"Bringing down the Cloud" - An analysis on Fnatic vs Cloud 9
A Single Strategy to Conquer All
Cloud 9 have started the group stage with a surprising 3-0 sweep over the other teams in Group B. However, looking at their games it's easy to see a singular winning formula that none of Fnatic, Invictus Gaming or AHQ managed to punish: the fast-push composition. Centred around a demolition ADC like Tristana and a wave-clear mid laner like Azir, Veigar or Lulu, this comp has successfully dissected all of Cloud 9's opponents so far.
The second half of Group D will be played on Sunday with Cloud 9's first opponents being the EU LCS 1st seed Fnatic. It's an important match for both teams but especially for Fnatic, who will be looking to break out of their current 3-way tie for 2nd place by beating out the currently undefeated NA team.
In this article, I will be focusing on how Fnatic can beat Cloud 9 and their fast-push comp. I will not put much focus on C9's perspective as there is no information on how they will do if forced to play a different style, however there's one simple win condition for them: if Fnatic continues to not punish it, Cloud 9 can simply run the fast-push once more and probably secure their place in the Quarter-Finals of Worlds.
Understanding the Fast-Push
In order to understand how to beat Cloud 9, we first have to look at the comp they've run in their 3 victories of Week 1. The comp is fairly simple in it's execution: use a demolition ADC like Tristana or Jinx along with a strong wave-clear mid laner with disengage or zone control such as Azir or Lulu to quickly take out the opponents turrets by out-rotating them, gaining an early gold lead to propel the carries to their late-game strength. It's important to also look at CLG's games, as they have ran a similar comp but playing twice as much. It's especially important since CLG's version has been countered twice now by the Koo Tigers and once by the Flash Wolves.
In the first game, Koo ran an engage comp with Ashe and a top lane Kennen as well as Viktor for a wave clear mid. This worked very well vs CLG's version of the fast-push but would be tougher to execute vs C9 mostly due to Lemonnation's Morgana pick, which can nullify the Ashe ultimate and thus make an engage much more difficult.
In the second game, Koo matched CLG's fast-push comp with one of their own, taking the Azir and picking a Jinx to match Tristana's demolition abilities. They also take the Darius away from Zion, which turns out very well with Smeb ending the game with a 10/3/3 KDA. A big key for Koo's comp this time around was Tahm Kench, which Gorilla brought out to counter CLG's heavily single-target focused comp, namely Veigar and Fiora's ultimates and Braum's passive. In this game, Koo dodges CLG's vision, forcing the lane-swap and plays it in a more Korean style with Gorilla supporting Smeb instead of the usual fast-push. Double/Aphro give up a double kill to Smeb's Darius in the 2v2 which starts the snowball for Koo. This is unreliable for the FNC vs C9 match-up both because there's no telling if FNC can do a Korean lane-swap and because it shouldn't be assumed Sneaky/Lemon will make the same mistake in a 2v2.
Finally, in the Flash Wolves game, the LMS representatives ran a poke/pick comp with Malphite as their hard engage. In this game, FW banned both Azir and Lulu, with Pobelter resorting to Viktor this time instead of the Veigar from the previous game. CLG had control of most of the early and mid game here but ended up losing to repeated picks from SwordArt's Morgana and Maple's LeBlanc. Important to note that this is a game with standard lanes which prevented CLG from getting the fast-push going early on. However, it's actually CLG who opt into standard lanes as they have full knowledge that FW's duo is bot lane.
In these games, a big common factor has been the mid lane pressure from both teams, with both jungler and support showing up in the mid lane. Incarnation has been performing much better than Pobelter and should be tougher to focus down, however on the other side, Febiven has also been one of the big performers of Worlds so far.
Fnatic vs Cloud 9 - Round 2
Fnatic now faces Cloud 9 once more, being two games behind and needing the victory to get a good start to their road to the Quarter-Finals. Having blue side, the European champions will have to take advantage of the must-bans for red side in Mordekaiser and Gangplank in order to draft a good comp for this game, setting themselves up for success.
In this draft, Fnatic should focus on denying key picks for Cloud 9's fast-push. Replicating the mid lane focus that Koo and FW put onto CLG could be the way to go for the European squad.
Firstly, looking at C9's bans, it's safe to assume both Mordekaiser and Gangplank will be taken out as they usually are by the red side. Their final ban will likely be focused onto the jungle, as they dedicated 2 bans to ReignOver in their last meeting. Both Elise and Olaf were taken out in that game. In this one, Elise will likely be the choice for C9 since it's been a more powerful pick overall than RO's Viking.
