The history and formation of Cloud 9 - Part 1 of the Cloud 9 story

In part 1 of the Cloud 9 story, discover the history of the 5 players, from their early LoL roots to forming the team who would qualify for LCS.

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This article was originally published on GameSpot's sister site onGamers.com, which was dedicated to esports coverage.

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Cloud 9 are an American League of Legends phenomenon. Rising up as amateurs in an era in which the North American scene was still under the reign of the titantic force of Team SoloMid, Cloud 9's now famous line-up was immediately able to establish itself as one of the best teams in the region, even before qualifying for LCS, by virtue of their incredible win-rate in practice games and amateur tournaments. When they did qualify for LCS, they recorded an unbelievable 30:3 Summer split, winning over 90% of their games. Internationally they met significantly more resistance, notably from Europe's fnatic, and some speculated that their style had been exposed, anticipating a far less dominant Spring split the following year.

Even with rivals TSM flying in a top European Mid laner to further bolster an already talent-stacked side, Cloud9 defied their detractors this split, going an incredible 29:4 over the Spring split, only one game shy of their previous split record, for a win-rate of over 87%. Cloud 9 are the first NA team to win two LCS splits and have never lost an LCS playoff game. Their combined record in official LCS games stands at 59:7 (89.39%) and including their international record, it is only lowered to a win-rate of a still stellar 82.28% (65:14).

Yet Cloud 9, in contrast to the likes of TSM and CLG, is not a line-up stacked with monster raw talents. Beyond their jungler, Meteos, there is no player in their line-up who is the considered the undisputed best player in the region at their position. Where so many other teams still seek roster changes to increase the skill of their line-ups, focusing on the individual performances of key members, Cloud 9's emphasis on preparation, team-play and a deep and subtle understanding of macro strategy, has allowed them to dominate the North American region and establish themselves as one of the world's best League of Legends teams.

This three part series of articles tells the history of the Cloud 9 players before they joined the team, the rise of the team from feisty amateurs already beating the LCS teams in scrims and the domination of the last two splits by a side which is now in the running for the best in the history of North American LoL.

Part one of the series outlines the competitive background of the five players who are now known as Cloud 9, a tale that begins back in late 2011 and continues through to early June of 2013, as the team made their first entry into the League Championship Series (LCS). One part of the series will be published every day, with part two coming on Tuesday.

The Cloud 9 story

Part 1: The history and formation of Cloud 9

Part 2: A new kind of domination

Part 3: Repeating as champions

The early days

Modern fans of LCS may only know the members of Cloud 9 from their qualification for the LCS Summer 2013 split and eventual domination there, but not all of their players were entirely unknown. Before delving into the Cloud 9 line-up as we know it now, it's worth taking some time to look into the competitive backgrounds of each of the players within the League of Legends sphere.

Initial Orbit

Support player Daerek 'LemonNation' Hart first makes his appearance into the competitive LoL scene playing in a team with LiNk, current mid laner of CLG, in the first quarter of 2012. The team joined the Orbit Gaming (oRb) organisation in the middle of April and immediately won some Go4LoL online cups. On the 21st of May, LiNk and another player left Orbit, leaving them with roster spots to fill.

Hai 'Hai' Du Lam was, at the time, playing on a team called nFear with Nientonsoh, nubbypoohbear and Yazuki, and that team accepted an offer to join the Orbit organisation on the 25th of May. To play with nFear, Hai had accepted a role swap to becoming the dedicated Jungler and that would continue on into Orbit.

The Orbit Gaming line-up now stood as:

Yazuki (Top)

Hai (Jungle)

nubbypoohbear (AP Mid)

Nientonsoh (AD Carry)

LemonNation (Support)

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Their first offline event was the MLG Spring Championship in early June. Seeded last, they were guaranteed to face good teams if they progressed any distance into the bracket. Sure enough, in their second match in the upper bracket oRb faced CLG Prime, a team stacked with legendary North American veteran names like HotshotGG, bigfatlp and Chauster. Despite being vastly overmatched, on paper, oRb managed to take a game from CLG Prime, ultimately losing the series 1:2 and dropping to the lower bracket.

