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Cloud9: An American Revolution – A complete history of the original Cloud9 team, and how they changed the LCS, League of Legends, and esports forever

Oddball 2020-11-23 06:30:54

Who’s responsible for Cloud9’s success? Obviously that’s a very complicated question, it’d be stupid to give a straightforward answer. There are many moving parts to such a colossal juggernaut. It’s interesting to ponder, though, how one of the premier organizations in esports started off so dubiously. Before being a staple in the biggest competitions in the world,  the original Cloud9 of pre-Season 3 simply wanted to survive (to qualify for the first split of the LCS). Nobody expected within that season that they’d ascend to the top of the region.

Who deserves credit for transforming a humble amateur team to among the West’s finest? Many choices deserve consideration. The obvious answer is the players. The inaugural Hai and LemonNation continued practicing to get better. The additions of Balls, Meteos, and Sneaky proved to be the puzzle pieces needed to solve North America. Additionally, top notch management from Jack Etienne and excellent care from Dan Dinh no doubt helped fuel the team’s fire. There’s a far more interesting candidate, however. Someone who despite not being involved with the team, the Cloud9 as we know it may not exist, if at all. This man. Martin Phan. Most commonly known as Marn. Though not having been in the scene for years, there was a time when Marn was a rising figure in League of Legends. A professional fighting game player, Marn started competing in League’s Season 2 on his eponymously named Team MRN. Though mostly a novelty team that never accomplished anything significant (besides get a kill in their game versus TSM), the team’s profile continued rising. With a big mouth and a big personality, Marn fostered a team famous for talking trash and defying expectations. You may wonder, “What the hell does this have to do with Cloud9?” To answer, we’ll need to revisit the NA LCS 2013 Spring Qualifiers.The qualifiers for the LCS were the make-or-break moment for many competitors. Besides those of the “Big Four” (Counter Logic Gaming, Team SoloMid, Team Dignitas, and Team Curse), the tournament was seen as the shot for players to truly become professionals. Among those competing were Team MRN and Cloud9. This first bearings of what became Cloud9 was a team in early 2012 called Orbit Gaming. Most of the original players are irrelevant to our story, except for a support player known as LemonNation. The team found some success in online tournaments, but saw the majority of its roster leave in search of greener pastures. By the middle of the year, only LemonNation remained. In need of a roster, Orbit Gaming acquired nFear Gaming’s team, replacing their Support player Arthelon with LemonNation. The team then was Yazuki (Top), Hai (Jungle), nubbypoohbear (AP Mid),Nientonsoh (AD Carry), and LemonNation (Support). The first pieces of Cloud9 were connected.  The team recorded respectable results throughout the year, both online and on LAN. They most notably made the top eight of the 2012 MLG Spring Championship, taking games off the likes of CLG.Prime and CLG.eu. Although continuing to post good results at MLG and SoloMid Invitationals, Orbit failed to qualify for the Season 2 North America Regional Finals, and as a result, for Worlds.

Around this time nubbypoohbear left. Nientonsoh role-swapped to the mid lane, with the highly-talented WildTurtle filling in the AD carry spot. The new roster showed strong results in online tournaments and at Lone Star Clash, taking matches off of some of the best teams in the west. It was around this time the squad left Orbit Gaming, first playing as Reddit Nation, and eventually under Quantic Gaming. Their luck didn’t change under the new moniker, with middling online results and failing to qualify for big events like IPL5. The team was soon released, but stuck together as Team NomNom.

Cloud9 - A squad with more name changes than a wannabe SoundClou

As Team NomNom, they showed decent results again, placing fourth at the MLG Summer Championship, and playing well online against the best teams in NA. Their strongest boast was that TSM, the undisputed kings of the region, showed weakness against the rising team. With good placements online, Team NomNom secured placement in the offline qualifier for the original LCS split. The year 2013 started off on a good note, with them making the smart choice to finally rename themselves Cloud9. It’d be the only wise move they’d make before traveling to Riot’s studios for the LCS Spring Qualifier.  
Pitted in a group against The Salad Bar, Azure Gaming, and Team MRN, Cloud9 entered arrogant. Wholly confident in their eventual victory, the players admitted they hadn’t practiced a single scrim the day of the qualifier. According to Marn, in a Skype group for team managers, Hai stated to him “I’ll put $500,000 on it, we’ll beat you one-hundred percent. We’ll stomp you. I will put my foot in your butt. It is so easy.” While probably hyperbolic, the account illustrates just how confident Hai and Cloud9 were going into their matches. It also hints at how crushing it must have been for them when this happened.

