Cloud9's League of Legends team has lost more matches in the month of July than the first six months of 2020 combined. Losses to 100 Thieves, Evil Geniuses, and Team Liquid see Cloud9 tied for 1st place with TL in the 2020 League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split. Cloud9's only two losses before this summer occured once in the Spring Split at the hands of TSM, and again in a 3-1 victory over Evil Geniuses in the Spring Playoffs.
Cloud9's previous level of dominance over the rest of the LCS is being called into question after being made mortal this month, but to question whether C9 is still the best team in North America is ludicrous. If one is to look at Cloud9's three best-of-one losses in the Summer Split, what can be read between the lines of the final outcome is encouraging for those looking for C9 to have a strong international performance should the 2020 World Championship go on as planned.
In all three of Cloud9's losses, it's important to look at how the Draft Phase played out. First, let's look at the compositions C9 took onto Summoner's Rift:
vs 100 Thieves
TOP — Jayce
JG — Jarvan
MID — Cassiopeia
BOT — Wukong
SUP — Senna
vs Evil Geniuses
TOP — Sett
JG — Lee Sin
MID — Syndra
BOT — Ashe
SUP — Bard
vs Team Liquid
TOP — Shen
JG — Hecarim
MID — Sett
BOT — Sona
SUP — Lux
That's not to say that Head Coach Bok "Reapered" Han-gyu is simply inting the draft, however. All three of these compositions are acceptable in a vacuum, but what all of them have in common is that they do not play to Cloud9's strengths as a team.
In the loss against 100 Thieves, Cloud9's composition featured the bot lane pairing of fasting Senna and Wukong and that was popularized in the League of Legends European Champonship by MAD Lions AD Carry Matyáš "Carzzy" Orság and Support Norman "Kaiser" Kaiser. Unlike MAD, Cloud9's pairing featured AD Carry Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen on the Wukong with Support Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme on the Senna.
One of the key aspects of C9's bot lane strengths is their consistency in being able to translate advantage into pressure across the map, especially in the form of Vulcan's roams. Vulcan is a fine Senna player, but Senna has more traditional AD Carry champion qualities than she does as a Support champion. She isn't the type of champion that's going to enable Vulcan to roam for plays in C9's other lanes.
Mid Laner Yasin "Nisqy" Dincer on Cassiopeia is similar to Vulcan on Senna. Nisqy is a great Cassiopeia player individually, but Cloud9 is at its best when Nisqy is able to make plays on roaming champions. The most dominant form Cloud9 shows is when the entire team can enable Jungler Robert "Blaber" Huang to be a juggernaut running through the enemy team. Cassiopeia wants to stay in lane, stack her Tear of the Goddess, and scale up until she has more items to hit peak power.
Blaber's took a lot of flack for his 8 deaths on Jarvan IV in the loss against 100 Thieves, but in addition to not being a champion that plays to his strengths, Jarvan IV has almost no synergy with the Jayce pick of Top Laner Eric "Licorice" Ritchie, who was already struggling against Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho on his own. Blaber probably would have preferred Olaf here, but 100 Thieves Jungler Juan "Contractz" Garcia took the Berserker and wiped the floor with the Spring Split MVP.
Cloud9's composition against Evil Geniuses was relatively conventional, but what can be applied to the mid and jungle duo in the loss to 100 applies here as well. Syndra has been a meta staple for the entirety of the season, and while she does have a relatively smooth power curve, she's relatively fragile and doesn't lend itself to enabling side lanes like Nisqy can on Galio or Twisted Fate. Lee Sin is also not a champion that allows Blaber to rampage through the enemy team like his signature Olaf.
Cloud9's composition against Team Liquid was actually geared to play wonderfully towards the team's strengths, but amongst the three compositions C9 has lost a game on, this was by far the most difficult to execute. Licorice is known for his top lane carry champions, but his Shen and Ornn have been reliable for the majority of his career. Outside of Olaf, there might not be a more Blaber-suited champion in League of Legends than Hecarim clip-clomping over opponents at top speed.
Sett in the mid lane is a pick not without risk, but the champion is incredibly strong and plays so well to Nisqy's strengths that it wasn't even a surprise that he got an early lead, outpacing the likes of TL Mid Laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen around the map to set up and knock down team plays.
However, the major region debut of the shared-farm Sona-Lux bot lane was where C9 struggled. Though Zven is known for his prowess on standard marksman champions, he's quite a proficient bot laner on non-conventional picks. However, his Sona left a lot to be desired and being caught out on the glass-made enchantress was the result of many an advantage gained by Team Liquid. Vulcan's Lux was perfectly acceptable, but again, is not a champion that he can use for hard engage.
Those doubting the general viability of the Sona/Lux bot lane combination need only to look once again towards MAD Lions, who secured a spot in the 2020 LEC Summer Playoffs today after beating Origen convincingly with Sona and Lux in the bot lane.
It's understandable if Cloud9 fans feel discouraged by these losses, even with composition-based explanations as to why the losses occured. Cloud9 has dominated the LCS all season long, and to see the team made moral by three squads in three weeks was unexpected, to say the least. That being said, there are a multitude of takeaways from these losses that contexualize them positively in terms of C9's future as a team.
Count Your Blessings
The fact that Cloud9 has lost more games in July than the entirety of January-June is a testament to just how incredibly dominant the team has been, and regardless of when they occured, five single game losses across seven months is extremely impressive.
The best-of-one format in the 2020 LCS Summer Split makes it difficult for teams to try less conventional strategies and compositions without the chance to turn things around in a best-of-three like the format used in China's League of Legends Pro League or South Korea's League of Legends Champions Korea. Single games being counted as full matches restrict the safety teams feel to experiment strategically or draft unconventional compositions.
It's also a good thing that Cloud9 is willing to experiment and not get comfortable beating teams in the same fashion week after week. The most common reason for North America's failures at World Championships past has been that the top LCS teams can only play one style at an international level. In trying to branch out into other styles, Cloud9 is showing the same type of foresight that has allowed the organization to boast the best international record in North American history.
It's tough to evaluate whether the LCS was previously playing so poorly that Cloud9 simply looked otherworldly, or if Cloud9 is a world-class team and other teams are finally catching up. Either way, Cloud9 branching out and teams being able to meet the reigning LCS champion's level more frequently are a good sign.
During the 2020 LCS Spring Split, Licorice spoke to Inven Global about the possibility of a perfect split, and why it wasn't something he had his eyes on in particular: "Don’t be too disappointed when we lose. A perfect season is not something to aspire to if you want to win Worlds.
Licorice's point stands in either scenario. If Cloud9 was an apparition made loomingly large by a lack of competition in North America, then challenges from domestic opponents can only bring the translation of domestic results to international play closer to fruition. If Cloud9 has been world-class all along, then the LCS has a shot of sending more than just one contender to Worlds, and Cloud9 can only become better by playing against better teams.
The 2020 League of Legends World Championship is still scheduled to take place, but the global COVID-19 pandemic puts an asterisk on any aspect of certainty regarding events in the near future. However, should Worlds take place, Cloud9 fans should take solace in knowing that the recent losses suffered by the LCS team are important to the team's progression into an even stronger force to be reckoned with in the Summer Playoffs, and hopefully, at Worlds.
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