(Image Credit: Chris Yunker)
Cloud9 announced via their YouTube channel that three of their best players, Sneaky, Jensen, and Smoothie, would be swapped out with their respective substitutes from Cloud9 Academy for the first week of the NA LCS, leaving these stars to fight on the Academy roster for at least the first week.
Reapered and Jack announce in the video that the reason for these substitutions are primarily due to the academy team performing so well that management wanted to reward them with some first-team games.
Jack also notes "...we wanted to put together the best possible team for our week one stage, and these players are our best players."
This statement alone raises more questions than the substitutions in a vacuum ever could have.
It's not uncommon for the management of a professional sports team to use alternate players as a means of incentive for their starters to work harder. To "light the fire" as it were.
Some examples include Javier Hernandez at Real Madrid for Benzema or Demonte at Echo Fox for Fenix. And not to say this tactic doesn't have its merits, but I doubt very much that this is really the reason for C9's drastic and sudden changes. In my opinion it just doesn't add up.
To accept Jack and Reapered's reasoning, we would have to believe that all three of these players, Jensen, Sneaky, and Smoothie, who are all arguably the best North American players in their roles, were collectively not putting in the effort needed of them: Unlikely, but not impossible.
Alongside this, we would have to perform the mental gymnastics required to agree that these three academy players, goldenglue, Keith, and Zeyzal, are all better than their starter team counterparts.
goldenglue doesn't seem to be a bad player, but his only NA LCS experience is playing with teams who fail to qualify for it, aside from Team 8 and coming in 9th place with Team Liquid's 2017 roster. He can perform as good as he wants in the academy league, but that just doesn't measure up accurately to NA LCS level matches at all.
But hey, let's give the benefit of the doubt to the management and say that goldenglue has been playing well and working harder than Jensen (who is the best current NA mid-laner by far, I'll remind you.) Fine. Maybe the sub will encourage Jensen to work harder and take his spot back.
But then we have to do that two more times to get to where we need to be with the justification given by Jack and Reapered.
The same thing happened to Smoothie? And the same thing happened to Sneaky? As close to impossible as you can get.
I'm sure these subs are all hardworking players, but they're not all the same talent of Sneaky, Smoothie, and Jensen. They aren't as great. At least not yet.
So that begs the question, what's the real reason for these changes? What's going on behind the scenes?
That's not an easy question to answer for Jensen or Smoothie, but perhaps there's a simpler answer for Sneaky.
A quiet retirement
Since May of 2013, Zachary Scuderi has been performing at the highest level of LoL. Over that five year period, he's made himself known as one of the most consistent AD carries of the west. I think this may be coming to an end.
Now, at the end of that long and successful story, Sneaky finds himself at the ripe old age of 24. Of course that's not so old at all for competitors in general, but research done by ESPN found that the average age of an LCS player was 21 years.
It might not seem like much, but those three years can mean a lot for an Esports player. Obviously there are players older than Sneaky, like Aphromoo, for example. And there will always be anomalies that play above the age of 25-26, like LemonNation, but with each passing month, Sneaky risks falling from that threshold of being able to stay as consistent as he has been for his entire career. And if he's uninterested like this substitution might suggest, the time could be ticking.
Readers understand, this is entirely speculation, but it isn't unlikely that Sneaky wants to step down from his role as an ADC at the organization, but isn't sure if its a good time to pass the mantle off to someone else just yet. Or perhaps this could be the team preparing for the inevitable.
Either way, to me this looks like an introduction to the potential future of the organization. Even the potential near future.
It would make sense in relation to Jensen and Smoothie as well: If they were to announce that just Sneaky was being subbed temporarily, everyone would assume that he was simply retiring. This way, fans can see that it's not that Sneaky is being benched, it's that pretty much everyone is. And it's okay because it's just temporary, and we get tweets like this to make us feel like it's not that serious.
Here's how I see things potentially happening from here: Within a week or two, Jensen or Smoothie will be back, and then the week following Sneaky will play again. Just enough time to give the fans room to adjust to the academy players, and just enough time to make sure the first team is back to make this summer split competitive.
Again, its all speculation. But ask yourself what's more likely, that all three of these amazing players are academy tier and uninterested, or something more important is going on behind it?
If this theory is anywhere close to correct, I imagine you could expect Sneaky to retire as a player after 2018's Worlds, with his contract ending late November of 2018.