The first week of the 2015 LCS Spring Split may be over, but the shock of Cloud 9’s 0-2 start is still fresh in the minds everyone who tuned in to watch. While the general consensus among fans and analysts seems to be that they’ll inevitably bounce back in fine style, I think their performance demands a closer inspection, in particular their upset loss to Gravity. Does Cloud 9 show troubling signs of more fundamental problems, or is it merely first week jitters? Did Gravity luck out and blindside the two time North American champions, or do they have the potential to go big this split?
To be clear before jumping into my analysis, this is not a clean game. This is not a game I would recommend to someone if I wanted them to see League of Legends played at the highest possible level. Cloud 9 misplays their mid-game horribly, while Gravity gets stomped in laning phase then repeatedly makes clumsy team fight initiations. Yet even among all these mistakes, there is something to be learned. Upon re-watching, I believe Gravity had a much better pick/ban phase than Cloud 9, and their victory cannot be understood without a thorough analysis of it. Unless Cloud 9 was able to overcome to disadvantage they picked themselves into, Gravity was going to enjoy a large edge in the game to come.
To set the stage for this game, Cloud 9 is playing on the blue side while Gravity is playing from the red. Both teams are coming off pretty crushing losses, so neither can be accused of entering this game with much momentum behind them.
The ‘general’ priority picks for week 1 were: Janna, Sivir, Rek’sai, Kassadin, Jarvan 4, Gnar, and Lissandra, all with a pick/ban rate of at least 90%. (Thank you Reddit).
As the bans came in, Cloud 9 banned Jarvan, Gnar, and Sivir. All of these are fairly generic, not seemingly targeted towards anybody. It’s possible Cloud 9 had a passive ‘protect the carry’ comp in mind from the outset and sought to ban three strong engage champions, However, given the pre-eminence of these bans in week 1, and the likelihood that Cloud 9 spent the majority if not all their time preparing for their game against TSM, it seems more likely that Cloud 9 did minimal research and was just going for more general bans – expecting to overpower Gravity easily.
By contrast, Gravity’s bans seemed more thought out, targeting Balls’s legendary Rumble and taking out Lissandra. The next most likely top laners in the current meta for him to pick were: Kassadin, Irelia, Azir, Sion, or Renekton. There are all champions he has markedly less professional experience on, and only one (Azir) who can create serious problems for the comp Gravity is leaning towards. Moreover, the ban phase means some of the stronger top laners (Lissandra/Gnar) will not be available to counter Kassadin in lane.
The final ban from Gravity is the most interesting, and I suspect Cloud 9 expected them to ban Rek’Sai. Instead, they ban away Hai’s Fizz. An odd move, but a champion Hai has generally put up good numbers on. At the cost of giving Meteos Rek’Sai, they now get their pick of the litter. Their one potential oversight in this banning phase was not banning Janna, a champion who had the potential to counter their composition.
Cloud 9 jumps at the chance to grab Rek’Sai, and Gravity responds with Kassadin and Morgana. Kassadin’s mobility and assassinating capability was essential to the comp they wanted to run, while Morgana’s black shield ensures at least one of the assassins will get through to Sneaky/Hai. More importantly, taking Morgana denies Lemonnation one of his stronger supports. Gravity’s first two picks do not give much away in regards to the their comp, and they can still go a variety of ways at this point depending on what Cloud 9 picks.
On their second round, Cloud 9 picked up Janna and Sion. This appears to be the moment Cloud 9 decided to go with a ‘protect the carry’ comp. Had that not been the case, it would have been more prudent to pick up a high priority ADC or mid, such as Corki or LeBlanc. Instead, they save it for the reveal/counterpick option and select a top and support. However, by picking two frontline CC tanks by round 3 of the draft for their jungle and top, they showed that they would be trying to pack all their damage into their mid and adc.
With Corki still open, Gravity picks him up on the next round alongside Vi, saving the Zed pick for last and preserving their counterpick option in the process. With a dive comp clearly in mind at this point, it’s important that Gravity take an adc with some form of self-peeling so Cop can be fairly self-sufficient in fights and valkyrie out of the way of a charging Sion/Rek’Sai. Perhaps the best pick-up for the Gravity team comp, however, was Vi for Saintvicious. Vi gives Gravity’s shot-caller a guaranteed way to start a fight whenever he wants to, and a lockdown to allow Keane and Hauntzer to get on the target.
It is here that Cloud 9 make perhaps their biggest mistake of the draft. While Hai has still not picked up Zed at this point, it’s clear that Gravity are going to have a strong assassinating front line. Without picks like Lissandra/Morgana to stop a diving team, it’s going to be more difficult to keep the carries alive. However, Cloud 9 puts all their eggs in one basket and picks up Kog’Maw and Orianna. Now, don’t get me wrong, this comp could have still worked, especially if they can funnel enough gold into Kog’Maw for a early defensive item, or if they shut down Zed/Kassadin. However, picking a non-self peeling adc is a high-risk move against the comp Gravity is running, especially with the enemy mid still unknown.
On the last round of the draft, Keane picks up Zed to round out the comp and given them almost a guaranteed ability to assassinate at least one enemy.
So, at the end of the pick/ban, where does this leave us?
Gravity, having clearly come into this game with a good idea of what they wanted to run, systematically denies Cloud 9 the champions that could seriously upset their plan, gets their jungler on a strong engage champion that complements his role as shot-caller, and avoid revealing their comp too early in the pick/ban. By contrast, Cloud 9’s ban phase is more general, and they pick themselves into a situation where they will be completely dependent on their mid/adc for damage. What’s more, they decide to go all in and rest their chances at victory on Sneaky’s Kog’Maw. While this comp did nearly work early on, it ultimately fell apart in the face of Gravity’s ability to consistently take out Cloud 9’s carries. This wasn’t a situation Cloud 9 necessarily had to find themselves in, even after round 3 of the draft. When they still had the option of taking a mobile adc like Lucian and a high damage mid like LeBlanc or Azir, why take the risk that Gravity’s annihilate the carry comp will prove more effective than your protect the carry comp?
This game is more than an example of a team just failing to prepare for a pick/ban or subsequently getting out-maneuvered by their better prepared opponents. It’s an example of having the opportunity to not play into an opponent’s hands, but doing it anyway. This type of play is uncharacteristic from Cloud 9 and I’ll be curious to see going forward if this trend continues. For their sake, I hope it doesn’t.