Living on Cloud 9
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
- Michael Jordan
Cloud 9 as a team have been on top of the North American League Of Legends scene since their qualification into the 2013 Summer LCS. They then followed this domestic success with impressive performances against foreign teams from all around the world. This article will take a look at the people behind this success and how their part in the team helps them achieve success.
One of the big reasons Cloud 9 has been successful is because they have kept the same five man roster and have just kept on improving the synergy between these five men. When looking at what Cloud 9 has as a team they are very comparable to the European team Moscow 5, Moscow 5 was known for having amazing synergy and the ability to come back from a gold deficit with good late game teamwork. This is what really separates Cloud 9 from the rest of the North American teams as they would not just win the game off of strong laning and gaining advantages early on but rather from using their team co-ordination to grab objectives and rotate around the map to bring the gold to an equal level. This ability to get objectives and map pressure is thanks to all five members having an equal input into the game and doing their job to near perfection.
Meteos: The Backbone
Will 'Meteos' Hartman' came into Cloud 9 as an unknown and quickly took the scene by storm. At the start of Cloud 9's success a lot of the praise was towards Meteos, the way he played seemed like he had perfected the art of jungling and that he was the new benchmark for North American junglers to catch up to. With the ability to stay far ahead in farm on huge tanky junglers such as Zac and Nasus. This style of play was considered to be what held Cloud 9 together as even if Hai or Balls were falling a bit behind they would just nullify that gold difference in team fights because of how far ahead Meteos was. This style of play stayed successful for Cloud 9 throughout the entirety of the summer split as they finished with a dominant 25-3 record and went on to have a perfect run through play-offs. This performance throughout the split and during the play-offs scored Meteos the Summer MVP and cemented himself as a top jungler in North America.
Coming into the 2014 Spring Split the way jungle was played changed drastically as it went from these farm heavy tanks into mobile assassins. This is where Meteos showed his ability to adapt to change. Meteos instantly showed how skilled he was on these more damage based junglers and once again set the standard for playing jungle in North America. With Meteos holding 100% win rates on Kha'zix, Evelynn and Pantheon it was clear he no stranger to being a carry of the team rather than this huge tank that would just soak damage in team fights. Another thing that Meteos had to deal with in the 2014 Spring Split was the migration of foreign junglers into the North American scene. With CLG picking up ex-Lemondogs member Dexter and EG bringing in European legend Snoopeh. Despite these teams bringing in these European junglers they were still no match for Meteos as he still outperformed them and continued to stay on top of the North American LCS.
The 2014 Summer Split once again saw more foreign imports being added to the jungle equation in North America. With TSM bringing in ex-Copenhagen Wolves jungler Amazing, EG bringing in Korean legend Helios and the all Chinese team LMQ with their jungler NoName. With all these foreign junglers coming in it was clear that Meteos would have his work cut out for him throughout the Summer Split. This was made clear with Cloud 9's results dropping throughout the split as they went from a 24-4 score to an 18-10 score by the end of the Summer Split. With this new split and new competition it was Clear that Meteos's play-style changed once again. With him relying heavily on Evelynn and Lee Sin Meteos was completely changing into a damage orientated jungler that wanted to provide immense early game pressure and have huge late game carry potential. Despite this evolution in play-style Cloud 9 failed to win the 2014 Summer Split as they were defeated by Team Solo Mid in the play-offs.
Hai: The Brains
Hai has been in the North American LOL scene since early 2012 swapping between jungle and mid although he never really made a name for himself until he ended up with the roster that would eventually become Cloud 9. Coming into the 2013 summer split Hai was seen as a mediocre mid laner who wouldn't bring much to the playing field for Cloud 9. Hai quickly proved people wrong with his dominating performances on Zed, Kennen and Jayce. With this newly established dominance Hai was seen as the best mid laner in North America and was a driving force behind Cloud 9's success. Although Hai was a spectacular laner he was also the lead shot caller for the team and was often looked at as the thing that kept all the cogs in the Cloud 9 machine moving.
The rest of the team is always giving me information that is necessary (timers on ultimates/summoners/how strong they are). From there I can decide our best course of action and generally plan how the game will go.” - C9 Hai on how Cloud 9 play the game
With this high mechanical ability, in game knowledge and ability to strategize Hai was seen as the whole package and it wasn't until 2014 that Hai had any real competition. When Team Solo Mid brought in the upcoming European star Bjergsen we started to see Hai's weaknesses in lane become a lot more prevalent. With him looking shaky on champions such as Yasuo, Riven and Zed Hai really did have to fallback onto his amazing shot-calling ability to bring Cloud 9 victory. Despite this shaky look Hai's fallback onto playing a more supportive role with champions such as Soraka, Orianna and Lulu really paid dividends. This ability to adapt allowed Hai to remain dominant throughout the 2014 season and earned him the Spring Play-off MVP.
