Revisiting an international rivalry in the LCS era: Cloud 9 vs. Fnatic
When Riot Games introduced the League Championship Series, there were a lot of games to look forward to. We would get to see CLG vs. TSM a lot more often. SK vs. Fnatic would also be a match we could often enjoy. What we would miss though, were the games between Korea, China, Taiwan, Europe and North America. In this era, there were about 4 tournaments where teams from each league could meet up. The tournament which was planned between the Spring Split and the Summer Split, this used to be known as All-stars and has now been renamed to Mid-Season Invitational. We had a number of IEM tournaments, IEM Cologne and IEM Katowice. As well as these tournaments named we had Worlds, the lack of international tournaments seemed to create a lack of international rivalries. TSM – CLG was still going strong but where was the West vs. the East, Europe vs. NA? At the Season 3 World Championship we witnessed the beginning of a new rivalry, one of the oldest gods from Europe would face a young team hailing from North America. These teams would be known as Fnatic and Cloud 9, respectively.
The First Chapter
Going into the Season 3 World Championship, Cloud 9 was in incredible form. Up to this point nobody had seen a team this dominating, in the regular season they went 25 -3. 25 wins and 3 losses, to only drop 3 games in a system as volatile as Best of 1 was astonishing. Furthermore, when playoffs hit, they quickly disposed of Team Dignitas to go to the final to face the ever popular Team SoloMid. They crushed TSM in 3 quick games to grab their ticket as well as a group stage bye to play their first game in the quarter final. Meanwhile across the pond Fnatic placed second in a hectic regular summer season, 4 teams managed to copy Fnatic results of 15 – 13, forcing a massive tie-breaker, which had its own double elimination to determine seeding. In the playoffs had no problem getting their second LCS title, they beat the renamed CLG.EU in 2 games. In the finals they faced LemonDogs, who were just like Cloud 9, the new kids on the block. These new kids didn’t stand a chance however, whether it was the pressure of the finals getting to them, simply getting outplayed or not preparing sufficiently, they lost 3-1 convincingly. Fnatic would be Europe’s 1st seed heading into the group stage, not getting a bye because Europe’s performance in All-stars meant their first seed would also have to face the group stage. Fnatic in the group stage was like an unleashed beast, they crushed the Mineski from the Philippines, the third seed and now fierce rivals Gambit Gaming as well as Vulcun, the third seed from North America alongside the second seed from Korea. As the quarterfinal draw showed that Europe vs. North America would get another chapter, it would be a good match regardless, the dominant force who could not find a match in its own region known as Cloud 9 vs. Fnatic who since playoffs hit seemed to be a completely different beast than before.
The first game would be mid-focused, especially during bans Kennen, Fizz and Zed were banned on Fnatic’s side which were all the champions Hai played during the NA playoffs. C9 was forced to ban Ahri as Peke’s performance on that champion was almost unrivaled. Kassadin was first-picked and Hai decided to counter it with Gragas. The game was extremely close with at 22 minutes the score was 7-7 with a 2.5k gold lead for Cloud 9, before Fnatic take a fight in the enemy jungle getting 4 kills and a tower to bring the gold difference to an insignificant amount. After a rotational mistake, Cloud 9 takes a few bad fights and Fnatic take game 1.
In the second game Fnatic leave open Fizz, which Cloud 9 responds with by first picking it, Peke pulls out the Twisted Fate which at the time had seen quite some play in the European playoffs. The second game is almost paints the exact same picture as the 1st with Cloud 9 taking a small lead by getting more towers. After Fnatic starts a baron, Cloud 9 purchases 5 homeguards enchantments and rushed Fnatic to decide the game in Cloud 9’s favour. 1-1, next game will be the decider.
The last game had a different side to it than the first two, it was one-sided. After a level 1 disaster leading to two kills on Cyanide’s Lee Sin. Cyanide snowballs this lead into sOAZ who uses his Shen to snowball the game into the favour of Fnatic. 2-1, Fnatic goes to the semifinals of Worlds.
