[OPINION] Cloud9’s elimination is the most heart-breaking moment of the entire 2020 season

Photo by Riot Games

 

Let me tell you why I stopped watching the LCS.

 

As a journalist, there are two ways to follow an esports competition: as a fan and as a storyteller.

 

I never became a fan of an LCS team, or at least not after I fell out of love with the 2011-2012 Team SoliMid era (the first LoL team I ever supported) with Alex "Xpecial" Chu, Shan "Chaox" Huang, and Brian "TheOddOne" Wyllie, the latter of whom I watched for hours every day to learn jungling. There was no one brand I could pledge my loyal support to, especially once the Korean and European regions started to get ahead. At the end of 2011, I fell in love with Moscow 5, who had somehow introduced a Dota-esque speed to League of Legends, and SK Telecom T1, an org I’d been following since Brood War. 

 

Shortly after I stopped being a fan, I stopped watching it as a writer too. The waning power of the region turned it from a solid presence in League of Legends to the butt of so many jokes. Sports journalists tend to be intrigued by power, ingenuity, consistency — things that we can write about, and things that LCS lost over time. Leagues like the LEC (then EU LCS) and LCK provided all of that, plus franchises I knew and loved. There was no reason, as a fan or a storyteller, to ever watch the LCS. I only saw LCS teams in their international matches, as was often there to cheer for whoever they were facing. 

 

But in 2020 Spring, I was captivated. I watched every single week because something unprecedented was happening in the LCS.

 

There was no late game option when playing Cloud9. They were speedrunning the LCS.

 

Coming off a group stage elimination at Worlds 2019 — their first time missing playoffs since 2015 — Cloud9 made changes to their bot lane and signed Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen from TSM and Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme from Dignitas. For Zven, who had left G2 Esports in 2016 to join the LCS, this was a way out of TSM, an org that had taken his talent and converted it to nothing. The Dane had gone from winning three consecutive splits in Europe and second place at MSI to missing Worlds back-to-back and living in the shadow of Team Liquid’s hegemony over the LCS.  

 

“When we lost the last match in the [2019] gauntlet [against Clutch Gaming], getting reverse swept on top of it, I just felt nothing really. I felt like in two full years, I accomplished absolutely nothing,” Zven wrote in November 2019.

 

Zven’s new life in Cloud9 unlocked perhaps the most exciting storyline in the region’s history. He went on a tear, and so did his team. By week three, Zven had already hit the 72 KDA mark, not a mile away from the all-time KDA record of 104, held by (ex-)Griffin’s Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon, and the war machine that was Cloud9 was unstoppable. On average, they were ahead 2.7K gold by 15 minutes and their games were over in half an hour. There was no late game option when playing Cloud9. They were speedrunning the LCS and it was like nothing I’d ever seen. 

 

Photo by Riot Games

 

I still wasn’t a fan of Cloud9, but I watched every single time they went on stage. Each one of their matches became an event of its own. I wanted to see whether Zven would beat Chovy’s record and whether anyone could finally stop Cloud9’s unchecked blitzkrieg, as whatever the outcome, there would be something to write and be excited about.

 

It was a win-win for a storyteller and about halfway through the split, I had to admit something to myself: that Cloud9 was the first LCS team that I wanted to do well internationally. I had started to understand why so many of my friends had once fallen in love with the Hai "Hai" Du Lam era of Cloud9 — a team that went 59-7 between 2013 Summer and 2014 Spring. I wanted to see them play the LEC and the LCK and win. I wanted to see them challenge the LPL and put the reigning champions in their place. Cheering for an LCS team went against everything I stood for as a viewer, but I welcomed the new feeling with an open heart.

 

The only team I really wanted to make Worlds — an LCS team nonetheless! — was done, and with it, everything I’ve ever liked about the LCS.    

 

The Cloud9 of 2020 won Spring with the most dominant record in LCS history, 23-2, setting the stage for what I hoped to be a monumental showing at MSI and, later, Worlds.

