On May 30, 2015, Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen stepped onto the North American stage to play his first competitive game. Of course, back then he wasn’t known by his real name, but rather by his handle—Incarnati0n. He was never supposed to get this far.
Two years ago, Incarnati0n was a high-Elo European mid laner that received the worst punishment a player could ever receive in League of Legends. He got permabanned.
His wrongdoings included “a consistent pattern of in-game verbal abuse, offensive behavior, and negative attitude”. Worst of all, he was accused of “unapologetically admitting to engaging in a series of DDOS attacks against high-Elo players.” For any other player, this type of ruling would spell the end of their career. But for Jensen – or rather, Incarnati0n – that was just the beginning.
The Danish prodigy
In any trade or profession, it’s exceedingly rare to encounter a talent so immense it overshadows 99% of the competition. But Incarnati0n was one of those extraordinary cases. While many fans have only learned his name from the competitive ruling, he was already getting traction in his home region as the next rising European mid laner. With staggering win rates on assassins and mages, Incarnati0n quickly became the star of countless montages.
But Solo Queue wasn’t the only place where his talent shined. Even after the permaban, SK Gaming recognized his ability and invited him to coach the lineup of freddy122 (top), Svenskeren (jungle), Jesiz (mid), CandyPanda (AD), and nRated (support). Incarnati0n accepted. He trained the team for the entirety of the 2014 EU LCS season and got SK a second-place finish in spring and a third-place finish in summer. Not bad for someone coming straight out of Solo Queue.
Unfortunately, Incarnati0n’s coaching career came to an abrupt end when Riot didn’t allow him to join SK Gaming at the 2014 League of Legends World Championship. Combined with Svenskeren’s 3-game ban, this meant SK couldn’t even make it out of groups. As for Incarnati0n, he was still haunted by his history. And even though there wasn’t a single word about coaching in his competitive ruling, it was very clear that he became a persona non grata in the LoL scene.
When everyone and everything seems to be opposed to your success, it’s easy to cave under pressure. But Incarnati0n kept playing, determined to redeem himself and prove his worth on the LCS stage. Public opinion split.
Some argued Incarnati0n deserved another shot because of his improved behavior and natural talent. Others said he should feel fortunate for being allowed to play the game at all. Surprisingly enough, it was Riot Games themselves that lent Incarnati0n a helping hand. The company made changes to its suspension policies, changes that emphasized reforming banned players instead of keeping them out of the League of Legends ecosystem. And so, Incarnati0n was finally given his second chance.
In the blink of an eye, speculation began on who would be the first to pick up the most promising Western mid laner. While the community was busy guessing which European team Incarnati0n would join, an offer came from across the ocean. Incarnati0n was going to Cloud9.
A clouded path
Incarnati0n joined the team at a difficult time. With Hai’s retirement, C9 lost their main shot caller, and the rookie mid laner had very big shoes to fill. Of course, to the majority of the fans who didn’t know just how big of a role Hai played on his team, bringing in an up-and-coming prodigy in place of a slumping veteran seemed like a pretty good deal. Everyone thought Incarnati0n would enter the NA LCS and revolutionize the mid lane meta in the same way another Danish player did.
Yet that prediction couldn’t have been further from the truth.
On May 30, 2015, Incarnati0n stepped onto the North American stage to play his first competitive game against TSM. And that game was a complete fiasco. Incarnati0n elected to go for a scaling AP Kog’Maw pick and found himself 50 CS behind at the 11-minute mark, struggling to fight back against Bjergsen’s Viktor.
In the end, Cloud9 stalled the game long enough for Kog’Maw to start pulling his weight in teamfights and secured a hard-fought victory. But still, that was the first warning that the mid lane switch wasn’t working.
The following games further exposed Cloud9’s horrid state. A team that was once hailed as the best macro lineup in the NA LCS looked hopelessly lost and kept giving away one objective after another. Incarnati0n, the supposed saving grace of this team, turned into the main reason for its downfall.
In retrospect, there were far too many issues for a rookie to deal with. The meta shifted away from his trademark assassins towards control mages, the synergy with Meteos was lacking, and C9 were struggling as a whole. Most importantly, there was a distinct void left by Hai’s absence. Despite Incarnati0n’s mechanical prowess, he couldn’t match the in-game presence of Cloud9’s former captain.
As the team lost more and more games, a shadow started looming over the Dane’s head. It was clear that Cloud9 had to make changes—and fast—if they wanted to salvage their Summer Split. The most straightforward way of doing this would be moving Incarnati0n to a substitute position and bringing Hai back to the mid lane. Yet that wasn’t what happened.
