CHICAGO -- Thousands in attendance at the Chicago Theatre cheered as Cloud9, the only North American team to make it to the quarterfinals of the 2016 League of Legends World Championship, walked onstage Thursday night to compete for a spot in the semifinals at New York's Madison Square Garden next week. But as the crowd erupted for even the slightest Cloud9 advantage, their campaign was on the brink of coming to an end. The crowd went silent as Cloud9 fell convincingly to Samsung Galaxy in three straight games.
Following the loss, Cloud9 waved good-bye to fans and headed out of the arena as a somber mood loomed over the room. North American fans may have been sad, but support Andy "Smoothie" Ta says his team took the loss well, despite the crushing games.
"Samsung is a really good team, so we're not taking it that badly, but we definitely played really bad as a team; our teamwork just wasn't up to par," Smoothie says. "Korean teams punish that a lot more than other teams do."
Smoothie says after qualifying for the quarterfinals on Sunday in San Francisco, the team had very little time to practice.
"I think I gave it our best shot to fix our problems," he says. "Our practice was really efficient these past two days, but we only had two days of practice or actually even prepare for these games; we didn't have a lot of time."
Cloud9, for their part, looked lost against Samsung Galaxy in their games Thursday night. Despite having a decent early game, the team got obliterated in the late game, with Samsung Galaxy slowly bleeding them out in the second two matchups. It's something that Smoothie said he wishes he and his team could've addressed beforehand.
"We tried to fix as much as we could. We kind of knew our problems," he says. "We just fixed the outer layer and never really got to the deep stuff. I don't think we could've fixed much more than that."
Coming to Chicago, Cloud9 was North America's last hope, as their peers, Counter Logic Gaming and Team SoloMid were eliminated during the group stage. For many, this would put pressure on their team, but Smoothie says it felt good coming into the late half of the week. His only regret is his team should have practiced harder during Worlds in order to make a deeper run.
"Being NA's last hope, it feels pretty good at first," he says. "When Worlds started, I think we just didn't take practice as serious as we should've; we played a lot of other games [that weren't League]. I'm not saying other games affected us too much, 'cause we played them outside of scrimmages and during queue times and stuff. It's not that bad. But I think we could've been more focused and just commit everything to Worlds. To some extent, we did that, but I personally think we could do more and just get as good as we could while I was there."
Prior to joining Cloud9 and making it to Worlds, Smoothie started his 2016 with a rough patch on Team Liquid. Formerly of Team Dragon Knights, which suffered in the summer of 2015 from visa issues that eventually relegated the team out of the League Championship Series (LCS), Smoothie joined Team Liquid as its original starting support. But his time on the starting roster came to an end after one week, and he moved to its Challenger lineup.
"It was really hard because I'm not gonna say the only hard bot lanes are Immortals and Team SoloMid, but even those guys don't punish mistakes as much as hard as [South] Korean teams do ... I don't know, I think it's pretty troll to say that going to [South] Korea was a bad thing." Andy "Smoothie" Ta
"I've had phases in my career, where I thought I was the best in my role," Smoothie says. "I thought I was the worst in my role towards the end of [my time on] Team Liquid. Now I'm up there again. I was just really complacent, even on Team Liquid, I thought I was mechanically gifted and everything would fall into place because I could make plays all around the map. That wasn't really the case though because macro play was a really big factor, and I didn't know a single bit of macro play at all."
Team Liquid Academy was unable to qualify for the LCS, and Smoothie left shortly after. Despite the ups and downs, Smoothie says that while working with Team Liquid, he learned a lot thanks to their coach Choi "Locodoco" Yoon-sub, who taught him wider basics of the team.
After leaving Liquid, he traveled to South Korea, where he trialed and boot camped with Cloud9 and joined their roster to split starting time with fellow support Michael "Bunny FuFuu" Kurylo.
"Fitting in with these guys was really, really easy; they're really all very welcoming, and they're really funny, so it's not very hard to get along with them," he says. "They're just a bunch of memers -- that's the reputation of Cloud9 -- it's really easy. If you can just all laugh and just have fun, you're gonna have a good time on the team. From the start, it was really easy to transition into the team."
During this week, following the loss of Team SoloMid and comments made by their head coach, Weldon Green, on South Korean boot camps, some North American fans stated on social media that boot camping in South Korea was not worthwhile. As someone who experienced it, Smoothie says he can't take those comments seriously.
"I definitely think [boot camping in South Korea] was worthwhile; I thought that whole [outrage] was pretty troll," he says. "The amount I learned in Korea was insane, I pretty much learned how to play ranged supports in Korea, completely from the start. It was really hard because I'm not gonna say the only hard bot lanes are Immortals and Team SoloMid, but even those guys don't punish mistakes as much as hard as Korean teams do ... I don't know, I think it's pretty troll to say that going to Korea was a bad thing."
And as Cloud9 has been eliminated, the North American League of Legends scene will enter its winter offseason and two-and-a-half months of roster changes, when much of the region's talent will move to new teams.
"The future for me is that I'm just going to keep playing as my body allows me to, until whenever I decide I want to stop playing," Smoothie says. "I like being on Cloud9 a lot. I think being on this team is a really good experience for me, and I'll just keep improving and eventually become as the best support in North America. I'm not there yet, but maybe get there soon."