Three weeks ago Stewie suggested he and tarik did not abandon Cloud9 when they went to play for SK/MiBR. The context of the discussion came after Cloud9 owner Jack Etienne attempted to reassure a fan who was concerned about the direction of the line-up and who had said he missed Stewie and tarik. Stewie’s response belies a strange perception of his actions and their consequences for the Cloud9 team. This piece can be considered a long form response on the matter.
Elevated, elated and then exasperated
Cloud9 had been a strong but not elite squad at the close of 2017, recording three notable semi-finals appearances in big international events, but predictably losing to the top ranked FaZe Clan to set the tone that C9 were not a championship squad. The major defied expectations, with the NA side not only winning the trophy – the first in the history of NA CS:GO, mind you – but doing so with victories over the top three ranked teams in the world, albeit with SK having felps, their former member, as a stand-in due to eligibility rules regarding new member boltz.
Right after that the problems set in. cs_summit 2 looked like it was to be a back-to-back success, beating the fully powered SK line-up and going to the final from the winner’s bracket, only for Stew and the crew to fall to Team Liquid there. After that, it was down down down. No play-offs at StarSeries Season 4, a 5th-6th finish at the IEM XII World Championship and a 5th-8th placing at WeSG, a competition which barely featured any top 10 ranked teams by the play-offs arrived, had C9 in a funk, far from champions.
A couple of weeks later Stewie left for SK Gaming, replacing TACO. Left to fend for themselves, C9 floundered in some of the worst form in the history of the organisation, making the play-offs at only one tournament in six tournaments place over the next three months. tarik left the organisation in mid July. Cloud9 has not appeared in the play-offs of an offline tournament since.
To say that Stewie left Cloud9 and joined SK Gaming is a simple matter of fact and carries no implications of how any of the parties felt about the moves, but as such there is no context to be gleaned as to the reasons why and what they hint at regarding the thinking of Stewie and his former organisation. While one dictionary definition of “abandoned” is “left”, as in the previous usage, another is “deserted”. The latter carries the sentiment of no longer wanting to be somewhere or with something and so leaving it behind somewhere and going elsewhere. If that characterisation is hurtful or offensive to Stewie then I would suggest he takes a few moments to reflect upon the context of his decision.
For Stewie, it’s understandable why he would accept SK’s offer to join. C9 had peaked, unexpectedly and seemingly impossibly so, with the biggest single accomplishment anyone from their region had managed in more than a decade. Amazing stuff for a 20 year old who was only just over two years into his professional career. With the team losing to their long-time domestic rivals, who they famously always beat in important matches, and failing to even be relevant as event contenders at the following four LANs, hopes of winning or even matching their strong form of late 2017 seemed naive.
It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest Stewie thought as much and thus took an offer to go elsewhere, admittedly one that was not without risk – SK having had their own struggles after the major and thus in a position of desperation that they made an offer to non-Brazilian talent, to keep alive the dream of being a part of a winning team. SK’s core had not only filled their trophy cabinet with majors and big international titles over the previous two years, making them an attractive destination, but they also featured some of the world’s best players and names already locked for the Hall of Fame, the kind of team-mates any young player would eagerly desire to surround themselves with.
As such, Stewie left what was clearly a bad situation, far from course-correcting in the foreseeable future, and gambled on turning his fortunes around immediately with a blockbuster trade to another beaten up but formerly high level team. That sounds like deserting Cloud9 to me.
A hopeless task
If Stewie believed, as many of the Cloud9 line-up that won the major seem to, that their victory in Boston was no fluke, then why leave after four bad LAN tournaments? Does that not betray a lack of belief in the line-up and its future? It’s rare that a team wins a major and then does not at least attempt to defend their title and repeat, no matter their form.
If C9 had any chances of winning the second major of 2018 then wouldn’t that have been a strong reason to stay, tough out the hard times and attempt to accomplish something legendary – a feat which would have taken an underdog team, in the context of the world’s elite teams, and granted them the kind of victories reserved previously only for the greatest line-ups to ever player CS:GO. Stewie’s choice is not the choice of a man who believed his team could have defended that title.
Legacy aside, SK were a team that could have been argued to have been in a much worse position than Cloud9, prior to Stewie joining. Their history and their names are alluring, but it’s not as if FaZe had decided Stewie was the missing piece necessary to become truly unstoppably dominant and thus the move was obvious and irresistable. C9 or SK returning to the top was uncertain, making departing even more damning, in the context of what it suggests.
Stewie’s statement after leaving the team suggested otherwise, but words which are not in line with a person’s actions can seem hollow or merely for effect:
“I thought hard about this and the most important reason that I did not want to leave because the organization and team were a home to me and it felt like i’ve essentially built this team. Leaving them means I don’t believe in them anymore but that’s not the case. We won a major together I’ve seen the potential in this team. I thought about what I wanted and that’s to keep competing, win titles, and raise trophies.”
Strange he would choose to make SK the team he wanted to win and raise those trophies with, if he truly believed in C9’s potential. Especially as SK were a core who he had beaten twice in notable offline matches a few months prior to joining.
