In the second week of 2022 VALORANT Champions Tour North America Stage 1 Challengers, Cloud9 faced off against XSET on Saturday in a match that would hope to give a little more clarity to the upper echelon of North American VALORANT teams. XSET fell 2-1.
Cloud9 vs. XSET
Cloud9, who automatically qualified to Challengers due to their good performance in 2021, have been eyed as one of the strongest contenders to qualify to Masters 1 and even win the whole tournament. They defeated 100 Thieves, who also automatically qualified, with a 2-0 scoreline in the opening match last week. XSET was, in theory, going to be the easier of the two opponents.
As the match began on Bind, it seemed like Cloud9 were going to take another relatively quick win as they went up 5-1 on the defense side. However, XSET rallied back with smart adjustments and exceptional individual play from Jett specialist Matthew “Cryocells” Panganiban and managed to end the half 5-7. On attack, Cloud9 seemed completely lost and the team were unable to break through XSET’s defense. Cloud9 were unable to pick up a single round on attack, and XSET won the map 13-7.
“We set up the half really poorly,” Mitch “mitch” Semago said of the map after the match. “We mismanaged our play on attack and we’ll clean it up for next time.”
Two 4ks, 1 round, but who takes the round win? @leaf_cs does. 👊🏼@Cloud9 | #VCTChallengersNA pic.twitter.com/u3BjkCK3Vo
— Nerd Street (@nerdstreet) February 19, 2022
Despite the map loss, Cloud9 still displayed something of note in the form of Jett player Nathan “leaf” Orf playing Viper. Viper-Astra is a common combination on Bind – all of the North American teams have utilized the dual Controller pick on Bind thus far – but Cloud9 shifting their Jett player over to Viper and using Chamber in Jett’s place is unheard of. It was a strategy that seemed to work well on defense, but failed to find success on attack.
“Leaf really likes playing Viper on that map for some reason,” Mitch said. “I was like, ‘Alright, you can take it.’ It gives me the freedom to do whatever I want, so I like it.”
After losing Bind, Cloud9 put leaf back on Jett and returned to a more standard playstyle. They won Breeze, one of their best maps, with relative ease. The two teams then traded rounds sporadically on Icebox, but Cloud9 came out on top in the end, taking their overall group stage record to 2-0. The standout Cloud9 player on the two winning maps was mitch, who achieved seven first bloods as Chamber on Icebox.
Throughout the series, the lingering question was “just how good is Cloud9, really?” After it was over, the answer still remained somewhat elusive. They displayed a level of competence and experience similar to the kind that got them to VALORANT Champions 2021 playoffs, but haven’t quite taken it above and beyond to prove definitively that they belong at the top of North America yet.
Still, the VALORANT roster that Cloud9 has assembled is a very solid one, and it’s almost assured that they’ll make it to Challengers playoffs. How far they’ll go then is a different story.
.@OfficialXETA FINDS 3 ON 1 HUNTER'S FURY!@Cloud9 | #VCTChallengersNA pic.twitter.com/bpONPXhWbv
— VALORANT Champions Tour NA (@valesports_na) February 19, 2022
When asked about what Cloud9 must do to earn the title of best in North America, mitch had a diplomatic answer that spoke to the overall strength of the region.
“We have to consistently make it to the top of these tournaments,” he said. “NA is really up for grabs. There’s so many good teams, and anybody could win on any given day. These teams are all pretty good so I don’t think we can declare ourselves NA’s best just yet, but we’re working towards it.”