IEM Cologne and Battle of the Atlantic
Before Battle of the Atlantic, there was a tournament called IEM Cologne, in which two EU LCS teams were invited, alongside two NA LCS teams, lastly it featured a CIS and Turkish team. After CLG and Gambit beat the CIS and Turkish team, respectively. They faced the other two LCS teams, Cloud 9 faced Gambit Gaming who had Edward, their season 2 support return to the line-up following a short detour to the North American team Curse (now known as Team Liquid), and on the other side of the bracket Fnatic faced CLG. The latter match-up would be hyped up because it would feature a face-off between CLG star ad carry Doublelift and Fnatic’s new AD Carry Rekkles. CLG however, were crippled by the fact they had little competitive experience on the big stage with their new jungler TrickZ. A few solo-kills in the side lanes would decide the first game, Doublelift would carry the second game, and he would not be able to repeat this feat TrickZ and Nientonsoh were abused by Cyanide and sOAZ sending Fnatic to the finals. The other semi-final would be a face-off regarding star junglers, Meteos the best from America, and Diamondprox once seen as the best jungler in the world. The team-fights would be decided by the resets from Alex Ich’s Kha’zix and that was game 1. Edward’s Annie would be decisive in the second game as he had a lot of multiple-man stuns, that would be game and set. Cloud 9 was eliminated and missed the opportunity of revenge.
Battle of the Atlantic was a tournament purely focused around Europe’s best teams versus North America’s best teams. Europe’s number 1 seed would face North America’s first seed and the same story with second seed through to fifth seed. Cloud 9 had fielded like they would for quite a bit longer the same roster as their face-off in the Season 3 Worlds Quarter Final match. Fnatic made a change in the AD carry position, Puszu would be replaced by a young Swede known as Rekkles. He was too young to play with the squad in season 3 and had now joined the roster, which he once played with in season 2. BotA had introduced the top lane tank meta which had a focus on Renekton, Shyvana and Dr. Mundo which was seen as they holy trinity of top lane. Despite this being known as the things to play top lane, sOAZ who had in season 4 been outspoken on his dislike for the tank meta at the time brought out the Karma, which he had used to dispose of CLG in IEM Cologne facing Nientonsoh’s Riven. Leaving Peke to run Renekton in the middle lane.
Game 1 would be decided by mid lane roams, the Renekton would go mid to try and counter the Kassadin picked by Hai, but Hai managed to pull off a few successful roams and slowly accumulating a large lead. While Peke’s acquired a cs lead, he could not compete with the multiple kills on the Kassadin. Another notable point is that Meteos would pick Vi and managed to get off the successful ganks, also assisting Hai to bring a lethal amount of damage to a lane.
The second game would be a performance by Hai and Balls, after getting a kill on a roam Hai took Balls to dive Peke and managed to pick up two more by fighting on a well-placed Equalizer from Balls. After obtaining 6 kills on Kha’zix, Hai was not going to be stopped by anyone on Fnatic’s side and some good picks and team fighting to end the series 2-0 in Cloud 9’s favour, this victory would mean NA won the Battle of the Atlantic.
Intel Extreme Masters Katowice was held within the Spring Split of 2014, it would group the winners of the 4 other IEM tournaments together alongside 4 invited teams from the Taiwanese, Korean, American and European region. The invited teams were Cloud 9 from NA, Fnatic from Europe, KT Rolster Bullets from Korea and Taipei Assassins from Taiwan. They were joined by World Elite who won IEM Shanghai, IEM Cologne’s victor Gambit Gaming, as well as Invictus Gaming and Millenium from IEM Singapore and IEM Sao Paulo, respectively. It seemed to be a balanced tournament having teams from the big five regions, despite China and Korea not being represented by their most dominant teams. The format was two groups with 4 teams were two team would advance to the semi-finals which was done in double-elimination style. The group stage was BO1, the semi-finals were BO3 and the finals BO5. Cloud 9 managed to go through the group stage by beating World Elite with the Morgana pick, which Asian teams back then found to be very underwhelming. TPA was disposed of by Meteos’ Kha’zix which had found itself in the jungle by an innovative use of KT Rolster Bullets’ Jungle InSec. Fnatic had some more trouble qualifying for the bracket stage, they were slumping in Europe after enjoying a massive win streak. After losing to Invictus Gaming, it was do-or-die against Millenium, after an hour long game, Peke survives an engage from Araneae and Kev1n to win the game. Fnatic would face IG who they lost to the first time around. Fnatic identified Yasuo as the lynchpin concerning their previous defeat and banned it out. After winning the mid-game and a long siege, Fnatic closes it out and goes to the quarter-finals to once again face… Cloud 9.