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In the lower bracket they put together a run, winning two series to meet Team SoloMid Evo, the second team of the TSM organisation. Upsetting TSM Evo 2:0, they moved on into the final eight teams standing in the tournament. The result was surprising enough that TSM Evo Top laner described them as a "no name" team in his reddit thread after the event. oRb's MLG Spring run would end in the next match, losing out to CLG.EU, a future European powerhouse who were a week from winning Dreamhack Summer over Moscow Five, in a three game series. Despite finishing 7th-8th in the standings, oRb had given a very favourable account of themselves.

In online competition, oRb were on fire over the next two months, scoring the odd win over the big named teams (TSM and Crs) and only losing to the top teams in the region (Dig, Crs and TSM). If they'd been no names going into MLG Spring, their performance in Anaheim and their online run had ensured the top teams knew who they were as they headed into IPL Face Off: San Francisco Showdown in August. Unfortunately, oRb drew a nightmare bracket, losing to TSM and Curse, the eventual champions and runners-up, in their first two matches to be eliminated in 7th-8th again. Against TSM, they were the only team in attendance to take a single game off the dominant team in the region, with TSM securing their fifth offline tournament title of the year.

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Less than two weeks after IPL, it was the MLG Summer Championship. oRb again met Curse early, losing 1:2 in the their second match in the upper bracket. After running through opposition in the lower bracket, including a repeat victory over TSM Evo, they reached the final of their portion of the bracket, where Curse awaited them again. The format was unusual with the event being two separate brackets which would then yield the two finalists based on who won them. This meant that oRb were coming from the lower part of their bracket and had to beat Curse in two straight Bo3 series to reach the final.

Despite winning the first series 2:0, oRb felling in the deciding third game of the second and crucial series, losing 1:2 to be denied a finals appearance. In the third place decider they faced Team Dynamic, which featured current Coast players NinetendudeX and ZionSpartan, losing 1:2 there to finish in fourth place overall. There would be an unexpected windfall for oRb though, as Curse and Dignitas were found to have colluded to split the prize money in the final, so those teams had their prize money stripped and everyone else in the rankings moved up two spots on the pay-scale. This meant that oRb's fourth place finish yielded them a very tasty $12,000.

Less pleasant, was that finishing fourth, and not third, had prevented oRb from earning the necessary circuit points to qualify for the Season 2 Regional for North America, as they sat tied in eighth place. Instead, they would have to play mMe Ferus for the spot. mMe Ferus, formerly known as mTw.NA, was a team they had battled back and forth with in online competitions, but their opponents got the better of them in this tie-breaker and oRb would not be in attendance at the qualifier for the World Championship.

Enter the WildTurtle

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Two weeks after MLG, AP Mid nubbypoohbear left the team. For a month and a half they tried out Mid laners and AD Carries looking for who their new fifth member would be. Over this time span their online performance was good but not incredible, aside from sneaking a win from Dignitas and TSM. On the 20th of October oRb announced that they would be adding ex-LgN player WildTurtle as their AD Carry, with Nientonsoh moving to take over the AP Mid position nubbypoohbear had left vacant.

The change seemed to have taken an immediate and positive effect, with them finishing runner-up in two online competitions, splitting series with Dignitas and CLG. TSM and Curse were still there to beat them though. The team left the Orbit organisation on the first of November, alleging that some of their prize money had been stolen and promised equipment never delivered. They would attend the Lone Star Clash event in Texas just over a week later, going under the name Reddit Nation. The four team tournament had them facing CLG.EU in the first round of the upper bracket, the European team who had beaten them at their first offline event had now become monsters of the international scene and finished runners-up in OGN Champions Summer and top four at the S2 World Championship.

If CLG.EU had only gotten stronger, though, then the ex-oRb players could boast a similar claim. The series once again went to three games, with oRb taking the second. After beating FeaR in the lower bracket, Hai and company got a crack at Curse offline, the team who had beaten so frequently online and offline. Curse once more held it over them, winning 2:0 to eliminate the team in third. It was announced immediately after the event that the team had signed with the Quantic organisation.

Quantic were unable to qualify for IPL5 and had so-so online form. On the 12th of December, just over a month after joining Quantic, the team was released and they went under the placeholder name NomNom. closing out the year, they again snuck a win off TSM but continued to lose to Curse. Crucially, a top three finish in the Season 3 North American MLG Online Qualifiers secured them a spot at the offline qualifier for the first ever LCS split, to be held in January of the following year.

The Orbit/Quantic team had only really their fourth place at the MLG Summer Championship to show from their offline performances, but online they had scored numerous victories against the big names of the NA scene in 2012. The three teams they had shown the most parity with were Team Dynamic, Dignitas and TSM. Against TD they had won twice as many series as they had lost online and almost double the amount of games. They had a marginally losing record against Dignitas, but edged the record in single games won. TSM were the name to really take note of, as the best team in the North American region, who had dominated seemingly everyone that year, had gone even in online games with Orbit/Quantic at 10:10, despite winning in overall series played.

Orbit had barely played CLG Prime online, losing to them in all instances, and the true thorn in their side had been Saintvicious' Curse. Crs had beaten Orbit in nine out of ten series played and had a ludicrous 19:5 game win-rate against LemonNation's men.

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Cloud 9 is born

Team NomNom began 2013 by renaming themselves to Cloud 9 on January 8th. A few days later they attended the LCS Spring Qualifier offline at the LCS studios. In their group they had Team MRN, The Salad Bar and Azure Gaming. The opening match was against MRN and finished with C9 losing out, due to Hai making the call to base race and that trade going in MRN's favour. After beating The Salad Bar, they faced Bloodwater's Azure Gaming. AG got the better of them and C9 were out of the qualifier before even the bracket phase of the tournament. The team would later state that they hadn't even bothered to play any practice scrims on the day of the qualifier, so confident they had been in making it through.

For all the promise they had shown over the previous year, rarely losing online or offline to teams outside of the top five in NA, C9 would not be competing in the LCS Spring split. The effects of losing in the qualifier were huge, as Nientonsoh and Yazuki left the line-up that day. Nien wanted to try and get onto one of the teams who were to play in that LCS season and Yazuki decided to quit the game entirely. It was initially thought that the entire team would disband, but they decided to continue on together, albeit with openings at the Mid and Top positions.

"We were all super depressed. Nien said he would leave and try to get on to a LCS team. Everyone else wasn't sure what they would be doing. Our manager, Agent, told us that it wasn't meant to be and that we should disband.

Hai said that he wanted to stay together if we wanted to. Turtle said he would be staying if I wanted to stay. I decided to stay, even though my favorite member of the team, Yazuki, decided to leave."

-LemonNation on the effects of losing in the LCS Spring 2013 qualifier (Reddit, 2013)

Grabbing balls in the top lane

Over the next month, Cloud 9 would compete in the online Rising Stars Invitational tournaments, experimenting with a number of different players at different positions. The first change of note was that Hai shifted down to playing the Mid lane and they looked for different Junglers and Top laners to be their fourth and fifth permanent players. One player who made the cut was Top laner An 'BalIs' Van Le, whose previous team, Meat Playground, had disbanded just before the second Rising Stars Invitational. He began playing with Cloud 9 and they had soon found their new Top laner.

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Balls' history went back even further than oRb, as he had been a member of the core line-up that had been known by the names APictureOfAGoose, mTw.NA and mMe Ferus. Over a stretch of time spanning late 2011 to the late 2012, the team had featured the likes of current XDG members Xmithie, Zuna and mandatorycloud, as well as current CLG Support Aphromoo. Balls had at times played the AD Carry position, most well known for his Ezreal, before transitioning to the Top lane to accommodate Aphromoo becoming their AD Carry half way through the year. The team had been spectacular online, beating all the top teams on numerous occasions and winning many online competitions. Offline, though, they had been unable to replicate the same kind of success.

Their best finishes were a fourth at IPL Face Off, beating Team Dynamic and Singapore Sentinels, and a top six at the MLG Summer Championship, beating TSM Evo. At the Season 2 Regional final for North America, they had been unfortunate enough to get TSM in the first round and exited after only two games. Balls left the team in late October of 2012, citing a desire to play the AD Carry position again and feeling he couldn't keep to the strict practice schedule they had in place.

"I left the team at the time because i was getting really frustrated playing top lane because it was suicide lane with no wards and i liked playing ad at the time because you have vision and can do whatever you want as of that meta. I also started going to scrims late and not dedicating myself too much for the team because of that, so i just decided to tell them that it was probably better if they got someone else to play top besides me for the team. I was also in college and our scrim schedule was pretty tight and i just wanted to chill and relax from all the stress. I also used to rage a little bit and toned it down afterwards."

-Balls on why he left mMe Ferus in October of 2012 (Reddit, 2013)

Balls got his wish to play AD Carry on another team, being picked up by Meat Playground. Attending the LCS Spring qualifier, they got out of their group, but lost to FeaR, Ball's ex-team-mates from mMe Ferus under a new name, and MRN, the same team which had beaten Cloud 9 in the group stage. 10 days after the qualifier, Meat Playground had disbanded and Balls had gone onto the free market. Now he could resume his position as a Top laner, playing for Cloud 9. In an AMA in July of 2012, Hai had named Balls the most difficult player to play against on mTw.NA, so the team was well aware of Balls' potential in the Top lane. Now all Cloud 9 lacked was a Jungler.

Finding a rising star, deep in the jungle

After the fourth Rising Stars Invitational, Cloud 9 decided to try out the unknown William 'Meteos' Hartman at the Jungle position. Meteos had been a solo queue player for a long time, playing on high ping but racking up thousands of wins. He ventured into competitive play in 2012 with Team Normal Stars, a team including of some of his friends. They had not attended the LCS qualifiers, due to their Top laner being under the age of 17 and Riot Games restricting competition in their league to players that age or older.

Meeting Cloud 9 AD Carry WildTurtle on solo queue, Meteos was given the opportunity to sub in for C9 in the fifth and sixth Rising Stars Invitational online competitions. Orbit/Cloud9 had face Meteos in online competition previously and liking what they say during his trial period they decided to make the change permanent.

"When meteos first joined the team there were some issues between meteos and hai getting in to arguments, mainly due to Hai's tendency to be hotheaded, but once we all moved in together we have basically not had any issues at all. In person Hai tends to be a lot more level-headed!"

-LemonNation on Meteos' addition to Cloud 9 (Reddit, 2013)

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A crucial component of adding addition of Meteos had been that it allowed Cloud 9 to set in place a more effective system of shot-calling and hone their strategical approach. When the line-up was ready for LCS competition, they would have LemonNation preparing their picks and bans; Meteos calling what to do regarding buffs, dragons and barons; and Hai covering all other shot-calling situations. As the LCS would later come to find out, this was to prove a near unstoppable systematic approach to the game.

The team had won the two Rising Stars Invitational tournaments after Meteos' addition and headed to the offline LCS Summer Promotion qualifier, not to be confused with the actual Promotion tournament itself which decides who gets into LCS, which was to be held at the MLG event in Dallas in mid March of 2013. Here they went undefeated, taking out Dignitas Academy and Velocity by a combined 4:0, securing $20,000 in prize money.

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An unexpected outcome of the MLG event, which none of them could have foreseen, was that it would play a part in seeing TSM remove long-time AD Carry Chaox, due to them deeming the player's extracurricular activities and general attitude untenable. WildTurtle had been listed as sub for TSM since February, though, like most subs, he had never gotten to play or needed to do anything to fulfill that role. TSM decided to suspend Chaox for a week of LCS and bring in WildTurtle to fill his spot for the week.

The young AD Carry scored a pentakill during an LCS game against compLexity and was given the MVP award for the week. TSM decided to remove Chaox permanently and add WildTurtle as their new AD Carry. What was great news for WildTurtle meant that Cloud9 suddenly needed to recruit a third player that year. First, though, they joined the Quantic organisation, again, on the first of April. They initially thought they had an obvious candidate for the open position in the very man Turtle had replaced: Chaox. The ex-TSM man turned the offer down though, instead choosing to take a break and travel a number of Asian countries, visting team houses there and experiencing the different scenes.