Hai's international experience is far and wide with him having played against and beaten some of the best mid laners in the world such as Froggen, Dade, xPeke and Ggoong. This international experience really allows Hai to bring a lot of creativity to the strategy that Cloud 9 uses and allows them to stay ahead of the meta when playing against North American teams.
Balls: The Balls
Like Hai, Balls is a player who has been floating around the North American LOL scene since early 2012 playing on many different teams all having little to no success. It was not until he was a part of Cloud 9 that Balls finally found success and established himself as one of if not the best top laner North America had ever seen. The reason Balls stands out in North America as a top laner is because he is consistent at winning lane and using the advantages he gains to help carry the game. With his diverse champion pool and ability to play carry centric top laners Balls has a far higher impact on the game than any other top laner in North America. The reason I describe Balls as the balls of Cloud 9 is because no matter who he is playing whether it be a huge tank like Mundo or a damage orientated champion such as Rumble he will always be in the middle of the enemy team causing as much havoc as possible and giving a lot more leeway to the carries of his team.
When looking at the top laners of North America people like to separate them into two categories. On one hand you have the people who are just rocks and usually play supportive tanky champions for their team e.g. Dyrus or Seraph and on the other hand you have the hard carry top laners who will play something like Jax and just 1v5 the enemy team e.g. Zionspartan or Quas. This is where Balls shows his uniqueness, he does not fall into either of these categories. He has the ability to diversify his picks depending on what Cloud 9 need and can apply equal pressure around the map no matter what he is playing. This means that when teams are facing Cloud 9 they will have to use resources to shut down Balls even if he is playing a supportive top laner such as Lulu or Shen.
This play-style that Balls has developed has allowed him to go toe to toe with some of the best top laners from around the world. His performance at the 2014 world championship against top laners such as Wickd, Save and Acorn allowed Balls to display his skill at the highest level as he delivered stellar performances and was a driving force behind Cloud 9 finishing top eight.
LemonNation: The Notebook
When first looking at LemonNation his in game mechanics aren't the cream of the crop but this lack of mechanical skill is made up for with immense game knowledge. Lemon's in game strength's derive from his ability to supply information to the team leader Hai and to keep the teams ADC Sneaky in a comfortable position throughout the game. Lemon gives Cloud 9 a fallback during team-fights, with him favouring champions who can supply good defensive peel such as Janna and Thresh he can give the play makers that are Meteos and Hai a way to get out of dangerous situations and allow them to reset the fight conditions. This may not seem like much but it is a pivotal part of Cloud 9's team fighting.
With this highly defensive support Lemon really balances out Cloud 9's play-style and brings them to a perfect amount of calculated aggression and patient defensiveness. This ability to peel and make decisions for Cloud 9 puts Lemon right up their with world class supports such as Gorilla,Heart and Yellowstar. On top of providing Cloud 9 with a solid defence Lemon also provides them with an older voice, with him being significantly older than everyone on the team he could be looked at as sort of a superior. This is very important in Korean culture and is often seen as one of the reasons as to why they are so successful. This Korean influence onto Cloud 9 has been obvious since their beginning with their strategy and mindset of playing the game and this is what sets them apart from the rest of the North American LOL scene.
Sneaky: The Loose Cannon
With Hai being this brilliant strategic mind, Balls being this consistent monster, Meteos being a huge late game presence and LemonNation being the defence all Cloud 9 need to round out their team is a huge play making superstar and this is where Sneaky comes in to play. When sneaky first came into the NA LCS much like the rest of Cloud 9 he was seen as a mediocre under average player who wouldn't amount to much but out of all the Cloud 9 members he is arguably the most improved. The start of the 2013 Summer split saw Sneaky have a passive start and not go out of his way to make plays. As his play-style evolved and he experienced international play Sneaky's play-style went from this passive play-style only playing Ashe and Ezreal to a highly aggressive play-style and picking up Korea's favourite hyper carry ADC's Twitch and Kogmaw.?
With this change in his play style Sneaky has cemented his position as the best ADC in North America surpassing such stars as Doublelift and Wildturtle. With his recent performance at IEM San Jose Sneaky has showed how his play-style has come to fruition and that he is ready to take the 2015 season by storm.
When splitting Cloud 9 up and just looking at the members individually they look strong but there are other North American players who can stand up to them. This is where the synergy of Cloud 9 really matters. With their amazing objective control play-style and their ability to make team based plays around the map Cloud 9 is a team that is 100% teamwork. This teamwork is what allows Cloud 9 to gain victory over what seems like stronger opponents. With wins over Fnatic, Najin white shield and Alliance Cloud 9 has proved that their adaptation of a Korean style of play is strong and can allow them to be a top level team. With the meta constantly changing so does Cloud 9 and with the drastic changes that season 5 bring to the game we will also see a new step in the evolution of Cloud 9.