 

But neither came to pass. The rising COVID-19 pandemic cancelled MSI, taking away the only real prize of winning the Spring Split. Instead of riding their unprecedented form into international competition, Cloud9 stayed home, locked in, and prepared for the Summer Split.

 

But if Cloud9 might’ve felt aggrieved after spring, by the end of summer they’d find themselves beaten down and truly robbed.

 

When TSM eliminated Cloud9 from the Summer Playoffs on the evening of August 29, they ended perhaps the most exciting newborn storyline since Griffin’s three-peat LCK finals. As their nexus fell in game 4, I stood crestfallen. The only team I really wanted to make Worlds — an LCS team nonetheless! — was done, and with it, everything I’ve ever liked about the LCS.    

 

Photo by Riot Games

 

Sports writers try to avoid intangibles like “deserved” or “fair” when it comes to reporting on a match or title win, but as my voice returned there I was, shouting “This is bullshit!” at the screen. I couldn’t imagine a worse, more disappointing outcome than Cloud9’s loss to their rivals.

 

It wasn’t just because TSM had become (even more) the villains of the LCS after the controversial signing of Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and mistreatment of Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, and were now going to Worlds instead of Cloud9 (although that did strike a nerve, admittedly). After all, TSM played the better League of Legends that day, led by MVP performance by Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, who put up a 48.0 KDA in the three games TSM won in that series. As much as I wanted the world to take it all from them in a vain attempt to swallow this “unjust”, “undeserved” elimination, it wasn’t TSM celebrating that made me unhappy. 

 

As I went through the classic five stages of grief, I arrived at the heartbreaking, albeit cynical, acceptance.

 

It was the realization that Cloud9’s 23-2 run and everything they had achieved in the spring had been for naught. Instead of being celebrated and talked about, their record will fade from the collective memory and only LCS historians or writers researching Liquipedia for an article will care about it. In a darker timeline, it might even become tainted by the context that Cloud9 only got to play teams that were objectively mediocre, which in turn reiterates the notion that the LCS is a region in deep decay.

 

It was knowing that Zven, who had left TSM so that he could finally play at Worlds again and had become the terror of the bot lane, would now spend a third straight year on the sidelines, eliminated by the very same team he fled from months earlier. As I went through the classic five stages of grief, I arrived at the heartbreaking, albeit cynical, acceptance that all the wins, all the kills, all the KDA records, all the grand showmanship meant nothing. 

 

Nothing.

 

The team, which converted a sworn LCS adversary into the closest thing to an LCS fan, was eliminated. And no matter how much I look for parallels in other leagues — be it T1 and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok potentially missing Worlds or the end to Schalke 04’s #MiracleRun — I can’t find a tragedy that matches the summertime death of Cloud9.

 

UPDATE 9/1: After the recent news about VCS teams missing Worlds, this writer enjoyed for a few hours the fleeting hope that Cloud9 will get to replace them, only to be soul-crushed once again, just moments later. 

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Comments :2

  • 0

    level 1 INQube

    1

    Although they started the year on fire, Cloud 9 was certainly not "speedrunning" the LCS this split.

    Spring? Yes. Summer? No.

    They were only winning 50% of their games the 3 weeks leading up to playoffs, then lost 2 Bo5s back to back once they got there.
    If you cant win when it actually matters, especially in the "for fun" / "retirement" region > you are NOT a Worlds caliber team. Simple as that.

    We ALL have dreams of the MSI run that could have been, but putting so much stock in C9 after their performances this past month was misguided. The new LCS playoff format, and removal of Championship Points, has ensured the 3 best performing teams are representing the region.

    • 0

      level 15 RadoslavKolev

      @INQube

      Well the speedrunning part is clearly about Spring. It opens with Zven's Spring KDA record, talks about C9's Spring Win streak and pulls out stats from Spring.

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