No TenZ, just friends: How Cloud9 Valorant can start on a clean slate in 2021

TenZ playing CS:GO for Cloud9Riot Games

Cloud9’s Tyson ‘TenZ’ Ngo shocked the Valorant community on January 12 by suddenly stepping back from the squad. However, it could be just what Cloud9 Blue needs to start on a clean slate and relaunch after a disappointing 2020.

There was a reason Cloud9 started out as just TenZ and Friends. Their former Canadian CS:GO star was their first signing in Valorant. The team always centered around TenZ. More often than not, the Jett main would find himself on the top of the leaderboard in any event they played.

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Well before they signed the whole squad, Cloud9 would follow TenZ’s progress religiously on Twitter, just as if TenZ and Friends was Cloud9. The team’s branding was plastered on streams. TenZ had become synonymous with the team, but the rest of his four teammates were just his “friends.”

When Cloud9 ended up signing those “friends” of TenZ ⁠— Skyler ‘Relyks’ Weaver, Mitch ‘mitch’ Semago, Josh ‘shinobi’ Abastado, and Daniel ‘vice’ Kim ⁠— the team’s pet name never changed. Without TenZ, it felt like Cloud9 didn’t exist. Now, fans are fronted with that reality.

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With the Valorant Champions Tour kicking off in a matter of weeks, Cloud9 aren’t just forced to find a replacement for their star player after his retirement. They have to find a totally new identity.

There is no TenZ now.

It’s just friends, but that could be what Cloud9 needs after a disappointing 2020.

Failing to live up to the Cloud9 name in 2020

While Cloud9 Blue ⁠was meant to be the face of the North American franchise in Valorant, looking back on 2020, it didn’t really pan out that way. They were arguably outshone by their Asian counterparts, Cloud9 Korea, who actually made it to First Strike and finished 3-4th.

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After all, Cloud9 Blue spent most of 2020 failing to make an impact where it mattered. Early on, TenZ was able to carry the squad to decent performances in various events ⁠— 2nd in Immortals First Light, Pulse Invitational, and the PAX Arena Invitational.

However, their Ignition Series and First Strike record was subpar. Outside of that PAX Arena 2nd place, they failed to crack the podium. They didn’t even make the First Strike Regional Finals, bowing out to both T1 and Renegades in the qualifiers. The latter was heralded an egregious loss by the community ⁠— one that ought saw heads roll.

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Heads did roll ⁠— it just wasn’t TenZ at first. Shinobi stepped back after First Strike. They brought in Nathan ‘leaf’ Orf, fresh from his Counter-Strike departure, for the final few events. One change seemingly wasn’t enough though.

While TenZ cited the main reason for his departure was the lack of LANs and endless online grinding with no end in sight, you can’t help but feel these 2020 results impacted the team’s morale. His loss might hit even harder. However, there’s no denying the 2020 squad failed to live up to the lofty Cloud9 name.

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Cloud 9's TenZCloud9
Losing TenZ is without a doubt a blow for Cloud9. However, now they have a chance to build something more than just “TenZ and Friends.”

A new identity, not just TenZ and Friends

With just the “friends” left to their own devices, it can appear like Cloud9 are going to be headless chickens once Valorant Champions Tour rolls around.

There’s no doubt ⁠— trying to find a replacement for TenZ is going to be near impossible. When it comes down to mechanical skill, TenZ is arguably the best player in North American Valorant. However, teams are made by five players. In Cloud9 Blue, it only ever felt like one mattered.

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We’ve seen unassuming squads surprise almost everyone ⁠— just look at Envy and Renegades in NA, and Heretics and SUMN FC in Europe. They feel like proper Valorant teams, not just CS:GO stars playing a CS:GO clone ⁠— something that can actually be hard to distinguish.

Cloud9 now has the chance to build that for themselves. They still have the remnants of a decent squad in Relyks, mitch, and vice. However, there’s a number of free agents that could help fill the void ⁠— Immortals’ jmoh and Neptune, as well as Gen.G’s PLAYER1 spring to mind. They could scrap it all and go entirely fresh.

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What they do is in their hands. They have been presented with the perfect opportunity to leave 2020 behind and build a new squad on a clean slate.

TenZ isn’t leaving forever either. He’s going to come back once there’s more LANs and more to play for. He’s still streaming under the Cloud9 banner.

However, once TenZ returns to the stage ⁠— if he does ⁠— Cloud9 will no longer be “TenZ and Friends.” How they perform in the early stages of 2021 though will determine whether that’s a good thing or not.

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