"When wildturtle joined TSM, before we picked up sneaky, we offered Chaox to come and join our team. He turned it down.

[...]

When we invited him we were just an amateur team, hoping to make it into LCS. We looked like a decent amateur team, but this was before we even started beating all the top LCS teams in scrims. We didn't start doing that until after we picked up Sneaky. Chaox took our offer into consideration, but chose to go to China instead."

-LemonNation on Quantic's attempt to get Chaox to join as their AD Carry (Reddit, 2013)

Quantic again

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Five days after joining Quantic, the team officially picked up Zachary 'SnEaKyCaStRoO' Scuderi as their AD Carry. Sneaky, as he would come to be known, had previously played in teams like Absolute Legends NA and Pulse eSports. With the latter, he had attended the LCS Spring qualifier, losing two key games in the group stage to The Brunch Club. When the team had disbanded, the manager of that team, Kaniggit, had reached out to Hai and recommended Sneaky as a potential replacement for WildTurtle. Hai and Quantic decided to try Sneaky out and they liked what they saw. They had competed against Sneaky online in Rising Stars and offline at MLG, where he had been playing for Dignitas Academy.

"Sneaky got the spot because he was really good at ADC. None of us knew him at all before we tried him out, although we had played against him in tournaments. We chose him because he was fucking good. So I recommend being fucking good if you want to become a professional LoL player."

-LemonNation on the addition of Sneaky to Quantic (Reddit, 2013)

The Cloud 9 line-up as we now know it was set in place, albeit under the Quantic name. Now they just needed to qualify for the next split of LCS, something four of them had already failed to do the previous time around. This time would be very different though. This was a new team, the likes of which North America had never seen. This was a team that out-thought teams more than out-played them. A new breed of elite North American LoL team had been born, the world just didn't know it yet.

The run up to the qualifier

Less than a week after adding Sneaky, Quantic attended the offline IPL-hosted Summer Promotion Qualifier. Three series later and they had secured another big cheque, this one worth $10,000. Their victims were Dignitas Academy and Velocity again, but Curse Academy also found themselves added to the hit list. Dig and Crs had managed to draw the series out to three games, but Quantic had prevailed nonetheless. Twelve days later, they play in the online Razer League of Legends Challenge and beat Pulse and Velocity, the latter who had become their whipping boys seemingly.

Dominance at the Promotion tournament

"Well, last time around I believed in what people were saying, because they all said we were gonna make it, so I thought "Yeah, they're probably right, we're gonna make it" and I just kinda got lost in that. I thought it was gonna happen and it didn't happen. I've learned since then that I should just trust my own instincts and feel differently about things like that. So I don't go into it cocky or hotheaded, just take it one game at a time and just understand that I can always lose. Not let the hype get to me, basically, we're just another team."

-Hai on the change in attitude he underwent between the LCS qualifiers (Riot, 2013)

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Quantic were to face Team Astral Poke (TAP) in the Challenger match, a Bo3 which would decide if they would progress to play in the Promotion series against an ex-LCS team. Despite their form online and offline in the lead up to LCS Summer Promotion tournament, Hai was not nearly as certain they would make it into the LCS as he had been prior to the Spring qualifier. The Quantic Mid laner even filled out forms to potentially attend school, in the event he didn't succeed at the qualifier.

That's not to say that Quantic hadn't gone all-in on making the qualifier a success, though, as they had moved into the house of the Quantic owner just under a month prior to the qualifier. That temporary residence would last them until the qualifier and then they'd be able to move out and find their own place, should they qualify for LCS itself.

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Their practice leading up to the qualifier had been scarily effective, as Hai would reveal in an interview at the qualifier that his team had been winning 80-90% of their scrims against top LCS teams, including many wins over TSM, Dignitas and CLG. What's more, they had never lost a practice game against some of the other teams who would be playing in the promotion tournament.

Each member of the team had also been heavily investing time into solo queue play, something they felt some of the LCS pros overlooked, but which they viewed as essential to maintaining the level of their mechanics. LemonNation, Support player of the team, was ranked first on the NA ladder going into the qualifier, with multiple accounts in the top ten. Hai has also been top of the ladder that month and Sneaky and Meteos had made it into the top 11.

