As Cloud9 gear up for yet another playoff run, one question hangs in the air: Is this once again the region’s team to beat?
When Cloud9 debuted in the League Championship Series during the summer of 2013, they were all but unstoppable. A 25-3 regular season record was capped with a dramatic three-game sweep of Team SoloMid in the playoff final. The team nearly equalled that feat the following season, going 24-4 before sweeping SoloMid in the final yet again.
But in the summer split of 2014, they slipped. Their record fell to 18-10, and the team took their first ever playoff series loss when SoloMid bested them in a five-game final. Fast-forward to the beginning of LCS play in 2015, and it began to look as if Cloud9 were no longer the dominant team in North America.
Sure, their 1-3 start to the current split was slow, but they could still recover from it. By the end of the sixth week of play, Cloud9 had improved their record to 8-4 and seemed to have righted the ship. But their next appearance in international play only raised more questions.
Cloud9 had qualified for the IEM World Championship by winning the San Jose event with an impressive run that included wins over Alliance, Unicorns of Love, and Pain Gaming. But on the big stage in Katowice, the team was thrashed, dropping consecutive matches to GE Tigers and Yoe Flash Wolves on their way out. And that performance seemed all the more underwhelming when domestic rivals SoloMid went on to win the entire event.
The squad’s struggles were such that many fans began to call for change in its long-standing roster. The biggest target was mid-laner Hai Lam, whose skills have repeatedly been brought into question. Those questions loomed larger after it was revealed that Nicolaj “Incarnati0n” Jenses had agreed to a deal with the organization.
But Lam wasn’t alone in fielding criticism. Some wondered if Daerek “Lemonnation” Hart should step back from the active roster into a coaching role, or even if top-laner An “Balls” Le needed to join Lam in exiting the team to make room for fresh talent.
But while many fans were busy conjuring up the next potential roster for Cloud9, the team was in the process of stealthily capturing a first-round bye in the playoffs by running their record up to 12-6 and defeating Counter Logic Gaming in a tiebreaker match.
Cloud9 seems to have found a new comfort level in the latest patch, which has had big affects on the game, starting in the new jungle meta and moving out from there as teams are able to compose their lineups with a wider variety of champions. Cloud9 is now set to face Team Liquid on Saturday, fresh off Liquid’s sweeping upset of Counter Logic. For all the talk of that upset win, it’s worth noting that it was Cloud9 who, in a tiebreaker match, sent CLG down to the first round to begin with.
Against Liquid, Cloud9 are unlikely to fall into the same traps as did Counter Logic. This is a team which, in spite of its recent struggles, remains among the most adaptable in the region. And for all the talk of whether the skills of such players as Lam and Hart are still up to par, it may be that they provide all that Cloud9 needs—as is.
This is a team centered around the play of their two star players: ADC Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi and jungler Will “Meteos” Hartman. So long as the players surrounding them are competent and have good chemistry with the stars, Cloud9 will remain a threat. And it’s hard to question the chemistry of a squad that has been together for so long and accomplished so much during that time.
A win over an underdog Team Liquid side could potentially set up a fourth consecutive finals meeting between Cloud9 and SoloMid. Were that to happen, all the talk of Cloud9 having slipped from the region’s peak would dissipate in favor of anticipation for what might be the biggest final yet in the North American LCS.
This will all be rendered moot should Cloud9 fall to Liquid. But don’t be surprised if the team that has for so long headlined League of Legends in North America find themselves once again seated at the head of the table.