Far From Cloud 9: The Systemic Problems Hindering the Organization
Cloud 9 is in the midst of their worst LCS split in the organization’s history - losing 7 of their first 10 games. Tied for 7th place with only 8 games remaining, the club desperately needed some form of change. That change came unexpectedly last night, when Will “Meteos” Hartman decided to step down as Cloud 9’s starting jungler. The organization’s recently retired midlaner Hai “Hai” Lam will be filling in the vacant role for the time being.
The untimely announcement was made less than 2 days before Cloud 9’s next LCS match versus Team Liquid, and possibly after a rough week of scrims. However, for the situation to be so extreme that it would force Meteos to step down is unsettling. While the jungler has not had the best split, it is important to consider the context surrounding his performances and the problems plaguing the team, which stems from Cloud 9’s structure.
Hai’s Departure & Unrealistic Expectations
Hai is without a doubt one of the best shotcallers in League of Legends history. However, it is crucial to remember that his shotcalling was not enough to conceal his poor mechanics (when not on Zed) and extremely small champion pool. Cloud 9 was not performing internationally and they were not able to compete versus Team Solomid any longer. The team that had been together for four consecutive splits needed something new, they needed change.
That change came in the form of Nicolas “Incarnati0n” Jensen, the latest European soloq hero. This was a good first step, but it was not enough. By bringing on Incarnati0n, Cloud 9 should have taken the TSM route – to build a team around a promising star midlaner. Instead, the team believed they could plug in an amateur player into a team that had just lost a world-class shotcaller. Additionally, the team did not possess a top player in every position, something that did not concern the team when Hai was shotcalling.
Balls' and Lemonnation's Decline
As evidenced by Cloud 9’s performances so far this split, Hai’s excellent shotcalling did not only conceal his own weaknesses, but it also concealed the weaknesses of other members on the team. Cloud 9’s top laner, An “Balls” Le, is best known for his Rumble and consistency. This no longer rings true as the player is currently the worst top laner statistically in the NA LCS summer split:
AKP = Average Kill Participation DPM = Damage Per Minute EGPM = Earned Gold per Minute
Compared to all NA LCS top laners, Balls has been dead last in several categories including creep score differential at 10 minutes (-8), damage dealt per minute (293), percentage damage dealt (16.6%), earned gold per minute (177), and percentage of team gold (19.3%). To magnify his underperformance, the Cloud 9 top laner is considerably below the average in damage dealt per minute and percentage damage dealt. Hence, unlike other top laners (e.g. Dyrus), if Balls falls behind early he is unable to comeback and have a positive impact on the game, which severely hampers Cloud 9’s game plan.
On the other hand, Daerek “Lemonnation” Hart is another player on the team who has sharply declined since his season 3 days. While, Lemonnation is famed for innovating the pick and ban phase and bringing out niche champions to competitive play, his mechanics do not hold up against the best anymore. The support currently holds the worst KDA (1.80) of all supports in the NA LCS. It is also evident that Lemonnation is not the best of laners either, which forces Cloud 9 to opt for laneswaps. While his knowledge and wit may benefit the team in a strategic role, his gameplay holds back Cloud 9 and their ADC, Zach “Sneaky” Scuderi, who is considered to be among the best marksmen in the west.
Therefore, it was completely unfair to Meteos that he was expected to become a competent shotcaller so quickly and lead a team with two below average players (statistically speaking at least), as well as a rookie midlaner with no competitive knowledge, to a top 3 position. But why had Cloud 9 not anticipated this?
Cloud 9 were one of the first teams to hire an analyst in the Western scene back in season 3. However, since then, Cloud 9 has not expanded their support staff. This season in particular, we have seen Cloud 9 falter repeatedly in the draft phase. Moreover, their poor early game planning this split sets them 300 gold behind their opponents on average (the second worst in the LCS). Their players have also admitted that the team is still having difficulties fleshing out a proper gameplan (1, 2).
While it is true that their analyst Charlie was appointed as head coach last split, being a good analyst does not necessarily mean you will make a good coach. Other teams like TSM, Team Liquid and Counter Logic Gaming have moved to expand and upgrade their support staff, so why haven’t Cloud 9 followed suit? Currently, the team is in desperate need of an authoritative figure to lead the team outside of the game.
In this week’s episode of TSM: Legends, TSM’s coach Yoonsup “Locodoco” Choi explained the reasoning behind benching Jason “WildTurtle” Tran:
“We want to take a really active role… Our number one goal is pleasing the fans and we are here for the fans and without the fans we wouldn’t be anything, but that doesn’t mean we keep our old players when it’s time for them to go or it’s time for them to step down. It means we constantly improve and we make sure our team is number one.” – Yoonsup “Locodoco” Choi
Here, Locodoco underlines the importance of what it takes to win in the highest level of professional League of Legends. Disregarding personal attachments for the sake of winning. That is not to say a team should abandon a player that has been loyal to them. A club should do its utmost best job in transitioning a player either to another club or to another role within the club. A club should absolutely be loyal to their players.
However, Cloud 9’s loyalty to their players far exceeds sensibility. When a player has fallen below expectations and is unable to compete at a necessary level, then it is the management’s prerogative to make a change. The inability to do so leads to an accumulation of problems that is too late to fix immediately – a situation Cloud 9 currently finds itself in.
It is absolutely absurd that the third best player on the team, and one of the best junglers in North America forced himself to make a change for the team, when the management would not. And the only change Meteos was in a position to make was to step down. The return of Hai may improve the shotcalling, but the team will still suffer the problems they had over the last year, especially now that Balls and Lemonnation are not performing at a high level anymore.
Overall, this iteration of Cloud 9 was poorly constructed, and the management, as well as the players, lacked the foresight to see it. Cloud 9’s management needs to start make tough and bold decisions. They must learn to intervene, to continually improve the team’s infrastructure, and to bench players when they have been consistently underperforming. These are the steps necessary for the club to find its way back to Cloud 9.