"I think we're like 20 and 3 vs TSM, we're like 10 and 3 vs Dignitas, and with CLG we're like, 13 and 3."

-Hai on Quantic's scrim record against top LCS sides (Gamespot, 2013)

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In the series against TAP, Quantic were unstoppable, dominating the games from start to finish and ending both before 21 minutes had passed, the first from a surrender and the second a brutal 21:3 kill massacre. They had passed the first test and now would face ex-LCS team compLexity the following day. Those who hoped coL, who had managed to beat every team in the LCS minus TSM during the regular portion of the Spring split, would provide more resistence, would be left disappointed.

coL did a much better job of scoring kills in the series, but Quantic still ran over in them in each and every game, winning skirmishs, instantly counter-ganking and taking objective after objective. No matter the action in the early game, Quantic were the ones taking down towers and pressuring the game towards a conclusion when the mid to late game arrived. NA had never seen a team on this tactical level before, even if it was still only the LCS qualifiers. Quantic won 3:0 to go undefeated over the entire Promotion tournament, earning themselves entry into the Summer split of the LCS.

The tournament had also seen the early signs of a potential star within Quantic's midst, and it was the player with the least competitive experience or exposure of all of them: Meteos. The Jungler had not died a single time over the five games, leaving him at an insane 45 KDA. Soon the world would come to know just how good Meteos was.

"We did not do anything special for Col at all. We did not dissect them, and I don't really see a benefit of doing so. We just played like we normally do, against everyone we've practiced with in scrims. And although other teams were able to handle our pressure better than Col did, the vast majority of our scrims have been about as clean as the tourney games.

[...]

Their last game that we could watch was around a month ago. It was just too long ago for it to be relevant anymore. We just play our own game and make them adapt to us.

[...]

We didn't win from outplaying them mechanically. Even in the games where it took a long time for first blood to happen, we were still clearly winning. We won from objectives, plain and simple.

[...]

people have been praising our mechanics, which is fine, but is shortsighted, and is just basing that off our Solo Q stats. The reason we have beat all the top teams consistently in scrims is because we know how to pressure better."

-LemonNation speaking about his team's win over coL at the Promotion tournament (Reddit, 2013)

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12 days after qualifying for LCS Summer, it was announced that Quantic would revert to the Cloud 9 name, which would now become a new organisation, spear-headed by former TSM manager Jack Etienne. Etienne had paid $10,000 of his own money to buy the line-up from Quantic, such was his confidence in them as an LCS team. They found their own house and began preparing to enter LCS.

Prior to the Cloud 9 deal, the team had taken on Alex Penn, co-found of Leaguepedia, as their analyst. Penn would contribute to their research into teams, helping them compile data on opponents and other teams from around the world. The C9 organisation decided to honour the prior arrangement, allowing Penn to stay on as their analyst for the Summer split. At the time, having an analyst was a big deal, even if the world didn't really know exactly what Penn did or didn't do for the team, as almost no Western teams had embraced outside analysis in any form. The team needed no coach, as LemonNation would oversee much of the research and do much of the planning for the LCS matches. The LCS would soon come to learn that he was a master of the pick/ban phase.

"Even if we wanted to bring in another person to help out in addition to alex, we lack the room in our apartment. It is already pretty cramped with 6 people here. We currently do not really have any issues as a team as well, so I don't really see how a coach would help us, at least at this point in time. Alex Penn is more of a straight analyst atm."

-LemonNation on whether Cloud 9 would recruit a full-time coach (Reddit, 2013)

Before LCS began, there was the small matter of finishing up the online season of the National EPS Season VI competition. Over April and May, they had gone 6:1 in series and 12:3 in games, defeating everyone but Quas' New World Eclipse. In the playoffs of early June, they crushed Curse Academy and Velocity, each 2:0, to take the title and $6,000, the last prize money they would win as amateur League of Legends players.

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Part two of the Cloud 9 story, covering their first LCS split title and form over the rest of 2013, will be released tomorrow, on Tuesday.

Photo credit: Major League Gaming, Riot Games, ESFI

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