Since Sean Gares stepped down, the search for Cloud9’s fifth has been underway. The bar started incredibly high, with the legendary Swede Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund the front-runner to step in as the old management of Ninjas In Pyjamas seemed intent on running the organisation into the ground.
After that fell through, several North American players were touted as being potential candidates. The organisation played with this speculation, having silhouettes of Alesund and even briefly Abraham Lincoln added to the roster page of their website. The expectations were high. Then they announced the mostly unproven talent of Jake “Stewie2k” Yip, a move met by resounding disappointment from their fans.
Right off the bat, let’s point out the elephant in the room. Yip was absolutely not the first choice for Cloud9. Those screenshots of Tarik “tarik” Celik bringing up a Skype window discussing his possible move from CLG were absolutely genuine. What happened in those negotiations I don’t know, but if I was to hazard a guess I’d say a buy-out couldn’t be agreed upon. Still, that’s the nature of our market at the moment. Everyone wants the best team possible, but top-tier talent is thin on the ground and everyone seems to be contracted. 2016 will be the year where organisations are going to have to take gambles on developing talent, because the alternative of spending above and behind market value has potentially disastrous repercussions for us all. Any eSports stalwart knows that bubbles do burst.
Developing talent is always a lottery. For every gamble that pays off there’s dozens that don’t, and the failures play out slowly in public. Any excitement for the arrival of a fresh face quickly gives way when they look to be wilting in the spotlight; the excuse of “they are young, give them time” becomes increasingly empty with each passing defeat. In all sports success is demanded from fans immediately, and the ADHD speed-freaks of eSports are even more impatient. Some players get a handful of games before they are destined for the exit door, sometimes even the knackers yard.
Of course the fans are boorish hypocrites. They will often demand to know why more talent doesn’t come through, why organisations endlessly recycle “has-beens,” yet at no point do they want their team to be the one that takes the risk. The glory-supporting dick-waving has too many participants with fragile egos, as if their choice of team says something about them on a profoundly personal level. Cloud9 fans will look back to their run of second place finishes and wonder if they will ever see those days again. They will mutter that this move speaks of a lack of ambition.
In fact, the pick-up is ambitious, a way to try and break the cycle of paying large sums for known quantities and instead pay less for potentially more. There’s no doubt Yip has talent but it’s the raw kind, the kind you see in children, enthusiasm and brashness with no direction or structure. Cloud9 features a range of personalities that can all give something to an up-and-comer: the positive outlook from the living embodiment of broscience Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir, the been there and done that experience of Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert, Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham knows about having the weight of the world (or region) on your shoulders, and Michael “shroud” Grzesiek knows about the trajectory of pug-star to star player. There’s some wisdom in the roster for sure and, on their best days, talent that still arguably makes them the best in America.
The real question will be whether or not Yip will be open to being moulded. He comes to his new team with the label of being a diva. His time in Splyce came to an abrupt end after he failed to turn up to a match, sleeping through it and then having a Twitter spat with his teammates. His short statement after he was released thanked the management but made no mention of his erstwhile colleagues. Even if there were mitigating circumstances he has been convicted in the brutal kangaroo court of public opinion and will have to do a lot to alter those negative perceptions.
It’s telling that the criticism mostly makes no mention of his playing ability. Like a lot of players who have spent the bulk of their playing time in pick-up games, he’s certainly inconsistent. One game could see him aggressively destroy the opponents single-handedly, the next sees him off on every timing and struggling to pick up kills. This should never be the metric by which you judge a player. All it does is showcase either end of the talent spectrum without giving an indication as to where he will sit on it when placed in a stable environment.
His first LAN event, the RGN Pro Series Championship, won’t tell you much either. Playing with a mix team and lacking experience he hardly set the world on fire but how many players do in these scenarios. We simply don’t know how good he can be but it’s telling that he has only played for a little over a year and has made a significant enough impact to become an established name, even if it’s one that people love to criticise.
The Cloud9 management have been here before though. In CS:GO they didn’t shy away from giving a chance to Shahzeb “ShahZam” Khan who had been loosely associated with everything that can be found sticking to the sleazy underbelly of the scene. The move didn’t work out for the team but there’s no doubt about what it did for Khan long term. More equipped to deal with the spotlight, he remained gracious under the criticism that came his way with every missed AWP shot.
When the inevitable roster swap came along, he remained as a substitute, even joking about his replacement’s superiority. His move to the Conquest team, now picked up by Optic, saw him a more emotionally balanced and well-rounded player, and one who stood out as a star player for the opening E-League fixture in Las Vegas. If you were to ask him, he’ll credit Cloud9 — and of course himself — as playing a pivotal role in the transformation.
In League of Legends they took on the burden of what was considered the most toxic asset Europe had ever seen. Nicolaj “Incarnati0n” Jensen, who had received a lifetime ban for unproven allegations in a classic Riot ruling of appeasing consensus over hard facts, was never supposed to play competitively. Yet, after Jensen had jumped through every conceivable hoop and was cleared, it was Cloud9 that took the gamble as they looked to rebuild the longest standing roster in the West. Again, the team has had its ups and, mostly, downs, but the transformation from Riot-branded supervillain to respected professional would not have been possible without an organisation being strong enough to take the chance.
OK, I get it. Both of these examples point to far happier outcomes for the individuals than the team that included them, but there is no reason why it has to be mutually exclusive. With North American Counter-Strike consistently disappointing, it was always going to take a new wave of talent to lift them out of mediocrity. Yip could be part of that jumpstart, or he could be a high profile flop. There’s no doubt though that there’s not really an organisation in North America that has a better chance of harnessing his talents and helping him achieve his potential. The timing is fortuitous too. As a huge shuffle comes in ahead of E-League, few teams will have a foundation as stable as Cloud9. While a lot of line-ups will be starting from scratch, they only have to figure out how to get the most of their new addition. Whatever happens it is undoubted that Yip will be the biggest benefactor as long as he doesn’t fuck up this opportunity.
This roster move definitely represents their biggest gamble in CS:GO, but, because it has such long odds, it also stands to yield the biggest return. I only like to play the percentages so now doubt when called upon to criticise the team I shall do so. I may even parrot some of the negative things said on Reddit and the like because that is the dull reality of punditry. The real me, the fan of Counter-Strike that exists below the persona, is glad that they did this.