North American play at its finest

With a blunderous base-race call from Hai, Team MRN swiftly won the game. Cloud 9 won against The Salad Bar, tying them for second in their group with Azure Gaming. However, Cloud9 failed to overcome them in the tiebreaker. Supremely confident in qualifying for LCS, they failed to make it out of groups. Adding salt to the wound, Marn’s team was the final qualifying team of the tournament. You may wonder why I’ve spent so much time talking about Cloud9’s match with Team MRN. In an article discussing the greatness of one of North America’s best teams, why discuss an inconsequential beef almost a decade old? I think it illustrates one of the greatest aspects of Cloud9. What provoked the feud between Marn and Hai is actually really interesting. It was allegedly because of Marn’s assertions of his team’s practice schedule. “In a week, we probably practice five to six hours.” To Hai, this was appalling. 
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From the onset of 2013, Hai understood the discipline required to be among the best in esports. The unstoppable death machine that was Cloud9 didn’t get there because of cool strategies or unparalleled skill. They ascended to greatness from their discipline, humility, and yearning to be stronger. No team in NA took the draft phase so seriously, observed other regions so intently, and held such value for scrimmages and soloqueue. With their skill AND philosophy, they took over a region. But they weren’t there yet. Despite showing immense value in hard practice, the team had as much of an ego problem as any other NA team. They needed to learn a lesson. Team MRN had prevailed. In Hai’s aforementioned conversation with Marn, he allegedly stated “We’ll see you in Season 3, we’ll be there.” After dropping out of the qualifiers, Marn quipped “I guess I’ll see you…in the back, with the audience next year.” However, Hai and LemonNation wouldn’t be sitting back watching the LCS. They’d continue practicing in online tournaments and scrimmages. They’d make roster changes to fine tune the lineup. They’d form the blueprint for the real Cloud9. Big changes came with their loss. Nientonsoh left in search of a roster spot on a qualified team. Yazuki left the game completely. The rest of the team held their ground. LemonNation later stated” Hai said that he wanted to stay together if we wanted to. Turtle said he would be staying if I wanted to stay. I decided to stay, even though my favorite member of the team, Yazuki, decided to leave." While qualified LCS teams battled out in the first regular season split, Cloud9’s spring schedule revolved around throwing new players against the wall to see who stuck. With no mid lane talent impressive enough to replace Nientonsoh, the team opted for Hai to swap from the jungle to mid lane. Around the same time, they found an AD carry veteran-turned top laner named Balls to be of their liking.

