Cloud9: The Lost Kings of North America
It is Summer 2013, and Cloud9 are the conquering kings of North America. They rampage through the NA LCS with a record-breaking 25 wins and 3 losses. In the playoffs, they only continue their dominance, crushing Dignitas and reigning champions Team SoloMid 3-0 with William 'Meteos' Hartman cementing his place as the greatest Jungler (and perhaps player) in North America, dying once in the entirety of the final series.
Cloud9 go to the Season 3 World Championship confident; they are quite possibly the best team in the West, their region's hope, the American Dream. But hopes and dreams mean nothing to Enrique 'xPeke' Cedeño Martínez and Fnatic (and Season 3 Kassadin) and Cloud9 drop out in the quarterfinals, having merely played 3 games.
But no matter; there would be next year.
It is Spring 2014, and Cloud9 are the undisputed rulers of North America. They once again stampede through NA's weak competition, this season with a 24-4 record and again in playoffs they sweep their unfortunate opponents 3-0, beating TSM in the finals for a second time. Meteos and Hai 'Hai' Du Lam go deathless in the finals, their dominance seems to know no bounds. Even Zachary 'Sneaky' Scuderi, the secondary carry, the clean-up ADC, is beginning to be noticed as a legitimate threat. Cloud9 appear unstoppable.
It is Summer 2014, and Cloud9, for the first time in North America, are challenged. LMQ, the Chinese dragon, attack Cloud9's kingdom in a storm of fire and blood, so ferocious and deadly it seems Tolkien himself wrote it. Even TSM manage to overcome their nemesis in the regular season twice, more than they had ever done before. Indeed, Cloud9 stumble, but, crucially, they do not fall, and they rise up, still taking first place in the regular season. They even looked poised to retain their crown as they take down Curse in customary Cloud9 fashion, 3 to 0. But in the finals, the script is rewritten; Cloud9 do not sweep 3-0, Cloud9 do not win; instead, they fall to their once easy rival, Team SoloMid, and their fall is only just beginning.
Cloud9 go to the Season 4 World Championship still confident, perhaps one of the best Western teams, perhaps NA's hope, and perhaps with a dream of making it further than any before. And they do not disappoint, leaving Group D in second place (with a little help from their South American compatriots) with a record of 4-2, defeating Henrik 'Froggen' Hansen's Alliance and even taking NaJin White Shield to a tie-breaker. In the quarterfinals, Cloud9 meet Samsung Blue, OGN Spring Champions, Summer Runner-ups and second favourite (or favourite, depending on whom you spoke to) to take the World Championship. It's possible that, just for a minute, Cloud9 made SSB sweat when they took game 1 in relatively convincing fashion, but SSB showed the poise and composure of true champions and closed out the series 3 to 1.
And thus, Cloud9's Worlds run was brought to an end. But they did not disgrace themselves or their region, and besides, there would be next year.
It is Spring 2015, and Cloud9's empire has collapsed. Hai is struggling in the mid lane, Balls seems lost in the top lane, gone is Meteos' precision and efficiency he was once famed for, Daerek 'LemonNation' Hart's drafts and individual play seems off, the team which once trusted Hai to the utmost now seems wary and unsure. Only Sneaky remains as Cloud9's rock, dragging them over the finish line on more than one occasion. And through Sneaky's solidity, Cloud9 regain their territory, bit by bit, not as convincing as they once had, it must be said, but they rebuild and take back what was theirs, ending the season in a respectable second place. However, there would no clean sweeps for Cloud9 this time in the playoffs, only a reverse. They do what seems the impossible and fight their way back in to the finals, beating out Team Liquid in a stunningly close 5 game set. In the finals, Cloud9 find themselves against their now-formidable rivals TSM, the only team they had bowed their head to in North America. In game one, Meteos would pull out a miracle: a 5 man Sejuani ultimate that would win them their only game of the series and would be one of Meteos' final marks on the NA LCS for a more than a year.
Cloud9 take second place in the Spring Split, a dignified finish, but the internet guillotine had chosen a head; and off it would come.
