In the world of esports, few teams are as prolific as Cloud9. Founded in 2013, Cloud9 has teams in all of the hottest competitive games, from League of Legends and Hearthstone to Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
After taking part in the PUBG Mobile Star Challenge tournament, we asked members of the team about their careers as esports competitors, about the history and evolution of esports as a professional institution, and their personal responsibilities as ambassadors of gaming to the wide world of sports.
We spoke with players Cotto, Karnage, Rolex, as well as Team Manager Ian Huston. Together, they are some of the top names in the mobile version of PlayerUnknown's BattleGrounds, which has arguably become even more popular than its PC progenitor (the game is also available on Xbox One and was recently released on PlayStation 4).
Regardless of one's opinion on esports, the fact remains that the scene is only growing in popularity and relevance, and Cloud9 are at the forefront of the competitive gaming movement, so it's time to get onboard the esports train, or be left in the dust with all the other old-fashioned curmudgeons.
Tell me a bit about Cloud9 and your place in the competitive gaming scene; what are some of your organization’s proudest accomplishments?
Ian Huston: Founded in 2013, Cloud9 has grown to become one of the most recognizable esports organizations in the world. With championships industry-wide, unmatched viewership hours, and extensive benefits packages for players and staff, Cloud9 prides itself on being the best in all categories. 2018 alone has been a huge year for the organization with championship victories at the CSGO Boston Major, Rocket League Season 6 World Championship, Rainbow 6 Dreamhack Montreal, PUBG PGL Bucharest and Hong Kong Invitational, and League of Legends Academy Worlds. Along with this, the London Spitfire claimed the first Overwatch League Grand Finals as the British Hurricane took home a Contenders championship.
Karnage: Cloud9 is globally recognized as one of the best if not the best esports organizations to be a part of. This goes for their employees/staff, pro esports players, and the stream team. Cloud9 recently won the esports organization award of the year and has won many world championship tournaments from Rocket League to CSGO., etc. Too many to list!
Rolex: Cloud9 is one of the biggest if not the biggest sports teams globally. Recently, Cloud9 was recognized as the esports organization of the year. 2018 was a very successful year and I don’t expect any less for the future.
Both personally and as members of Cloud9, what is your “mission statement” as ambassadors of the gaming community to the wide world of sports?
Karnage: My mission statement is to bring as many gamers together as possible to generate a huge esports scene for the PUBG Mobile community. I plan to do that by being active in the community, friendly, and help out with staffing events and such. A mission statement being part of Cloud9 would be to give it my all and represent the org in the most professional way I can. Building chemistry with my teammates, and practicing on a daily basis to ensure my skill is up to par.
Rolex: My personal mission statement is to welcome those that are behind the blinds just taking a peak at what is going on. Many players don’t want to go “pro” because they believe they don’t have the capability to. But at the end of the day, just take that leap of faith and follow your dreams. I hope the PUBG Mobile community and even the mobile community grows and becomes something exponentially huge. Because I can see that the ability to cultivate is there.
Cotto: To try and make the scene bigger and better for the community.
Ian Huston: With Cloud9 on the forefront of esports as an industry leader, I strive to use my association and platform with them to be the best ambassador that I can be. My main goals in doing this are looking to empower those around me with whom I work to be the best that they can be and to enlighten people who are not in esports as to what is truly happening as things move forward.
Can you talk about the differences between PUBG on PC (or console) and PUBG on mobile? Do you feel like you play the game differently? Are any of your strategies easier or more difficult to implement in the mobile format?
Karnage: With PUBG PC/console you will run across a higher level of skill. With Mobile, it is more common to win a chicken dinner even if you’re not a pro player. In order to become a pro on PC it takes far more practice, higher-end equipment, and a good establishment in the pro community. I personally enjoy mobile more because I am able to play anytime, anywhere, just using my mobile phone.
Rolex: PUBG Mobile was just released a few months ago, while PUBG PC has been out for quite some time. There is definitely a huge difference when it comes to both platforms. The mechanics are different, and you need to approach each in a certain way. Nonetheless, at the end of the day it still is the same game. But the pro scene on mobile most definitely uses different tactics and strategies than on PC.
Ian Huston: The most tangible differences in favor of PUBG on PC/console against its mobile counterpart are the controls facilitating easier aiming. However, the infrastructure of mobile has been way ahead of the PC/console versions with its skins and ranking system. Honestly speaking, there is no need to play the game differently and all of the strategies are able to be executed without any compromises.
When you’re preparing to compete in a game, do you allow yourselves to play anything else? After doing drills and training for PUBG Mobile, for example, do you like to unwind with some Super Smash Bros? Or do you have to live within PUBG 24/7?
