Days before the start of the NA LCS Summer Split, Cloud9 made the announcement that Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, and Andy “Smoothie” Ta would be sitting out the first week of the split. Cloud9 CEO Jack Etienne cited the organization’s academy team and how the players on that squad were performing better than their LCS counterparts. Etienne went on to say that an LCS roster featuring Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer, Yuri “Keith” Jew, and Tristan “Zeyzal” Stidam would be the “best possible roster” that the team could field.
Alongside Etienne, C9 Head Coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu said that the academy players were “showing passion” en route to a starting spot, as it was implied that players with little to no LCS experience were working much harder during the offseason than players who had been in the league for multiple years.
And while the concept of promoting backup players into the limelight is relatively new for League of Legends, it’s a long-standing act in traditional sports, mainly baseball. Just this past week, the New York Mets released 14-year veteran Adrian Gonzalez in favor of Dominic Smith, a rookie who had only spent about 6 weeks in the majors last season. Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson cited Gonzalez’ struggles, as well as Smith’s potential, similarly to how Etienne and Reapered made the Cloud9 decision based upon the drive that the academy players were showing.
And while the decision to bench three players who have anchored the team for years might come off as brash or unhinged, it still shows that Cloud9, as an organization, is willing to take risks. The Spring Split did not end the way the team would have liked, and after a lackluster end to that campaign, it makes sense to a degree why the team’s front office would be upset, resulting in academy players being called up across the board.
Additionally, League of Legends is a much different game than it was just one month ago. Major changes have overcome the bottom lane, as well as the jungle, and as a result, nearly every player in the world had to adapt. And while we may never know exactly what was happening inside the Cloud9 camp, it’s possible to speculate that perhaps these major shifts in the meta acted as a possible catalyst for the team’s roster changes. While it remains unlikely that professional players struggled with adaptations to a new meta, it’s still possible that players like Keith and Goldenglue were just playing better on Patch 8.11.
With that in mind, the mess that 8.11 brings to the table will only be around for one week in the NA LCS, so it is possible that the roster changes might just be serving as a stopgap until the team’s Spring roster makes necessary changes in strategy and gameplay before week 2 of play.
However, while these changes to Cloud9’s roster definitely show a degree of boldness and strength, they also present much uncertainty and plenty of question marks as the team heads into the dynamic turning point of the season.
While it’s obvious that the organization was willing and eager to make changes across the Rift after an incredibly disappointing end to the Spring Split, bringing sweeping change to the roster might be too brave. This weekend, Cloud9 will field an entirely new lineup in comparison to last year’s World Championship. 5 out of 5 players on stage this weekend weren’t even part of the C9 organization just 8 months ago. Goldenglue and Keith haven’t played on the LCS stage since last Summer, while Zeyzal hasn’t played on the professional level at all. By default, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen has become Cloud9’s longest tenured “star player” and he’s only been with the team for 5 months.
To say that C9 is rushing into these changes would be a massive understatement. And while the team is obviously looking to improve its standing after a disappointing end to last split, perhaps benching the faces of its franchise without even giving them a chance this split is too brash.
Or maybe C9 is bluffing. Maybe the goal of these roster moves is to simply light a fire underneath Jensen, Sneaky, and Smoothie. Complacency is a known issue amongst professional players, and perhaps that disease has spread into the Cloud9 house.
Regardless of why the C9 stars were benched, the more pressing matter becomes ‘how does the team move on?’, and more importantly, how can this brand new roster find 2 victories this weekend. With a difficult opponent on Saturday in Clutch Gaming, and an intriguing matchup against OpTic on Sunday, Cloud9’s weekend opponents look feasible at best and unbearable at worst. Not only will the team’s temporary roster find challenges in an evolving game and formidable opponents, but they will find challenges within themselves.
Adapting to their matchups on the Rift will be hard enough, but Cloud9’s biggest challenge this weekend will surely be finding strength in each other. Even still, Jack Etienne cited how well the team was playing together and how strong this roster looked. As long as his word is accountable, Cloud9 should be fine.
However, if C9 fails to win a game this weekend, plenty of questions would surely arise within the organization, making one wonder if these massive changes to a fairly stable roster were the right move at all. Only 2 days stand between now and the new-look Cloud9’s debut against Clutch, and the result of that game should be a major indicator of the future of the franchise.
This team of question marks could either rise to the occasion and prove everyone wrong, or simply falter, putting an irreversible blemish on the team’s Summer campaign right out of the gate.
Photo Credit: League of Legends, Riot Games, Lolesports