On Saturday, Feb.19, Cloud9 lost to Counter Logic Gaming mere hours after finding out that head coach Nick "LS" De Cesare had been released. An understandably shaken C9 took the stage and wwere unable to prevent CLG from getting their first win of the 2022 LCS Spring Split.
Since that loss to CLG, Cloud9 have gone 6-0 with Max Waldo as the head coach and look even more dominant than their short stint with LS at the helm. At 9-2, C9 are currently tied for 1st place with Team Liquid. Let’s take a look at how and why Cloud9 have been able to improve and look even more impressive following the release of LS.
LS’ release was met with overwhelmingly negative feedback from members of the community, which leveled criticism primarily towards the abrupt nature of the announcement and the lack of clarity on the details of why LS was let go. From the outside, skepticism was understandable.
C9’s roster almost looks as if LS hand-picked the talent, and his unorthodox approach to the meta with mid lane picks like Ivern and Soraka became the highlight of each broadcast early on in the Spring Split. Since Max Waldo has taken over as head coach, Cloud9 have drafted in far more standard fashion. Enchanter mid laners have been traded for more traditional AP champions similar to what Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami was playing in the 2022 LCS Lock In.
After losing to CLG, C9 almost lost to TSM with a Karthus/Senna bot lane combo for AD carry Kim “Berserker” Min-cheol and support Kim "Winsome" Dong-keon, but it’s entirely possible that those were only picks they practiced that week under the leadership of LS.
Since then, C9’s bot lane has stuck to the meta with performances punctuated by Berserker’s league-best Aphelios, and the jungle meta shifting towards picks like Hecarim has sent Robert “Blaber” Huang’s performance into the stratosphere. C9 haven’t just stabilized under Max Waldo, they’ve continued to improve and dash any doubts of their status as a top LCS team.
In a post-match interview after Cloud9’s first win of last week’s superweek against Dignitas, Fudge spoke about how things had changed for C9 after LS’ release and subtly referenced the fact that his Soraka mid lane game earlier in the split was something he had never practiced before picking it at LS’ suggestion, something Fudge had confirmed in a previous interview.
“It’s nice to play the champions we actually scrimmed, for once,” Fudge said, stifling a chuckle.
Top laner Park “Summit” Woo-tae reinforced that sentiment in a feature on the LCS broadcast before Cloud9’s game against Evil Geniuses yesterday. Summit got off to a slow start, but since Max Waldo took the reins, the South Korean top laner has been otherworldly. Summit currently possesses league-leading eight solo kills and looks every bit what he was promised to be when C9 signed him.
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Summit is the undisputed best top laner in the LCS
“Our team got to play a composition we wanted to play, and because we are able to play what we wanted, I think it gave us all confidence,” said Summit regarding Cloud9’s 3-0 superweek, which was punctuated by his own Player of the Week award.
Summit not only leads the league in laning and overall damage contributions, but a few of the margins he possesses over the next closest top laner are absurd. His Gold Differential at 10 of 458 is a whopping 266 points higher than the next top laner — Immortals' Mo "Revenge" Kaddoura — and his Experience Differential at 10 is 448, which is 153 points higher than Counter Logic Gaming top laner Thomas "Jenkins" Tran.
A refined approach
Of course, that doesn’t mean that Cloud9 won’t pick outside of the meta again, though they certainly look more comfortable with a more standard approach to drafting. After the 3-0 superweek, Blaber spoke to Inven Global and addressed whether mid lane enchanters, especially of the Church9 variety like Ivern and Soraka, were a thing of the past.
“Just because we haven't played it doesn't mean we don't think it's good or that we don't know that it's good,” Blaber explained. “There are a lot of things that we think are good that we just haven't played on stage or haven't had a chance to try.” Blaber also said that C9 simply haven’t had to show much in the way of other compositions, especially with him getting Hecarim all three games of the super week.
“You can tell clearly by my jungle priority that I think Hecarim is the strongest jungle champion right now. I've first picked it every game, so we haven't really had to show anything else, in my opinion.”
Blaber also admitted that he expected to 3-0 the superweek and assured that any concern regarding the team’s level of performance the week of LS’ departure was an apparition. “In my opinion, last week was not real. That was not our real strength or level of performance, we underperformed really hard,” said the C9 jungler. “As a team in general, I think we're really, really good. We have really good individual players and we are going to get a lot better as our communication improves.”
Cloud9 have bounced back from a mid-split coaching staff shakeup and shown that their relevance as a competitive force in the LCS was not tied to or solely because of LS. It’s undeniable that C9 have drafted in a more standard fashion, especially in the most recent five wins in their six-game winning streak. That being said, C9 have shown an even greater level of individual play and team comfort with a more conventional approach to the draft.
It could be argued as boring or disappointing from a fan perspective thus far, but for a competitive League of Legends team, what’s more fun than winning?