Balls (pictured on the left end) at Season 2 Regionals

While the rest of the roster remained steady, the jungle position had a revolving door. None of their choices seemed to click well, and they continued losing in online tournaments. The puzzle piece was found, in a player ironically called Meteos. A solo queue maestro fairly unacquainted with competitive play, Meteos showed promise when subbing in for Cloud9. The team found their jungler. Cloud9 immediately showed better results with Meteos’ addition. They definitively climbed to the top of the Challenger scene. With the full roster including Meteos, the team never lost an online competition. For the very first time, Cloud9 was living up to their namesake (actually, scratch that, by this point they were picked up by Quantic Gaming). However, Reginald was about to throw a wrench in their plans. While the rising team dominated the Challenger scene, TSM struggled to maintain their throne in the LCS. Clearly hampered by internal issues, TSM suspended their AD carry Chaox to try out WildTurtle. Almost immediately, the team turned a new leaf. TSM’s communication and teamwork were much more in form, and WildTurtle proved to be one of the strongest marksmen in NA. Scoring a pentakill in and that week’s MVP award, TSM made the obvious decision to keep WildTurtle on permanently.  This put Hai and co. in a tricky position. They lost arguably their most talented player, and would be due to find a replacement for the NA LCS 2013 Summer Promotion. So much promise, all to be stripped away by a bigger team. No one had any idea this would be a godsend. The team ended up signing SnEaKyCaStRoO, later (lamentably) renaming to Sneaky. An AD Carry the squad played against in Challenger tournaments, Sneaky quickly impressed. When he was added to the lineup, an almost poetic shift occurred. Their dominance in amatuer tournaments seemed almost unfair. In interviews and Reddit threads, Cloud9 reported absurdly good performance in scrims at this time, winning almost 90% of them. Even the top of LCS couldn’t compete with them. LemonNation stated “When we invited him we were just an amateur team, hoping to make it into LCS. We looked like a decent amateur team, but this was before we even started beating all the top LCS teams in scrims. We didn't start doing that until after we picked up Sneaky." Nobody expected such a result. After losing such an integral player, the team ended up looking even better. With a string of success in tournaments and scrims, it would’ve been easy for Quantic to again assume inevitable victory. Hai had learned his lesson though in the previous qualifier. The team’s approach was almost the exact opposite of the last time. Rather than come in with confidence and attitude, they entered with poise and respect for every team. Rather than neglect investment in a practice environment for the matches, the team trained together at the Quantic owner’s house in the month preceding the qualifier. And rather than lose, they would win.  The Summer Promotion series would be the world’s first look at the artful giant. They won every single game they played. Not only that, none of the games were even close. Their matches against Team Astral Poke looked like a pub stomp. Even their deciding series with Complexity proved to be a slaughter for the defending LCS team. For all this time, they treated the game like utmost professionals. Now they were.  With their qualification, Quantic announced a rebranding back to Cloud9 (last time there’s a name change, I promise). The organization was purchased by former Crunchyroll employee and TSM manager Jack Etienne. With a proven organizational leader and a stable team house, Cloud9 were ready for the LCS. Despite initially being nervous on how they would perform, the team found their stride by day one. No other first-time team in history entered pro play as polished as Cloud9 did. From the get-go, it was clear Cloud9 was on an entirely different level. The story of the 2013 Summer Split was the story of Cloud9. As they started winning, debates among fans and analysts alike sprang up. So many doubts were raised regarding the newcomers, on if they could really be that much better than the rest of NA. On every occasion, Cloud9 proved them wrong.  When Cloud9 began an impressive win streak, many were quick to write off the run as a fluke, just like Team Curse’s strong start (and eventual fall) in the previous split. Some predicted Cloud9 would reach the end of their honeymoon, and fall down to the rest of the league. It never happened. As the split trudged on, it was apparent the new team was here to stay.  Cloud9’s winning streak almost felt routine. LemonNation broke out his famous notebook and gave the team everything they wanted. In the early game they’d mostly stay even or fall slightly behind. By mid game any deficit they suffered evaporated, due to their top-notch playmaking and objective control. A couple of free towers and dragons later, and they’d gain the lead. By this point their compositions were perfectly suited for team fights, giving them the option to either take more objectives, or initiate and inevitably win an engagement. Then the inhibitors, then the Nexus, then the handshakes. (Please note: as rule of thumb, assume Meteos never died at any time)  