In game 1 Renekton and Shyvana were both picked and this time sOAZ would take the Renekton top-lane. After a solo-kill from Peke’s LeBlanc on Hai’s Gragas, Fnatic takes the dragon, although the lead remains small. After wasting their key ultimate's, Cloud 9 takes a bad fight and Rekkles’ Vayne gets a triple kill. Later in the game after Peke baits an engage using LeBlanc’s mobility, Fnatic cleans the fight up and takes game 1.
The second game is determined by the ultimate usage from Sneaky’s Sivir, after taking a dragon Cloud 9 engages on Fnatic who has no way of escaping. There are multiple fights which are extremely close and at 30 minutes Fnatic takes a spread-out fight which favours Meteos’ Kha’zix. Cloud 9 ties up the series 1-1, once again going to game 3.
Game 3, the botlane of Fnatic takes Sivir and Thresh while Cloud 9 has Caitlyn and Morgana. After getting a double kill with some help from Peke’s Ziggs. Yellowstar gets multiple picks on Lemonnation’s Morgana and pulling off some successful roams to the mid lane ganking Hai’s Orianna. After a poor teamfight from Cloud 9 where they use their ultimate’s on an escaping Fnatic, they get the ace and secure the baron. Fnatic shows off some impressive splitpushing and rotations. Peke’s Ziggs is a key factor in sieging Cloud 9’s base, they manage to get the first inhibitor. The pressure becomes too much and Sneaky’s Caitlyn gets assassinated by a combined effort from Cyanide’s Elise and sOAZ’s Malphite, securing the second inhibitor. Shortly after that they manage to get a baron and get the third baron and finish off Cloud 9. 2-1 Fnatic goes to the finals to face off to represent the west against Korea’s KT Rolster Bullets.
All-star Paris 2014
All-star Paris would be a new format to the All-star Shanghai, no more teams made up of different teams to create a team of popular players. The system now would mean the winner of the EU and NA LCS Spring 2014 would go as well as the winner of GPL Spring 2014, the winner of LPL Spring Regular Season 2014 (the playoffs started after All-Stars ended) and the winner of OGN Champions Winter, the winner of the OGN Champions Spring would have been picked, but at the time the tournament had not ended, so the winner of Winter was picked instead. This line-up of teams would be Cloud 9 from NA, Taipei Assassins from GPL, SKT T1 K from OGN, OMG from LPL and Fnatic from Europe. There were some interesting storylines with this line-up, the winners of all the world championships were present. Fnatic from S1, TPA from S2 and SKT T1 K from S3. Cloud 9 were seen as the underdog and probably not even considered to advance from the Round Robin Riot decided to use for this tournament. The reason for this was that their main shotcaller and mid-laner Hai was out of the tournament with a collapsed lung, as the team hurried to find a replacement in CLG’s mid-laner Link, many doubted they could play at remotely even a close level. SKT and OMG were considered out of their league and Fnatic had yet another play-off performance we have been coming to expect from them. TPA had not been to worlds the season after they won it and appeared weak at IEM Katowice, after losing to Cloud 9 in the winner’s bracket and being eliminated by Gambit Gaming in the loser’s bracket, they were out of IEM Katowice, still they were expected to beat Cloud 9 here in Paris.
On the first day Fnatic would immediately start off on the wrong foot. Good dragon control and Irelia being set behind set Fnatic in a disadvantageous position in team fights, forcing Cyanide to smite steal to stall out the game. After a lost team-fight where OMG chases down Fnatic with Lulu, OMG secures an inhibitor and slowly chokes out Fnatic. After SKT T1 K makes quick work out of TPA, we were once again faced with Cloud 9 and Fnatic, this time in a BO1. 30 minutes in Cloud 9 and Fnatic had a score of 7-9 in favour of C9, but a gold lead of 1.5k for Fnatic, acquired by a dragon and an extra tower. The game would be decided mostly when sOAZ was splitpushing to take an inhibitor turret on Cloud 9’s base, but Cloud 9 would pick off Rekkles and Peke and would trade the turret for an inhibitor and a baron. Using their skillshots, speed-ups and slows when Fnatic takes a dragon they get two key kills and take the game and start off 1-0 in the group stage while Fnatic is 0-2. OMG vs. TPA would last less than 30 minutes, ending up in a one-sided victory for OMG. SKT T1 K – C9 would be easily won by the Korean team inspired by an early game from their jungler, bengi on Evelynn, C9 would lose in 27 minutes.
