Assessing what has made Cloud9 a success at Worlds
We're only 2 days into the month-long event, and already Cloud9 have shown up huge on the world stage. They've taken down China's 2nd place Invictus Gaming, and Taiwan's 1st place AHQ, and now look to upset Europe's #1 Fnatic. It's been a miracle run for these guys, and they show no signs of slowing down. They seem to have a strong understanding of the meta and how to play to their own unique strengths; I would like to explore some of these strengths and how they've brought them to their current 2-0 record atop their group.
One of my favorite aspects of this team is their lane swaps. Despite them really not having much variety in this aspect, the way they do it is very creative and fits the team perfectly. C9 prioritize farm on Sneaky so immensely that they always try to put him in a solo lane, while they have such little priority on Balls that they have him share experience with LemonNation in a duo lane. One of the things this opens C9 up to do though is they can put more priority on trying to gain early advantages. Something C9 does often when they swap is Hai starts on the strong side of the map (that is, the side his duo start on) and he jungles with Balls for 2 camps, donating the first to him, then taking the buff camp for himself. Afterwards, Balls recalls and goes to lane while Lemon joins him. Hai continues either to another camp or he runs down to the mirror of the buff they stole (ex. if they steal blue, he rushes to their own blue) and secures the buff alongside LemonNation. Lemon is allowed to do this because Sneaky is farming alone on the top side, where there is a guarantee of at the very most 1 person being there, so he can take a camp alongside Sneaky, get level 2 and some gold, recall and buy wards. This is exactly what he's done in multiple games in the Regionals and in these group stage games. He uses the level 2 and the extra wards to help Hai secure the allied buff, leading to a 3-buff for Cloud9 and a good advantage over the enemy jungler in the early game. This all plays into C9's overall game plan: get Sneaky strong, get as many early advantages as possible while Sneaky gets strong, then use these advantages to take down turrets and come into the late game with a decent lead. At that point, C9 use their shot calling to dismantle teams.
Even in 2v2 lanes, C9 are very good at finding advantages, and one of the main reasons behind this is C9's tendency to pick the Tristana for Sneaky. Tristana is great at pushing lane and killing towers, and when the enemy jungler does not pressure them hard, Sneaky and Lemon can just push down their opposing lane duo's tower and rotate to the mid tower to do the same. One of the best recent examples of this is C9's game against AHQ. Despite initially getting a 1v1 lane for Sneaky in the top lane, they eventually rotate him down do the 2v2 lane. Sneaky and Lemon push AN and Albis into their tower repeatedly and take down the tower with very little contention. They then move to the mid lane and take that, eventually making a pick on AN and almost getting the inner turret as well. Afterward, C9 move to top and they kill that tower. This gives them a commanding lead over AHQ, and they didn't even have to team fight for it. With a scaling comp like the one they had with Gangplank Veigar and Tristana, getting a lead like that is impressive and solidifies the late game for C9.
They pulled this off against AHQ and an iG that hasn't showed up yet at this tournament, but I believe they'll falter as they face teams like Fnatic, and if they can get out of the group, just about any team they face in the quarterfinals. The thing about AHQ's lane swap game that makes it easy for C9 to accrue these advantages is AHQ rarely ever swap. They rarely invade for deep wards, they never blind swap, and they never predict blind swaps. They are very inactive during level 1, and that plays right into C9's hand. Some of the better teams who are much less willing to let them get away with a free swap, an easy 3-buff, and a 3-turret lead in exchange for nothing can definitely punish them.
One thing I would like to see C9 improve on in the early game is work toward taking early dragons. North America as a region doesn't prioritize early dragons as much as some others, but C9 are very good at holding on in a game even after falling into a deficit; if they can get some early dragons and not only deny the enemy the 5th dragon buff but threaten to get it themselves, I believe they can even further solidify their late game strengths.
Even in individual performance, Cloud9 have certainly improved immensely. Balls, who is so clearly the weak link on this team has been performing better and holding on in these games. Hai has certainly stepped up greatly since the regular split, and his progression as a jungler has been very fun to watch. His pathing is still somewhat predictable, as i outlined before his early pathing is very linear, but he is good at creating situations where his team can fight and win. The clear stars on this team, however, have been Incarnati0n and Sneaky. The teamfighting prowess they displayed, particularly Incarnati0n on the Azir has been a key factor in their games. Many a team fight has been narrowly made even or even won by one of these two players shredding through the enemy team and getting a triple kill.
That said, some of their decisions have cost them kills and they've gotten picked off multiple times because of overextending or underestimating the enemy team's ability to kill them despite a lead. This is another thing that was consistent throughout the Regionals and continues now in the group stages.
Cloud9 is overall a very interesting team to keep your eyes on in this tournament. They've only played 2 games so far, but unless iG suddenly start playing much better, I expect C9 to get out of this group alongside Fnatic. I doubt they'll make a deep tournament run considering they are predictable in the early game, and when they face a team that is more active in the early game and has prepared well for them I expect them to fall. Nevertheless, they are an extraordinary team and are very entertaining to watch; hopefully we see more great games from them. C9 are on the 6th and final step of their plan toward world domination, and with Sneaky and Incarnati0n propelling and Hai at the helm, they might even have a chance at doing it.
Photo credit: LoLesports