On July 3rd, Cloud9 announced that Meteos was stepping down from the jungle position to make room for Hai, who would return as the team’s main shot caller. And suddenly, everything clicked. Cloud9 grew stronger by the minute and racked up more and more wins with every passing week. The macro that once made this team so fearsome was finally back.
With the support of a jungler that knew the ins and outs of mid lane, Incarnati0n finally unlocked his potential and stepped up as the main carry of his team. It was by the skin of their teeth, but Cloud9 secured a seventh-place finish and qualified for the Gauntlet. None of them knew they took the first step towards making the NA LCS history.
The miracle run
When Cloud9 entered the Gauntlet, the odds were stacked against them. In order to get to the 2015 World Championship, they had to go through Gravity, Team Impulse, and Team Liquid—three lineups that had bested them over the course of the regular split. No matter the improvements, Hai was still looking shaky in his new role, and taking down three strong opponents in consecutive Bo5s would be nothing short of a miracle. But what most people didn’t know was that the old C9 mid laner made a promise with the new one.
"I will do my best to bring you to Worlds if you can carry me there."
– Hai to Incarnati0n
And so, both of them got to work. Unfortunately, their first series started with an experimental Amumu pick backfiring and leading to two swift losses. The Gauntlet barely even began, and the team was already looking at a 0-2 score. But while their fans were losing hope, Cloud9 were determined to fight until the very end.
In the third game, Hai went for a Smite/Exhaust Shyvana with a Devourer enchantment—a playstyle that was highly unconventional at the time. But C9’s captain made it work, and his team found its first victory. The same thing happened next game with an unorthodox Kha’Zix pick, and—despite Gravity’s best efforts—Cloud9 completed their reverse sweep with a confident game 5 victory.
But Cloud9 didn’t have time for celebration as they prepared to challenge Team Impulse. How would Hai hold up against a mechanical monster like Rush? Turns out, not so great. Hai’s Elise was nigh invisible in game 1 and his Shyvana was completely decimated in game 2, putting C9 at another 0-2 deficit. For the third game, the team decided to try something different by drafting Yasuo and Vayne for Incarnati0n and Sneaky. And the champions that are more known for their Solo Queue flair than competitive prowess demolished Team Impulse in a 28-minute bloodbath!
In game 4, Incarnati0n crushed Gate’s Yasuo with his Diana while Sneaky continued his rampage. This forced TiP to ban Vayne in the final game of the series, leaving them wide open for Incranati0n’s Azir. The champion was already in a pick-or-ban state, but giving him to one of the most mechanically gifted mid laners in the West spelled certain doom for Team Impulse. Sure enough, the Dane showed up, and Cloud9 pulled off another reverse sweep.
The ultimate underdog story came to a climax in the clash between Cloud9 and Team Liquid. And while TL were their strongest opponents yet, nothing could stop C9’s momentum. It was almost as if Cloud9 were destined to defeat Team Liquid, and they fulfilled their destiny by scoring a 3-1 victory and qualifying for the biggest tournament of them all.
It was a rocky road, but by the end, Incarnati0n was going to Worlds.
The 2015 League of Legends World Championship came down to the wire. Despite getting a good start, Cloud9 hit a brick wall in the second week of the tournament and suffered three back-to-back losses, finding themselves at a 3-3 stalemate with Ahq e-Sports. As to which of the two would advance to the Quarterfinals, it was all decided by a Bo1 tiebreaker.
The spotlight was on Incarnati0n. C9’s mid laner locked in Yasuo—a pick that had already worked out for him in a similar situation and was meant to punish Westdoor’s Twisted Fate. Unfortunately, Hai’s lack of jungle expertise showed when he took a risky Lee Sin Q in a level 1 skirmish and ended up paying with his flash. This meant that C9 lost a lot of jungle pressure in the early game, and Ahq used this advantage to secure an easy first turret and deny Balls a giant creep wave.
Meanwhile, Incarnati0n kept pushing Westdoor into a corner. His aggressive trades earned him a sizeable 20 CS lead at the 8-minute mark, but that wasn’t enough to make up for the overall deficit. Not only that, but the nature of Cloud9’s team composition meant they had little to no wave clear to combat Ahq’s siege.
Something had to be done to tip the scales in their favor, and Hai and Incarnati0n orchestrated a risky dive past the outer turret and got Yasuo his first kill. Of course, this wasn’t going to change much when every other part of the map was losing. But Incarnati0n wasn’t content on stopping there.
