As a shock to many, especially the Cloud9 (C9) loyalists, the organization has decided to part ways with the head coach of their League of Legends division. The departure of Reapered comes following their fall from grace in Summer. After failing to maintain the dominance they showcased in Spring 2020 and for the first round-robin of Summer 2020, C9 missed out on what seemed like a guaranteed World Championship berth after falling 2-3 to TSM. Despite the devastating finish — quite possibly the worst fall a North American team has seen — the organization recently announced that all five of the starting players would return for the 2021 season. Though it isn’t clear as to whether C9 or Reapered made the decision, the innovative and quirky leader of North America’s most successful organization will not return.
As an outsider, it is impossible to ever discern who the “best coach” is. It is a topic that has had a lot of discussion surrounding it with the recent coaching staff award. There is no way that someone like myself, a caster for the game, or even a coach for another team could realistically discern which coach is “best”. The reasoning for this is because we don’t get to see how, for example, Reapered interacts with his players and staff day-to-day. What one praises Reapered for may be things someone behind the scenes is doing. At the same time, the things we praise the players for may be mostly due to Reapered’s coaching. The realistic way to look at it, as one should do with sports, is that it is a combined effort.
Due to the uncertainties that stem from being an outsider, I can’t guarantee that Reapered is the best coach that North America has. I can confidently say, however, that the personality he has displayed for the public is that of which you can respect from a coach. His confidence, quirkiness, and shown desire to be innovative are all qualities you desire from a leader. Instead of celebrating his time on C9 with what he has done individually, I would like to take a look back at what he has achieved with all his staff and players since becoming a coach.
2015 – EDG Reapered
After retiring from being a professional player at the end of 2014, Reapered moved from Korea to China to begin his coaching career for Edward Gaming (EDG). As one of the coaches for EDG in 2015, he played a role in securing China their first international trophy at the Mid-Season Invitational. After having been second fiddle to Korea for most of their undisputed international dominance, this was a massive milestone for the competitive scene. Before EDG’s win over South Korean Telecom (SKT) at MSI, fans were beginning to think that League of Legends was going to follow a path similar to that of Starcraft — a reign that seemed untouchable by those outside Korea. With this win, it gave fans, regions, and players hope that their efforts were not going to waste, and that Korean teams could bleed. However, despite their win at MSI, EDG failed to qualify for Worlds 2015 and had to watch from home as SKT claimed their second “World Champion” title.
EDG’s MSI celebration – Photo by Robert Pault
2016 – C9 Reapered
After failing to reach Worlds, Reapered’s journey brought him across the pond to C9 in North America. Under the leadership of Reapered, C9 hoped to return to the top of the region after having failed to win a domestic trophy in nearly two years (the last being Spring 2014). Though they once again fell to TSM in Spring and Summer of 2016, further cementing their inferiority to TSM domestically, C9 would go on to place higher than TSM at Worlds (fifth-eighth). Their tournament life would come to an end after going 0-3 against Samsung Galaxy, the eventual runner-up of the tournament.
Cloud9 at Worlds 2016 – Photo by Riot Games
2017 – C9 Reapered
With a couple of roster changes (most notably the departure of veteran Meteos), C9 would continue under Reapered’s leadership. Though the team did not claim a domestic or international trophy, the organization and players seemed to trust in the process and continued to play under the young coach. In the Spring of 2017, C9 suffered a crushing defeat against TSM in the Spring Finals. What was looking like their first domestic trophy in three years quickly turned into one of the most tragic moments for C9’s domestic history.
Their second-place playoff finishes didn’t continue into Summer, however, as they lost early and qualified for Worlds through the regional qualifier gauntlet. Despite their poor finish domestically, C9 did as C9 does and made it out of their group at Worlds 2017 and suffered a close 2-3 defeat against World Elite. Though they couldn’t make the magic happen within the walls of North America, Reapered and his players managed to play a confident style that seemed to be lacking from the other North American representatives; a style that would continue to cement them as seemingly the only threatening North American team on the world stage.
Jensen after 2-3 loss to TSM in Spring 2017 – Photo via Riot Games
2018 – C9 Reapered
Yearning for domestic success, C9 once again shuffled players for 2018. While becoming world champions is every team’s goal, constant failure prior to reaching the final stage of the year is something that eats away at a player’s mentality. Imagine a scenario where C9 would have to face TSM in the finals of Worlds. No matter how unlikely said scenario may be, TSM is a wall that C9 has fallen to time and time again. Now, imagine yourself to be a starting player for C9. You have lost to TSM for three years now and must face your rivals to leave the tournament as the best team in the world. Not only do you have to battle the fears of your life’s work being on the line, you also have to battle the thoughts of having never been able to best your opponents. As I mentioned, this scenario is highly unlikely, but there are dozens, if not hundreds of negative thoughts that probably run through these players’ minds when they head to Worlds as anything but champions of their region. These are unnecessary obstacles, and to eliminate them a trophy at home was a primary goal for Reapered and Co.
