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The first day of VALORANT North America LCQ took place on Oct. 12. The second day took place two weeks later, on Oct. 27. The long delay, owing to a series of false positive COVID tests at the originally planned LAN event, meant that the players had to be sent home and the event held fully online instead.

Cloud9 Blue was one of the teams scheduled to play on Oct. 13. They had been very much looking forward to stepping onstage for the first time in their VALORANT careers. 17-year-old Nathan “leaf” Orf was excited for his first offline tournament, while veteran Son “xeta” Seon-ho was raring to get back to offline play after a year of online-only events. The abrupt change in format was a disappointment to everyone.

“It sucks,” said team captain Anthony “vanity” Malaspina. “We were excited to play matches at LAN. It’s been a long time for a lot of my teammates, and for some of them it would’ve been their first big LAN. We were looking forward to it. But I don’t think it would’ve affected much; I think the results would’ve been the same regardless of when the tournament was played.”

Cloud9 Blue’s VALORANT LCQ  journey so far

Cloud9 Blue were touted as one of the favorites to win the whole tournament coming into NA LCQ. When they finally played their first-round match against Version1 on Oct. 27, it seemed like that would hold true. They won the series relatively painlessly and moved on to semifinals directly after.

Vanity at VALORANT Masters Reykjavík
Vanity at VALORANT Masters Reykjavík. | Provided by Riot Games

Vanity, who had played with Version1 during Stage 2 Masters: Reykjavík, was pleased to have beaten his former team.

“It was easy,” Vanity said with a laugh. “Kidding! It was fun. I feel like usually when people leave teams, they lose the first match. It’s like the law of the universe. But I broke the law somehow.”

He was also quick to note, however, that there was no bad blood between him and his former team, and he didn’t see them as a particular obstacle that needed to be overcome.

“I’m still really good friends with a lot of them,” he said.

After Version1, Cloud9 Blue faced off against Rise, a team that vanity called “one of the best teams in the tournament.” The two squads battled it out fiercely on the first map. It was an intense back-and-forth the whole way through and eventually went to overtime, with Rise inching ahead to a 14-13 scoreline.

Then Rise’s Phat “supamen” Le’s power went out.

“There is no f*cking way I’m having a power outage right f*cking now,” supamen tweeted.

After about an hour, it was clear that the power issue wouldn’t be resolved in time for the match to be completed in the same day. So Cloud9 Blue and Rise resigned themselves to yet another delay – this time, right in the middle of their match. The game resumed the following day and the two teams played a single round that ended in Rise taking Breeze 15-13.

For a player like leaf, who says that he improves as he keeps playing, it was a frustrating interruption in momentum.

“As a match goes on, I get better and better,” said leaf. “It was kind of a bummer because yesterday, we played that entire map of Breeze and maybe if we’d carried it over, we could have won it today.”

Starting off a new day with an immediate loss was a strange sensation, and one that affected the players’ mentality.

“It felt really weird,” xeta said. “We just started, and then we lost. I didn’t feel like we played the first map at all, but we already lost. That feeling is really weird. It’s the first time I’ve had it in my entire career.”

Still, there was no use dwelling on the past, and Cloud9 Blue refocused for the second map. They started out slow there, losing the first six rounds in a row, but quickly rallied back and won the map in another exhilarating overtime situation. That left only Haven, which was Cloud9 Blue’s map pick.

Unfortunately for them, Rise seemed a different beast on Haven, and Cloud9 Blue found themselves edged out at every turn. The map ended at 13-4 to Rise, sending Cloud9 Blue to the lower bracket.

Moving forward

Looking back on the series, the Cloud9 Blue players all have different things they want to work on. Vanity wants them to improve their communication, while xeta thinks that they need to work on their micro decision-making. But all of them agree on two things. One: Rise is their biggest competition in NA LCQ. And two: of the players on Rise, supamen was the most difficult to play against.

“The rest of them are all really, really good, but supamen has those maps where he’s really on,” leaf said. “I think there was one round where he literally just ran through a Viper smoke and 4Ked us. And sometimes that happens, but it happens a lot with him. He’s insanely consistent, and he’s probably one of the top five Controllers in NA.”

C9 Xeta at First Strike Korea
Xeta’s last offline tournament was First Strike Korea in Dec 2020. | Provided by Riot Korea

The difficulty of the matchup goes deeper than one player, however. According to leaf, Rise may be Cloud9 Blue’s most difficult matchup – even more so than top teams like Sentinels and Envy.

“I’m not saying they’re better [than Sentinels or Envy], but they’re harder for us to play against,” leaf said. “They have a lot of chemistry and really good mechanics. We’re all pretty deductive players and they just do stuff randomly. Obviously they have a reason, but it’s so hard to know what that reason is. It seems like every time we play them, we always play right into what they’re thinking.”

Rise may have prevailed in the end, but Cloud9 Blue still made it a very close series. It’s entirely possible that, when the dust has settled, these are the two teams we see facing off in the grand finals. And next time they meet, Cloud9 Blue is determined to change the outcome.

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to a rematch if I have a chance,” xeta said cheerfully. “I really, really hope I can play Rise again.”