“I think that out of the players that we tried out, Jensen had the most raw talent, and I can see him becoming the best mid laner in NA. One of the things I was impressed with was Jensen’s drive to do whatever the team needs to succeed. He also seems to be fearless… He flew around the world to join us and has been willing to dive into anything we ask for.” - Charlie Lipsie to Richard Lewis of the Daily Dot
Ever since Cloud9's loss to Team SoloMid in the NA LCS Grand Finals a few short weeks ago, the message from C9 has been clear: Change is needed. Statistically the best team in either NA or EU LCS history, Cloud9 were atop of the world for their first two seasons, dropping only seven games throughout the regular season and playoffs during the 2013 Summer and 2014 Spring NA LCS campaigns.
Their command over North America started to slip after their starting mid-laner suffered a collapse lung shortly following their back-to-back NA LCS victory during the 2014 Summer season, another blowout win against former champions TSM. The five man core that conquered North America never felt the same after Hai's illness, the team still getting to two more finals after the fact but losing both times to SoloMid. The cohesion that couldn't be broken through their first two seasons started to show fractures over the past year, Team SoloMid adding new additions to their coaching staff and main roster to combat their rivals.
When Hai stepped down from his starting position to move into a management role, it was an end of an era for Cloud9. The longest untouched starting roster in League of Legends had finally decided to change it up after two years together, seeing the writing on the wall that if they didn't change, they would be left behind in the past. Rumors ran rampant during the past two weeks, analysts and fans alike wondering who would be C9's new mid-laner: Yusui, Cloud9's Challenger team's mid-laner? What about Alex Ich, who while comitted to his NACS team Misfits, could fit into the veteran leadership role that Hai left behind.
In the end the most talked and rumored about choice became reality, Denmark's Nicolaj "Incarnati0n" Jensen being selected as the next heir to Hai's throne as C9 turns the page on a new phase in their legacy. Rumored for months before it actually happened, there was an always underlying feeling that if C9 couldn't win back their title from TSM this season, that Incarnati0n would be in line to take Hai's spot.
Incarnati0n, one of the brightest stars to come out of Western solo queue, looked to have one foot already in the professional world before he was banned from all competitive play in early 2013 for violating Riot's Summoner's Code. He had various transgressions ranging from having a hand in DDOS'ing peers, to having abusive behavior in-game. While he would continue to play on alternate accounts and climb the Challenger ladder in Europe, going 63-4 by the end of the 2014 season on one of them, there was still little hope that he would ever set foot on the same stage as the pros after his sentence handed down by Riot.
There were rumblings during last year's World Championships that Incarnati0n was helping out the SK Gaming through a coaching role. This was found out to be true, but due to the punishment that Riot had already given him, he was not allowed to be their official coach or attend the tournament with the team during the 2014 Championships. Always on the outskirts, Incarnation's behavior seemed to be improving and maturing from the decisions he made two years earlier, but it was believed to be somewhat implausible his suspension would ever be lifted.
Ultimately, after a two year ban that took him out from playing in the first five seasons of LCS or even coaching at Worlds, Incarnati0n's matured demeanor was recognized and his ban from professional play was no more, giving him the chance to become a pro-gamer for the first time since LCS was formed. With the always changing landscape of eSports and teams always searching for the next big thing, Incarnati0n's reinstatement was met with fans wondering which team or region he'd go to.
The link between Incarnati0n and C9 that had been talked about for months, even during his ban, came to fruition today as he signed on as their starting mid-laner. He's been scrimmaging and playing with the players for the past week, getting accustomed to his new teammates, country, and also having to apparently beat out Yusui and Pobelter, WFX's former mid-laner, who also tried out for the prestigious position.
Now that the decision is final and the Summer season is only a few weeks away, the question shifts from who will replace Hai to how well they will do in replacing of Hai. The team captain for the team's entire run, Hai was the shot-caller and point guard for the team, directing team fights and strategies. What he lacked in mechanics and ability to carry, especially during his latter days due to nagging wrist injuries, he more than made up for by using his mind — always diligent, thinking about what win condition his team could use at at any point in the game.
With Jensen, he brings a whole new element to C9's way of playing: he's mechanically a genius, giving Cloud9 a more aggressive mid-laner that can stack up with the past two NA LCS MVP's: TSM's Bjergsen and Impulse's XiaoWeiXiao, a pair of mid-laners who have made a career out of being able to carry games off the back of their play. They are the definition of an ace player — someone who the team turns to when the team needs them the most, and who can pull a victory from the jaws of defeat through their spectacular individual plays.
Incarnati0n fits in the mold of an ace, the kind of player that will change how teams have to prepare for Cloud9. After years of having Hai — who, to his credit, could also be an elite carry during his first year with C9 before injuries — the other teams in the league will need to put more focus on the mid lane with a totally unknown factor that they haven't seen on Cloud9 before. The move changes everything with C9, shifting more focus to the middle lane as Meteos will take more of a shot calling and captain role with the team.
On paper, this is a move that makes perfect sense for C9. Instead of continuing their style and picking up a more passive player, they've gone the opposite route, most likely giving us a distinct difference between the old C9 and the new C9 that we will see take the Rift during the Summer season. If they keep the team fighting ability and teamwork that made them a terror to play against even in their worst stretches, then this new team has an opportunity to go above and beyond their former international performances.
Incarnati0n is certainly a talented solo queue player, yet we've seen players like this come and go. Solo queue success is not always the best way to pick a professional player. For every Faker that walks through those doors and can live up to the expectations, there are a hundred players who got a bit of hype and failed to live up anywhere near close to the anticipation. C9's new mid-laner isn't your run-of-the-mill solo queue player that got hot for a few months, or is only good in a certain meta, but it's not a sure thing that he will step from the amateur world to the professional and take it by storm like Faker or Bjergsen did.
Even with all the question marks and possible risks, Cloud9 aren't shooting for another top eight spot at Worlds; they think that with Incarnati0n's potential, they have a chance of going farther than they ever have before. If he can live up to the expectations set on them, they will have a center piece to go along with a world-class lineup that won't have to fear going up against powerful laning mid-laners.
There is a chance that everything falls apart, Jensen can't transition properly to the professional world or doesn't fit with his teammates, and C9 fail, maybe not even making it Worlds. Cloud9 had safer choices that could have been slotted into the starting position and possibly brought C9 back to their heyday when they ran North America win an iron fist, but I don't think C9 want to go back to their glory days. They've conquered North America. They know how it feels to dominate their domestic league.
They are taking a shot at the world with this move. It might fail spectacularly and leave them with more questions. Although, if it works and the European prodigy can live up to expectations, or even surpass that potential ceiling, Cloud9 could shatter their former benchmarks and be a true contender for a world title.
The time for being complacent is over for Cloud9. Incarnati0n could be a boom or a bust, and C9 are going all-in on the young Dane. For better or for worse, the new C9 era has officially begun, and merely domestic success won't cut it anymore — it's time to aim for the clouds and the Summoner's Cup.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports. Yes, maybe he should have used the title Re-Incarnati0n, but he didn't. So there.