Unfortunately for C9, 2018 was the founding of Team Liquid’s (TL) reign of dominance over North America. The TL super team finally came into their own at the start of the Spring 2018 playoffs and proved to be far superior to C9 and eliminated them in the first round 3-0. Being a master of tricks and draft, Reapered utilized an eight-man roster (seven in playoffs). Having players capable of many different styles allowed Reapered to craft a different style depending on the team he was facing. Utilizing the strengths of his many players, Reapered led C9 to a second-place finish in the regular split of Summer. With TL on the other side of the playoff bracket, the only wall on their side of the bracket was TSM. The ghosts of their past were not enough to hold them back from the finals this time, however, as C9 managed to put their demons behind them and beat TSM 3-2 — their first playoff series victory against TSM in four years. Alas, the excitement was short-lived as they fell to TL 0-3 in the finals. The slain demon was quickly replaced by another.
C9 qualified for Worlds through the regional qualifier gauntlet and made a miraculous run through Worlds as North America’s third seed. Being in what many thought to be a “group of death”, C9 emerged victorious in their group as one of the two teams to advance and barely missed out on being the first seed from their group. Their opponent in the quarter-finals of Worlds was Afreeca Freecs (AF), Korea’s third seed. As Korea’s last vestige of hope in the tournament, AF carried the torch of their predecessors and all they had achieved. C9 cared not, however, and eliminated them in a convincing 3-0 sweep. For the first time in history, North America had a representative in the semi-finals of the World Championship. The sweet taste of victory was short, however, as they lost 0-3 to Fnatic in the next round. Though they lost, Reapered’s seven-man roster did more than most expected and went home to proud and appreciative fans.
Cloud9 at Worlds 2018 – Photo via Riot Games
2019 – C9 Reapered
After such a successful run at Worlds, fans had high expectations of C9 for 2019. Unfortunately, Jensen had enough of losing domestically and filled TL’s mid lane vacancy. TL was strong, but they wanted more. To them, Jensen was an important piece towards international success. To Jensen, this was his best chance to achieve what he had failed to do since 2015 with C9. C9 dropped the seven-man roster and returned with the four players (Licorice, Svenskeren, Sneaky, and Zeyzal) that were starters of the seven. With only Jensen gone, eyes were on them to perform.
Despite their strong international showing and only losing one of their starters, this C9 roster went on to achieve what their predecessors did domestically — second and third place. In Spring, they fell 2-3 to TSM in the semi-finals. In Summer, they were reverse swept 2-3 by TL in the finals. Jensen, however, went on to win both splits with TL. Despite their losses, C9 qualified for Worlds and would attempt to replicate their former Worlds performance.
As frustrating as the domestic losses were to fans, they still had confidence in C9 as they always managed to step it up; they were veterans of making the unthinkable happen at Worlds. C9 failed to achieve at this Worlds what they have done every year since their inception — advance from the group stage of Worlds. Their group was not easy, that is for sure, but their finish of 2-4 in groups was far from pretty. They made history again this year, but not in a way that sent them home to proud fans.
Cloud9 at Worlds 2019 – Photo via Riot Games
2020 – C9 Reapered
Following C9’s worst placing at Worlds, C9 returned to the LCS with a completely different look. With this looked marked the end of an era — Sneaky’s departure. C9 has had many rosters that were fan favourites of the LCS, and Sneaky was a part of every one of them. After having played with the organization since 2013, both parties decided to part ways after failing to reach an agreement that would satisfy both. Not only did Sneaky depart, but so did Sven and Zeyzal. C9’s starting roster for 2020, from top to support, was: Licorice, Blaber, Nisqy, Zven, and Vulcan.
Fans were jumping ship with the departure of Sneaky, but many of them quickly returned as C9 went on to put on the most dominant split a team in North America ever has. They finished the regular season 17-1 and only dropped one more game in the playoffs. Having swept FlyQuest in the finals, C9 hoisted their first trophy in six years. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, there was no Mid-Season Invitational for them to attend after becoming the champions in Spring. Fans were sad, but they were ecstatic for Summer to start so that they could see another masterful display of dominance over the region.
C9 started the first round-robin of Summer the same way they ended Spring — looking unstoppable. They ended the first round-robin going 9-0, but the success they grew accustomed to quickly slipped through their hands as they ended the second round-robin going 4-5. As the meta shifted, C9 failed to adapt. Due to their clean record from the first half of the split, C9 managed to qualify for the playoffs as the second seed and were able to skip the first round. Due to their extra week off, they were an enigma by the time their time came to play. They were slumping towards the end of the regular season, but this iteration of C9 showed unparalleled dominance in North America. It was uncertain if the time off would allow them to bounce back. Unfortunately, it did not. They were knocked into the lower bracket after losing 1-3 to FlyQuest and had no more chances. If they wanted to be back-to-back champions, there was no room for error. They won 3-0 over Evil Geniuses but lost convincingly to TSM in the next round, eliminating them from Worlds contention. What many thought were international contenders failed to reach the stage.
Photo via Riot Games
2021 – ??? Reapered
His time on C9 was not met with a lot of trophies, but it was met with unmatched North American success on the international stage. He’s proven to be a coach that is confident in himself, his players, and his drafts. He has displayed he can foster talent unlike any other coach has in the region. With all he has shown he is capable of on C9, he will be the hottest commodity heading into the off-season. It’s a shame things ended the way they did for Reapered and this iteration of C9, but you can count on him being back on stage next year.