The CS:GO Majors have generally been marked as tournaments that only the best teams of each era could win. Outside of the first miracle run by the Markus ‘pronax’ Wallsten led Fnatic, almost every other Major victory has gone to one of the best teams of the period. Virtus.Pro, NiP, Fnatic, LDLC, EnVyUs, LG, SK, and Astralis were all teams that people picked as either favorites or potential championship contenders before those Majors started. However at the last two Majors we saw two underdog teams pull off miraculous runs to win the entire thing: Gambit and Cloud9. Both were dark horses going into the event and at the apex of all their achievements, they collapsed. This is the fall of the champions.
PGL Krakow 2017 had three teams in attendance that were the odds on favorite to win the tournament. They were a level above everyone else and had proved it time and time again throughout the tournament season. They were Astralis, SK, and FaZe.
Astralis hadn’t attended as many tournaments as the other two, but they were made top 4 at the two they did: ECS Season 3 Finals and IEM Sydney. Both times they were eliminated by the eventual winner and though they lost, you could see that they had the ability to challenge and beat either FaZe or SK. SK were on a hot streak as they attended five tournaments and won four of them, only dropping ESL Proleague Finals to G2 and getting a top four placing there. They were the biggest favorite to win the entire thing and were considered to be the best team in the world. FaZe were the last potential pick as they got 2nd at IEM Sydney, ECS Season 3 Finals, and a top four at ESL One Cologne. All three eliminations came from the hands of SK. However if SK were eliminated somehow (either by Astralis or more likely G2), then FaZe were the clear favorites to win the entire thing.
As for Gambit, they had only attended one tournament before PGL Krakow at DreamHack Open Summer where they got taken out in the groups stage by CLG and Fnatic. While Gambit had impressed many viewers at their ELeague Major Atlanta run, they had a narrow map pool that was primarily focused around cobblestone and overpass. Once that got figured out, they stalled out in the rankings and it looked like they couldn’t get much further.
We would later find out it was far more dire than that post Krakow Major. The team was already on the verge of splitting up as Gambit wanted to kick Mykhailo ‘kane’ Blagin and Daniil ‘Zeus’ Teslenko decided to go with him. On top of that, the team went completely winless in their actual scrims against other teams In a post-game interview during the Major, Dauren ‘AdreN’ Kystaubayev gave some insight.
“It was a terrible two weeks, everything was bad for us, practice especially. Even we didn’t know what we were doing…I want to say sorry to all of the pro players who played against us in practice. Sorry guys.”
Despite or potentially because of the terrible practice, everything came together for the Gambit squad. The fact that they attended so few tournaments prior to the Major meant that all of the other teams at the Major were working on false information. People were still giving respect to their cobblestone and Overpass while Gambit shifted to Inferno and Train as their go-to maps. It took the entire squad to get it to work. AdreN had to be the best player at the tournament. Abay ‘Hobbit’ Khassenov had to be the secondary star who saved them at the very end against Immortals. Rustem ‘mou’ Telepov had to have the game of his life against Astralis and win every retake. Mikhail ‘Dosia’ Stolyarov had an incredible series against Fnatic. Zeus made the perfect call on Train to close the series out against Astralis.
It was a picture perfect moment and Zeus made good on his promise to win a Major in CS:GO. Unlike the movies, the miracle underdog story continued and reality set in. The amazing victory could not resolve the issues within the roster. Soon after Zeus and kane left to join Na`Vi. The remaining Gambit players tried and failed to find a suitable fifth ever since. It has been over an year since their Major victory and they have continued to decline despite having some of the best players in the world.
The rise and fall of Cloud9 followed a similar angle, though it ended differently. After the PGL Krakow Major where Gambit pulled off the miracle, Cloud9 made changes to the lineup as they got Tarik ‘tarik’ Celik and Will ‘RUSH’ Wierzba to join the roster core of Cloud9: Tyler ‘Skadoodle’ Latham, Timothy ‘autimatic’ Ta, and Jacky ‘Stewie2K’ Yip. As the team gained in experience, they proved themselves to be a dangerous side.
