The boys of silver: Cloud 9’s second place tenure
Recently it’s been an emotional roller coaster for Cloud 9 fans. I should know. I’ve been one since I started watching esports. I came to League by way of Smash. I was, and still am, a Mang0 fan. When I started watching League in spring of season 4 I decided since Mang0 had been picked up by C9 I’d stay true to the org and root for C9. Fortunately, they won that split. Unfortunately, they haven’t won in NA since. While C9 hasn’t had an unsuccessful split since, even finishing 7th didn’t stop them from making it to worlds, they have been unable to clutch the NA championship trophy. Coming in 2nd no less than four times. Falling short all four times to TSM, who hasn’t missed an NA final since the inception of LCS.
I’m not displeased with Cloud 9’s performances, far from it. It is great to be a C9 fan. I can’t imagine the masochism that CLG and Team Liquid fans have endured. However, I can’t help but feel like the team is destined to fall just short, time and time again. It’s hard to pin down the weaknesses among the strengths. What exactly is it that Cloud 9 is missing?
Cloud 9 has always been able to team fight. When they joined the league they immediately rose to the top for three reasons.
The first was their mechanical prowess. It’s easily forgotten that at the offset Cloud 9 was considered a top-tier mechanical team. This was before Hai’s wrist issues.
The second was their ability to team fight. They would win nearly every team fight, often winning even when behind in gold.
Cloud 9 also had the x-factor of Hai. Hai was willing to make bold play calls and take risks in order to win, even when down. This often enabled his team to make comeback victories.
These three things combined to make them a dominant team in their first two splits. Cloud 9 had a combined record of 49-7 in their first two splits. They also took grand finals 3-0 both splits against TSM.
More recently the team has struggled at the last. However, they aren’t without their strengths. Jensen is widely regarded as a top two mid-laner. Some put him as the best in NA, but most think that he is second to TSM’s Bjergsen. He has great mechanical prowess and is often able to carry games. He is the superstar mid-laner for Cloud 9.
The bot lane also shows great strength. Sneaky and Smoothie have been consistently good throughout. Smoothie was named the best support in the league last split and Sneaky the second best ADC. Although they rarely display the level of hard carry prowess that Jensen does, they are more consistent. Their ceiling is high, but their floor isn’t far below it.
The top side of the map has shown some strength too. Contractz controls the early game and often ganks successfully to get his teammates ahead. Impact has the ability to work with little resources yet still have a presence. Jensen can carry games more easily because he soaks up the resources that aren’t devoted to Impact. Impact’s positioning in team fights as well as his engages are second to none. Ray has also shown a lot of promise. His J4 has been deadly and has brought C9 out of a hole more than once this split already.
Where then are the weaknesses? If every player has his strengths, what is the team struggling with? In order to highlight it I’m going to compare them to TSM. The reason for this is because Cloud 9 continues to fall short to this team.
At first glance it’s easy to say that TSM’s players are just better. Bjergsen is the better Jensen, Doublelift is the better Sneaky, and Svenskeren the better Contractz. It might be that TSM has better players, but team play is much more important than individual prowess.
TSM is also more proactive. Their macro and rotations are very good domestically. They rarely make bad calls and when they do they often find ways to make up for them. Cloud 9 on the other hand seem to hesitate. They are no longer at the level of macro play that they were when Hai was at the helm. When they play against lesser teams Cloud 9 often make quick work of them. They carve out advantages in the early game and then make decisive calls and win team fights in the mid game. Against teams like TSM, Cloud 9 hesitates a bit, or gets out rotated. C9 is unable to carve out an advantage early game, or struggle to rotate swiftly in the mid game. Cloud 9 doesn’t look lost, just timid.
There most certainly is no one solution to Cloud 9’s problem. However, one thing that is missing from the Cloud 9 of old is that X factor. Hai’s ability to shot call and his ethos was Cloud 9’s X factor. Now that they have a team with great mechanical ability and great team fighting they are struggling to find their X factor. TSM has their’s in Bjergsen. His ethos and prowess has carried TSM to the finals time and time again. Cloud 9 is trying to emulate that in Jensen, but has fallen short two splits in a row, in game 5. It’s as if Cloud 9 is trying to beat TSM at their own game.
Jensen has been unable to pull it out in the clutch. It’d be a lot easier to argue that he is the best mid in NA if he was able to beat the current king when it was all on the line. Cloud 9 needs to find their new X factor. That unquantifiable thing that will push them to the championship.
Photos via Lolesports Flickr
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