Nothing warms a sports fan’s heart like an underdog story, and no underdog story at the League of Legends World Championships matches that of North American third place seed Cloud9. The team finished seventh during the regular season before powering their way through the regionals to earn a spot in the game’s biggest competition. A large factor in that success is European imported mid laner Nicolaj “Incarnati0n” Jensen.
Jensen’s team kicked off the tournament with a showdown against the number one seed coming out of the LMS, AHQ esports club. Many experts predicted the North American side would struggle to finish anywhere above last in their group considering their performance during the regular season and the quality of opposition. A convincing, 23-minute win in their opening game may have something to say about that.
“Going into the game we were actually feeling pretty confident,” said Jensen, who is playing in his first World Championships “I think a lot of people were underestimating us”
It’s the first time the two teams had met in competitive play, and Jensen says his team “didn’t know what to expect” from the Taiwanese side. “We didn’t really know much about them but at the same time they didn’t know much about us so it was an interesting game to predict”
Cloud9 are on an impressive run of form. The team have taken nine victories in their past 14 competitive matches. “We have some good momentum going but obviously there is still a very long way to go” said Jensen. “It’s a pretty tough group but I think we can make it out.”
Joining Cloud9 and AHQ esports club in group B is European number one seed Fnatic and Chinese third seed Invictus Gaming. Fnatic come into the tournament off the back of an outstanding European LCS split, with fans in the region hoping they can make a lengthy run into the knockout stages. Jensen however, isn’t afraid of them.
“I think we have a better understanding of the game than Fnatic but they have some really strong mechanical players” he said. “I think it’s important we don’t fall behind and if we can stay even or take an early lead we’ll be able to close it out.”
One of the key matchups of the Sunday’s game will feature Jensen against his opposite number on Fnatic, Fabian “febiven” Diepstraten. The two players are considered among the best in their respective regions. And ever since Jensen’s departure from Europe, Diepstraten has taken possession of the uncontested No. 1 spot in solo queue, a spot that Jensen held for over a year. “I’m pretty excited to face [Febiven] but I’m definitely not scared of him.” Jensen said. “I’m pretty confident I will win the lane matchup unless they force pressure onto it, but that matchup doesn’t worry me too much.”
Fnatic isn’t the only competition Cloud9 will face in Group B if they want to progress. Chinese side Invictus Gaming will also be a tough opponent to topple—though Jensen wasn’t impressed by their showing today. “We saw Invictus gaming play against Fnatic today and we were pretty underwhelmed, they pretty much just got rolled over,” Jensen said, “ I’m not really sure what to expect from them after that so we’ll have to wait for the game but I’m not worried about it.” The two teams will meet on Summoner’s Rift this Saturday when Cloud9 return to the stage.
“Honestly I think our group is probably going to be Fnatic and us going through.” Jensen said. “I think that but really it could be anyone, it’s four really strong teams in our group.” Jensen, however, made sure not to count out Invictus Gaming after a disappointing start. “Maybe IG can turn it around and take one of the spots but we’ll have to see if that happens.”
The North American underdogs have started the tournament with yet another surprise victory. But there’s still a long way to go to reach groups. They’ll take to the stage once again on Saturday against Invictus Gaming, then again on Sunday when they face off against Fnatic. Their fate will be decided on Oct 11, when they battle each team in the group one more time to determine who makes it. Group B looked fairly cut and dry heading into the tournament, but a victory for Cloud9 on day one has quickly turned this into a potential group of death.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr