19 January 2015 - 18:17
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GP10 NA LCS Rankings: #1 Cloud 9

CLOUD 9 PROJECTED RECORD: 16 W 2 L ROSTER BREAKDOWN Top: Balls Jungle: Meteos Mid: Hai ADC: Sneaky Support: LemonNation The top lane meta is well known for being the most prone to shifts and emergence of new picks, whether former jung...
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CLOUD 9

alt

 

PROJECTED RECORD: 16 W 2 L

 

ROSTER BREAKDOWN

altTop: Balls

Jungle: Meteos

Mid: Hai

ADC: Sneaky

Support: LemonNation

 

The top lane meta is well known for being the most prone to shifts and emergence of new picks, whether former junglers (Maokai), mid laners (Lissandra), supports (Lulu), or even the odd ADC (Tristana, courtesy of SK’s fredy122). Balls is one of the few modern top laners to have shown a significant threat level regardless of the meta and regardless of the role his team asks him to play. Although Meteos (and lately Sneaky) are the stars of the team and are most widely credited, the team’s favored rotational play as well as their selective teamfighting style absolutely requires Balls to become either a secondary carry or strong frontline. He has shown a preference for AP champions when asked to provide damage (for one, his Rumble play needs no introduction), but on the tank side he sports an impressive 13-2 career record on the more AD-based Shyvana (6.7 KDA) as well as a 12-5 record on Renekton (4.31 KDA). His ability to adapt to the meta may be tested at the beginning of Season 5, as three of the top new picks (Lissandra, Gnar, and Maokai) were not extant prior to the end of Worlds this fall. At IEM San Jose, Balls was not especially impressive on any of the three, a potential warning sign heading toward the start of the schedule. Nevertheless, it's dangerous to bet against him- his beloved Rumble is still very much in the meta, and overall the pick variety of top lane seems to be opening up quite a bit compared to the tank meta so prevalent for much of Season 4. 

Meteos is, to much of the LCS fandom,  the face of Cloud 9. Similarly, ever since their LCS debut in summer of Season 3, Meteos has been the barometer of the team- as Meteos goes, so do C9. When he debuted with a farm-heavy style that allowed him to become a disruptive hypertank, the rest of the LCS world took notice. When the meta shifted to favor early aggression and ganking more heavily he became the definitive Elise player, and since her comprehensive set of nerfs he’s refined his Lee Sin and Jarvan abilities, as exemplified in those highlights from December’s IEM San Jose. Meteos is likely the best all-around jungler in the West, and Cloud 9 will need him to maintain that form moving forward to continue their quest to drag North America back to international relevance. With the new and still-changing jungle in Season 5, it will be worth keeping an eye on Meteos to see if he can find another Zac-level innovation of a pick.

Mid laner Hai has gained a reputation for having stronger shotcalling skills than gameplay skills over the past year, and Cloud 9’s tactically inspired but ultimately unsuccessful series against Korea’s Samsung Blue only served to heighten that perception. Although one of Hai’s final scores in that series particularly stands out as bad (a 1-10-1 line on Zed in game 2), in three of the four games Hai laned very equally with dade (including that Zed game). Hai’s truly “weak” period came in the beginning of the 2014 summer split, after he had been disabled for some time by spontaneous pneumothorax (a collapsed lung). The team in general scuffled near .500 for a majority of that split (11-9 after Week 8) before turning on the afterburners and closing out the season with a 7-1 stretch to once again secure at least a share of the regular season crown. More recently, Hai faced a stiff test at IEM San Jose: facing down both one of the strongest Jungle-Mid combinations the West has to offer (Elements’ Shook and Froggen) and a rising talent fresh off outplaying Bjergsen for a series (UOL’s PowerOfEvil). Hai acquitted himself well across both tests, laning evenly and generally playing his solid, reliable, and unspectacular style at his customary level. If there remains a question around Hai, it centers on his ability to carry: since the days of his LeBlanc in early Season 4, he has not consistently shown the ability to truly take over a game and run with it. In the NALCS, the rest of his team are good enough to make this a viable and comfortably successful method, and he certainly showed a bit of that carry potential with his spectacular Zed play in the summer NALCS playoffs. However, to get over the hump and really make a splash at Worlds, Hai may need to take a big step forward and put forth similar efforts week in and week out.

As has been discussed at somewhat more length by our own Ryan Tang hereSneaky has transitioned from a support-oriented, utility focused ADC to a lane dominant superstar capable of standing toe-to-toe with any carry in the world (Sneaky has never laned against Uzi, but bear with me). Although his Kog’maw only netted a 4-4 record in the 2014 summer split, his KDA of 6.45 with the champion (as well as his zero deaths in two Tristana games) attests to his proficiency on hypercarry champions. Meanwhile, his Lucian and Corki (9-2 combined record over that timespan) also show his ability on more early and midgame focused champs. His performance at Worlds was even more impressive, even managing to outlane Deft in the SSB series. It’s tempting to look at the progress Sneaky has made from his days of playing Ashe almost every other game and say that he can’t possibly improve more, but he is, after all, the aberration. If he’s already come this far, why is it out of the realm of possibility that he could continue his ascent and join Uzi as a scary bedtime story for young ADCs? It may not be likely, but his current skills alone are more than enough reason to watch Sneaky whenever possible.

LemonNation is perhaps the first LCS player since Ocelote to have his existence overshadowed by a personal possession- instead of scarves, though, it was his notebook. The LemonNotebook became a fan favorite upon its debut, spawning both wild speculation as to its contents and a moderately successful novelty Twitter account. The player himself, though, is deserving of more attention. He  generally prefers to play strong laning supports such as Zyra, Thresh, and Morgana, and even though he has never been mechanically overpowering, his game knowledge and synergy with Meteos and lanemate Sneaky have been enough to foster the latter’s development into a star while keeping Cloud 9 at the top of the NALCS table. LemonNation first became known as a Janna-only player, and with her back in the meta, we may see some very strong performances indeed from Lemon over the first few weeks.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Cloud 9’s most recent competitive appearance was at IEM San Jose, where they defeated paiN Gaming 2-0 and then won a close 2-1 series victory over Alliance before dismantling underdogs Unicorns of Love 3-0 in the final. The Cloud 9 playstyle was on full display during these series, with a strong pick/ban phase, consistent laning, timely map movements, and big plays from Meteos,Sneaky, and Balls keying their victories. This is a playstyle with a rich tradition stretching back to summer of 2013, but it is perhaps best visualized in Kainypoo’s excellent breakdown of the final teamfight of their Season 4 Worlds group-stage match against Korea’s NaJin White Shield. Many Cloud 9 games feature this seamless tactical flexibility, with precise split-second disengages, reengages, and targeting priority switches being their hallmark. However, top teams are able to recognize and react properly to this playstyle which leads into the next segment of this preview...

BIGGEST HEADLINE: Where to next?

Domestically, ever since they put the NALCS on notice with a 25-3 debut in summer of 2013, Cloud 9 have never finished below a tie for first place during the regular season, and second place in the playoffs. In non-LCS play, however, they were much less solid. At their first two IEM tournaments, C9 dropped semifinal series to Europe’s Fnatic and Gambit. However, with their 2-1 defeat of Alliance and convincing 3-0 victory over Unicorns of Love, they have also added more international prestige and an IEM trophy to their collection. At this point, Cloud 9 have proven time and time again that they are certainly one of the elite Western League of Legends teams. The question has become one of whether the current roster will eventually have what it takes to defeat the Korean and Chinese teams to give North America at the very least its first semifinal spot since Season 1. The questions about this have been especially loud surrounding Hai and LemonNation, who are reputed as the two architects of the team’s excellent mental game. Even though coaches are now allowed to confer with the team during picks and bans, it is fair to ask what the impact on team chemistry and morale would be if changes were made. Because of all these converging factors, as well as the Korean diaspora potentially weakening that region significantly, 2015 is likely to be a make-or-break year for the current incarnation of Cloud 9- even though they may continue to dominate domestic competition, it means very little without more success against top-tier enemies.

PANELIST REVIEW

 

Cloud 9

 

 

Scrap

 

 

 

Hai

7

7

7

7

8

7.2

Balls

8

8

8

9

9

8.4

Meteos

10

9

10

10

10

9.8

Sneaky

10

9

10

9

10

9.6

Lemonnation

6

6

6

6

6

6

8.2

8.2

7.8

8.2

8.2

8.6

 

Mechanical Ability

7

7

7

7

8

7.2

Shotcalling

10

9

10

10

10

9.8

Understanding of the Meta

8

9

9

9

9

8.8

Objective Control

10

9

10

10

10

9.8

Picks and Bans

9

9

9

9

10

9.2

8.96

8.8

8.6

9

9

9.4

17.16


Shocking everyone, Sneaky and Meteos were voted the best ADC and Jungler, respectively, in the NA LCS. Both offered star-caliber production and statistics, and repeatedly stepped up when their team needed big plays. Hai graded out as the fifth-best midlaner in North America, with points made in his favor including his extraordinary shotcalling ability and steady laning. Balls averaged an 8.4 rating from the panelists, placing him just barely ahead of Impact and Dyrus for the projected best top laner in NA. Although any one of those three could have been chosen, expected team results as well as the legendary Rumble tipped the scales in favor of Balls. LemonNation was the lowest rated member of Cloud 9, receiving sixes across the board to place him, naturally, as the sixth-best support. Unfortunately, this rating is likely quite low in terms of actual value to the team, but it’s very difficult to quantify exactly what Lemon brings to the team mentally without comms access (for example, innovation, pick/ban strategies, opponent research, synergy with Sneaky and/or Meteos, etc.). On terms of just pure mechanics, he seems to be roughly an average LCS support with some variance one way or the other depending on the day.

FUTURE OUTLOOK

altThe Cloud 9 style remains their most identifiable feature and greatest asset. Although none of their players (save perhaps Sneaky) are overpowering, all are very capable on a wide variety of champions. Instead, their dominance over the NALCS and strength in general comes from the aforementioned superior mental game. From the pick/ban phase all the way up to the enemy nexus, Cloud 9 have a plan and execute it precisely and with few errors- there’s a very good reason teams rarely come back once at a deficit against them, and similarly why C9 pull out so many games where they got off to a bad start. Shotcalling and objective control are the twin hallmarks of this, and especially their good sense of when to trade objectives. Meta relevance is also very important to being able to play this kind of style- all five players consistently have shifted their champion pools, and so only in rare circumstances (post- Hai's injury) have they found themselves forced to deviate from current meta champions. Instead, they often are able to innovate from there, with examples such as the Ashe-Zyra lane, Hai's infamous Teemo and Soraka, and many more.

Simply put, Cloud 9 is going into the spring split with fewer problems than any other team in the NA LCS. They were already the most successful LCS team, and now every other team is either new or dealing with new blood. This, combined with a playing field that will likely be slightly weaker due to expansion, will probably lead to another regular-season crown for Cloud 9. Although TSM (with Locodoco) are formidable in best of 5 series, I also predict that C9 will reclaim the playoff crown from them. Overall, though, the Spring Split for Cloud 9 is just biding time (and now stockpiling circuit points) for the real test: Worlds.

Previous Breakdowns:

#2: TSM

#3: Team Liquid

#4: Gravity Gaming

#5: Counter Logic Gaming

#6: Winterfox

#7: Team Impulse

#8: Dignitas

#9: Coast

#10: Team8

 

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