A common sight after Cloud9 games

As wins piled up, the main discussion of the split was how teams could beat them. They seemed bulletproof to the standard NA playstyle. Many dismissed Cloud9’s play as one-dimensional and unoriginal. Simply take them out of their comfort picks and wait for the meta to shift, and their days would surely turn stormier. Right? Wrong again. No matter what opponents did, Hai’s team almost always came out ahead. Every time a team tried banning out a specific Cloud9 player, it just served as a showcase for their deep champion pools. When teams tried to stall into the late game, they were met with a team brimming with iron will and strong decision-making. Even when teams attempted to directly copy Cloud9’s compositions, it proved that the latter’s victories came not from who they played, but how they played.  We’ll discuss Cloud9’s gameplay later on, but just know that besides laning, they were superior in every aspect of the game. The team’s drafting, communication, and decision-making were near perfection. Their warding, tower pressure, and objective control never seized. And they always showed a desire to innovate, to stand on the shoulders of giants, and do anything to be the best.  By the end of the regular season they won 25 out of 28 games. Almost 90%. Barely any of the teams could even compete with them, the lone exceptions being the second place Team Vulcun, a team very similar to their style, and CLG, who couldn’t be both. And in almost every game, they played more methodically and as a unit than any Western team before. The 2013 Summer Playoffs were fascinating. If you remember discussions on talk shows or forums, everyone talked about who would win between Curse and Dignitas. About which of TSM and CLG would make it to Worlds. Talk of Cloud9 was nonexistent. Why was that? It wasn’t even a question of whether or not they’d qualify for Worlds. It really wasn’t even a debate on if they’d win the playoffs outright. That’s how good they were. Fans weren’t concerned if Cloud9 would stand at the center of the podium. The only talk was of who would sit next to them.  For the playoffs, due to finishing first for the regular season, Cloud9 obtained a BYE to the semi-finals, playing the winner of the previous quarter final, Dignitas. This clip properly summarizes the series:   
Even on a larger stage with more on the line, Cloud9 played business as usual. When Dignitas gained early kill advantages, they quickly answered back with towers and dragons. Their leads became quickly insurmountable for Dignitas, ending the series 2-0. TSM was the final challenger to Cloud9’s supremacy over NA. The original champions of the region, newly invigorated and coming off a streak of wins over Vulcun and CLG, it looked to potentially be the exciting final people hoped for.  It wasn’t.  Same script as for Dignitas. A clean sweep 3-0, and a perfect playoff performance. With such ridiculous excellence regionally (30 for 33 over the whole split) NA fans were no doubt excited to see how the new champions performed internationally. After so much heartbreak on the world stage in Season 2 (sounds familiar, huh?) NA fans were excited for a fresh team to proudly represent them. Although certainly showing promise, Cloud9’s first steps with the best of the best were disappointing. Their first foray was at the Season 3 World Championship. Receiving a BYE into the quarterfinals, Cloud9 faced Fnatic, at the time the best team in Europe. Although the NA favorites proved they could match up with xPeke’s squad, splitting the first two games, Hai made the poor choice of letting Kassadin through the draft phase. This was at a time when Kassadin was absurdly overpowered. Hai assured his teammates he could shut him down early, and let xPeke have him. A disastrous first blood for Fnatic gave them all the momentum they needed, using Kassadin to rampage the entire game. Cloud9’s first World Championship was over in three games. Cloud9’s next opportunity was at IEM Season 8 Cologne. Granted a BYE into the semi-final, they’d unfortunately face Gambit Gaming. A team famous for their unspeakably long list of IEM tournament trophies, the Russian squad were hungry to add Cologne to their case. A quick 2-0 for Gambit, and Cloud9 had one last chance to compete internationally before LCS started. Battle of the Atlantic was mostly a fun hype match for me and all the other NA fans hurting from our bruised egos. After the smack down at Worlds, NA wanted vengeance. The tournament (more an exhibition event) had a weird format and point system. Long story short, Cloud9 found themselves in a position to win the event for NA and serve some cold revenge to Fnatic. They did just that, stomping the series 2-0, even featuring a Hai Kassadin game that forced Fnatic to surrender early.  