The entire Counter-Strike community is once again high on Cloud9. The US-based organization reintroduced themselves to the world with their victory at Intel Extreme Masters XVIII - Dallas this past weekend. It has been a long time coming for their fans, as this is Cloud9’s first tournament win in over four years.
One of CS: GO’s most storied teams with a rich history of success, Cloud9 endured many hardships over the past several years. That all changed when they signed the former roster of Gambit Esports last April. The championship squad previously won a multitude of tournaments under the old moniker and wasted no time in regaining their form. This is the story of how Cloud9 and its new lineup came together to change Counter-Strike history forever.
Legacy of Cloud9
Cloud9’s CS: GO origins started in 2014 when they acquired their first roster from compLexity Gaming. The original team was made up of five legendary names in Counter-Strike lore:
Often considered to be the greatest North American player ever, n0thing immediately gave Cloud9 star power that few other teams could match. Added to the mix were veterans SEMPHIS, sgares, and Hiko, who all had championship experience together. Rounding out the roster was a young up-and-comer by the name of shroud. He soon developed into a world-class player and focal point for the team’s future.
Despite an elite lineup, Cloud9 struggled early on. They frequently made it far in tournaments but ultimately came short of lifting the trophy. This eventually led to players departing from the team. Hiko was the first to leave after just four months with the squad and eventually became a star VALORANT player for 100Thieves. SEMPHIS then left in April 2015, playing for several top-tier orgs like compLexity Gaming, Team Solo-Mid, and Team Envy.
After SEMPHIS left the team, Cloud9 signed two new players to replace their open spots: fREAKAZOID and Skadoodle. Their additions to the lineup brought the org their first taste of large-scale success. After winning numerous online events during the summer and fall, Cloud9 won their first offline tournament at iBUYPOWERCUP 2015. They defeated fellow North American titan Team Liquid, earning a hefty $65,000 in prize money. The team won their second title just four days later at the RGN Pro Series.
Image source: Cloud9
Just as Cloud9 began finding their stride, founding team member sgares stepped down to pursue a career in broadcasting. While such a loss would derail most teams’ momentum, it opened the door for another historic player to join the Cloud9 alumni. The org took a chance on an 18-year-old phenom named Stewie2k. His arrival helped Cloud9 continue their success with consistent Top 2 finishes throughout the year. Even with Slemmy replacing freakazoid midway, the hungry young squad never missed a beat. It culminated at the Finals of the ESL Pro League Season 4. After being crowned North American champions, Cloud9 defeated SK Gaming to win their first S-tier event and take home an enormous $200,000 prize.
Although Slemmy stepped down from the roster after the ESL Pro League, Cloud9 entered the new year as the unquestioned top team in North America. They replaced him with autimatic, who became a core player for more than three years. Without a doubt, 2017 was Cloud9’s most successful year to date. They won numerous high-profile tournaments, including the Americas Minor Championship - Krakow, DreamHack Open Denver, and iBUYPOWER Masters. But meanwhile, a rivalry was also budding with FaZe Clan, another emerging team based in the United States.
While Cloud9 was enjoying success, FaZe Clan was a persistent thorn in their side. Throughout 2017, FaZe eliminated Cloud9 from four different S-tier events, including ESL One: New York and IEM Master XII - Oakland. To make matters worse, the team lost its last two original members at the end of the year. While n0thing moved on to broadcasting events, shroud became one of the most successful streamers and someone who is still a pioneer in the profession today. Even after their best year yet, Cloud9 didn’t seem to have anything going for them. However, that all changed at the start of 2018 when their underdog story came full circle.
ELEAGUE Major: Boston was the first large tournament of 2018 and was deemed a Major Championship by Valve. To replace n0thing and shroud, Cloud9 acquired teammates RUSH and tarik from OpTic Gaming. As fate would have it, Cloud9 and FaZe Clan wound up making it to the Grand Final out of 23 teams. Cloud9 dropped the first map but rebounded to take the second. In a decisive third map that went into overtime, Cloud9 edged out FaZe Clan 22-19 to win their first and only Major. They became the first-ever team with a North America roster to win a Valve Major Championship, a feat that has yet to be repeated.
The Story of Gambit Esports
While they’re no household name like Cloud9, the Counter-Strike world is well familiar with Gambit Esports. Founded in 2016, the Russian organization was a legitimate CS: GO powerhouse for half a decade. The org embraced talent from the entire CIS region, with a squad composed of Russian, Ukrainian, and Kazahk players. They were immediately impressed by winning the CIS Minor Championship - Columbus 2016 in their first month of operations.
Gambit Esports won several more events during their first 16 months, including two DreamHack Open championships. In July 2017, they won their first Major Championship at PGL Major Krakow. The victory netted them $500,000 in prize money, their largest purse to date.
Shortly afterward, Gambit Esports began dealing with heavy roster turnover. The team was constantly shifting lineups, and their performance wavered as a result. Between their victory in Krakow and February 2019, the org won just a single offline tournament over a two-and-a-half-year span. Gambit Esports then paused all operations in May 2019.
