In August, when Jordan "n0thing" Gilbert and Mike "shroud" Grzesiek were benched by Cloud9 in favor of signing Will "RUSH" Wierzba and Tarik "tarik" Celik, some North American Counter-Strike: Global Offensive fans thought it might be a joke.
After all, the team had just fought through a rigorous qualification process, winning enough matches to grab a coveted spot at the PGL Major in Krakow, Poland. However, a month after after a disappointing 9th/11th place finish at the Major, the change was made.
For the first time in just more than three years, n0thing, the beloved son of North American Counter-Strike, would not be donning those shades of powder blue he had triumphantly worn over the years. His time with Cloud9 had come to an end. And whether or not n0thing chooses to compete again or delve into other esports endeavors, the last chapter of his CS:GO career has yet to be written.
"I'm not really sure I want to compete again, but I really do at the same time," n0thing told ESPN. "Right now, I'm still under contract with Cloud9, and they have given me great support."
The 27-year-old said he has already been contacted by numerous organizations to compete for their CS:GO teams, but after having time to reflect both personally and professionally, he isn't sure he likes what he sees at the moment. In terms of playing Counter-Strike again, he points to three glaring issues: social media, roster rules and the lack of a defined season.
"The Immortals situation was a shame," n0thing said. That roster was decimated following multiple late appearances and penalties during DreamHack Montreal, where Immortals made a finals appearance. "It's never going to end well if somebody makes a selfish decision in professional Counter-Strike. It almost always affects your team."
"The roster change situation is so difficult because there's so many different organizations and they all have their own rule sets, "n0thing added. "This comes back to the players needing a collective bargaining agreement with the organizers who need to work with the players and everyone involved so that the roster situation gets cleaned up. It's difficult because the organizations that run the leagues and tournaments want to dominate the scene. I get that, but it needs to be fixed."
The discussion of roster rules and locks has been the hot-button topic late in 2017 as many teams are finding out that if one of their players is unable to play, whether it be from an illness or being benched, the current rule set of the biggest tournaments such as the ones run by ECS and ESL preclude teams from acquiring players that have participated in those leagues after a certain date.
However, the biggest problem facing the Counter-Strike scene, n0thing said, is a lack of a firm schedule or season. Often, he said, players are overworked as a result. For example, in 2017, Cloud9 has played in 29 events spanning three continents, playing or traveling for 122 days with January being the only month off. N0thing definitely sees this as a problem.
"If I and others knew ahead that there was a good schedule and I knew I would be home during certain times, it would benefit everyone," n0thing said. "I've been in the situation that you can't plan for anything and you have to cancel plans. I made that choice, and I accept that, but now that I'm not playing I would like to see a more structured schedule for everyone.
"I have had less free time with friends and family to live a normal life. I know I chose this profession, but it's just so time consuming."
Getting a chance to reconnect with those people, n0thing said, was comforting. However, his fans are still clamoring for a return to the professional scene as a player.
"Some of those emails have been really sweet," n0thing said. "Some people have said that even if I don't come back, having watched me, they've have had a lot of fun and have thanked me a lot. I've touched some of their lives for the better."
And it's not just fans sending emails that have asked for n0thing's return. Random people he has met doing mundane things, such as buying a cord for his computer, have approached him and asked about his return.
"I was at Fry's [Electronics] the other day, and one of the guys recognized me and almost flipped out," n0thing said. "It was really cool, and it was really nice to meet him. That's something I would definitely miss if I don't ever compete again."
Even if he doesn't play for a pro team again, n0thing won't disappear. He plans to continue his vlogging and expand both his YouTube and Twitch channels whenever he retires.
"I'm still streaming Twitch and YouTube but haven't hit the production quota that I wanted as of yet," n0thing said. "I want to be one of the main figures in the scene in North America that brings a little sense. I want to help change and shape the next generation of CS:GO players and first-person shooting games."
N0thing has already appeared as an on-camera analyst and will be part of the talent crew for the ECS Season 4 Finals in Cancun, Mexico, taking place Dec. 15-17. He hasn't made up his mind if being on-camera is what he wants to do.
"I would love to compete and analyze at an event if they would let me, because I really like talking about Counter-Strike," n0thing said. "It's just one of those things that's fun to do. While I am not sure I'm going to accept every offer, I'm am fielding all offers because I think it's interesting and fun."
But no matter how much his fans enjoy his on-air personality, a return to the screen as a competitor is the No. 1 request in n0thing's inbox.
"I guess we will see," n0thing said. "I told myself I would wait until the holidays are over to evaluate or make decisions, and I've consciously decided to chill until December. Not necessarily completely chill, but to look at things, watch rosters and look for rosters that maybe I'd want to be a part of.
"I want to be with a bunch of guys with a good attitudes and have fun. That's not to say that my other team had bad attitudes; it was more general. However, I do want to get involved and will get involved with some non-competition projects in esports that could be very cool."