It is Summer 2015, and changes are to come for Cloud9. Hai, the leader and captain of the team, steps down and is replaced by Nicolaj 'incarnati0n' Jensen, a soloqueue prodigy from Europe, thought of as one of the most mechanically gifted players in the server, maybe even the world. The first game of the season, their nerves show but Cloud9 pull through, taking down TSM, in spite of incarnati0n's LAN jitters. Cloud9 fans sit back smugly, knowing that the choice they made was the right one; Hai was holding Cloud9 back. The next day Cloud9 lose to Dignitas and so begins the fall of the mighty.
Cloud9's empire is razed to the ground, their lands salted, North America's royal family find themselves in the middle of a revolution with seemingly no way out. Loss after loss continue to come, they find themselves on track for relegations, a soon-to-be exiled monarchy. So they pray, they pray for a solution, a miracle, and a miracle is what they get. Meteos, hailed as one of the greatest American players of all time, steps down after half a split of passivity and failure, and in his place the abdicated king, Hai, returns. The effect is immediately noticeable: Cloud9 look sharper on the map, a more intelligent early game, overall simply cleaner and more effective shotcalling. Hai enables the team to drag themselves from relegations to 7th place and ensures their spot in the gauntlet for Worlds. It seemed but a pipe-dream, a good storyline, that Cloud9 would make their way through the gauntlet to Worlds. And when they were two games down on Gravity, it was over, the dream was dead, Cloud9 was out. Except they weren't. And when they were two games down against Team Impulse, it was definitely over, the dream was definitely dead, Cloud9 was definitely out. Except they weren't. And when it came to the final series of the gauntlet, it seemed only destiny that Cloud9 would break Team Liquid's heart once more and take their rightful place at the helm of North America.
“I held my promise, I brought you to Worlds, now you carry me.” Hai to Jensen after game 4 against Team Liquid.
Cloud9 go to the Season 5 World Championship as surprised as anyone to find themselves there and, unsurprisingly, find themselves the laughing stock of their group. Seemingly outmatched in nearly all aspects, they had absolutely no chance. So is it with consternation and shock that people react when Cloud9 achieve 3-0 in week one of their group, with huge performances from all members of the team, even the ridiculed Balls picking up a Pentakill. And Cloud9 bewilders again in week 2 when they go 0-4, failing to secure the one win which would have placed them in the quarterfinals.
And thus, Cloud9's roller-coaster 2015 was brought to a rather abrupt end, simultaneously further than anyone thought they would achieve but less than everyone thought they would achieve. But no matter; there would be next year.
It is Spring 2016, and changes have occurred for Cloud9. Lee 'Rush' Yoon-jae, the star soloqueue jungler for Team Impulse and Summer NA MVP, is brought in for Cloud9 and Hai is moved to the support role where he is joined by Michael 'Bunny FuFuu' Kurylo, a thought to be rising star NA support while LemonNation is transferred to the position of Head Coach. It is thought that Bunny will be eased into the roll of support with Hai eventually being phased out but instead Bunny plays two games in the first two weeks of LCS, loses both of them and subsequently does not play on the roster for the rest of the split. It is all for the betterment of Cloud9, however, as they have a strong showing in the split, particularly Jensen proving himself as possibly the best mid laner in North America, fully deserved of the Runner-up MVP. Rush also shows his talent as a jungle prodigy, with massive performances on a range of champions and styles and displaying an impressive synergy with Jensen. Even Balls looked to be given a new lease of life as he delivered his best performance since Summer 2014. Cloud9 take 3rd place in the regular season and face their old rivals, the now struggling TSM, in the quarterfinals. In a series they were supposed to win, Cloud9 lose 1-3 to a somehow revitalised TSM, with the drafting phase appearing extremely suspect, Rush's individual play being extremely far off the mark, Hai's calls seemingly lacking in efficacy and even Jensen showing uncharacteristic mistakes in his own play. Cloud9 collapse once again, before they even get a chance to lay their claim to the throne and it seems the guillotine must fall once more.