Fast forward to 20 minutes into the game, and Incarnati0n was sitting at a massive 4/0/1. And while everything around him was falling apart, a fed Yasuo was more than capable of keeping Cloud9 in the game. And so, everything came down to the Baron dance. C9 set up vision around the pit and positioned themselves next to the void monster, but Ahq were far too close to let them secure the objective.
Things had to be decided with a teamfight. As long as someone pulled off a knock up, Incarnati0n could follow it up with Last Breath for a devastating combo. At 27:52 Balls thought he’d found the perfect opening and went for a Flash + Malphite Ultimate onto the enemy Jinx. Unfortunately, the move was far too telegraphed, and Jinx flashed away, leaving Malphite stranded in the middle of the enemy team. What followed was a one-sided massacre where Ahq aced Cloud9 and secured a free Baron on top of that. Both teams still went through the motions, but the game was already over. C9’s Worlds run came to an end.
Despite the loss, most C9 members found themselves smiling. Going from a seventh-place finish in the regular season to the World Championship was a miracle in its own right, and now they had an entire off-season to prepare for their comeback.
Incarnati0n didn’t seem to share the sentiment. Most C9 members were seasoned veterans with a number of World Championships under their belts. But for the Danish newcomer, it was the first time he’s come so far… only to fall short when it mattered most. Understandably, he was crushed.
They say a name can define a person. If that’s the case, the nickname “Incarnati0n” certainly didn’t serve Jensen well. A lot of his old infamy was still attached to it, so it made sense for to look for a fresh start—especially following a disappointing Worlds performance. Incarnati0n’s story ended in the final weeks of 2015.
Then the story of Jensen began.
And he wasn’t the only one that changed. Cloud9 also realized they needed to make adjustments, thus came the signing of the former TiP jungler Rush and a rookie support BunnyFuFuu. The plan was to add more firepower to the jungle role while building Bunny up into a primary shot caller, having him split game time with Hai.
But while C9 were rebuilding their roster, the NA LCS kept growing stronger. A brand new Immortals lineup entered the league, bringing in the power duo of Huni and Reignover from Europe. No one was quite sure what to expect of this team, but C9 were about to find out.
The teams clashed on the first day of the NA LCS. Immortals instantly seized the initiative with an early 5-man gank onto Jensen, and, after beating down C9’s ace, they’d moved on to methodically crush side lanes. Jensen and his teammates could do nothing but watch as the NA LCS newcomers claimed one objective after another. When the game hit the 20-minute mark, the match was all but over. C9’s new roster was dismantled in a blink of an eye.
This team still needed a leader, and even the most promising rookie couldn’t fill Hai’s shoes. BunnyFuFuu only played one more game during the entire 2016 Spring Split (a loss against Team Impulse). As for the rest of the season, Hai took over the support position. Together with Jensen, he led the team to a 12-6 record and a third-place finish—a much better result than last split, but a far cry from Immortals who’d finished first. Still, with Cloud9 going against the struggling Team SoloMid in the first round of the playoffs, the future seemed bright for them.
Game 1 went as expected with Jensen using his Twisted Fate to set up cross-map plays and snowball his side lanes. He ended the game with a massive 9/0/7 score line, and—after such a one-sided showing—C9 looked set to take the whole series. Yet the same TSM that was slumping the whole split had a sudden resurgence.
As the series progressed, TSM took advantage of Rush’s limited champion pool to bully him in the jungle while Bjergsen held his ground in the mid lane. Whether it was on Azir, Zed, or even Vel’Koz, TSM’s mid laner seemed to always have the upper hand.
With their best player losing the mid lane standoff, C9 fell apart and were knocked out in the first round of playoffs. Once again, Jensen looked devastated by the loss, but just like in the time of his permaban, he didn’t let this setback stop him. He had to keep playing, had to keep getting better.
And Cloud9 had to evolve with him.
Taking the stage
At this point, it was almost customary for Cloud9 to come into a new split with a fresh roster. With LemonNation, Rush, Balls, and—most notably—Hai moving to the Challenger team, C9 had a lot of holes to fill. Smoothie joined BunnyFuFuu in the support role, Meteos came back to the jungle, and Impact took the top lane position. But a far more significant signing was a new coach from Korea—Reapered—who was supposed to teach Cloud9 the nuts and bolts of the macro game. As for Jensen, for the first time in a while, he would be playing without Hai’s guidance to fall back on. He was on his own.
