C9 Zeyzal: "C9 players are willing to do 'dumb plays', and it promotes creativity and proactivity."

A clash of aggression took place on Week 4, Day 1 of the 2019 LCS Spring Split. Cloud9 faced off against Echo Fox, with the former opting for a pick-focused Sivir composition against Echo Fox's focus towards teamfighting. 

With strong comfort picks in Lee Sin for Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae and Alistar for Tristan "Zeyzal" Stidam, both teams looked poised for an explosive early game and plenty of skirmishing. However, the game ended up playing out more methodically than what might have been expected. Cloud9 had a solid lead heading into the late game, and slowly pulled ahead of Echo Fox.

Superior teamfighting and a 33 minute baron led to swift victory for C9, but not before an exciting almost-Pentakill for Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi. The Cloud9 AD Carry had secured a quadra kill on Sivir, and the rest of his team was ready to dive the fountain for all of his glory. However, Zeyzal, Eric "Licorice" Ritchie, and Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen all failed to notice the lack of minions hitting the Echo Fox nexus towers.

A botched dive gave a triple kill to the sole FOX member on the rift in Nickolas "Hakuho" Surgent's Morgana, but more importantly, it looked as if C9 were not going to be able to end the game as planned due to its fountain-diving antics. Fortunately for Cloud9, a large wave of super minions marched down the bot lane towards Echo Fox's base, and Sneaky finished the job with the help of Yasin "Nisqy" Dincer, who had also thought better than to dive the Echo Fox fountain.

Zeyzal sat down with InvenGlobal following Cloud9's wild win over Echo Fox to discuss his team's triumph, his unique dynamic with Robert "Blaber" Huang, and his recent focus on fitness. 

▲ Image Source: Riot Games


Zeyzal, that was a very exciting game. Cloud9's composition had a specific win condition, and you executed upon it. In a meta where games are going long, did you have pause about choosing this type of composition?

I would say we drafted this way because it's a very simple win condition for us. We are all willing to make the play, so it's very simple we are all on champions that have a 'go button'. Everyone just had to commit once we used the Sivir ultimate. If we commit to that fight, we will usually win that fight, because we're all on the same page and committing at the same time.

Oftentimes, we don't get off to a perfect start. I think it happens to Licorice the most, as far as us getting disjointed. He'll say something like, "Yeah, it's not quite the best time for me to fight." He's saying that as Svenskeren and I are go in, so it's like 'Well, Eric, guess you're losing a wave or two. Too bad for you.'

More often than not, you guys end up working it out despite the hiccups. However, that was not the case on the attempted fountain dive for Sneaky's Pentakill at the end of the game today. What happened there?

We were trying to get Sneaky the Pentakill, so when I saw we had the quadra, I called for the dive. I wasn't looking at their death timers, I was just calling it. I'm at 800 HP, so the first tower shot is going to kill me, and I'm running in at him saying, 'let's go let's go!' and trying to give our team the confidence to commit.

This is how most our teamfights start. Licorice, Svenskeren, and I are just in there, and in this case, we killed ourselves in the fountain. *laughs* I think our carries were watching the death timers, because if they had gone in with us, we couldn't have actually ended the game. I wasn't thinking about that at the time.

There were still both nexus turrets up when you dove the fountain. Did you just get caught up in the moment?

I definitely got caught up in the moment. If any of us were being reasonable, we would have called it off and at least killed the nexus turrets first. But we all wanted to get Sneaky the Pentakill, and we went for it.

When did you realize that you guys had made a mistake?

I think Sneaky said, 'Uhhh guys, I'm not sure we can end now.' or something along those lines, and I was like '....Oh. Yeah, guess not. Let's go down mid.' However, that ended up being a bad call on my part, because I didn't notice that we had a wave of super minions coming down the Bot Lane. Fortunately, Licorice called for Nisqy and Sneaky to go bottom to end. It was close, but it worked out.

▲ Image Source: Riot Games

Did Reapered have anything to say after the game about the wacky ending?

When Reapered first picked us up, he told us: 'You guys are going to learn to be smart players. You are going to make the 100% plays.' Then he saw Blaber and I play together...that's not how we play at all. We play similarly to the LPL teams at Worlds this past year — they don't care about percentage plays. If a play has a 20% chance, and they choose to execute on it anyway, the percentage will be even higher than that because the opponent will not expect it.

C9 players are willing to do 'dumb plays', and it promotes creativity and proactivity. The downside of that was shown in our fountain dive today, especially if we hadn't been able to end the game on that push. If you're on a team that is super strict in how they play the game, you're not going to go for that. But Cloud9 is very loose on how we play. We're very aggressive and we let the excitement decide what we do.

C9 started playing very loose and aggressive at the 2018 World Championship. Was there a specific moment where Reapered realized he needed to throw out the playbook with you and Blaber as part of the team?

I think it was always obvious that Blaber and I had a unique dynamic. Blaber and I have a very interesting dynamic that even Cloud9 Academy knew was unusual. We're just insane with how we play the game. There's no macro or sense to it: if Blaber and Zeyzal go in, the team has to fight. I think Reapered recognized that.

In week 4 of the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split, Reapered showed us a clip of Ning and Baolan on Invictus Gaming doing something super dumb in the LPL that same week *laughs* and the he said, 'Yup, this is the Chinese Blaber and Zeyzal.' He always recognized we were pretty insane in how we played the game. It's not quite the proper way, but it's a way that works because we are on the same page.