Karnage: When I prepare for a game, I like to get my gun skill ready as much as possible. The best way for me to do that is to enter an arcade war mode so I'm able to fire my gun as much as possible without the game ending. I also like to watch gameplay videos from previous PUBG tournaments I've played in.
Rolex: You don’t have to live within PUBG 24/7, but you can if you want to. As a student, I also have to balance my schoolwork out while also being a professional player on a professional team. I personally do not play any other game to “unwind” myself. I solely focus on PUBG Mobile. But I have heard of other pro players use other games to bring down the “tension”.
Ian Huston: As a manager overseeing a team preparing to compete, I do allow my players to play other game titles to avoid any fatigue or burnout that comes from grinding a game. There is a clear respect from everyone to put in the hours and to achieve the objectives set forth for practice. After this is completed, the team is encouraged to have proper rest and relaxation, which sometimes manifests as playing something else.
Cotto: Personally, I'd play PUBG 24/7.
What are some of your other favorite games to play, just for yourselves, not for competition? Are they still multiplayer titles, or do professional competitors like yourselves see multiplayer as work and single player as entertainment?
Ian Huston: My esports career started in Vainglory, a mobile MOBA, so I always like to check in when there are new updates and to keep up with the community. From there, I really enjoy both Hearthstone and Overwatch. As many others like me in the industry have found, the more I work in esports, the less I have time to play. There is no difference between multiplayer and single player for work and entertainment. Rather, it’s just a healthy divide by a person to denote what is work and play for them personally.
Karnage: Currently the only game I play is PUBG Mobile. Reason being is because it will take a lot of time, dedication, and practice to be able to compete at a high level in PUBG Mobile.
Rolex: I use to play Call of Duty on console when I was a bit younger. Never on the competitive level. More of just for fun with friends after classes. Now, I just focus on PUBG Mobile and how to improve both as a player and as a team.
Cotto: I love Call of Duty, I play that a lot and yes, I think single player is more for entertainment... Unless it’s singles play in multiplayer.
There’s a misconception about professional video game competitors, that they don’t work hard like other athletes, that playing video games isn’t comparable to traditional sports like baseball and basketball. Do you think that unjust perception will change? E-Sports on ESPN was a big step, I think, but what do you think is the next step in E Sports’ march towards the mainstream?
Cotto: I think being in esports is the same as being in the NBA because the time we put into the game and practice is just like they do for the NBA. The next big thing for esports is being on TV like a regular sport.
Karnage: Playing video games and becoming a professional esports player takes a lot of hard work and dedication. True, we are not putting in as much physical activity and exercise, but we put in just as much time towards perfecting our craft as the professional athletes do. I think the next step would be to create teams for each region and have them compete against each other on a more regular basis, create a league of some sort, and air it for more fans/viewers.
Rolex: esports most definitely takes some of your energy away. People believe it’s easy because you’re just “sitting at home playing video games.” It isn’t just that. It has both a physical and mental drain on you. Is it the exact same as running back and forth on a basketball court? Not quite. But it definitely has its own way of draining you. esports on ESPN was a huge step and I believe it will grow to an incredible level in the future.
Ian Huston: There can be misconceptions toward esports professionals when compared to what people view as traditional athletes. However, this perception is slowly changing as esports becomes more mainstream and people recognize what preparation and sacrifice is needed in being a professional. I personally think that the next step in esports’ march towards the mainstream revolves around players and their personal streaming. It’s been a form of entertainment for so many for so long and the main way to view competitions, but there’s been a pivot this year where celebrities and businesses have taken it more seriously as a way to directly connect with their intended audiences.
E Sports are huge and they’re only getting bigger. There are more and more teams like Cloud9 with large rosters of incredibly skilled players, and tournaments are even being aired on television, not just on Twitch or YouTube. Where do you see the major league gaming scene five years from now?
Cotto: I see the major league gaming scene being aired on TV way more than it is today, regularly on ESPN. I can see more tournaments being televised daily.
Karnage: Five years from now there will be more organizations like Cloud9 involved in the esports scene and specifically in PUBG Mobile. I hope to see more teams, competition, which in turn will mean more fans.
Ian Huston: I fully expect the gaming and esports industries growing exponentially from where they are today. As gaming and esports become more mainstream culturally, and as the demographic with the highest representation of support for the industry gets older with more disposable income, things will naturally change to scale with the massive demand.
Rolex: Five years from now I personally believe it is going to be as big as any other sport. People love esports. They love to see their favorite players out on stage competing against the best of the best. It’s only going up from here.