On Fnatic's side, there's a lot more freedom, which allows for a few different choices. Veigar should be taken out, as FNC used their red side ban on the Tiny Master of Evil. The second ban should be used on Lulu, which has shown to be a powerful pick all throughout the Group Stage and CLG have shown that it can make for a deadly fast-push comp. The final ban is more flexible and could go a few different ways:
Lee Sin - Hai has played only Lee Sin and Elise, assuming C9 ban the latter, FNC could ban Lee to pressure Hai onto a more passive champion like Gragas, which Hai has shown less proficiency on.
Darius - Aside from the Gangplank from game 1, which will most likely be banned by C9 themselves, Balls has only played Darius and this champion has shown good synergy with the Azir/Tristana comp. It's also been somewhat of a crutch pick for top laners who have struggled recently, as is the case for Balls. Balls is not usually a carry player for Cloud 9 so if his Darius is taken out, it's likely he will revert to a more utility focused tank which can either be punished in lane by Huni or can give the Korean top laner the freedom to impact the rest of the map on a carry champion.
Tristana - This is honestly the safest option as it automatically reduces the effectiveness of the fast-push and forces Sneaky onto a champion he has yet to play at Worlds. The reason this isn't an auto-ban is purely because Jinx can serve as a decent replacement for the fast-push and Sneaky is the most consistent player on C9, so he probably won't be thrown off by a single ban.
Fnatic should follow these bans up with an Azir first pick. It cripples C9's comp, removing 3 champions from Incarnation's pool, while also opening up the possibility for Fnatic to run a fast-push of their own, similar to what Koo did in their second game vs CLG. Febiven is also a very strong Azir player and should make good use of the pick. The Azir and Lulu can be interchangeable, as the idea is to ban one and pick the other, however Azir provides a bigger carry threat for Fnatic which benefits more from the potential focus on the mid lane and allows Febiven to shine more as Fnatic's star player for this tournament.
From there, Fnatic could look to secure a fast-push of their own, in case they have left Tristana open, picking Jinx into it, or they could go for a more early-game focused comp, with a Kalista pick for Rekkles. The key factor is to put less emphasis on Huni and more on Febiven and Rekkles, as they have been the ones performing so far at Worlds.
For their top laner, Fnatic should simply look to secure a favourable match-up in which Huni can feel comfortable. Fnatic thrives when focusing the enemy's strength, allowing their weaknesses to show through, so leaving Huni on his own on a good match-up vs Balls should be the way to go. Something that allows Huni to have a strong presence in the game is ideal, so something like Fiora should be looked at. Lissandra could also be considered if the Darius is picked by C9 and FNC need engage.
For the jungle, FNC should simply make sure ReignOver can have an impact in the early game. With Rek'Sai and his pocket pick Olaf open, this shouldn't be an issue.
Finally for support, Fnatic could look to steal away the Morgana or a Braum if running a fast-push comp or they could go with an Annie pick to combo with Kalista for an engage option which Black Shield can not totally negate. Tahm Kench could also work if running a fast-push, depending on how focused C9's damage is.
It's hard to predict how Cloud 9 will draft as they have not yet been forced to show anything other than the Azir/Tristana fast-push and could have something else prepared or simply crumble like CLG once their one trick is figured out.
Regardless of what comp Fnatic draft, the biggest change they should make relative to their previous 3 games is to shift their focus from top lane to mid and bot. As mentioned already, Fnatic thrive when targeting their opponent's strengths and allowing their weaknesses to expose themselves. For Cloud 9, those strengths would definitely be their mid laner and AD Carry duo of Incarnation and Sneaky. Thankfully for FNC, their strengths so far have also lied in these 2 roles with Febiven performing well even in their defeats and Rekkles being the stable rock he's been throughout the season.
Fnatic can look to get Huni ahead but that alone won't be enough to beat the NA squad, they will need their top laner to use that advantage to pressure bot lane and attempt to grant them an advantage as well.
Alternatively, ReignOver and YellowStar can look to replicate what allowed Koo Tigers to succeed against this type of comp twice in a row and focus their attention onto the mid lane to get Febiven ahead and possibly open up for their own fast-push style.
This is obviously not a guaranteed route to victory for Fnatic, but one thing is certain: Cloud 9 have won every game so far with the fast-push comp and have shown no signs of wanting to reveal another strategy unless forced to. Going into Sunday's match, the European champions should try to force their North American rivals to show what else, if anything, they have in store. And if Hai and company don't have another strategy in mind, we might see a repeat of CLG's downfall.
For the NA squad, it's quite simple: a win puts them straight into the Quarter-Finals and they will undoubtedly be looking for one in their first game, releasing the pressure for the rest of their day. If they have to show a new trick for this, I fully expect them to do so.
Images courtesy of @lolesports on Twitter