Blaber feels Cloud9 has “a lot to prove” at Worlds 2023 after NRG loss
We sat with Blaber ahead of their first match at Worlds 2023 to ask about how Cloud9 prepared for the event, how he feels about their chances going into the event, and whether or not he thinks NA can show up this year.
It’s safe to say that Cloud9 has been NA’s brightest hope internationally over the past few years. Boasting NA’s best Worlds performance in 2018 and topping the region for a large portion of this decade’s domestic competition, C9 has been at or near the top for a while now.
And, for the new generation of Cloud9 that has moved past the players that put the org on the map (e.g. Sneaky and Meteos), that next generation has been defined largely by Robert ‘Blaber’ Huang. However, despite a great deal of domestic success both with the team and with individual accolades, Cloud9’s new generation has yet to have the earth-shattering international results that NA fans were hoping for.
Will 2023 be the year? We sat with Blaber to find out if he’s confident that NA can finally get results.
Cloud9 is training hard ahead of Worlds 2023
C9’s split didn’t end in the way most people expected. After a dominant Winner’s bracket run all the way up to the Grand Finals in LCS Summer 2023, they fell 1-3 to a very dominant-looking NRG.
Dexerto spoke with EMENES following their loss, and, though he wasn’t happy with his individual performance, he had also been a hard carry for the team at some points through the Summer split. Ultimately, it seemed that Cloud9 has a high ceiling that they just didn’t manage to reach in that one final.
So, it should be no surprise that the team has been practicing hard, and, according to Blaber, they’ve been bootcamping in Korea for much longer than most other teams at the event. He revealed that C9 came out to Korea early in September, giving them ample time to grind ahead of the Swiss Stage.
“Honestly, we came pretty early this time around because our season ended a lot earlier than normal. Worlds is starting pretty late this year, I think probably because of Asia Games, I’m not sure? But we kind of just wanted to get as much practice as we possibly could for this Worlds, utilize the time that extra time we had to really figure out what we want to play at this tournament. Like, maybe not necessarily following the meta, but really figuring out what’s working for us and kind of sticking to that. Hopefully that’s a good strategy to win at the tournament.”
It isn’t too clear as of yet the strategy that C9 has found and how it may differ from what we’ve seen so far at Worlds, but Blaber is no stranger to picking off-meta junglers if he thinks they’ll give him the best chance of winning.
That said, whatever they’re practicing seems to be working. Even against the best teams in the world.
“So, we’ve actually had pretty good scrims this time around. We’ve been able to scrim pretty much every LPL team, every LCK team, multiple times as well. And I think we’re definitely doing a lot better in scrims versus the LPL teams. We’re kind of struggling against the LCK.”
The fact that Cloud9 are even getting scrims in the first place is a reassuring sign, and part of why Blaber was so enthusiastic about getting to scrim better teams. Simply put, if a team doesn’t seem good enough to be a strong opponent or challenge you in a way that’ll force you to learn, you’re much less likely to get scrims booked against the world’s best teams.
Blaber still thinks the C9 has work to do, especially against LCK teams, but he seemed happy with how scrims are going so far even if LCK teams are giving them a hard time.
“In general, from my experience at international tournaments, the Korean teams have always been a lot stronger in scrims regardless. Even in tournaments that the [LPL teams] are winning, I’ve always felt like the LCK teams are stronger. I think they play a lot like they do on stage in scrims. They don’t make very many mistakes.”
This lines up with recent reports from other players, like Weibo Gaming’s Xiaohu having high praise for NRG mid laner Palafox after scrimming NRG according to an interview with Naver. Scrim results are just that, and, seeing as they aren’t stage games, it’s always subject to change once these teams actually jump into the competition.
That said, it seems that there’s more going for NA this year than that. Blaber’s a fan of the new Worlds 2023 format, and feels as if it gives them a much better chance of making it into Quarterfinals.
C9 Blaber is optimistic despite the odds
Ultimately, no matter what fans and analysts say, going into a tournament like Worlds 2023 with a winning mentality will serve you well. If you aren’t there to win it all, why compete in the first place?
“I think that this tournament is going to be very competitive. Obviously, everyone knows that NA is the underdog. They’ve been the underdog pretty much since League came out I would say, except for maybe Season 1. And, regardless of that, I think we have a lot to prove at this tournament. I think that we can actually do a lot. This new format is really cool, it can give us a lot of chances to hopefully prove that we are good to play against other teams that either win or lose. And it’s just kind of different. I’ve never played in the Swiss format, so I’m hoping it’ll be good for us.”
The new format gives Cloud9 a ton of chances to have staying power in the tournament and determine their own fate. Their first match is against MAD Lions, a team that has been bested multiple times by G2, Europe’s best team. And, even if C9 can’t take down MAD, they’ll have at least two more chances to try and fight for their tournament lives due to the new format.
In the grand scheme of things, C9 has a relatively easy road ahead in comparison to a team like Team Liquid who got placed against T1 in the first round, the sort of matchup that has World Champion jungler Pyosik claiming “God has abandoned us” before their match.
Additionally, Blaber has faith in his team. He’s got a feeling that C9 has worked toward fixing their biggest flaw they had while playing domestically and that they’ll be able to have a much stronger showing than they had in NA.
“I’m not sure if this is the best version [of Cloud9], but I do think that we are really strong. I would definitely say that we have really good mechanical players on this roster and we have, I feel like, been doing pretty good in lane at least, which is something that hasn’t always been the case for any team going internationally.”
“I think we actually struggle more right now with what to do in the mid to late game, I think that was showing NA a bit. And I’m really hoping that – or not really hoping, honestly from practice, I feel like we’ve improved on that a lot and I’m hoping that we can show our improvement on the stage this time around.”
Their one-off loss to NRG, while unfortunately timed, doesn’t have him discouraged. With a ton of practice under their belts, a strong roster, and high spirits, MVP jungler Blaber isn’t feeling the pressure just yet.
“I don’t feel like I have to carry because I think my teammates are really good. I think that all of my teammates are some of the best players in the world and I’m really glad to be able to play with them at this tournament. I don’t feel like any extra pressure that I have to carry the region or something. For me, I want to do well because I am from North America, and I want to prove that my region is good.”
“For me, I want to just go out internationally and do that. That’s always my goal at every international tournament. But I wouldn’t say I feel extra pressure, that it has to be only on me or something. I have full faith in my teammates. I’m sure they have faith in me as well. I really believe in our team.”
With Cloud9’s Worlds 2023 debut happening in mere hours, it remains to be seen if the team’s hard work pays off.
You can watch a video version of the interview here: