The first clash between North America and Europe at the VALORANT Champions Tour event in Berlin gave fans everything they could’ve wished for. Cloud9 and Fnatic went back and forth in a nailbiter series, taking it to overtime on the third map, Fracture.
Though Cloud9 fought tooth and nail, the series went in Fnatic’s favor. For in-game leader Anthony “vanity” Malaspina, the defeat tasted bitter, but he remained optimistic in an interview with Upcomer after the series concluded. He reflected on the growth his team has experienced in recent months, and the lessons they’ve learned.
Steady improvement in the team
The newest addition to Cloud9, vanity, took on the role of in-game leader swiftly after joining the organization in August. As an outsider, he had observed the team’s games and it was clear to him what the lineup lacked. “I watched them play and I could see that there was a lack of someone who just says “This is what we’re gonna do.” It’s really important to have,” vanity explained.
Recognizing that creating structure is one of his strengths, vanity worked with the team to tidy up their internal communication. “I think the biggest improvement we’ve made as a team is just listening to each other,” he said.
Vanity cites Cloud9’s team atmosphere as one of the reasons that steady improvement was possible. Mitch “mitch” Semago, Nathan “leaf” Orf and Son “xeta” Seon-ho have been playing together for almost a year.
As for vanity himself, he has a history with two of his current teammates as well. He was the in-game leader on Chaos Esports’ CS:GO lineup, where he played alongside Erick “Xeppaa” Bach and leaf. Even when they weren’t on a team together, vanity said they stayed in touch on a near-daily basis.
Preparation for VCT Champions
The team’s dynamic is key for Cloud9’s tournament preparation. The squad had to go through North America’s Last Chance Qualifier in order to claim a ticket to VCT Champions, walking a thin rope to Berlin. When drawing up strategies to take down the opposition, the whole team provides input.
“We are really good at having open discussions,” vanity said, “Someone will see something, and we’ll discuss it to see if it’s something we should implement.” Being receptive to feedback is pivotal, he added, and he was glad to see his teammates’ open-mindedness in their preparation for VCT Champions.
The international competition is difficult at VALORANT’s world championship event. Scouting opponents from completely different regions is tough, vanity said. So instead, Cloud9 focused on themselves and tried to polish their own gameplay as much as possible.
“I think a lot of teams at this level are completely capable of adapting on the fly,” vanity said, evaluating his opposition. He noted that finding consistent counter-strategies to opponents is difficult because of other teams’ flexibility.
However, Cloud9 are more than capable of doing the same thing, vanity stated, “We don’t get stuck on playing a specific meta comp. I think it’s important to build flexibility in players, to learn how to play the game regardless of what agent you’re on.”
Learning from the loss against Fnatic
Reflecting on the loss at VCT Champions against Fnatic, vanity thinks that his team needed to be more flexible. Especially on the third map, Fracture, VALORANT’s newest map. “We’ve only practiced two comps on it, and we went back and forth between those two. [Fnatic] did a really good job and they had a really good game. That’s the risk you take when you play a new map.”
Another factor vanity mentioned as a contribution to his team’s demise on that day was their excitement. Throughout the series, both Fnatic and Cloud9 were energetically bantering across the stage. Vanity recalled it joyfully, “It’s just fun. Even though it’s only ten people on a stage, people get so into it. I don’t think a lot of people take it personally. That’s pretty important.”
However, vanity does think his team got carried away a bit too much. He noticed it affected the team’s communication, which they had worked so hard on during the past months, “I think it got a little bit hectic. We’re really high-energy, but I think we need to dial back our excitement by 5%.”
I LOVE LAN
— Anthony (@Vanityxz) December 1, 2021
All is far from lost, though. During Cloud9’s LCQ run to qualify for VCT Champions, the team suffered an early loss against Rise and dropped to the lower bracket. In the finals, when they met Rise again, Cloud9 swept the floor with a strong 3-0 series.
Vanity has similar hopes for his team at VCT Champions. “I think it’s important to lose. It sucks, obviously, but it’s a competition. I’m pretty happy with how we played. It wasn’t our A-game, but I think we showed a lot of good stuff.”
On Sunday, Dec. 5, Cloud9 faces off against Thailand’s FULL SENSE in an Elimination Series. Chuckling, vanity took note of his team’s history with do-or-die situations, “We’re Cloud9. The organization is known for lower bracket runs. So, I think we have a pretty good chance of making something happen.”
Tom fell in love with esports in 2015 and has been reporting on multiple scenes since. In his spare time, he dwells on the Howling Abyss in League of Legends, or on the vast oceans in Sea of Thieves.