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?

 

Strengths

Photo Via Lolesports Flikr

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.

Weaknesses

Photo Via Lolesports Flikr

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.

Solutions

Photo Via Lolesports Flikr

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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NALCS Finals Preview: Rematch of the Gods

After a long LCS spring split, the finals are just days away. Two of the most successful organizations in Cloud 9 and Team SoloMid will face off once again to see who will be crowned as the champions of Spring Split 2017. This match is crucial for both teams. Ninety Circuit points and a spot at MSI are on the line.

Team SoloMid

Courtesy: Riot Esports

TSM comes in as slight favorites, having finished the regular season at the top of the standings. They looked much improved from the start of the split, with top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell having a breakout split. Mid laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg is still performing as the star mid laner we’ve come to know. Meanwhile, the bot lane duo of Jason “Wildturtle” Tran and Vincent “Biofrost” Wang have developed into a formidable bot lane duo.

TSM has a long history of NALCS titles, having been one of the first successful organizations in professional League of Legends. Owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh has made it clear that anything short of a first place finish is a disappointment.

They had a few early game hiccups in their semifinal match against Flyquest. Notably, jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen making some overly aggressive plays without proper lane pressure. This resulted in him and Hauntzer getting caught by a collapsing Flyquest in game one.

Despite this, all their lanes were usually fairly far ahead. Their rotations were solid and they were able to out maneuver Flyquest around the map in each game, resulting in their 3-0 sweep.

Cloud 9

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Cloud 9 came into the split as preseason favorites. With Wildturtle taking the helm at ADC for TSM, most expected Cloud 9 to step up as the new kings of North America. After a strong 8-0 start, the team’s problems became apparent. Their lack of early game play making was an evident problem that teams began to exploit.

Rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia has looked like the promising jungler most had hoped for at the beginning of the split. He had a great series against Phoenix1, and will be vital in their series against TSM.

Cloud 9 also has an interesting dynamic with their Korean top lane duo of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Jeon “Ray” Ji-won. Both top laners have shown some great performances on different champions. With Impact, they appear to like him on comps where a tank is needed, such as Nautilus or Maokai. With Ray, you always have to worry about his signature split push Jarvan or his Renekton.

Support Andy “Smoothie” Ta has had a breakout year, being heralded as the best support of the split this year. After some rocky splits on TL and TDK, he’s finally found his groove with this C9 roster.

With another split of coaching under Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, Cloud 9 looked like they had peaked midway through the split. As teams around them got better, they stayed the same, and dropped games because of this. With two weeks of practice before playing their first playoff match, they looked much improved. They’re hoping it will be enough to retake the North American throne from TSM.

 

Matchup to Watch: Svenskeren vs. Contractz

Courtesy: Riot Esports

My matchup to watch is in the jungle. Cloud 9’s Contractz got the better of Svenskeren in their first meeting of the split, but his performance slowly stagnated as the season progressed. He’s had a decent split with high expectations heading in. He’s had his share of rookie mistakes, sometimes over extending without the help of his team.

In Cloud 9’s match against Phoenix1, Contractz looked revitalized as the star jungler many had expected in the preseason. He seemed to always be in the right place at the right time to help his team.

TSM’s Svenskeren admitted in an interview before playoffs that he felt he wasn’t playing his best. Despite being on the top team in the league, Sven had one of the lowest KP% of all junglers, and was middle of the pack in KDA. The aggression he’s known for sometimes puts him in bad positions to be caught out. Svenskeren will need to be very calculated with his invades, as Contractz is another jungler who likes to play aggressively.

Contractz will need to do a good job tracking Svenskeren in the early game. If they can pick him off early in their jungle, Cloud 9 have the talent to use those small leads to their advantage. With Contractz playing in his first ever LCS final, he may feel the pressure of being in such a packed stadium for the first time. The LCS stage is one thing, but a whole arena packed around you is completely different. He’ll need to keep his nerves in check for Cloud 9 to be able to take the series.

Prediction

With how these two teams played in semifinals, Cloud 9 honestly looked a bit cleaner to me than TSM. It’s tough to say when Phoenix1 played their sub support for whatever reason for the first two games. TSM’s early games against Flyquest weren’t the cleanest, but their mid game teamfighting and shotcalling was what propelled them to huge gold leads.

As a Cloud 9 fan, I’ll be rooting for them all the way, but I think in the end, TSM’s veteran experience will be the difference in a 3-2 victory over Cloud 9.

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