Cloud9’s start-of-season iteration cobbled together by then-coach Nick "LS" De Cesare brought up a lot of question marks. Next to the two bedrock players of 2020 C9 — jungler Robert "Blaber" Huang and (now) mid laner Ibrahim "Fudge" Allami — signed were two Korean rookies in Kim "Berserker" Min-cheol and Kim "Winsome" Dong-keon. Then, rounding up the roster, there was top laner Park "Summit" Woo-tae.
For years now, Summit has been building his lane kingdom, out of sight, in the dark, and has quietly won a resume of one of the best laning top laners in the world. In his three years in the LCK, only once did have a negative gold differential at 15 minutes (GD@15). He has been outside of top 4 in the GD@15 category only twice in six LCK splits and he’s been #1 in it once, all while facing some of the stiffest competition in the world. So when Summit packed his bags for a journey overseys, many of those who had kept tabs on his exploits were eager to see what he might do against the inarguably much weaker LCS field.
What he did during the regular season is assert his dominance and take the lane kingdom to a new height. To call Summit’s lead a “top gap” would be erroneous. A gap implies the other side is relatively close. And Summit had proven to be capable of exploiting even matchups that he should not be able to win.
For instance, in a March 6 match against Golden Guardians, Summit played the Graves vs. Gnar matchup on the Gnar side. Initially, Summit gets chunked heavily by Graves’ range advantage and high-damage spells. Graves is able to push in early, but curiously he doesn’t expand on his initial CS lead as hard as he could have. It’s hard to tell why (either Graves missed opportunities to threaten Gnar as he CSed or Gnar used his spells and Mega form properly to secure those creeps), but at the 4-minute mark Summit is only down two creeps. He manages to win a narrow 1v1 that honestly Licorice kind of misplayed by not estimating his damage properly.
An easy follow-up gank let Summit get a massive 10-creep advantage and by that point the lane was basically over. In nearly 87 pro games in major regions, Graves wins the match-up in GD@15 and XPD@15. But because of Summit’s laning prowess, at the 15-minute mark, he was actually ahead +2748 gold and +1542 experience.
Capitalizing on another player's mistakes and winning the lane is a common theme of Summit and Cloud9 when playing even or disadvantageous matchups: Summit never made mistakes during the regular season. He is always content to take what the enemy laner gives him and punish (often with the help of his jungler) when they make a mistake. He doesn’t panic under pressure and always knows his limits well enough to win a lane matchup even if he should lose.
But then everything changed.
In the three-game sweep that 100 Thieves dealt Cloud9 in the Spring Playoffs, Summit was completely negated. A big (and very obvious) reason for this is that 100T put a lot of resources into Summit in the draft, spending 12 of their 15 bans on top lane champions. They pushed Summit onto Tryndamere, a champion he’d only played twice in the regular season; and Renekton, who he hadn’t played all season.
Then, on the Rift, things got even worse.
In these three games, Summit was:
- 0/6/0 on Renekton against Ornn (down 224g)
- 0/0/0 in the same matchup (now up 549g),
- 0/1/0 on Tryndamere against Ornn once again(again up 568g).
This Renekton/Ornn matchup is one that Renekton should be winning quite handily, with an average +634 GD@15 based on 42 pro games. But Summit was still behind in this matchup relative to where it should be. In the first game, the reason for failure is kind of obvious; Closer basically sat top lane and ganked Summit anytime he dared to play aggressively and get a lead (which he kind of needs to do in this matchup). But the second matchup is what is particularly interesting.
In game 2, Summit clearly understood 100 Thieves’ strategy. He played the first few levels a bit more reserved compared to game 1, but he was still pushing into Ornn for an advantage. He even managed to deny Ssumday a wave as he was forced to roam and respond to an invade and then avoided a three-man gank top. This should have resulted in a significant advantage for both himself and Cloud9. But it didn’t.
There wasn’t one particular reason or event to explain why this advantage wasn’t as massive as it could (or should) have been. It’s a combination of Ssumday managing the wave properly to maximize his CS, while being respectful of the Diana/Renekton gank combol; and 100T having great vision topside to deny opportunities for Blaber to gank top. On C9’s side, Blaber wasn’t quite as aggressive towards that Renekton lane as he could have been (particularly with the Rift Herald he got early) and Summit was playing a bit too conservatively with the game 1 memories in his head. At 15 minutes, Renekton was up 22 CS and C9 were up about 1,500 gold, but 100 Thieves had scaling on their side with Viktor/Aphelios/Ornn.
The strategy from 100 Thieves in this series was very clear: don’t let Summit beat us. Force Blaber to play to mid and bot lanes, which are typically playing more scaling for C9, and put Ssumday on a tank that can survive and outscale Summit’s early aggression. This strategy, while a bit boring, worked to a “T”.
With Cloud9 facing Golden Guardians in this week’s matches, is it likely that GGS can replicate this formula? Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s incredibly likely. Top laner Licorice is no Ssumday and has a tendency to play a bit aggressively in lane, which Summit would relish in exploiting. I also don’t know if GGS can afford to drop so many bans on top lane considering how exploitable they are in the bot lane. The summit of the lane kingdom is still too far ahead for them. But for the elite teams, a path forward has been found.
Diamond TFT Player & esports watcher.