“We failed on so many levels it's kind of embarrassing.” - Jensen in Cloud9 Genesis
It is Summer 2016, and changes are to come for Cloud9.
The Old Sovereign of Korea
Out of Cloud9's myriad of changes, the first is the most obvious – and most called for; it is, of course, Jung 'Impact' Eon-yeong replacing An 'Balls' Van Le. Lauded as the best top laner in NA and a solid competitor internationally (especially on his famed pick Rumble), it came as a surprise to many when Balls fell off extremely hard in Season 5. The first signs were seen at IEM San Jose in late 2014, a tournament Cloud9 actually won, where Balls' teamfight synergy seemed lacking in some areas. These problems would only be exacerbated in 2015, where Balls struggled with champion pool issues, individual play and team synergy. Despite managing to pick up his performance when it mattered in Season 5 and a definite resurgence of play in Season 6, Impact coming in for Balls seems a positive investment for Cloud9.
Part of the World Championship winning SK Telecom in Season 3, Impact was one of the best top laners in the World in 2013 with dominating performances throughout the year (and Champions Winter 2014) on a variety of champions and multitude of styles. SKT's 2014 collapse cannot be attributed much to Impact; while it cannot be denied his individual performance lacked in some areas it was in no way comparable to Chae 'Piglet' Gwang-jin, Bae 'Bengi' Seong-ung and Lee 'Poohmandu' Jeong-hyeon. After a disappointing season in Korea, Impact joined Team Impulse in North America and almost immediately took his place at the zenith of top laners in NA. He and Rush's synergy was one of the best Top/Jungle in the West, in particular their 'Submarine combo' – Shen and Evelynn. Unfortunately the rest of the team was rather lacking after Yu 'XiaoWeiXiao' Yian's ban and TiP were knocked out of qualifying for the World Championship by Cloud9. In Season 6, Impact joined NRG, an incredibly hyped roster that ultimately failed to live up to its expectations. Spring 2016 was definitely one of Impact's poorest performing splits of his career; after a fairly strong start on carry champions, he seemed to lose his way halfway through the split with rather poor performances individually and some very irregular decision making.
In spite of this, NRG's whole roster definitely had issues and so, should Impact's performance return to the level he is capable of, it is hard to imagine that this is a poor roster swap for Cloud9. On top of this, it was rumoured that Impact played a roll in shotcalling on TiP and NRG and if there is one thing that Cloud9 will need after Hai's departure, it is strong voices to lead the team. If Impact can synergise well with Meteos, they could form a new Top/Jungle duo, perhaps even to contend with the Heo 'Huni' Seung-hoon/Kim 'Reignover' Ui-jin combination.
Cloud9 needs the Old King from Korea to return and Impact won't want to disappoint.
North America's Prodigal Son
For Cloud9 fans of old, Meteos' restoration in the Cloud9 line-up is by far their most exciting decision. It is also their most precarious. Anyone who watched North American League of Legends in Season 3, 4 or even 5 knows the incredible heights Meteos is capable of achieving. He essentially pioneered a style of jungling (at least in NA) which involved incredibly high farming of the jungle and counter-jungling and few but efficient and effective ganks. His style seemingly never left the meta – at least for Meteos himself – and he continued to apply it whenever he could, although after Season 3, he definitely expanded his playbook, including more Lee Sin games and other high pressure junglers. His primary style of high farming is actually the Season 6's meta for junglers right now, although with the introduction of new dragons what little games seen on 6.9 have definitely featured more objective control junglers in the meta.
Meteos is not infallible by any stretch, however. In Summer 2015, before he stepped down, Meteos seemed stagnant and ineffective; he maintained his high farm but seemed to exert no pressure on the map and was only capable of watching as his team fall around him while his own lead over the enemy jungler granted Cloud9 no discernible advantage. Meteos seems to be a player who needs a partner; when he was at his best, he camped for Balls and got him a lead over his counterpart and when Meteos was at his worst, it was when Balls was also struggling, meaning Meteos' fail-safe plan was no longer viable. Like Rush, perhaps Meteos would be best forming a synergy with Jensen, Cloud9's primary carry or, as aforementioned, a new duo with his new top laner, Impact. Either way, the return of Meteos is an intriguing prospect but undoubtedly the most uncertain change for Cloud9; Meteos has high highs but he also has low lows. Only one thing is for certain; the Prodigal Son has come home.