But a new roster didn’t save C9 from suffering the same fate. Once again, they fell victim to Immortals’ power plays on the first day of the 2016 Summer Split as Jensen desperately tried to catch up to Pobelter. Cloud9 spent the rest of the season experimenting with supports until it became apparent that Smoothie was much more apt to take up Hai’s shot calling duties. They finished the split in 3rd place and prepared for the playoffs. In the second round, they'd have to face Immortals, the same team that defeated them in the beginning of the split
From the very first game, both teams started trading blows with each other. Jensen had the lane pressure on LeBlanc, but had a hard time translating that into kills while Pobelter broke open the map with well-timed Taliyah roams. Still, it wasn’t until the 22-minute mark that Immortals caught C9 overextending and split them up with a clutch Taliyah wall to win a decisive teamfight and—ultimately—the game.
In the second game, Cloud9 paid Immortals back in spades by taking advantage of a reckless Baron call. Teams kept going toe-to-toe until they’ve hit the final match in the Bo5.
This was the game that would decide it all.
In the beginning, Immortals kept finding one early lead after another. But C9 did well to keep up in farm and hold their ground in 5v5s. Jensen’s Syndra combos and with Sneaky’s Ashe arrows were key in finding the right openings until Cloud9 could ramp up and overpower Immortals in teamfights. Even so, it was only at the 47-minute mark that they could claim their hard-fought victory.
It wasn’t time for rest, though, as another Bo5 was looming. This time the stakes were even higher as C9 had to go against TSM, and Jensen would once again get to face his nemesis.
He started off on the right foot by scoring a solo kill on Cassiopeia onto Bjergsen’s Vladimir, and C9 capitalized on this momentum to bring Team SoloMid down with a string of successful skirmishes. TSM might’ve had a 17-1 record during the regular split, but at this point, C9 truly looked like the better team
And then game 2 happened. With the help of Svenskeren, Bjergsen’s Cassiopeia got the first blood on Jensen’s Vel’Koz and took over the game. Despite C9 valiant attempts to fight back, the mid lane discrepancy was far too severe, and TSM evened out the score. The same story unfolded in games 3 and 4.
No matter how much pressure Impact had in the top lane, Jensen was repeatedly bested by Bjergsen, which made it all too easy for TSM to set the pace of the game. And when Jensen finally made a massive catch onto Hauntzer and Bjergsen, Doublelift stepped in to crush his hopes.
The 1-3 loss devastated Jensen. After all, a huge part of Cloud9’s game plan revolved around him winning the mid lane. And while Jensen gave it his all, Bjergsen was always a step ahead.
But the split wasn’t over for Cloud9. Even though they’d reached the finals, they still had to fight Immortals for the right to go to Worlds. Still, this was an enemy C9 knew well, and the balance of power didn’t shift in a significant way. C9 started the series with a bang by scoring two back-to-back wins and—despite Immortals’ best efforts—wrapped up the match with a 3-1 victory. With that, Jensen would have another second chance. Another opportunity to prove his worth at Worlds.
From the moment they step on the competitive stage, every mid laner dreams of facing Faker. Jensen was no exception.
A lot had happened to him at the 2016 World Championship. Two scrappy back-to-back victories against IMay, a 70-minute comeback against Flash Wolves where C9 were down three inhibitors with Meteos connecting his only Lee Sin combo to save the day, and then another game where Flash Wolves exacted their revenge. During all of these matches, Jensen was C9’s rock, showing up on any pick he was given.
Still, his shortcomings were fully exposed in the games against SKT T1, against Faker.
The lack of synergy between Jensen and Meteos made it all too easy for Bengi to camp mid lane to the point where Faker could confidently 1v1 his opponent. The following roams from Wolf sealed the deal. And while C9 fought back in the second game, most of their advantages came from the side lanes, and they still struggled to find leads for their star player. The game ended with SKT crushing C9 in teamfights thanks to a stellar showing from Faker’s Viktor. And so, the God of mid lane proved out of Jensen's reach.
When Cloud9 finished the group stage with a 3-3 record, it seemed that a repeat of the last World Championship was in store. But—surprisingly enough—both IMay and Flash Wolves only had two victories to show for their efforts, meaning Cloud9'd naturally advance over them into the quarterfinals
But this wasn’t the start of the Cinderella story everyone was hoping for, because in quarterfinals against Samsung Galaxy, Cloud9 hit a brick wall. Once again, a huge part of it was the mid lane.
