When it comes to the League of Legends World Championship, North America does not have the greatest of track records. Outside of Cloud9, no North American team has survived the group stage despite sporting greater domestic success. Yet even though Cloud9 has not won a North American championship since 2014, they have been able to advance to the quarterfinals five out of six Worlds appearances. With another quarterfinal looming, Cloud9 looked to once again put the faith of an entire region on their shoulders.
Out of all of their Worlds appearances, Cloud9 has never advanced further than quarterfinals. In their first World’s appearance in 2013, C9 was sent home by Fnatic after an extremely scrappy three-game series. The next year, still under the original roster, Cloud9 would encounter another soon-to-be international rival in Samsung Blue (later known as Samsung Galaxy and, even later, Gen.G). While Cloud9 was able to pick up a dominant first game win over the 2014 champs, Samsung Blue quickly turned the tables and dismantled the North American boys in blue. Two years later, C9 would encounter Samsung yet again. While Cloud9 featured a new look with Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and Andy “Smoothie” Ta, the team was no match for Samsung’s staggering might.
Finally, this brings us to last year’s quarterfinals. Cloud9 was certainly looking promising due to their mix of young and veteran talent. After sweeping the play-ins and getting out of groups (with some help from SK Telecom), C9 was prepared to face their opponent, Team WE. Many North American fans celebrated the draw, as Team WE seemed like a very beatable opponent for C9. While WE topped their group, their skill level did not seem too far from Cloud9’s. Sadly, C9 fell to Team WE after a grueling five-game series. Whether it was hubris or simply too many mistakes, Cloud9 once again exited another World’s championship without seeing semifinals.
After last year’s loss, many thought it was impossible for North America to punch through to semifinals. That is, until last weekend.
Last hope meets last chance
Cloud9’s opponent in the 2018 quarterfinals was also a last hope of sorts. The Afreeca Freecs, LCK’s second seed, was the only remaining Korean team following KT Rolster’s disappointing 2-3 loss to Invictus Gaming and Gen.G’s equally disappointing exit of the group stage. In 2018, Afreeca was Korea’s only lifeline to continue their streak of dominance.
The odds were not looking very strong towards C9. While they had shown some impressive teamwork in the second half of the group stage, many doubted whether a C9 victory was even possible. Clearly, Cloud9 would go down just as they have always done in the past.
It felt like that phrase was uttered each game in the series against Afreeca. Somehow, however, C9 continued to defy the expectations that were set against them. Cloud9’s fight often gameplan completely offset Afreeca’s safe and slow approach. Though the Western teams’ penchant for constant skirmishing gave them an edge amongst the group stage competition, many assumed that teams of a higher caliber would easily find a counter strategy.
Shockingly, Afreeca did nothing of the sort. Throughout all three games, Afreeca seemed too stuck in their ways to change. Instead of playing with a bit of unmitigated aggression, Afreeca merely played not to lose in the hope that a mistake from C9 would open the game wide open. Since Cloud9 remained unchecked for a large portion of the games, it was easy for them to come out on top and put North American into the semifinals.
Does C9 win worlds?
The scrappy band of players will face off against EU favorites,
Fnatic, this weekend. Should C9 prevail, it will be a historic moment, not only for the Cloud9 organization but for North America as a whole. It will certainly not be as easy as the match against Afreeca, however. Fnatic plays a very similar style to Cloud9’s, making a straight head-to-head fistfight difficult to judge. The match will most likely come down to the team with the better draft and early game presence.
If Cloud9 is to make their magical run continue, they will need to take off the training weights and blow their opponents out of the water. Will they accomplish the impossible? Find out next week to see for yourself!
Featured Image courtesy of Riot Games. Images courtesy of LoL Esports Flickr