Cloud9 made history last weekend, defeating Afreeca Freecs 3-0 in the Quarterfinals of the League of Legends World Championship. This weekend, they will face Fnatic in North America’s first Worlds Semifinals appearance in seven years. Korea’s Worlds bid ended in Busan. Cloud9’s victory was one highlighted by individual prowess, but its triumph can be traced throughout every tributary of the organization.
Head Coach Bok “Reapered” Han-Gyu looked at his team after a Quarterfinals exit in the NA LCS Spring Playoffs and elected to shake things up. Cloud9 benched star carries Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, and Reapered made it clear to his players that he was in charge.
The move was controversial, especially when Cloud 9 fell to 10th place in Week 4 of the NA LCS Summer Split. In a recent interview with The Shotcaller, Cloud9 Owner Jack Etienne discussed his trust in Reapered’s decision:
"I knew that these guys needed a shock to their system to get them in the right mindset. Although it seemed callouscallus to a lot of fans, we knew that they needed this."
The aforementioned “shock to the system” worked wonders for Cloud9 on all fronts. Jensen returned after absolutely destroying NA Solo Queue. Sneaky returned shortly after, and both players have since been performing at an incredibly high level. Cloud went from 10th place in July to a Worlds Semifinalist in October, and it would not have happened without them.
Sneaky and Jensen can be credited for carrying Cloud9 to the top, but it is another player who kept them afloat. Eric “Licorice” Ritchie has been a revelation in the Top Lane, and he has not been shy about Reapered’s impact on his growth. Reapered was the shotcaller and carry Top Laner of the very first iteration of SK Telecom T1 in 2012, or before Faker. Licorice is the conduit for Reapered’s vision, and he has the skill and innovation to execute it.
Licorice wasn’t the only Cloud9 rookie to make a name for himself. Tristan “Zeyzal” Stidham and Robert “Blaber” Huang were given chances to prove themselves at the LCS level. The Cloud9 Academy Support/Jungle duo’s communication and decisiveness have been a linchpin for Cloud9.
Blaber’s debut also gave Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen the time to figure himself out on Cloud9 Academy. Svenskeren got his groove back, leading Cloud9 Academy to a championship and slotting in behind Blaber on the main roster. Blaber’s free-swinging decisiveness would open up the series for Cloud9, and Svenskeren would come in mid-series with a calculate game plan to shut the door.
Svenskeren has since returned to World Class form, starting all three games in the Quarterfinals.
Throughout the summer, Svenskeren developed healthy synergy with Cloud9 Academy Mid Laner Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer. Goldenglue was signed to Cloud9 Academy alongside fellow veteran journeyman Yuri “KeithMcBrief” Jew, hoping for an opportunity to re-invent himself. He found his chance as Jensen’s closer, coming in with Svenskeren to execute a pre-planned Mid-Jungle strategy mid-series.
While Goldenglue was unable to fit on the Worlds Roster, he is with the team in a coaching/analysis role and has reframed his career for the future. Under Head Coach Jon “Westrice” Nguyen, Cloud9 Academy was successful in developing rookies to compete at the top level, while simultaneously empowering veterans to fix problems that had plagued them throughout their respective careers. C9A’s involvement in the main roster’s success cannot be understated.
Of course, all great coaching, scouting, and management can be brought back to Cloud9’s owner. Jack Etienne has had an incredible year: Cloud9 CS:GO became the first NA team to win a major tournament, and Overwatch League’s London Spitfire brought home the inaugural Championship trophy. Still, Jack’s direct involvement in the League of Legends team may make this his sweetest accomplishment of the year.
It was Jack who prioritized the Academy system upon its inception, purchasing draft spots in the 2017 NA Scouting Grounds from other organizations in order to maximize depth. It was Jack who signed veterans in addition to rookies at the Academy level. It was Jack, of course, who empowered Reapered with absolute authority over the roster and allowed him to bench Sneaky and Jensen.
Cloud9 have had a roller coaster of a year, but the best teams are not created without conflict. The best teams are forged in the fire of the tough conversations and confusing uncertainty. The individual players on Cloud9 deserve all of the credit for their incredible performance. However, the best team in the history of North America but could not have achieved its peak without its organization firing on all cylinders.
Nick Geracie is a freelance esports journalist in Los Angeles, CA. You can follow him on twitter here.