In the community, he’s perhaps become more known for his streaming performances and antics than for his in-game prowess, despite competing professionally since 2008.
But Jordan ”n0thing” Gilbert and his Cloud9 are now looking to change the eurocentric view of CS:GO – and silence their critics once and for all.
– I think a lot of the North American fans don’t realize how close we are in terms of skill, and our skill level when it comes to point and shoot is probably greater than a lot of these teams, he says.
The Cloud9 team has been on a one month long European tour, leading up to the last major of the year at DreamHack Winter starting Thursday. During this time they’ve crossed a number of LAN finals off their list, including the FaceIT finals in Milan and the ESWC in Paris, before settling in Stockholm for a one week bootcamp at the gaming café Inferno Online.
And Jordan ”n0thing” Gilbert seems satisfied with the surroundings as he eases into a chair, sporting a playoff beard and the blue team shirt, while waiting for the rest of his team to finish their laundry in a nearby facility.
– The only downside is that we didn’t do as well as we wanted in the last tournaments, so we have to keep our confidence high. I know the guys know we can do well, so lately we’ve been trying out a lot of new things.
You’ve spent a lot of time in Europe now, facing the top teams in the world. Have you noticed differences in your playing style already?
– Some of us are pretty experienced, we’ve been here before. But we try as many strategies as we can because it’s a team game and all five members aren’t gonna have the same mindset about how you’re gonna run around. The best thing as a team is to be on the same page, and it’s important for us to try out everyone’s opinions, so some might wanna play quicker and more simple and some wanna play more complex with more grenades and more money required each round. The first weeks we immersed ourselves in watching other teams and seeing what we could try out, and now the final week before DreamHack we’ve refined a lot of our ideas and are just gonna try to play as much as we can these next days. I don’t think we necessarily learn more practice techniques but we’ve become more structured because we play more and can structure our hours around that.
Jet lag an issue for the US teams
Scrimming in Europe is also significantly easier than finding scrims in North America where, according to n0thing, only two or three teams beside iBUYPOWER can provide a challenge.
– Just playing here is more close to a world level tournament, with more and better teams and lower ping. We’re able to play 5-10 scrims per night after running strategies compared to home where we maybe run 2-4 games. So just being in Sweden and Europe pays off for our in game performance. And out of game it’s things like jet lag and getting acclimated to the environment, getting into the food we’re gonna eat and get our sleeping hours tuned in. That’s big for competition because you wanna feel fresh.
Has jet lag been an issue for you at past tournaments?
– Yeah, it is an issue because even though you’re not exerting a great amount of physical energy the game still requires a great amount of mental energy and if you’re not awake and active you’re not gonna be able to perform your best. In eSports small decisions can change a lot and if you’re a little tired it can affect you, so jet lag is something we take into consideration and we try to get in at least two to three days before a tournament.
”A lot of our veterans dropped off after Source”
For North American teams, traveling to Europe for tournaments is required if they wanna compete at the top level. But that wasn’t always the case. n0thing remembers a time when the teams from the US easily measured up to their European foes, but then fell behind after the Direct TV Counterstrike: Source league disbanded. He thinks that’s one of the reasons why the NA scene hasn’t enjoyed the same amount of success as the European community.
– That league really segregated our players from 1.6 and Source. Sweden and the other European countries have done a good job in maintaining a lot of the pros and transitioning in new players. In 2005 and 2006 we went toe to toe with the European teams and won three out of five majors. When Direct TV came out it started shuffling with that progression and a lot of our veterans dropped off when the Source league fell. When CS:GO came out it was all new school players.
– Also, the geography of Europe in general… North America as a community is larger than Europe in total. Your Swedish teams would be like my team being centered in California, but we have one in Toronto, Vancouver, Arizona, Michigan and me in San Diego. Being closer helps with ping and performance in game but also helps developing camaraderie when you’re able to bootcamp more easily. And it’s cheaper for sponsors so it’s easier to get to events, so all those factors kinda just play in.
So, is there some sort of envy from the NA side when you’re looking at the European scene?
– Yeah, we’re definitely envious. In a number of topics we think that way, like with jet lag and flight hours. But also other things like streaming. For me, my streaming hours all come on at 12 at noon but that’s already 9pm here so I might not get the audience Pasha gets because he’s in Poland and can stream at night and everyone’s on already, so there’s things like that we’re envious of.
”Considered moving to Europe”
The team has even contemplated getting a gaming house in Europe, to reap the benefits of easily accessed tournaments and scrims.
– We’ve considered moving here, just to up our practice and be around the tournaments more easily, even if it’s just for 4-5 months. Right now we have a great sponsor and we’ve been having this conversation, and they’ve offered us some sort of deal like this. But then the other side of life comes in. One of my guys is in a masters program for engineering so he’s balancing a great load. A couple of us are balancing the second year of school so it’s a big commitment.
But even as Cloud9 are considering moving to Europe to fill their CS:GO needs, things are moving on the North American market. X-Games recently announced that the game will fill a spot at the competitions in Aspen come january, something Gilbert thinks could grow the community.
