Last year at Worlds, NA LCS team Cloud9 entered the play-in round as the region’s third seed. The warmup round suited them perfectly: they smashed the competition, started the jungle Ezreal meta, and built synergy around mid lane and jungle that carried them all the way to the quarterfinals.
When C9 was placed into the play-ins this year, the hope was that they could do the same again. But instead of smashing through the play-ins against inferior competition, the team has struggled. They’re still 2-0, but neither game was the clean victory we wanted to see from a team that was rounding into form.
The team’s first game, against KaBum! e-Sports, started out auspiciously. Rookie jungler Robert “Blaber” Huang’s early pressure allowed top lane Eric “Licorice” Ritchie to control his lane. Meanwhile, the rest of the lanes played patiently, and the bot lane even picked up two unassisted kills to start the game strong.
But instead of moving Licorice’s Aatrox around and snowballing, the team made a series of individual misplays.
That play isn’t all Blaber’s fault. With the way top lane was pushing, C9 likely did not expect Urgot to be around mid lane. But the bigger question is: Why was Blaber there at all?
Given the limitations of KaBum’s team comp—they had no long-range engage—C9 had no reason to secure vision behind the enemy blue buff. The correct move would be for Licorice to finish his push, move through the enemy red side to rejoin his team mid, and then set up a zone with Jensen where KaBum couldn’t walk through. Since the C9 bot lane was also winning the two-vs-two, this should have been very easy.
That surely was the plan, but nobody seemed to tell Blaber not to go into fog like that. It’s just not how you set up for dragon. Unfortunately, it was not their only objective blunder of the day.
In the team’s second game, a big comeback against DetonatioN FocusMe, Blaber had a strong start that set up the solo lanes for success. He picked up First Blood in top lane protecting Licorice from an all-in by the enemy Urgot. But an ill-fated attempt to kill Rift Herald undid all of that work.
With three Control Wards in the river, Cloud9 reasonably assumed they had vision control. It’s not Blaber’s fault that DFM had a cheeky ward in the river that saw what was going on. But DetonatioN’s jungler was already heading up to the top side regardless of the status of C9’s vision.
Once again, Cloud9 was surprised by the speed at which DetonatioN could collapse on them. But should they have? DetonatioN’s bot lane had the benefit of Tahm Kench ult and Teleport on Varus. They had C9’s bot lane shoved in before the play started. Just see how far Tristan “Zeyzal” Stidam’s Alistar is away from the play.
How many times does C9 need to be surprised before they realize: These teams at Worlds, even in the play-in stage, are good. They just don’t give objectives for free. Cloud9 need commitment from all five members to pull even simple plays off.
And the worst part of that play? Cloud9 didn’t even need the Rift Herald! Sure, it would have been nice to crack open mid lane and allow them to split push. But with a team composition with better scaling that was built more for five-vs-five fights, Cloud9 could have simply done nothing.
Instead, they threw the lead and eventually lost two inhibitors before coming back. Afterwards, C9’s mid laner revealed in an interview that it was a game his team “should have lost.”
Cloud9 are still favored to make it out of the play in stage, but in the group stage, these types of games are the ones Cloud9 will lose. Along with stronger communication on how to control objectives, the team needs to sharpen their teamfight execution and lane assignments. And at an even more basic level, they needs to understand the win conditions for both sides. The team could still go on a long run at Worlds, but only if they show a massive improvement in form in a short amount of time.