In the last two years there have been two NA teams that had briefly reached the top of the CS:GO competitive scene: OpTic and Cloud9. OpTic did the seemingly impossible as they won ELeague Season 2 in 2016. Cloud9 pulled off a miracle in 2018 as they won the ELeague Major Boston. Those were incredible victories, beautiful moments encapsulated in one stunning night that none who witnessed could forget. However in the cold light of the dawn the magic dissolved like the mists of a waking dream. The will to win was the impetus that drove them to such great heights and the will to win caused key players to leave and find their fortune elsewhere.
The rise of both teams started with a critical roster move involving the same player. In 2016, OpTic recruited Tarik ‘tarik’ Celik into the lineup. This had a cascading effect of forcing Peter “stanislaw” Jarguz into the in-game leadership role and that in turn became the catalyst that eventually triggered their lineup to become one of the best in the world. The roster included: Will ‘RUSH’ Wierzba, stanislaw, Tarik, Oscar ‘mixwell’ Canellas, and Keith ‘NAF’ Markovic. They were a loose, fast paced, and flexible team that swarmed over the enemy with their explosive T-sides. It took them months to reach peak form, but when they did they shocked the world by defeating Astralis and winning ELeague Season 2. It was an incredible victory for NA and can be counted among the best in NA CS:GO history. OpTic soon followed it up with a second place at ECS Season 2 Finals where they lost to Astralis in the finals.
The final LAN this lineup went to was ELeague Atlanta 2017 Major where they bombed out. There were rumors of some potential internal strife among the team and it came to fruition soon after that Major. Stanislaw left to join Liquid as he believed they could win. It was a stunning move at the time and one that was likely correct considering what happened soon afterward.
The story of Cloud9 follows a similar trajectory. Cloud9 had kicked Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert and at the same time Michael “shroud” Grzesiek stepped down from the roster. This created an opening that the team needed to fill. They then recruited tarik and RUSH from OpTic. When Tarik joined, he became the in-game leader for the team and this became the catalyst for Cloud9’s Major winning form. His style of leadership fit well with the players that Cloud9 had and they peaked at the right time in the midst of the ELeague Boston Major. After going 0-2 in the group stages, Cloud9 rallied and were able to make a stunning path to the finals where they beat the presumptive favorites in FaZe to win the first Major Victory for NA in CS:GO history.
Much like OpTic before them. They quickly came off that incredible high. Their next tournament had them come second at the CS Summit 2. Their following results were worse. They dropped out of groups in Starladder i-League Season 4, got top 6 at IEM World Championship, and were eliminated in playoffs at WESG where they lost to Team One. After having multiple mediocre or poor results, Cloud9’s emblematic player Jacky “Stewie2K” Yip left the team to go join SK, currently known as MIBR. In his statement he explains his reasoning,
“I thought about what I wanted and that’s to keep competing, win titles, and raise trophies.”
After his departure, Cloud9 continued to struggle. They first tried to recruit an in-game leader in Pujan “FNS” Mehta. However FNS was unable to convince the others to give him the time needed to implement his changes and Cloud9 decided to go find a different fifth. They never found one and lackluster result stacked upon lackluster result. They got to top 8 at DreamHack Marseille, lost in the group stages of IEM Sydney to TyLoo and FaZe, went out in groups at IEM Proleague Season 7 Finals to FaZe and Heroic, bottomed out of ECS Season 5 Finals losing to Astralis and Fnatic, and lost to Astralis and Na`Vi at ESL One Cologne.
While many of those losses were to strong teams, those amount of losses were unacceptable. With that many trials, if there was something in the squad that could win, surely it would have borne out in some kind of run. It never did and by the end of it, it was clear that this squad was nowhere near championship contention level. As tarik looked around the squad and his situation, he must have felt a familiar sense of dread. He had lived through this once before when he was on OpTic. When Stanislaw left, the team waited for six months trying to find the perfect fifth that never was. That OpTic lineup blew up, but this time instead of waiting around as a passive observer, tarik went on the initiative. He reached out to the MIBR players to see if they’d be interested in having him join the squad and they accepted.
Just like Stanislaw and Stewie2K before him, his reasons were the same. To win. While there are some notable differences between the three exits in terms of what role each player had, the reception they got for their departure, or the exact circumstances, the motives and actions remain the same. Each of those players recognized that their old lineups had played out and they needed to move on if they wanted to win.
Look at what happened to OpTic after stanislaw left. They still had tarik, RUSH, NAF, and Oscar ‘mixwell’ Canellas. They still had four out of five of the players who won that ELeague tournament, but they were a mere shadow of their former selves.
Cloud9 was a bit different as they continued to play with the same five man lineup for a time. However that only further strengthens the case as they were already on the decline as teams started to counter their style. Once Stewie2K left, the results got even worse. Just like OpTic, it didn’t make much sense. Look at the remaining players that the squad still ha: Timothy ‘Autimatic’ Ta, RUSH, Tarik, and Tyler ‘Skadoodle’ Latham. Four out of the five reigning Major Champions. Despite all of that skill and experience as a squad, they were never able to make any kind of significant run off of it.
While roster issues are a legitimate excuse, there should have been some equivalent level of consistency regardless. Look at what FaZe have done in the modern era. They have had roster issues since since Olof ‘olofmeister’ Kajbjer had to take a leave for personal issues. During that time FaZe have two titles and three top four placings. When we look to Astralis last year when Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz had his injury, they were still able to get a second place and a top four without him. This has happened to other teams as well like Fnatic mid 2016 or SK when they had Ricardo ‘fox’ Pacheco stand in for them.
In the harsh light of history, distanced from the immediacy of their incredible victories, the total results speak for themselves. OpTic were not a contender for longer than a few week span. Cloud9 arguably even shorter than that. Neither team lived up to their greatest achievements. Their victories were fluke wins, not in the sense that they were lucky, but in the sense that neither lineup was good enough to ever recreate those results. The biggest confirmation of that idea is from the players actions themselves.
Stanislaw, Stewie2k, and tarik were all closer to the situation than anyone else and all three came to the same conclusion. In order to win, I must leave. That is the cold reality of competition and of those who want to win. At the end of the day, you have to make the best decision for yourself as a player. That victory is the greatest ideal and you must do all in your power to achieve it. It is that ambition that drives all competitors. It is what made them create those OpTic and Cloud9 rosters, it is what pushed them to get those miraculous victories and it is what made them leave. So long as they have that fire in their hearts, this cycle will continue to repeat as players create and abandon teams in search of that elusive victory because that is all that matters.
As tarik says in his farewell post,
“I want to win.”