Cloud9’s 2021 Mid-Season Invitational run was not the triumph that some had thought it would be. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the North American squad from attending the 2020 international event. Then, they missed their chance at the World Championships in the 2020 summer split.
But, this MSI was supposed to be much different. Robert “Blaber” Huang continued to be a top performer in his role, and the additions of Luka “Perkz” Perković and Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami added a new dynamic to the squad. Before the trip, Cloud9 and Blaber had a clear goal for the team in the jungler’s debut as a starter on the international stage: to get top four.
“Not top four is honestly a failure for us,” Blaber said of MSI 2021. “There are only four major regions and I honestly think that we can win a lot here.”
But the North American representatives came home just one place shy of their goal. They have returned to the League of Legends Championship Series a little worse for wear. Their overall record in the summer split so far is 6-6, with the side coming off an 0-3 in Week 3, and s 2-1 for Week 4.
Blaber before MSI 2021
Cloud9 has had Blaber on their roster for some time now. They even took him to international events as a substitute in 2018 and 2019. The then-substitute played a few games here and there; his overall record before this year’s MSI was six wins and four losses. He and current Evil Geniuses jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen swapped in and out of the starting role in 2018 and 2019. But, in the end, the Dane always had the starting spot at international tournaments.
The biggest difference between being a starter and a substitute is the stress of not playing. This is why, according to Blaber, international events have seen less substitutes thrown into the mix.
“You can be stressed about doing well and how your team is performing, but there’s no stress of getting benched or if you’re getting enough playtime,” he said.
At Worlds 2018 and 2019, Blaber’s path to starting was less about form and more about securing a win in the best-of-one format. Cloud9’s previous coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu would throw in the young American to play a specific champion or strategy as a way to gain wins, which on the World’s stage, comes at a premium.
In 2018, Cloud9 made history as the first North American team to defeat a Korean squad in a best-of-five series. They finished top four and brought some hope to North American fans. At the 2019 World Championships, however, they did not repeat the same success. Cloud9 didn’t even make the knockout stage that year, while Blaber was in the green room for the majority of those important or historic games.
Blaber’s scuttle crab moment
Blaber, and the rest of the world, will associate his starting debut at MSI 2021 with one play. The moment when he used his flash to take a scuttle crab. Following this bold play, Blaber died early in Cloud9’s second game of the event, against DetonatioN FocusMe.
Both junglers began on the bottom side of the rift. DFM’s Mun “Steal” Geon-yeong on Udyr cleared his entire jungle, taking the time to finish off his gromp before heading over to the scuttle crab. Blaber, on Nidalee, skipped his final camp and ran over to Steal’s jungle to track the Korean player. He spotted his counterpart with a ward. He then pathed over to the scrying orb to continue the vision battle.
Once Blaber saw Udyr going for the scuttle crab, he pounced. Both of his solo laners hovered around the river. Fudge fought for gold, and PerkZ fought for positioning as Blaber went for the crab. Just as Steal brought the crab into Smite damage range, Blaber attacked. Steal stunned the Cloud9 jungler and laid on damage. Blaber ignored him and flashed to smite the crab, gaining a slight gold lead and vision in the river. But, the play backfired as Steal ran him down. As Blaber tried to run away, he was killed.
“That is the worst scuttle take I have ever seen in my life!” David “Phreak” Turley said as Steal walked away from his conquest with a smile on his face.
The play was instantly all over social media. Even Cloud9’s own social media team got in on the joke.
— Cloud9 (@Cloud9) May 14, 2021
Blaber said the play was obviously not his best of the tournament, but that he couldn’t dwell on it too much afterwards.
According to Cloud9’s coach Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez, Blaber may have still been reeling from their first game against the tournament runner’s up, DWG KIA. In that game, DWG KIA took both early crabs from Blaber. This set him behind early.
“He felt like he had a trauma that he’s going to get double crabbed and then he suicides basically,” Mithy said. “He just ran it down.”
For the Cloud9 jungler, his starting debut was not what he had hoped. While he and his team performed decently at the event, many will only remember this specific play, and paint his performance with that brush.
“I honestly don’t think I played bad, by any means,” Blaber said. “I had some really bad games at the beginning of MSI and I think a lot of people just remember those games, obviously flashing for the crab. But, regardless, I think MSI was not the best thing for us in general.”
Cloud9’s return to the LCS and hopes for the future
Cloud9 left the tournament in fifth place; one position shy of their goal. Blaber said the team dropped many games that they could’ve won, but that they didn’t play as poorly as their placement might suggest. As the team returned to domestic play, many expected the same Cloud9 to return and make a run at the top spot in the regular season. Even with the substitution on Calvin “k1ng” Truong, the hopes for Cloud9 were high.
But, the team came into the LCS with new problems from their MSI run.
“I felt like at MSI, we were losing a lot in the early game. While we were able to come back during the mid to late game to fight them, our team fighting was pretty good our mid-game macro was good. It feels like we’ve lost a bit of that right now,” Blaber said. “We aren’t team fighting as well and we’re getting early game leads, but we’re struggling to turn to them into anything. I felt like at MSI everything was the exact opposite.”
After the team’s 2-1 for Week 4, and the reintroduction of veteran bot laner Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, some of these problems subsided. With the second-half of the summer split coming up, Cloud9 and Blaber will look to recreate their usual domestic run to a World Championship appearance.
But for the LCS 2021 spring split MVP, dwelling on MSI, his scuttle crab misplay or his team’s 0-3 record for the week before, is futile.
“You can’t really think about the past,” Blaber said.