In leaving the team, Stewie still left behind four members of the major-winning side, once Skadoodle was confirmed as being back in the line-up. Their dismal results in the following months took the teams reputation and dumped it into the metaphorical toilet and flushed it. Their past successes, including the major, could not be taken from them, but further fuel was added to the narrative that they had fluked their win at the major and now the team seemed lost and all kinds of broken. Fitting for an abandoned home.
Cloud9 could potentially have rebuilt their squad and gone on to find some modicum of success, so certainly all of the blame for their decrepit state does not fall upon the young star’s shoulders. It is perhaps worth mentioning, off hand, that Stewie had, according to my sources, been a player who had been actively resistant to player changes for the team previously. As such, one could speculate he could have left C9 with a better squad to work with after his departure. Hell, perhaps they could have been a better squad and thus he would not have felt they were worth leaving.
The above does need to be considered in the context of Stewie having been, in many ways, the saviour of Cloud9 after the dark days of seangares’s departure. Both leading the team as their in-game leader and star player, he pulled them back into relevance and made them an attractive destination for talents like autimatic, RUSH and tarik to join. All of which ultimately culminated in the major trophy in Boston. Credit where credit is due. It’s hardly shocking to see why Jack felt it was fair to let his prize piece go, having gained so much from their association.
All-in and all-out
Ask yourself why Stewie was able to leave Cloud9 in the first place. Had he been a free agent, much of what I’ve written above would be a pretty unfavourable, if not spiteful, characterisation. Free agents, in theory, carry no implied loyalty to their team, having fulfilled the terms of their contract and now free to choose where they play next, re-signing if offered and desired or going afield to compete elsewhere and start a new chapter. Stewie was far from a free agent and the circumstances of his departure are seemingly not understood, so the implications have until this point been missed.
Stewie was not just under contract to Cloud9 at the time of his transfer request, but it was later revealed that the team had signed multi-year deals months prior to his departure, presumably following their major victory. What’s more, despite C9 having been rumoured to have slipped down the totem pole of salaries, for teams of a comparable performance level and star power, their new contracts made them among the highest paid players in all of CS:GO and at the top in North America, in that context.
Stewie was able to transfer to SK Gaming for one reason alone, namely owner Jack Etienne allowing him to and accepting an admittedly reportedly record buy-out fee, as Stewie was a player without a set buyout in his contract. Had Jack wished, he could have simply told Stewie he wouldn’t let one of his prize pieces of a major-winning side leave. More subtley, he could have simply put the buyout up to a price which was outside the realm of reasonable consideration, effectively achieving the same result. Instead, Jack wished to reward Stewie’s loyalty to the organisation through the hard times and grant him his leave.
If the shoe fits
Job security, big rewards and the chance to defend your biggest win are pretty compelling reasons to stay with an organisation. Instead, Stewie chose adventure and to align himself with more successful names. I make no judgement regarding that, except that he did not display belief in Cloud9 and abandoned them to gamble on winning with more proven names and decorated champions. Abandoned is an appropriate word to characterise his choice and the outcome. He deserted his team, leaving them to toil in mediocrity; he ignored his intent to remain a player for years as his contract situation suggested; and he later saw another key piece of that former team exit their line-up and join him in MiBR, as SK later became.
Stewie will never be forgotten for some of the great things he did in Cloud9, most notably by the Cloud9 organisation, but it’s easy to see why their owner would feel he and the team were abandoned by a young star they presumably hoped would be the face and franchise player of the team for many years to come, perhaps his whole career – circumstances willing. Cloud9 got a lot of money in exchange for releasing Stewie, but money doesn’t shoot people in the head or plant bombs – to paraphrase football legend Johan Cruyff.
Their organisation has never again risen to even a respectable level as a team and now, with two of their most famous pieces of the major-winning side departed, are far from even top two status in their own North America – where they had ruled with only brief contention from Team Liquid – to say nothing of going from major champions to not even being a top 10 ranked side in the world.
It might be rough for a young man, hoping his team-mates would succeed without him and yet dreaming of becoming a legend and bringing a different organisation back to winning ways, to hear that his decision was to abandon his former team, but it’s hardly an abuse of the term. Stewie took a gamble and the consequences, for good or for ill, follow accordingly. Part of the journey into becoming a mature adult is accepting responsibility for our actions and their effect on those around us. Own it, Stewie. Don’t run from it. You abandoned Cloud9 for MiBR. That might sound harsh, but it also sounds harsh to be an organisation who’ve built a team around a player, won the biggest prize in the game with him and re-signed him for multiple years at the highest salary in his region, only for him to tell them he wants to leave once results turn bad and go help a different team rebuild.
It doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy or even that it was necessarily the wrong move – for what it’s worth I think it was, even in spite of the limited success you found with the Brazilians, probably the right decision, in the context of that time. It does mean you took a bold action and now must live with the stigma of its implications, though.
Should you go on to win significant championships with MiBR, or even elevate Team Liquid to the championship status they desperately seek, then you will become legendary and your departure from C9 merely a footnote in your tale. Until then, it will follow you until you accept the full implications of your decision and move on with them into your future endeavours. It’s my hope Cloud9 fans do not hold hard feelings against you, but a part of me can’t entirely blame them. Life isn’t always fair, as the Cloud9 organisation found out.