After remaining inactive for more than a year, Gambit Esports took a huge gamble which ended up changing the course of CS: GO history. Rather than signing a new roster, the org promoted their youth team, Gambit Youngsters, to the main squad. The team had been highly successful in amateur circuits and was much more experienced than the average B-squad. They were led by Hobbit and Ax1le, who both had previous experience playing for the primary Gambit Esports team. Hobbit even played a part in their victory at PGL Major Krakow. Up-and-comers nafany, sh1ro, and interz rounded out the roster.
This new group of players quickly revived Gambit Esports’ status as a top-tier team in CS: GO. The young core absolutely dominated during the online era that came about due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Their most substantial victory came at the IEM XV World Championship in 2021, netting a $400,000 prize. This retooled Gambit Esports team would add numerous trophies to their trophy case before the Cloud9 acquisition.
Notable Tournament Victories
DreamHack Open November 2020
Intel Extreme Masters XV - World Championship 2021
Pinnacle Cup I (2021)
EPIC CIS League Spring 2021
Intel Extreme Masters XVI - Summer 2021
BLAST Premier: Spring Finals 2021
Intel Extreme Masters XVI - Fall: CIS
V4 Future Sports Festival - Budapest 2021
Funspark ULTI 2021
Brought Together by Hardship
While it ultimately worked out for both sides, the partnership between Cloud9 and the former roster of Gambit Esports came about due to unfortunate circumstances. Things started going downhill for Cloud9 in 2018 almost immediately after they won ELEAGUE Major: Boston. The team’s young star Stewie2k left to join SK Gaming just two months later. By the end of 2019, no one from the ELEAGUE championship team remained with Cloud9.
Cloud9 dealt with heavy roster turnover for several years after ELEAGUE. The inconsistency in their lineups led to more struggles and zero tournament wins. In March 2021, the org placed their entire roster on the transfer list and announced they would be temporarily ceasing CS: GO operations. This inactivity went on to last longer than a full calendar year.
Image source: Cloud9
In contrast, the downfall of Gambit Esports had nothing to do with the performance of their CS: GO team. Back in 2018, the organization was purchased by MTS, one of the largest media and telecommunications companies in Russia. After the invasion of Ukraine at the beginning of 2022, many esports leagues banned any teams and organizations associated with the Russian government.
Given their partnership with MTS, Gambit Esports was banned from participating in nearly all tournaments, including the ESL Pro League and PGL Major: Antwerp. However, the organizers decided to only punish the organization and not the players. As long as they disassociated themselves from Gambit Esports and did not represent them or Russia in any way, the players could still compete.
With Gambit Esports now in the past, their former roster took on the name of PLAYERS during tournaments. Their final event under their temporary moniker was ESL Pro League Season 15, where they finished 9th-12th. Exactly two weeks later, Cloud9 finally re-entered the CS: GO landscape by signing the PLAYERS roster along with their coach Konstantin “groove” Pikiner and analyst Ivan “F_1N” Kochugov.
A Winning Combination
Acquiring the former Gambit Esports roster allowed Cloud9 to make waves upon their return to CS: GO. They went from being out of the game entirely to fielding a team that can contend for the best in the world. In arguably the best roster acquisition in CS: GO history, the new-look Cloud9 was set up to succeed right out the gate.
The organization immediately threw their new squad directly into the fire for their first tournament. The former PLAYERS made their Cloud9 debuts at PGL Major: Antwerp, the largest event of the year. While not hugely disappointing, they ended up finishing in the middle of the pack at 12th-14th place. Adjustments were surely needed, but the team cleared up all their mistakes in time for Dallas.
It didn’t take long at all for Cloud9’s new roster to regain their championship pedigree. At IEM XVII - Dallas, they proved all the doubters wrong in a miraculous fashion. However, things did not start out perfect as Cloud9 lost their second match in Group B to FURIA Esports. They had to fight through the Lower Bracket to reach the Playoffs, defeating Ninjas In Pyjamas and Team Liquid both by a score of 2-0.
Cloud9 then went on a legendary run that very few could have expected. In their first Playoff match, they defeated newly crowned world #1 team FaZe Clan 2-1. The extremely close contest brought back memories of the rivalry between the two in 2017. Cloud9 then defeated BIG 2-1 to advance to the Grand Final. In both their Playoff matches, Cloud9 dropped the first map and had to come from behind to earn their wins.
In the Grand Final, Cloud9 matched up against Finnish organization ENCE. The world’s #2 ranked squad was one of the hottest teams entering the tournament. Furthermore, they had only dropped one map in Dallas up to that point. The odds were severely stacked against Cloud9, but they would not be denied.
In an incredible turn of events, Cloud9 swept ENCE 3-0 to take the match and win the tournament. While the first two maps were fairly close, Cloud9 flat out destroyed ENCE on the final map 16-3 to close things out. All five players ended the match with a positive KD ratio, with sh1ro posting a ridiculous 67-31 (+36). The victory not only meant the world to Cloud9 and their new roster but also to the home crowd in Dallas, who got to see America’s first great team return to glory. It also earned the team $100,000 in prize money.
With their new foundation secured and a major trophy already above the mantle, Cloud9 is poised for a long run of success. Their rapid success has rocketed them up the rankings, and they are now listed as the #4 team in the world by both ESL and HLTV. With the second half of the year just getting started, don’t be surprised if Cloud9 enters 2023 as the new world #1.
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