Their introduction to the international scene was unfortunate, because of how limited it was. The BYE system at Worlds prevented fans from getting a real look at how they stacked up with other teams. That and their only other opportunities came from playing Fnatic again, and a supercharged Russian death squad. They definitely showed promise, but two out of three losses proved to be disheartening. Coming into the 2014 LCS Spring Split, it again was predicted that Cloud9 would fall. Skeptics claimed the European teams exposed their playstyles, how the meta shifted out of their favor, and that imports like Bjergsen and dexter tipped other teams ahead of them. They were right. So many factors pointed to their degradation. And so they fell. By one game. That Spring, regular season and playoffs included, Cloud9 went 29 for 33, winning it all. All the talk of their downfall, and they won a single game less than the previous split. In some ways they looked even better. Team fighting was more polished, their play styles more diverse. Cloud9 weren’t some royal road one-hit wonders, they were here to stay.
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Around the same time, they again showed strong but disappointing results in international competition. Cloud9 were invited to the IEM VIII World Championship. They won games against Team WE and Taipei Assassins (both of which were far from their glory days, however) but again lost to Fnatic in the semifinals.  Because of their playoff victory, Cloud9 were invited to represent NA at All-Star 2014 in Paris. After another successful split, showing more confidence and experience, they were eager to display to the world how good they were. Bad luck struck again. Hai announced his lung collapsed, and would be replaced by CLG’s Link for the tournament. What’s so tragic about this (besides Hai’s lung collapsing) was how well Cloud9 performed without Hai. Without their main shotcaller and strategic backbone, they placed second in the group stage, beating out everyone (including Fnatic) but SK Telecom T1 K. They lost out to OMG in the semifinals, but the question remains of how they’d have performed with their full roster. Link did perform to a very impressive degree, but there’s no question losing their captain was a negative. Hai later stated “I think in the 2014 era before All Stars, I would argue that we were definitely the best Western team. I think we would’ve crushed everyone at All Stars if I got to go there. I don’t know if we’d crush SKT, but every other team I think so. Cause watching Link play with them, and the fact that he didn’t play the amount of champions that I did, I think that heavily changed things.”
The summer split proved very complicated. With other teams catching up in infrastructure, the introduction of LMQ, and the general lulls that every great team faces, Cloud9 did not look nearly as strong. They no longer had such a large advantage in team fighting and objective control. Their laning still was not the best, and without the same equalizer as before, every team now posed a significant threat to beat them. It’s a testament to their skill that despite all the legitimate pitfalls, they still managed their way into a first-place finish in the round robin.  The same could not be said for the playoffs. Their start in the semifinals looked like another-day-in-the-factory for them, sweeping Curse 3-0. The finals proved a different affair. In a tense five game series, TSM overcame Cloud9, retaking their throne as the best in NA. Although somewhat solace in the second place finish, they were still hungry to prove themselves at the 2014 World Championship. Drawn into Group D, they had an interesting challenge to reach the quarterfinals. The competition was vicious. Alliance, the mechanically talented best team in Europe. NaJin White Shield, the Korean team red-hot off their gauntlet run. And KaBuM! e-Sports, the irrelevant Brazilian team. 

Oldie but goodie

Their group started off well with a big win over Alliance. Two days later matters took a turn for the worst. Cloud9 lost two games in a row to their European and Korean counterparts. Making the situation more grim, Alliance was on a winning streak, even recording a perfect game on NaJin White Shield. Cloud9 had to beat Shield, just to be able to force a tiebreaker. If they did that, they’d be forced to face a supercharged Alliance and an ever-threatening Shield.

If you’ve followed League of Legends for a reasonable amount of time, you know where this is going. Everyone forgot about the Brazilians! In an unprecedented upset (the first time a Wild Card region ever made an impact in international play), KaBuM! e-Sports defeated Alliance, laying out a red carpet for Cloud9 to make the bracket stage. Awash with hope and confidence, the NA starlets played a fierce game with Shield. As they won a decisive team fight and rushed to the enemy Nexus, their voice communications exhibited pure excitement and joyfulness. Meteos, Hai, and Balls can be seen excitedly looking at each other, repeatedly shouting “This is for KaBuM!” Among the brief listens we get of professional players in game, this is one I’d consider truly electrifying.
Cloud9 were eventually eliminated in the quarterfinals by Samsung Blue but even showed skill against them, taking a game off the Korean giants. Although showing the same result as the year before, no doubt Cloud9 exited the tournament with their heads held high. Before the 2015 Season, the team was voted in to compete at IEM San Jose. There the stars finally aligned for them, defeating strong European talent like Alliance and Unicorns of Love to take the tournament. This would unfortunately be the last real hurrah of the legendary Cloud9 lineup. Their performance at IEM Katowice left a lot to be desired, losing both of their group stage games and quickly dropping out of the tournament. Their performance in the 2015 NA LCS Spring Split proved very similar to their previous summer, playing mediocre through most of the tournament, before climbing their way to second place at the end. They performed well in the playoffs, making it to the finals, but fell again to TSM. That’d be the last stand for one of NA’s greatest teams. The mythical lineup of LemonNation, Sneaky, Hai, Meteos, and Balls was about to come to an end. Because of wrist problems, Hai shared his retirement from competitive League of Legends, announcing solo queue phenom Incarnati0n (now Jensen) as his replacement. He eventually rejoined the team later in the season because of their poor performance, but replaced Meteos in the jungle. The mythical lineup had definitively ended.Cloud9 was a joy to watch. Arguably the most strategically brilliant NA team ever, Cloud9’s playstyle at their peak was different than anyone else in the game. The only team even remotely comparable were the 2013-2014 KT Bullets. Instead of relying on an ultra skilled hyper carry to dominate the laning phase and control the game, Cloud9 took a different approach. They were a ruthless five-man unit, all of them capable of taking hold of the match. Ultimately it was their preparation and ingenuity that won matches, not brute strength. This is not to say that Cloud9’s members were untalented, as each one was an incredibly skilled and interesting player. At his core, Balls was a reliable and versatile top laner. In most cases there wasn’t any facet of the game he particularly excelled at, but he could serve Cloud9 in any circumstance they needed. His champion pool was cavernous, and he played in multiple styles. When they needed him to carry, he’d willingly split push to oblivion and fearlessly initiate fights. If they required a strong shield to protect their carries, he seamlessly transitioned to tank champions, providing perfect peel. And when they needed him to make their opponents’ lives a living hell, he’d play Rumble.  Balls’ Rumble was scary to watch. His most frequent champion, he was widely known as one of the Mechanized Menace’s best players. His laning was great, his playmaking was constant, and he had the talent of any great Rumble player in selecting the perfect time and location to use his ultimate. What impressed me most about Balls’ Rumble was just how fearless he was. Even in situations the majority would see as unfavorable, Balls had the perfect sense of just how powerful Rumble’s ultimate was, and could turn dicey situations on their head. An Equalizer indeed. https://gfycat.com/jauntyrespectfulkiskadee The timing of a single split to superstardom is something rarely seen in competitive LoL. When Meteos entered professional play, he was far and away the best jungler NA ever had. By the end of Spring 2013, he had recorded a 12.66 KDA for the regular season and a 15 KDA for the playoffs, later winning the season’s MVP award. How was he able to accomplish this? Note: I’ve omitted international competition, due to the team’s underperformance preventing him from fully utilizing his style. I still think his style would be effective had he more talented laners.   These numbers shouldn’t come as shocking. It’s no secret the Meteos was a farm-heavy jungler. Receiving an unprecedented amount of creeps compared to most Junglers, Meteos was allowed to harvest the jungle for extended periods of time, in addition to more gold from helping push lanes. By the time mid game rolled around Meteos was an unkillable minotaur, always having an advantage over opposing junglers, and always in a position to carry. This was disastrous for other teams as Meteos had the best sense for initiations of any jungler in the region. He’d charge into a fight and immediately draw most of the enemy’s aggression. Because of his talented kiting ability and strong defensive builds by this point, he’d almost always survive while prolonging the affair as much as possible, giving his teammates ample time to win the fight. That in itself isn’t too remarkable. While interesting it’s not exactly revolutionary. Other junglers like Clearlove, CloudTemplar, and even Saintvicious long before carried the reputation of herbivore junglers. What’s remarkable is this. Crazy right? Despite having by far the highest CS counts of any NA jungler, Meteos still recorded some of the highest kill and assist totals. How was this possible? In a world of high-ganking carnivore junglers and farm-heavy herbivore junglers, Meteos was one of the rare exceptions of an omnivore jungler. He wasn’t like others that simply neglected pressuring other lanes. Rather, his spawn timing and near-unparalleled understanding of where the enemy jungler would be gave him some of the best understanding in the world for ganking efficiently.
