One of the few consistent traits Cloud9 carry as a CS:GO team is their inconsistency. One week they can be going out of a tournament in last place without winning a match and the next they end up toe-to-toe with the world champions in the ESL One Cologne final.
This has almost always been an issue for one of NA’s best teams. They are often found around the top end of the NA standings, but internationally it’s an ever-changing landscape. The Cloud9 squad have tried almost everything to fix this, from lengthy bootcamps to changing players and making internal shifts but every band-aid comes loose over time.
One of their recent shifts was moving Jake ‘Stewie2k’ Yip back to the in-game leader position. He was originally calling the shots last year, but a poor run saw them switch to their most recently signed player Timothy ‘autimatic’ Ta for a few months over May and April. Now Stewie is back in the driving seat and believes that he can be the one to lead the team effectively at the upcoming Major, as this will help his other team mates feel more confident in their roles.
“I think it helps Tim individually, a lot, because when he’s calling, he’s a little more hesitant on his play and for me, I’m a little more hesitant too, but I still try to focus on my game,” says Stewie. “So I think when it comes to in-game leading, I’m a little better at multitasking compared to Tim, and I think Tim would honestly rather not IGL. So as long as it takes a little pressure off my teammates’ shoulders, then I’m willing to step up and do it.”
Taking on the role of in-game leader is a big task. While on paper it may just sound like a player just tells the rest of the team what to do when the round starts it actually involves a lot more than that. The team’s coach will work on a lot of the strats but it is down to the in-game leader to help design them, learn when to call them and learn how to adjust them mid-round. They also have to look at ways to counter their opponents and figure out how to have their team be most effective against others that have unique play styles. There’s a lot of homework off the field.
“As an in-game leader, it does take extra work, there’s days where there’s so much work that I don’t even want to do any of the work,” jokes Stewie. “When you come to LANs, especially when you fly 13 hours and your body feels really tired and dry, you just want to rest, but you compete the next day, so you really got to watch your demos, you got to study your opponents, prepare your team, so it does get pretty tiring.”
Fortunately putting in those extra hours seems to have worked. Cloud9 came top four at ECS after beating Astralis and kept that good form rolling to qualify for the PGL Krakow Major a week later. Then, remarkably, last week they pushed for their best finish in years with a close second at ESL One Cologne against SK. There are still issues within their play but with Stewie back as the in-game leader things seem to be improving rapidly. However, Stewie still thinks that he has a long way to go before he can be classed as one of the great IGLs in the game.
“Personally, I think in-game leaders take experience and I’m not an experienced in-game leader, but over time I have become a little more experienced,” says Stewie. “Personally, I think I prefer an experienced in-game leader. For example, if Pronax was on the table compared to me, I would probably take Pronax over me, obviously. So I think experience comes a long way and that’s probably the most important characteristic for an in-game leader.”
While this is of course an off-the-cuff statement, it is remarkable to hear Stewie say that he would rather bring in GODSENT’s Pronax over himself as an IGL. While Stewie has embraced the role and seems to be doing a good job, it does seem that he would much rather be out there without the pressures of having to call. So could we see more changes at C9 as they seek to pick up a dedicated in-game leader?
“Yeah, that’s definitely something I’d like, but right now we’re not sure who to pick up that has a really high skill level,” says Stewie. “Everyone’s always under contract, so it’s way harder to pick them up. But yeah, I think having an in-game leader would definitely help me a lot more.”
Despite the inconsistency from C9 and the switching of in-game leaders they have managed to maintain their grip at the top of the NA scene. While SK is certainly the best team playing in the region C9 can easily stake a good claim to the second place spot, and certainly the top team made up of North American players. Some may say that this is because NA is a somewhat lacking scene with only a few teams that will ever be in the top four, but Stewie thinks that a big change is coming for the region that will make it a lot more competitive.
“I’ve actually thought about this a lot before, I’ve thought ‘are teams getting better or are the top teams getting worse?’” says Stewie. “But if you think about it, I think all these teams are starting to realize that it’s not just a game anymore. There’s so much money involved, there’s so much you can earn, so much attention you can get. So I think teams started getting more hungry, as you saw, CLG made it to the semi-finals (at DreamHack Summer) they played really well. I think at this point, it’s all about who works harder and who’s hungrier for the game, and I think that’s what’s going to make teams better.”
For the time being at least C9 sit towards the very top end of the NA scene and are certainly a threat at international competitions. Some fancy them as a top eight team at the Krakow Major, and we have to say that if they keep improving over the next few weeks with Stewie as in-game leader, then there is no reason why that can’t happen.