I think Reapered realized that you have to be the best team in the world to play the game perfectly. On top of that, the enemy team might do something weird, and you have to react perfectly to that too. It's not just going to be a standard game of League of Legends very time. When the game was more standardized, it was far easier to be perfect. Now, people are smarter and more creative than that, and it's much harder than before.

We all prefer to play aggressive and none of us like to sit back and wait. Sneaky's very calm, and sometimes we jokingly say he likes to sit and wait for us to do something, but he's actually picked up a lot of aggression from us over time. We'll have scrims sometimes where he will just constantly Arcane Shift forward on Ezreal and dies, and we're like, 'Yep, that's Sneaky now.' We turned him into that.

Cloud9 thrives in chaos. When the entire team is going all-in, is there a calming voice balancing the team out in the communications?

Usually, one of three people will step in when comms are chaotic in those situations. Normally, it's me, but sometimes Sneaky will do it if he notices I'm joining in with Licorice and Svenskeren and going in.

There's also the dynamic with Nisqy. He's pretty calm. He's not quite the same as us yet, we haven't converted him fully, so sometimes he's like 'Uh, Dennis, we haven't won the game yet.' When Svenskeren is screaming about a random kill. It happens often where any of the three of us have to say something to slow the team down and stay focused.

▲ Image Source: Riot Games

So Licorice and Svenskeren lead the charge, and occasionally, have an influence on you?

I can't sell them out! A lot of the time, I'm the one calling for fights. I'm very calm, but I'm very aggressive in how I play the game. I go for some crazy engages, and my team is usually calling off a lot of my plays, not vice-versa.

I'm very proactive, even though I'm calm in my demeanor and communications. I'm not just thinking about sitting and scaling, I want to go in. However, when a fight happens, I don't just immediately go in and repeatedly call for whoever I'm engaging upon. I think about how the fight will play out, and I will communicate that as the fight progresses, which I guess is where the notion of me being calm comes from. I'm very calm in team fights.

In our interview with Blaber last summer, he credited his seamless transition to the LCS stage in large part to you in regards to vision control and coordinated aggression. However, does having Svenskeren as the starter in the jungle a better balance for the team overall?

I think Svenskeren is a more balanced player. He's very well-rounded, and still has very good mechanics. Blaber's strength is that he's mechanical and aggressive, and Svenskeren shares those strengths, only  to a slightly lesser degree. However, he's also very intelligent and has a ton of experience.

Blaber and I would not know what to do when our plays would fail. When we were ahead, we were probably more dominant than Svenskeren and I, but when we were behind or even, it was much
harder for us to get ahold of the lead and take it. I think our current lineup brings a more well-rounded approach as opposed to an all out snow-ball style. 

Will we see some substitutions in the future from your Cloud9 Academy players? 

I wouldn't be surprised if it happens at some point. Our Academy team do very well against us in scrims, but they've always had problems translating performance directly to the stage. Behind the scenes, they're very good players and give us a run for our money in scrims consistently. They make it pretty difficult to win against them. We're able to consistently beat every other team in scrims, but we will sometimes still struggle against them.

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Do you think having such strong practice partners in each other's rosters is what makes Cloud9 and Cloud9 Academy strong?

I would say that quality of practice is mostly dependent on how you and your team approach it. We legitimately feel that Cloud9 Academy is a better scrim partner than six out of the nine other LCS rosters. However, there's a limit to how often we should scrim our own academy team. When you have perfect knowledge of players due to shared information and roster, there's only so much you can get out of playing against them any more than twice per week.

We're almost halfway through the split, and this is where we see some teams start to fall off approaching playoffs. How will Cloud9 avoid that throughout the remaining weeks?

It's not always on my mind, but I think I subconsciously start to play more solo queue and put more hours into League of Legends leading up to playoffs. As of late, however, I've been focusing on physical improvement. I've been working out and doing physical therapy for my wrist problems. I don't have major issues yet, so it's just preventative.

I know that when playoffs come around I will struggle to maintain my fitness schedule, but everyone does because you want to win so bad. Even Svenskeren struggles with it. You get blinded by the idea of getting the win and you don't focus on the other things.

Congratulations on your fitness progress. Is there anything Cloud9 does as an organization to help support you in achieving your goals fitness-wise?

At the beginning of the split, C9 hired both a physical therapist and a personal trainer. The trainer makes a weekly schedule for us, and comes to the house twice per week to train us personally. The physical therapist also visit twice per week, and they work together recommend how we do our workouts and not put strain on our wrists.

For example, the physical therapist helps us with finding alternatives to workouts that could potentially cause a wrist injury. Cloud9's got it set up to where they are both employed in a way that they can work together to help us.

▲ Image Source: Riot Games

Have you noticed a difference in your play or how you've felt since standardizing a fitness schedule?

I do have a lot more energy throughout the day, but mostly in scrims. I don't really notice it on game day, because it's not a struggle for me to get hyped before a match. But in scrims throughout the day, I feel a lot better.

Thanks so much for the interview, Zeyzal, it sounds like things are going well for you! Is there anything you'd like to say to the Cloud9 faithful?

Thanks for watching our games and supporting us. It's always nice to be part of a community who supports its players so much.

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