Cloud9 found some success during the early days of VALORANT’s competitive scene last year. But with Tyson “TenZ” Ngo stepping away in January to pursue content creation and the team struggling to find wins against top-tier teams, Cloud9 needed to make some changes. Since TenZ went to Sentinels on loan, Cloud9 Blue have found their own secret weapons by looking at the players already on the org’s payroll.
Ricky “Floppy” Kemery and Erick “Xeppaa” Bach have been competing on Cloud9’s CS:GO team since 2019 for the former and since January for the latter. On April 19, both players announced they were officially joining C9 Blue to make the switch to VALORANT. A week later, C9 Blue won six straight maps against top-tier teams to make it to the finals of the VCT’s Stage 2 Challengers 2.
Although TenZ and Sentinels got the better of his former team in the finals, C9’s performance was more than enough to lock up a spot in Challengers Finals this weekend. C9 Blue are one of eight teams competing at Challengers Finals to determine the two teams that will represent North America in Iceland next month at the first international LAN in VALORANT’s history.
Ever since floppy and Xeppaa joined C9, the team has been excelling. Although Xeppaa has yet to get into C9's starting lineup, floppy has been a key part of the team's success.
“I played a month or two of VALORANT when it came out in beta,” floppy said. “But, honestly, I didn’t really like it at the time, so I just kept playing CS. I’ve enjoyed playing with the [rest of C9 Blue] because I knew them all already from CS, so it’s really fun to play with them and we really out here [winning].”
Although Xeppaa is a relatively new addition to Cloud9, the duo of Xeppaa and floppy can actually trace their roots back to one event: The NCS Grand Finals at Fragadelphia 14.
Competing with the team CSGO-MDL, floppy came in with two other teammates on ATK, an organization based in South Africa. The trio was joined by Anthony “vanity” Malaspina (now with Version1’s VALORANT team) from eUnited and Xeppaa, at the time competing under an unsigned team named Rap God.
“I don’t think floppy knew who I was before Fragadelphia,” Xeppaa said. “Vanity was the one who brought me to that LAN, and he’s the one who scouted me for Chaos when they needed a fifth player.”
CSGO-MDL posing with their check after winning Fragadelphia 14. Photo credit: Nerd Street Gamers
Despite a lack of history together, CSGO-MDL won the first-place prize of $20,000 at Fragadelphia 14. Then, the duo’s one-tournament team broke up, and floppy and the rest of the ATK lineup were signed by C9.
“We got signed at the last Fragadelphia LAN for CS,” floppy said. “Everyone was just so hype, we were so happy. There’s a feeling of we made it, but also, you know, you have to keep grinding. You don’t just beat the game when you are signed.”
Xeppaa, meanwhile, was picked up by Chaos Esports in Spring 2020. With Chaos, Xeppaa consistently impressed as the team took home two major first-place finishes with IEM Beijing Online: North America and DreamHack Masters Winter North America. C9 took note.
When 2021 rolled around, both Nathan “leaf” Orf and Xeppaa were recruited by C9 with leaf going straight to VALORANT and Xeppaa bolstering their CS team.
“Joining C9 was a big thing for me. I knew I wasn’t going to stay on Chaos forever, and I always wanted to join a Tier 1 org,” Xeppaa said. “I’m happy I was able to reunite with leaf on C9 Blue as well.”
After C9 pulled out of CS:GO, Xeppaa joined the org’s VALORANT squad.
“After meeting Erick, and seeing the progress he’s made in CS, he’s grown so much as a player from when we played together,” floppy said. “Knowing him from the LAN, and knowing the connection he had with leaf from their time on Chaos, it’s definitely had an impact on C9 Blue.”
Floppy gets interviewed on stage at Fragadelphia 14. Photo credit: Nerd Street Gamers
Although most of the current VALORANT pros have some sort of background in competitive CS, the two games aren’t totally similar when it comes to high-level competition. Most players have had some sort of transition period as they adapt to the changes. For floppy and Xeppaa, the transition was smooth. But the reason they were happy to change wasn’t necessarily a preference of VALORANT over CS when it came to gameplay, it was the structure offered by VALORANT’s NA esports scene.
“What helped me make the switch from CS to VALORANT was that NA CS is kinda dead in my eyes,” Xeppaa explained. “I don’t really want to live in EU with people I don’t know, and I didn’t want to join a lower-tier team. I would rather play with people I know, but the scene’s kinda dead so VALORANT it is.”
“NA CS is kinda down the toilet,” floppy said. “It’s kinda weird to see all the different names of VALORANT teams [signing] these players. That just wasn’t a thing that happened in CS. There’s also the tournaments. Smaller tournaments that weren’t a big deal in CS are huge now -- Nerd Street Gamers has helped with that a lot. It’s like everytime NSG streams, they get 60-80 thousand viewers, so many more viewers compared to what CS was getting.”
There’s a reason orgs have flocked to VALORANT despite the game’s esport scene being less than a year old. Clearly a large audience is already building both domestically and internationally. Ultimately, Riot Games’ track record with League of Legends, the most popular esport in the world, has helped push teams to sign players with regularity. With the esports ecosystem still developing, any org, team or player has a chance to emerge as one of VALORANT’s stars.
Floppy and Xeppaa are both highly regarded by fans of CS. This weekend, the duo will try to add to their young but impressive VALORANT legacy alongside the rest of C9 Blue. Whichever two NA teams emerge to represent the region in Iceland will have a lot on their shoulders as the Stage 2 Masters will establish early bragging rights for the region boasting the top VALORANT teams.
If C9 Blue is going to be one of those two teams, they’ll have to get past a strong Envy squad in the first round of Challengers Finals at 7 p.m. ET tonight on Twitch.tv/nerdstgamers.
Lead image credit: DreamHack