– I hope so, on a domestic scale it’ll help the stigma of eSports and get more people looking into it which helps. Once you do that, look into what’s happening, you start to see that what these people are doing is pretty cool. It’s not weird and integrated as it may seem when portrayed like in South Park, when they’re playing World of Warcraft and the fat guy is sitting there with pimples on his face. We’re kind of changing that.
– And I love the integration, on an event scale it’s awesome. Obviously we’re not fully athletic, but there’s an amount of finesse involved in maintaining control of your mouse and keyboard, and the dexterity overall.
You mentioned streaming earlier, tell me a bit about your development into the streaming profile you are today.
– Within my circle of friends I’ve always enjoyed making jokes, and I grew up playing ice hockey. In the locker room everyone gets a little shameless with how they talk. I’m kinda used to being more transparent around a certain group of people. When I started streaming I was more into the game and not really as responsive to the chat, but then I started reading more what people said because I wanna answer questions. I try to be careful with it because sometimes I might even say too much. The people in the chat almost make me feel high and I’m feeling all this energy from 4-5000 people all talking to you. So I try to humble myself and think about what I would say to one of these people if I talk to them outside an event. In my mind I scale down the size of who I’m talking to and just try to have fun. Over time people have been really responsive to it.
”It’s just to bring more fun to the stream”
Especially when it comes to the ”flashbang dance”?
– The flashbang dance was just… I was hanging out with Xizt from NiP during ESWC 2013, and we were at a club and joking around with fans. They said: ”It’s weird that when you get blinded you put your arm over your face” and I just started dancing like that. It’s just to bring more fun to the stream. I started doing the flashbang dance and the bomb plant dance, and then I started doing all of these guns…
The dance, which has since become the signature move of n0thing, had it’s big break after Cloud9 defeated Dignitas during ESL One in Cologne.
– I had already done it on stream and gotten some YouTube clips of it, but then all my fans said ”if you get a big win, do it on stage”. Dignitas were beating us 14-12 and we came back, beating them 16-14. So I did a flashbang dance on stage.
And you’ve had some amazing clips including your mother cheering you on before a game. Your parents seem really supportive. What were their reactions when you wanted to be a professional gamer?
– It’s been a progression of my mom always being supportive and my dad saying: ”Go to the university”. But it was never a big problem because I maintained good grades and played ice hockey. At one point I broke my clavicle and I was playing pretty good CS so I got an offer from Evil Geniuses my last year of high school. They gave me an 8 month contract to go on a European tour and my parents ended up being supportive. My father said: ”This is a unique opportunity, you might as well fulfill your passion right now because school’s always gonna be there, but be sure to maintain the perspective that you won’t be competing forever and it might die off very fast”.
– And I think my mom felt limited by her parents so she had a sense of wanting to support her kids. My older brothers all played ice hockey but when I got into Counterstrike she actually had some notoriety in the community. She would offer rides to other gamers to Las Vegas, Arizona and so on. My moms’ car was called ”The Mom Bus”. She would even drive other teams to tournaments hours away, we’d just say that we had extra space in the car.
”My mom gets really nervous watching my games”
So, instead of a soccer mom she was a Counterstrike mom?
– Yeah, she was a gaming mom. She’d drop us off and go to a mall and do her thing while we played, so I owe a lot to my mom because she was so supportive in seeing this is something I love. And to give myself credit, I included them in what I was doing. I see a lot of gamers shy away from that interaction with their parents. I could have been a bit lucky to have understanding parents but at the same time I made sure to tell them ”this is what I’m doing, this is why I like it”.
He mentions the League of Legends player Yiliang ”Doublelift” Peng, who’s parents kicked him out for gaming, as an example.
– I see that as really sad. He’s making maybe six figures a year and his parents are still shunning him. It’s sad to see, and I’m glad I have parents I can be transparent with.
You seem to come from a really ”sporty” family. Are they watching your games now?
– Yeah, my dad has gotten into it and he has the links for streams saved in his browser. And my mom watches the games but she gets really nervous. She sits in the other room while my dad watches and then she comes in every 15 minutes and asks what the score is and then she goes back out, so that’s pretty funny.
”If you’re not communicating you’re not gonna be the best”
During their stay in Europe, Cloud9 and iBUYPOWER both participated in the FaceIT league finals in Milan, where iBUYPOWER became the first ever North American team to make a major finals in CS:GO. Only weeks after, the team got rid of Joshua ”Steel” Nissan and Sam ”Dazed” Marine, something that came as a surprise for a lot of people in the community.
– Steel had told his teammates he’d be quitting after DreamHack and what I think helped them play that way is that they cared less about being critical towards each other because they knew they were gonna make changes. Dazed talked about their internal problems in a YouTube video. They were very critical of everything and didn’t mend their personal issues. That’s a problem for a team because you have to be able to get used to pressure from sponsors and the community.
He says that’s one of the things Cloud9 is good at: Talking things through without becoming enemies within the team.