This match’s early game is a perfect illustration of how Meteos succeeded. Notice how his adversary Crumbzz (a solid jungler in his own right) plays early on. As the jungle camps spawn, Crumbzz starts off relatively normal, taking Blue Buff and several jungle creeps. Three minutes into the game, he starts trudging down towards the bottom lane, looking for a kill. Sneaking past wards, he’s able to approach undetected, waiting a bit until grabbing a kill (one Sneaky countered, mind you). What’s notable is just how long this engagement took. Overall, Crumbzz had to invest an entire precious minute in the early stage of the game. Contrast this with Meteos. Shortly after Crumbzz’s gank, Meteos picks up a kill of his own on Scarra in mind. The difference though is what led up to his. Meteos’ path to a gank was filled with jungle camps all along the way. He stopped to smell the roses. Rather than wait idly for an opportunity to grab a kill, his kill on Scarra was a damn drive-by shooting. Meteos continued farming while waiting for an opportunity to gank, attacking immediately as it arose. As he did for many games, and many victories.  Hai was the beating heart of Cloud9. As a midlander he could most easily be compared to someone like Ryu. A jack of all trades. He was disciplined in poke compositions, bold and calculated in teamfights, and surprisingly formidable as a split push duellist. Fairly adept in every aspect of the position, Hai was always able to adjust to what his team needed of him. Though not having a signature champion, he always adapted effectively to the meta. Similar to Ryu, Hai’s shotcalling led to some of the most intelligent and well-crafted gameplay seen. Dissimilar to him, Hai did it almost all on his own. He actually carried the bulk of the shotcalling responsibility, the only exceptions being LemonNation’s guidance of the draft phase, and Meteos’ directions regarding jungle objectives. Besides that, it was all Hai. It should come as no surprise he played professionally so long even when performing poorly. Simply plugging him into a roster instantly turned their macro around. His leadership was that good.  Sneaky is the only player of this roster that achieved greater things off of it (not just his Patreon). On this iteration of Cloud9, he was still coming into his own. Like the rest of the roster, he was a very balanced player, and did whatever his team needed of him. On both mid game and hyperscaling carries, Sneaky effectively served his team. What he’s most known for, however, is his CC-based marksmen. On supportive style marksmen like Ashe and Varus, Sneaky was always dangerous. Capable of using CC both to engage and disengage enemies, he accomplished tasks very few carries of the time even thought about. Lastly there’s LemonNation. His play in-game was relatively quiet. Although clearly skilled on an individual level (he climbed to Rank 1 exclusively as a Support), he never showed off the same way other Supports did. His approach was quite reserved; usually going even with Sneaky in lane, making plays throughout the mid game, and frequently causing a big impact in team fights. That paired with a deep champion pool, and it was a perfect marriage for Cloud9’s roster. Obviously the tidbit most fans remember of him is his famous notebook. Carrying a notebook full of information regarding champions and counter picks, LemonNation was the brain of their pick and ban phase. Considering the difficulty in finding games where their compositions weren’t excellent, it’s clear his mind for the draft phase was top notch. Fairly talented roster, right? That’s not what made Cloud9 special. The magic of Cloud9 was what they did together. The quintessential example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. As said before, Cloud9’s early game wasn’t anything incredible. More often than not they’d actually fall behind. It’s what they did afterwards that made them such a fantastic team to watch. At their peak, it wasn’t really ever a question of whether they’d catch up. Just how and when.  Cloud9 had a multitude of weapons to dominate the mid game. Though not facing much competition, their understanding of sneaking and baiting Baron were the best in NA (remember, they played at the same time as the famous Dignitoss).They were the first North American team to truly see how important turret control was, making it a primary focus in their strategy. Even in the laning phase they’d opt to lane swap and send Meteos to create a 3v1 situation, so enemy towers were never stable. Their dragon control was also excellent. Because of Meteos’ unparalleled timing, he many times either created situations where Cloud9 could sneak the objective, or simply take it by himself. Their team fighting was second-to-none. LemonNation made sure that their compositions hit hard. If their teamfighting sense wasn’t good, it was still hard to see teams overcoming the sheer inferno of CC.  That’s the thing though, they had good team fight sense too. They had great sense. As we talked about before, each player brought fuel to the fire. Meteos fearlessly charged into fights, drawing enemies away from Hai and Sneaky. Hai either swiftly eliminated the biggest threats while playing assassins, or wreaked havoc with mages. LemonNation always played smartly, usually capable of surviving long term engagements while still dishing out dangerous CC. Sneaky could also provide great CC, but do just as good of a hypercarry impersonation, deftly hiding behind Meteos and Balls to pick apart the enemy. The latter was great as either an impenetrable shield for Sneaky playing tanks, or a ruthless firedrake playing Rumble.
They weren’t one-trick ponies either. They were one of the most tactically diverse teams in the world. Yes, they were primarily known for the aforementioned playstyles, but they were capable of so much more. Whether flawlessly executing two-way pushes, patiently poking out the enemy, or cleverly using exotic champion picks, teams never really knew what to expect with Cloud9.
 