The Thresh Prince
A Thresh main recruited in Spring 2014 by Curse and then subsequently moved to the Academy squad for Alex 'Xpecial' Chu, Bunny FuFuu slipped under the radar in NA for his first few seasons. He gained some fame and popularity from an incredible show of Thresh mechanics against Doublelift in a relegations match but it was not until the Summer Split of 2015 that Bunny showed himself as one of the rising stars of North America. In Gravity Gaming's brief stint as the best team in North America, Bunny was seen as a major instigator of their success, garnering praise from analysts and players alike. Bunny was one of the first to effectively play Shen support in NA and showed a clear understanding of how the champion worked in a team dynamic and composition that was unparalleled at the time. Unfortunately, the team's performance dropped off massively at the end of the Split, primarily from Kang 'Move' Min-su's initial flair disappearing entirely but Bunny's reputation as possibly the next great NA support remained.
As mentioned previously, Bunny FuFuu was expected to learn from Hai in the offseason and soon take over as Cloud9's primary support player while Hai finally got his well-earned retirement. However, in the two games he played with Cloud9 in Spring 2016, Cloud9 looked lost without the beacon of Hai in the darkness and lost both games in a rather poor manner. Admittedly, one of the games was their first of the Split against Immortals who would go on to dominate NA and the other was a disadvantaged draft against Team Impulse. It is fair to say that Bunny was not given much chance to succeed in his two games with Cloud9 and, unfortunately for him, they ended up being his only chances of Spring. For Summer, however, Cloud9 have ripped off the Hai band-aid completely and look to have Bunny take up the mantle as the support of Cloud9. Bunny's mechanics and individual play cannot be denied and he is a well-rounded and experienced player who has scrimmed with the team all season. Of all the changes, this is the most minor (even though it is Hai who he is replacing) and Bunny is clearly a better support player than Hai, all he needs to do is display the shotcalling talent he demonstrated in 2015 and the mechanical talent he has displayed throughout his career. The Thresh Prince is looking to step up to the throne and become a King.
Celebrated as one of the greatest top laners all of time and similarly one of the greatest minds, Bok 'Reapered' Han-gyu could quite possibly be the final piece of the complex puzzle that Cloud9 has crafted. Reapered is a player with a storied and exalted past, most famous for the now legendary tale that is the story of IEM Season 7 Cologne. In said tournament, Reapered solocarried his team to a victory. But not solocarried in the sense that is overused these days when one player has a good performance. No, Reapered solocarried from his own incredible performance in the top lane, his pick and ban, his in-game micromanaging and shotcalling, his innovation, Reapered seemed to understand every facet of the game.
And while this tournament and his OGN win was the peak of his career as a player, he would go on to have a successful career as a coach as well, particularly as one of Edward Gaming's coaches when they took down SKT at the Mid-Season Invitation in one of the closest Best of Fives of all time. Reapered was a vital cog in the machine that took down SKT: it recently came to public eye that it was he whom actually planned the Morgana counterpick of Lee 'Faker' Sang-hyeok's LeBlanc which proved essential in beating the number one Korean team.
For Cloud9, Reapered will undoubtedly be the best coach they have ever had – and probably will ever have. His game knowledge and understanding is on the level of some of the greatest coaches of the world and for Cloud9 to have managed to secure him is an unbelievable boon for the team. Cloud9 will need strong leadership out of the game to fill the void that Hai will leave and Reapered can certainly provide that. Reapered could be the key in Cloud9 retaking the crown of North America, after all, he's made kings of less.
It is Summer 2016.
It is Cloud9.
It is Impact, Meteos, Jensen, Sneaky, Bunny, Reapered.
It is time for the Lost Kings to return.
And it is time for them to reclaim their throne.
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