– We’ve had our ups and downs the past events but we put everything on the table and get the arguments out. At the end of the day we can go to dinner and still have some laughs. But sometimes we call the practice room ”the war room” because you have to be able to say ”I don’t like the way you’re playing this” without it being personal. If you watch the ”24/7” series about the NHL, they treat the game so business like because they realize everyone else who want to be the best are doing the same thing and if you’re not doing it you’re probably not gonna be the best.
”I hate making excuses”
Without the benefit of a coach, the players have taken upon themselves to settle differences and approach tough subjects, like a player not performing as expected.
– It’s us saying ”listen, this might be uncomfortable for you but you’re not playing really well at this spot. Is it because you feel uncomfortable or because they’re outsmarting you or are you not liking the spot?”. Team communication is important.
You’ve mixed great performances with some lackluster ones, what have you talked about regarding your inconsistency?
– I hate making excuses but I think it’s tough to go from playing major tournaments in Europe to playing at home where honestly we don’t have to play great to win. So I think we create some bad habits at home. There’s only maybe 2-3 teams that can bring strategy to that level in the US. It would be like NiP and Fnatic playing each other all of the time. They would know everything about each other and then it’s more of an anti strategy game when you’re only countering your opponent.
– It’s never a question of skill for us when it comes to hitting shots. We feel very on par with the top teams in the world, it’s just the small decisions. There’s a number of factors, not skill but having consistent practice and being exposed to the top teams in the world. Hopefully we can bring that to DreamHack and show that we’ve prepared and are more ready now.
”They don’t realize how close we are in terms of skill”
Your fans never seem to expect anything from you, is that annoying to you?
– There’s some truth to it since we haven’t won any majors. The only thing that irritates me is the reasoning. I would love for people to read between the lines more and that’s hard when you’re a spectator and you say: ”Hey, they’re not winning. This team looks worse than that team. Cloud9 just got beat by NiP, they were never gonna win that game in Cologne”. I think that a lot of the North American fans don’t realize how close we are in terms of skill, and sometimes our skill level in terms of point and shoot is greater than a lot of these teams.
– On the forums we get irritated when we read ignorant comments saying ”They’re never gonna be as good as these guys” because in scrims we’ve beat Fnatic, we’ve beat NiP and Virtus.Pro. We’ve beat all of these teams, but at the majors it comes down to very small decisions and being very prepared as a team. That’s why we’ve thought about living here, because it would be good for us to see our true potential and for others to see us playing smaller events between the majors. Then they would see we can beat these guys on a normal basis.
How many times have you thought about the game against NiP on Cobble at ESL One in Cologne?
– That game was our fault because we didn’t practice. We were really sad and slapping ourselves because Valve just added the map but we decided to not go over it. We thought we could eliminate it so that game was our first game of Cobble. We felt like LDLC would’ve been easier and we felt we matched up with them better than we did against NiP. I think we could’ve made the finals and NiP got lucky to beat us that day.
So, how do you feel now only days before DreamHack Winter?
– The only teams that make us question what we’re doing are LDLC and Fnatic. The other top teams don’t make us feel overwhelmed. We’re just trying to put ourselves in the mindset of the tournament early, and hit our shots. If we come out strong with our individual play we’re gonna make it out of the groups, and then the question is who we’ll play there.
”Disgusting that people may be cheating”
As the rest of the community, Gilbert and his teammates were shocked by the news that KQLY and SF were VAC banned last week.
– At first we were kind of just in disbelief that there was a possibility of people using cheats on LAN and getting away with it. It’s definitely disgusting to think that there may still be people cheating at such high profile events.
How will this influence the community as a whole?
– It can only negatively impact our community. Especially if it gives up and comers the idea that this is okay and somehow assists you in gaining notoriety. All in all though, we’ve dealt with cheating for a long time as a community, just never at this echelon. Hopefully we can improve our anti-cheat systems and continue enforcing harsh penalties for those who get caught trying to participate in such large events with cheats.
Valve hasn’t been saying much about the bans, how do you think they should handle this?
– I think they should continue doing what they’re doing. Maybe they could share wether the player cheating was doing it in MM, team practices or during official matches. But otherwise I think being somewhat secretive is good so as to catch as many people who think they can get away with it.
”Would be huge to win a major”
On Thursday, n0thing and his teammates face off against Hellraisers in Group A at DreamHack Winter. Looking to show what a North American team with a month long preparation can do, Gilbert and his crew are preparing for the Ukrainian team.
– Hellraisers are inconsistent, but it’s BO1 which is a questionable format. Right now, we’re playing all of the maps but the closer we come we’ll try to identify our best maps and try to catch them off guard, because we know how they like to play.
And how much would it mean for the North American scene if you managed to win a major?
– I think it would be huge, and very inspirational. In forums they compare us to other players and say that we’re lightyears away, and as much as I don’t care about the opinion of an average forum person they underestimate our skill level. So it would be cool to give some verification on our skill and give some motivation to new players. Just put CS:GO on the map in general. Maybe that would encourage sponsors to invest in other teams besides us and iBUYPOWER. It would definitely mean a lot and that’s what’s in the back of our heads now.