Eight months ago, Licorice slid his chair back in disappointment after Cloud9’s final game at Worlds 2019. The team had just won their last game of the group stage against Hong Kong Attitude, but with a 2-4 record, they were already headed back stateside for the offseason.
Since season two, North American fans have grown accustomed to group stage failure. But C9 always seemed to find a way to become the one final bastion of hope for the region at the tournament. This time around, however, they fell in line.
The sweet notes of success are hard to come by in League, with top teams twisting the meta with unique champions and multiple new strategies. But for a team like C9, the cravings were way too strong to ignore after failing to qualify for the knockout stage of Worlds for the first time since 2015.
All of these struggles eventually sculpted C9 into one of the best teams the region has ever seen. Licorice explained, however, that this organization first needed a wake-up call to help them avoid stagnation and start evolving to stand up next to the giants of the League world.
From the ashes
At Worlds 2019, C9 were placed into one of the hardest groups in the tournament. Powerhouse teams like Europe’s G2 Esports and Korea’s Griffin made short work of them and the NA second seed ended up only winning two games.
“We came off a Worlds run where we didn’t perform to the level that we expected,” Licorice told Dot Esports. “We had a bad group stage and everyone saw that, but what people didn’t see is that we were doing pretty poorly in scrims. Like FunPlus Phoenix, we scrimmed them and we could not beat them. They were playing a different game.”
Throughout the tournament, FPX had been the beast that no one could conquer. The team only lost four games in their quest for the Summoner’s Cup. A lot of that success came from their rapid-fire aggression and the synergy between jungler Tian and superstar mid laner Doinb.
After dropping out of the group stage, C9 realized how outclassed their playstyle was. In response, they adjusted their tempo to become just as fast and aggressive as these world-class teams. From their penchant for teamfighting to their constant cross-map plays with Blaber and Nisqy, they adopted a strategy that’s taken NA by storm.
The results? An almost-perfect regular season and only one loss on the way to the organization’s first LCS championship since 2014.
Getting to the top might seem easy for some teams, but staying there is what separates the good teams from the great teams. There have been plenty of organizations that have sat at the apex of the LCS, but they’ve all fallen down one way or another.
One of the biggest issues that’s caused NA teams to fail is complacency. In a previous interview with Dot Esports, CLG’s AD carry Stixxay said “it’s harder when you’re winning to stay motivated and to stay on top.” Licorice, for his part, disagreed with this sentiment.
“There’s so many little minor mistakes that people make when they play League of Legends all the time,” Licorice said. If you’re able to focus on yourself and the mistakes you’re making, then you always have something to work on. If you come in with the mindset that you’re going to get better everyday, then if you’re on a winning team you’re just going to keep winning.”
It’s been such a long time since C9’s players and fans were sitting at the top of the LCS, and this coming season, they’ll be damned if they’ll let this slip out of their grasp.
MSI 2020 was canceled and the fate of Worlds is still up in the air due to the dynamic situation around COVID-19. But Licorice already has a couple of teams he’s eager to take on—if the tournament still takes place.
He wants to face off against Faker and T1 for the first time. Though the team has changed up its rosters—and name—over the past few years, the legacy they’ve paved will be remembered for a long time.
“I’ve been a League fan for a long time, before I was even a player,” Licorice said. “They’ve been such a dominant team for such a long time. I think there’s just something [about] playing against these big titan organizations that have been huge pillars of the League scene for so long.”
The talented top laner also has his sights on China’s Invictus Gaming. The team hasn’t done too well in recent seasons, but Licorice said he wants to face off against TheShy because he believes he’s still the world’s best top laner in lane.
“He will get huge advantages, and sometimes he dies and throws them away, but I would still really want to play against him and see how I match up, because I think he’s the best at what he does,” Licorice said.
Though C9 still has to prove themselves at an international level, there’s plenty to be excited about as a North American fan. Their playstyle is reminiscent of teams from across the Pacific and it’s paid dividends.
It took a bit of time for Licorice and Cloud9, but they’re finally at the top of the mountain. Now, their next tasks are to run things back, win the title again, and show all their doubters that they’re the best team North America has ever seen. That’s easier said than done, but fans might be looking at the one team that can accomplish it.