left the team and C9 were once again one player short.

A temporary replacement came in the face of Eric "adreN" Hoag from Team Liquid and he played as a stand-in on a couple of tournaments. Later, Cloud9 finally found a permanent fifth player and a new in-game leader Alec “Slemmy” White but he didn’t stick for a long time.

Building Momentum – Championship Victory

Everything collapsed after the Major. The hype was over and the bad results followed. Cloud9 weren’t even the best team in the NA region anymore as Team Liquid took the lead. Slemmy was unhappy and he even requested to be removed from the active roster.

As a replacement, C9 brought Timothy “autimatic” Ta from TSM which turned out to be a great move. Another addition that came from TSM was psychologist Soham “valens” Chowdhury who helped the squad solve internal problems and prepare them for the upcoming tournaments on both a mental and physical level.

As soon as the transfers came in, the team’s performance immediately improved. They played two Grand Finals and finished second on both DreamHack Bucharest and Northern Arena Toronto.

With a great form, they went to play and reach the online qualifiers for ESL Pro League Season 4 – Finals. Needless to say, Cloud9 crushed all of their opponents and won that tournament while only dropping one map against Echo Fox.

They went to the LAN ESL Finals... only to find Dignitas, NiP, FaZe and SK Gaming in their group. Even though no one expected them to get pass through the Group Stage, Cloud9 did it with a 4-1 record, only losing to SK Gaming. The playoffs stage also started off well and they won against Optic and mousesports without dropping a single map.


At the Grand Finals, they had to face SK Gaming once again. SK Gaming was the best team in the world at that time and they were close to unstoppable. On top of that, Cloud9 had already lost against them in the Group Stage of the tournament and all the odds were against them once again. In the first map, SK pulled a 13-2 comeback and won it in overtime. It looked bad for Cloud9 but they managed to win a second and third map with astonishing performance, completely outplaying SK.

With that victory, Cloud9 marked the first victory at an international high-tier tournament by a NA team in ten years. The last time any of the NA teams did it was in 2006, in the 1.6 version of the game.

Struggles After the Championship Victory

After the victory at ESL Pro League Season 4 – Finals, Cloud9 pretty much struggled for the rest of the year. The main issue was the in-game leader role – it was constantly transferred between Stewie2K and autimatic. That led to team inconsistency and poor results. Finally, the team agreed that Stewie2K should be a permanent in-game leader while autimatic should focus on his performance in the game. And it worked: Cloud9 finished 3rd - 4th at ECS Season 3 Finals, qualified for the next Major, and finished second at ESL One: Cologne 2017.

Despite the good results and great team chemistry, the next PLG Major in Krakow was once again a complete disaster. C9 were eliminated in the Group Stage and knew it was time for more drastic changes.

The two longest-serving members – n0thing and shroud – left the team. N0thing said there was a clash of generations and a lot of misunderstandings with younger members of the team, so he decided to leave. On the other side, shroud was already making more money from streaming than from playing as a professional so he decided to become a full-time streamer.

Not so long after that the OpTic Gaming duo of Will "RUSH" Wierzba and Tarik "tarik" Celik joined the team and changed everything. That same team later went on to win a Major championship in the most beautiful Cinderella stories in North America CS:GO history.

We hope you liked the first part of the story behind Cloud9 because it is not over yet! Come back to EarlyGame for Part 2 and find out what happened on the Major in Boston and how Cloud9 made a dream come true.

Stay with us for more CS:GO and news from the world of gaming. Also, ring that bell on YouTube for more fun videos!

Antonio Kaurinovic

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