They had a lot of skill and fast paced aggression going for them, but they were never able to defeat FaZe clan. In every matchup they played against FaZe, they got destroyed. ESL New York they lost 2-0 with map scores of 16-4 and 16-3. At IEM Oakland they lost 2-0 again with scores of 16-8 and 16-6. At ECS Season 4 Finals they lost 2-0 for a third time with a 16-8 and 16-11 finals.
At the Major itself, Cloud9 were in dire straits. They were 0-2 in the group stage and were playing badly. They weren’t as coordinated or on point as they usually were and it looked like they could be eliminated in the group stages. The team was able to rally back as they were able to beat Virtus.Pro, Astralis, and Vega to make it to the playoffs of the Major.
From that point on, Cloud9 were on fire. Their momentum, confidence, and peak form coincided with the perfect moment for them as they beat G2 and SK to make it to the finals of the tournament. There they met their biggest nemesis in FaZe. It was a mismatch and one where FaZe should have been able to stomp them into the ground. Even moreso after FaZe were able to clutch it out on the first map and win 16-14 on Cloud9’s best map of Mirage.
Overpass should have been a clear victory for FaZe, but Cloud9 were able to run them over on the CT-side of the map as they refused to let NiKo get the space he needed to be his usual impactful self. The final map was Inferno and it remains as a classic of CS:GO Major History. Cloud9 played balls to the wall with their economy, aggression, and guts. They held onto their utility and saved it for the last moment, refused to bite on any of the baits that FaZe threw, and had huge individual performances that allowed them to pull off a miraculous victory.
Where Gambit were the least likely team to win a Major among the various teams that have done it, Cloud9 were the least likely to win their finals as FaZe had historically smashed them in the head-to-head. It was dubbed by Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields as the Miracle in Massachusetts. An apt name as it felt like this incredible moment could only ever happen once.
Fans denied it as they went to social media and spammed how it wasn’t a fluke. That Cloud9 were going to be the best team in the world, that they were going to repeat it, and that they weren’t like Gambit. In a sense they were right in that the Gambit players on some level still believe that their team can work. Even though they have continued to rotate in a new fifth player, the core four remains the same. In the case of Cloud9, the star players abandoned the project.
After getting 2nd at CS Summit after the Major, Cloud9 started to get declining results. The worst of which was at WESG where they lost to Team One, an unknown Brazilian mix that has done nothing since then. After that loss, Stewie2K made the decision to leave the team and join SK to better his chance of winning and to become a better player. Four months after Stewie2K left, Tarik came to the same decision as Stewie2K did. That Cloud9 was a sinking ship, that they weren’t going to make another miracle, that he needed to move on. Soon after he joined MIBR.
Thus the Cloud9 story ended much like Cinderella. The clock struck midnight and the incredible and miraculous fantasies melted away and all that was left was the harsh reality of the competition.
However unlike a fairy tail, the story does not end for either Gambit or the remaining Cloud9 players. Both teams will attend the Major in hopes of making something happen. Both are desperate to keep their teams alive in the tournament. Gambit have recently recruited Andrey ‘B1ad3’ Gorodenskiy as their coach, but as a structured in-game leader the changes he will bring to the team will take a long period of time to see fruition. So for now they struggle in the Challengers Stage of the FACEIT Major London desperate to stay alive.
As for Cloud9, they’ve also made changes to try to save the ship. They have recruited Maikil “Golden” Selim to be their in-game leader and are still trying out Martin “STYKO” Styk. It is a desperate state of affairs for the team as while none of they players are bad, the only superstar player they have on the roster is autimatic. In a scene as competitive as CS:GO, it is near impossible to build a strong team off of the back of one star player, no matter how incredible the team play or tactics are.
Both teams are shining examples of the hope and despair of competition. In their Major Championship runs, they showed the world that anything was possible. That the dark horse or underdog could win. Gambit had one of the worst bootcamps of all time and were able to win the Major. Cloud9 had a terrible matchup against FaZe, but in the ELeague Boston Major Finals, they pulled a miracle that everyone will remember. However after the fireworks, after the champagne, reality came bearing in. Both teams achieved the greatest trophy that every CS:GO teams wants, but neither were able to build a legacy off of it. Instead they show how precipitous the fall can be and now both struggle to survive in an ever increasingly competitive CS:GO world.