From online pariah to offline superstar, Cloud9's Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen has become one of the West's best players. Once banned from professional play due to his in-game toxicity and other online issues back when he was a teenager, Jensen looked to be heading toward history as one of the greatest what-ifs in professional League of Legends. An outstanding solo queue standout from Denmark, there was no denying his skill.
But it was his attitude that was going to keep him away from the world of pro gaming.
Like many kids his age, he matured. He patiently waited for his professional ban to be lifted while simultaneously fixing his attitude, and Riot accommodated by reinstating him on May 11, 2015. Jensen, finally able to enter a team environment, quickly signed with Cloud9 as its new starting mid laner and took over for longtime captain Hai "Hai" Lam. Under the ID, at the time, of "Incarnati0n," Jensen had been fully reincarnated -- moving away from his past to create a brighter future for himself.
"Before I went pro, I played a lot of solo queue," said Jensen following his team's victory over Apex Gaming to solidify a 4-2 overall record. "I literally would sleep six hours a night and play all day. So I got pretty good mechanically, but then my five-on-five teamplay wasn't that good. And I was really scared of playing on stage. I was very passive, so I always tried to farm and not go for trades."
When he made his debut on Cloud9, expectations were high. The trade of Hai for Jensen was supposed to give his team the edge it needed to beat rivals Team SoloMid, the team that had defeated Cloud9 in the past two North American League Championship finals. TSM possessed the best mid laner in the west with Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg, and although Hai was a disciplined veteran and in-game leader, the play-making ability in the middle lane was heavily weighted towards TSM. Jensen was supposed to be a player with the potential to be an equal to his Danish countryman -- a game breaker with the technical ability to blow open a game due to his individual skill.
Jensen lagged behind for the first few weeks in the NA LCS. He was passive and didn't know how to play around the team. The individual talent came out at times, but he was timid -- scared to go too far forward and make a play without pressure from the jungle. It caused problems within the team, as the squad without Hai failed to resemble anything close to the former glory days of C9. Jensen, and the team as a whole, didn't round back into shape until Hai returned to the lineup in the middle of the summer split, reinserting himself as the jungler next to Jensen to help the young mid laner grow into the talent he is today.
"I'd say it was Hai," he answered when I asked which team or management member helped him adjust to playing professionally and living in a foreign country. "When I first started playing with him, he'd help me out a lot. Not how to play the game, but he'd set up my lane for me and always have my back -- ward for me and stuff. Not that we'd always go for stuff together, but he'd always allow me to play aggressive and feel good about the situation I'm in."
The tandem of Hai and Jensen worked well for C9 for the rest of the 2015 summer split and into the team's improbable run to the World Championship. Jensen's nerves started to wash away, and the teamwork that was once non-existent was becoming a major factor why C9 was doing well on the international stage. Despite failing to make it to the quarterfinals at the 2015 World Championships, Jensen had established himself as a force to be reckoned with by the end of his rookie stint.
As our interview went along, we breached a couple of subjects. On the topic of his danish rival from TSM, Bjergsen, Jensen feels while they're pretty equal, all he needs to do is focus on his own game against the two time NA LCS MVP and he'll do alright. The best-of-three format has also helped him and his team improve at a more rapid pace this split, as Cloud9 has already played more games in three weeks than it did all the way up until the last week of the previous split's regular season. More reps for the team and players means more strategies can be tested out, and the must needed chemistry between players on the stage can be crafted in a quarter of the time.
"I matured a lot," he said about his former transgressions that got him banned from pro play. "This was a long time ago. People mistake the toxicity when I was 17, 18, but it was actually way before that. Because back when I got banned, I was not really toxic anymore. I got banned because I had a perma-banned account from way back. So I learned my lesson a while ago, but obviously I got punished for it, which is fair enough."
Currently one of the star players on the biggest teams in esports, Jensen doesn't shy way from talking about his past, yet is only looking at what is to come. He's already made it to Worlds in his first year of playing, and a second trip is likely if C9 can keep up its improvements from the start of the split to now. The team's fate will rest on Hai's successor. Gone is the commanding leader of Cloud9 in the mid lane.
What remains is a gifted youngster, having learned from the former captain and in-game leader. He's not reformed or searching for redemption. He's just Jensen. And for Cloud9, that's all it needs him to be.