Cloud 9: The FNS Conundrum
Stewie2k's shock departure from Cloud 9 set the ball rolling. The decision to leave for SK Gaming was in itself a surprise, considering the fact that the North American stack had just won the Major on home soil.
Cloud 9 were powerless to prevent the Stewie-SK move. The events that transpired after the transfer though, is where Cloud 9 might have gone wrong.
There were reports that Cloud 9 were in the market for an IGL, with Tarik looking to give up the reins and return to his role as a rifler, several names were thrown into the mix.
Since Skadoodle was also rumoured to be leaving the C9 roster, many had tipped Nifty to join the stack as the Awper and IGL.
FNS - A solution closer to the home soil
Xizt was one of the most prominent names linked with Cloud 9. The North American organization though, chose to go with a face familiar to the players already on the team - Pujan 'FNS' Mehta.
The move could have been a clever decision as some of the players already had experience of playing under FNS's tactical style.
But, perhaps, they should have turned to look at a certain Swede who had only recently taken up the IGL role - Adam 'Friberg' Friberg.
Granted, the move would have been a gamble, with Friberg new to the role along with the blotch of a failed attempt to lead what was an international stack at Optic Gaming.
On the other hand, FNS could have been a success, with the familiarity factor. The results under FNS though, say otherwise.
Cloud 9 have attended three major LAN events with the Canadian, starting off with Dreamhack Masters - Marseille.
The Road After
The event started off brightly for Cloud 9, with a nervy Overtime win over G2 followed by a brilliant Bo3 victory over Faze - a win that saw them top Group A and qualify for the playoffs in their first event under FNS.
But, their Bo3 loss in straight maps to an underperforming Gambit brought a premature end to their campaign and C9 had to be content with a Top8 finish at Marseille.
There were positives to take away from the event, though, with many tipping FNS to lead Cloud 9 well.
IEM Sydney though, was where we saw chinks in the armour of the new side. Losing in straight maps to Tyloo, conceding a map to ORDER and crumbling against Faze - Cloud 9 failed to reach double figures in either map against the European stack - there was evidence enough that the move might not work.
One of the main points that led me to believe this was the fact FNS topped the scoreboard for Cloud 9 against Faze.
While, on occasions, an IGL top fragging in a server bodes well, in Cloud 9's case, it seemed more like the players' inability or inadvertence to FNS's tactics. Another Top 8 finish did not look bad on paper, but considering the teams they faced, Cloud 9 should have done better.
Returning to home soil for the EPL Season 7 finals in Dallas, there were hopes that the team would perform better.
But, Cloud 9 fell like a stack of cards against Faze on Cache in their opening match, managing just three rounds, despite winning the first-half pistol - all due to the individual effort of FNS.
Again, the inability to register frags came to the fore - RUSH had 3 kills in the entire game while FNS managed to add just one more kill after the pistol round 4k. If their defeat to Faze wasn't bad enough, their struggle against Sharks showed just how far they were from the Cloud 9 that won the Major and had looked like a genuine Top 4 side in the world before Stewie2k's departure.
Despite conceding a map against Sharks, they managed to overcome the Brazilians. But, they then crumbled in straight maps again - this time to a Heroic side that although had positive results at the event thus far, beating NRG convincingly while coming close to beating Natus Vincere, had a stand-in in cromen and a new IGL in the form of Friberg.
Friberg, like FNS, had just one highlight in the entire series. But, it was the former's plays to gain information that were vital to Heroic's victory and Cloud 9's elimination from the event.
Cloud 9's results online have been decent. But, it all comes down to LANs. The online form will only get you qualified to LAN events. Thus, the form at LAN events will be the discerning factor in mapping the stack's success.
The FNS - Friberg Comparison
Comparing the two IGLs, FNS has considerably more experience in the role than Friberg and has a clearly mapped idea of what his tactical style is.
Meanwhile, Friberg is still experimenting and adding things as he goes along. Considering firepower, Friberg will definitely contribute more to the team than FNS, who has always been considered to be a pure IGL, despite a shallow selection pool, as far as Friberg's matches as IGL are concerned.
Also, Friberg has been a winner his entire career and despite the fact that FNS has won less, the Swede is likely to be more determined and hungry for success.
For once one has tasted success, he will be eager to return to the pedestal compared to one who hasn't tasted it at all. Another factor to consider is the success of European imports in North America.
In terms of finding an IGL, the NA region does not have many options to choose from, which restricts the playing style to an extent.
Granted, Friberg's IGL style will be fresh and perhaps, a mixture of many ideas. But, maybe that is what Cloud 9 needs. With capable riflers like RUSH, Autimatic and Tarik and a star Awper like Skadoodle, maybe, just maybe, an injection of fresh ideas will not be the worst of things.
Friberg or not, the FNS experiment is unlikely to last long. There are two big events before the FACEIT Major - ECS Season 5 Finals and ESL ONE Cologne in June and July respectively.
Cloud 9 have four of the five players from the Major-winning squad and if FNS cannot lead the North American organization to better results at the aforementioned LANs, expect the core to seek a new IGL before they take the flight to London to defend their Major crown.