Jensen struggled to find any meaningful leads against Crown while his side lanes caved under Samsung’s pressure. And even when Cloud9 found advantages in the early game, Samsung made short work of them with superior teamfighting.
After a 0-3 loss, Jensen sat still, staring at the monitor. He was still there, still in the game—and he didn’t notice it was already time for a handshake. To Jensen, this entire World Championship was a chance to redeem himself. And he blew it.
A game of inches
The 2017 Spring Split started with Cloud9 swapping out Meteos in favor of Contractz. The rookie jungler would have his first test be a trial by fire against the NA LCS powerhouse—TSM. This was also an opportunity for Jensen to strike back at his biggest rival in North America—Bjergsen.
And boy did he deliver! The newfound synergy between Contractz and Jensen allowed C9 to take advantage of Bjergsen’s brash play and break open the mid lane. Even though Jensen had outstanding showings on Fizz (5/0/8) and Syndra (6/1/9), it was really his jungler who was the star of the series. C9 wrapped up the series with a confident 2-0, and looked ready to take on the world.
The regular season did little to change this narrative, and C9 kept racking up one win after another. However, Team SoloMid also started gaining traction. In the end, they outperformed Cloud9 by a single series win and finished first with a 15-3 record. Still, it was only a matter of time before both teams would meet in the finals. Considering TSM were playing without Doublelift, this was Jensen’s best bet to claim his NA LCS victory.
But in the very first game, TSM blew Cloud9 out of the water by scoring a massive 16-1 win at the 28-minute mark. The second game was even worse with C9 bleeding kills left, right, and center. Even Jensen started committing mistakes, desperately trying to make a comeback happen. But it was not meant to be, and TSM claimed a second victory.
In the third game, Cloud9 finally managed to regain their composure. Jensen constantly found himself a step behind Bjergsen’s Ahri, but Ray and Contractz picked up the slack and carried C9 in teamfights. Still, it wasn’t until a string of back-and-forth skirmishes and a sketchy Baron from TSM that C9 could close out the game. It was messy, it was hectic, but—most importantly—it was a win. Cloud9 took this momentum to come out with their own blowout performance in game 4 and tie up the series 2-2. Could this be the making of another iconic reverse sweep?
The final match was truly a game of inches. Theeams traded one crushing blow after another with Bjergsen making his presence known on Syndra and Jensen matching him on Ekko. After a nail-biting teamfight 38 minutes into the game, Cloud9 took down Baron and looked set to become the NA LCS champions. But even with a Baron buff, the enemy base was too hard to breach.
As TSM grouped around the Elder Dragon, Cloud9 had no choice but to challenge them for one final teamfight. By all means, this should’ve been Jensen’s moment. With Ray using Kled ultimate, Jensen looked poised to wreak havoc on his Ekko. But just for a split second he lost his focus, didn’t hit Zhonya’s to protect himself from the massive burst of Syndra and Camille, and—in a blink of an eye—he got deleted.
The rest of Cloud9 scrambled to keep the teamfight afloat, but the game of inches had lost a foot. TSM went on to ace C9 and become the NA LCS champions, and Jensen—once again—found himself falling short of the title. This time, with no one else to blame but himself.
The eternal challenger
As of now, Jensen has had his strongest regular split to date. Despite the rest of C9 going through their fair share of hardships, he stepped up and became the singular carry of his team, single-handedly winning one game after another. Maybe he’s finally unlocked his immense potential. Or—perhaps—the devastating loss in spring made him even more determined to claim his overdue victory.
Ultimately, his form made little difference in a series against Team Dignitas, which was decided by the side lanes. With Cloud9 losing the match 1-3, their only hope to get to the 2018 World Championship is another miracle run through the Gauntlet. But the narrative of Jensen falling short of another NA LCS title has already unfolded.
In the end, Jensen’s career is a path filled with failure to reach that very top rung of the ladder. In spite of the performance of a mid lane prodigy, he hasn't had things handed to him on a silver platter. He repeatedly failed to win the NA LCS split, he was bested at two consecutive World Championships, and he missed more second shots than any other pro in the Western scene. And he had to work long and hard for the few achievements he did accomplish.
But they say failure builds character. And it’s precisely the character of Jensen—a player that fell down so many times only to pick himself up—that draws thousands of viewers to their screens. Hoping that one day, they would see him succeed.
Images and LCS highlights courtesy of Riot Games.
Incarnation montage courtesy of dodgedlol.
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