“All they do is copy Korean teams!” - Oddball, 2013 

Many dismissed their playstyle and champion choices as counterfeit. While they certainly drew inspiration from the world’s best, Cloud9 was keen to innovate on their own.   "That whole 'follow the Korean meta' thing never really made sense to me. We play an objective-focused game, which is how the game is supposed to be played, and that just happens to be what the Koreans do. We look to them because they're the best region and we can learn things from them, but it's not necessarily that we copy them. [...] we're influenced by them, definitely, but if you just tried prepping by [only] watching the Korean games, I don't think it'd work." -LemonNation The best example of this is their bot lane duo of Ashe and Zyra. An absolutely lethal combination, the composition was borrowed all throughout the west. At the time, Korea’s legendary marksman Imp was quoted saying of Ashe, “Really? Who plays such a crappy champ?”  Cloud9 was a death machine. The talent of their players, the cohesiveness of their playstyle, and their will to improve and innovate was unmatched by any other team in their league.The legacy Hai and his teammates left is still felt to this day. The legendary original lineup of Cloud9 had a big effect. It didn’t just affect North American LoL. In fact, it didn’t just affect League of Legends. The original Cloud9 forever changed esports. Let’s look at it step by step.  Cloud9 almost single handedly accelerated NA’s approach to practice and preparation. Before their arrival in the summer, the region was embarrassingly lax compared to the best of the world. LemonNation and Hai treated every game like a championship final. Recruiting the likes of Leaguepedia’s Alex Penn and Team Coast’s Charlie Lipsie, they were among the first teams in NA to see the value in coaches and analysts. Although it’s hard to gauge what impact they had on the team’s success, it’s clear they provided valuable information. With statistics regarding other teams in the league, as well as insights on their scrimmage performance, Cloud9 could maintain their step ahead. As mentioned before, the dominance in drafting was staggering. Using his famous notebook, LemonNation had a treasure trove of information on champions and counterpicks, something he took advantage of to the fullest. Their practice routine was also leagues ahead of everyone else. While some teams were known to goof off, Cloud9 took scrimmages very seriously, practicing efficiently and practically as much as possible. As other teams spent off-hours streaming and playing other games, every Cloud9 member was recognized as a sage of solo queue, viewing the exercise as a great way to keep mechanics sharpened and observe potential meta changes. In line with that, many of the players were known to intently observe other region’s play, taking note of drafts and playstyles.  Such dedication to performance clearly showed results. They’ve been among the only NA teams to post respectable results in international competition. With the history of NA being full of humiliating group stage exits and disappointing losses, Cloud9 has been one of the true outliers. Either showing parity against the best of the world or in some cases even winning competitions, many argue they’ve represented NA better than any other. Finally, there’s Cloud9 as an organization. One of the premier teams in the world across multiple games. Winning incessantly across titles like Counter Strike, Super Smash Bros., and Heroes of the Storm, Cloud9 has the Midas touch. While Jack Etienne and the rest of the management certainly deserve credit, it’s inarguable that their original League of Legends team was the initial seed that blossomed the fearsome mammoth we see today. Without the initial success of that roster, we may not have one of the industry’s most iconic teams. The original Cloud9 was a hero’s journey. When they fell to MRN and were cast down into the depths of the amateur scene, no one knew what would come of them. After their initial fall, they were resurrected. With that rebirth, they had the revelation of the right way to play. To be focused. To be humble. To be the best. In a region dark in the shadows of teams rife with arrogance and contentment, Cloud9 shined above as an example of the hustle to be the greatest. As others were thrilled just to be able to play video games professionally, Cloud9 continued practicing - always hungry. Along the way they changed the approach NA teams took to the game, achieved victory domestically and internationally, and nurtured one of the greatest organizations esports has ever seen. Seems like the practice was worth it. 
If you enjoyed this article, please follow the author on Twitter at @OddballCreator. Images courtesy of Lolesports Flickr
 

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