At first glance, Cloud9’s 3-0 elimination of Evil Geniuses in the 2020 League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) Summer Playoffs might seem like the predictable outcome, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Cloud9’s surprising loss to FlyQuest in round 2 of playoffs provided the team crucial data to make adjustments before its series against EG, who also lost to FlyQuest the round prior.
Despite a mid-summer slump, C9 was still the expected favorite in the series against FlyQuest after going 2-0 in the last week to lock 2nd place in the season. FLY shot those expectations down 3-1 and became the first North American team to qualify for the 2020 World Championship.
Against FLY, Cloud9’s approach was a departure from its aggressive style that dominated the LCS for the majority of the 2020 season. C9’s draft was hyper-focused on scaling. AD carry Jesper “Zven” Zvenningsen and support Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme were on Ezreal and Yuumi, respectively, for all four games, and top laner Eric “Licorice” Ritchie also played hyperscaling carries (Vladimir once and Gangplank three times).
The most crucial factor in Cloud9’s match against FlyQuest was the mid/jungle differential. Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen and Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage outclassed their respective counterparts Robert “Blaber” Huang and Yasin “Nisqy” Dincer, and with Cloud9’s 1-2 punch stopped in its tracks, C9 lost every early game — including the game it managed to win.
Evil Geniuses eliminated 100 Thieves in a 3-0 sweep in the losers side of the bracket, and Cloud9’s loss to FLY set the team up against EG in the losers side of the bracket. Cloud9 swept Evil Geniuses out of the post-season in far better form than they showed against FQ, but compositional adjustments were also vital to the dominance displayed in that series. C9’s play was sharper and much more towards the fast-and-loose style the team has been known for this season.
"After the games against FlyQuest we realized we maybe weren't that good at playing slowly, and that's why we drafted more early game stuff [against EG] today," Licorice told Inven Global.
The biggest draft adjustment for Cloud9 was in the bottom lane. Zven and Vulcan were freed from Ezreal/Yuumi duty in favor of picks that gave them more agency as individuals and as a pair. Vulcan kept Zven’s Senna safe on Tahm Kench in a long, back-and-forth game 1 before making plays on Blitzcrank and Rakan alongside Zven’s Kalista in games 2 and 3.
Zven’s individual level of play over EG AD carry Bae “Bang” Jun-sik was significant, winning both his Kalista lanes and even racking up a heavy farm advantage on Senna in the losing matchup against Bang’s Kalista in game 1.
Nisqy and Blaber performed significantly better against EG than against FLY. Nisqy shook off the loss he took against FLY on Twisted Fate and won three straight games on the roam-heavy mid laner, and Blaber won both sides of the Lee Sin/Graves jungle matchup against Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen.
Licorice was faced with the task of grappling with Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon in the top lane while simultaneously being a pillar of stability for an otherwise aggressive Cloud9 approach. Licorice started the series the same way he did against FLY — a game of Vladimir, and a game of Gangplank. This time around, Licorice had much more success, especially in the 45-minute game 1 that gave his Vladimir ample opportunities to take over the late game.
With its back against the wall, Evil Geniuses gave Huni his signature Rumble pick in game 3 of the series, and Licorice answered with his first tank game of the post-season on Ornn. EG was able to pick up an early lead off of the pressure provided by Huni’s Rumble, but Licorice mitigated his disadvantages and eventually outscaled EG alongside the rest of his team for the clean sweep on three different champions.
Licorice’s mid-series adjustment to proficient tank play after playing exclusively scaling carries since the start of the post-season was impressive, but for C9’s top laner, it was just another day at the office.
"I take a lot of pride in being able to play multiple styles because I think a lot of players are kind of locked into either tanks or carries. I think I'm proficient at both, and that's one of my biggest strengths as a player. Adjusting from game to game and going from something like Gangplank to Ornn isn't that big of a deal to me.”
However, that doesn’t mean Ornn was the ideal pick for Licorice, but since EG’s Tristan “Zeyzal” Stidam showed proficiency on support Rumble in the 2020 LCS Spring Split, C9 opted to play it safe in the draft.
“I will say that I would have preferred to pick something else into Huni's Rumble like a carry, but we worried about the Rumble being flexed to Support since Senna/Rumble is a lane people were playing a while back, and they didn't ban certain champions which made it seem like the Rumble would be flexed."
One adjustment Cloud9 didn’t have to make was facing off against any other starting members of Evil Geniuses. Despite EG Coach Connor “Artemis” Doyle stating that both rosters would be prepared to start in reference to mid laner Daniele “Jiizuke” di Mauro and top laner Colin “Kumo” Zhao, not a single substitution was made by EG in the 3-0 loss. Interestingly enough, Licorice never expected to see a substitution in the first place.
“I thought this roster was the EG roster for this year at least. I would have been extremely surprised to see any swaps.”
C9 faces off against TSM to see who will join Team Liquid and FlyQuest in representing North America at the 2020 World Championship, and while the EG series showcased positive adjustments, the defending LCS champion has some work to do should it want to win a second consecutive domestic title. For Licorice, his sights have been set on one champion since the loss to FlyQuest.
"For me, personally, the biggest thing was trying to figure out what to do about Shen. Solo played it in four games and he was blind picking it and then willingly counterpicked himself in the second game against GP. I'm still trying to figure out about what I want to do with that pick since it has looked strong both in general and also against our team."
Huni had a great Shen performance in game 1, which was the closest EG was in the series to taking a win against C9. In game 2 and 3, Cloud9 banned Shen, no longer willing to deal with the Eye of Twilight. TSM top laner Sergen "Broken Blade" Çelik has been excellent on Shen in his recent performances, so C9 must have some type of answer to the pick so as not to be forced to ban it out.
Imperfections aside, Cloud9 is showing signs of gaining momentum just ahead of potential Worlds qualification, and its last match featured a return to familiar strengths that crowned the team LCS champion this past spring.
After a misstep against FlyQuest in the prioritization scaling compositions, each win in the match against Evil Geniuses looked more and more like the dominant C9 of spring. Continuing to adjust is vital for staying alive in the post-season, but Licorice is optimistic regarding C9 continuing to find its way.
“I think we are just trying to figure out how we want to play again. We thought the scaling was going to be the way, and that didn't work out, so now we're trying to play aggressive. It took us a while to turn that on in game 1, but we got there and were eventually able to take that win. I'm pretty confident moving forward.”
Cloud9 faces off against TSM to decide the third and final team to qualify for Worlds 2020 from the LCS on Saturday, August 29 at 1:00pm PT.
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