Heading into the second day OMG vs. SKT T1 K would be the most important match, both had 2 victories and no losses. Slowly SKT takes a tower lead, despite not winning too hard in team-fights or picks, the tower advantage leads into vision control and that leads into a baron. SKT takes a 4v4 fight and wins it handily winning the game in 30 minutes. Cloud 9 would want to bounce back against TPA after losing to SKT. After Balls teleports down to take 3 kills and Link solo-kills his lane-opponent, C9 takes a huge lead. After slowly growing their lead and taking baron they dismantle TPA’s base. Fnatic vs. SKT would be somewhat of a show match, SKT would take their signature champions they had earned a skin for following their victory in Season 3 Worlds. Despite a few champions not being as popular and falling out of the meta, they decided to run the team-comp which had won them S3 Worlds. Fnatic get a kill lead in the early game, but over-aggression from Fnatic ties up the kill score and gold lead. After killing Impact and bengi, Fnatic goes for a baron, which ends up being a risky decision, losing 4 members and an inhibitor. After the pressure from super minions grants them a second inhibitor, they tower dive and almost win the game, only to face a backdoor from Impact. C9 – OMG would be an exciting game, the dragon control from C9 would be decisive as they garner a gold lead and the team-fighting comp with a lot of speed-ups from Lulu would grant C9 the second place. Fnatic would face TPA for a 4th place and avoiding elimination from the tournament and after a back-and-forth game, Fnatic needed multiple baron baits and barons to finally grant the European a home-side victory.
The west would face a grim reminder in the third day as both C9 and Fnatic would lose in convincing manner in the semi-finals. C9 lost 0-2 to OMG and Fnatic lost 0-2 to SKT, there wasn't much fight in either of these losses. They could only spectate how SKT would crush OMG in game 2 and 3 close to 20 minute victories and the only close game being game 1.
Post All-Stars 2014 and Worlds 2015
After All-Stars Paris 2014, the two teams would not meet again. Worlds 2014 would put the two in different groups with C9 facing off with another European giant known as Alliance and Fnatic would face an incredibly difficult group with Korea’s 1st seed, North America’s third seed and China’s second seed. Fnatic would not be invited to IEM San Jose, having not won the LCS Summer Playoffs 2014 and not being able to attend IEM San Jose through the fan vote due to roster problems as long time top-laner, jungler, mid-laner would either retire or move to another team, as well as Rekkles moving to rival organization Alliance, where he got to face Cloud 9 in IEM San Jose. Cloud 9 would win the tournament as Froggen, the mid lane for Alliance struggled against Hai. They would also miss out on IEM Katowice due to not being first in the regular season, SK Gaming instead went and saw how the west managed to grab an international title under the nose from Korean teams. MSI 2015, Cloud 9 would miss out on as they lost to Team SoloMid in the finals of the NA LCS Spring Playoffs. It would also be impossible for the star names to face under the same team banners, as Peke and sOAZ moved to create their own team Origen, Cyanide had retired. Rekkles however, came back to Fnatic after a disappointing finish on Alliance. Long time mid-laner Hai would be replaced by Danish solo-queue superstar Incarnati0n and later on in the season Meteos would be replaced by Hai after an extremely disappointing season. Under Hai the team would show improvement, beating Team SoloMid in the regular season and having an extremely close game with CLG, the eventual NA LCS Summer Playoff champions. Cloud 9 would pull off the impossible and run the gauntlet beating Gravity in a reverse sweep, as well as Team Impulse in the same manner and finishing it with a 3-1 victory over Team Liquid. Fnatic would await them as the first seed from Europe.
As the group draw was finished, group B would see Fnatic facing off with AHQ (the first seed from Taiwan), Invictus Gaming (the third seed from China) and once again, they would face off with Cloud 9 (the third seed from North America). In the LCS era, they would meet once again. Now with new rosters, Fnatic having 2/5 of the same roster and Cloud 9 maintaining 4/5 of the old roster, although only 3/5 playing the same position. The roles would be reversed when looking at Worlds 2013, Fnatic had not dropped a game in a domination of the regular season and dropped only 2 in the final against Origen. Cloud 9 were struggling in the regular season and couldn’t even take part in the playoffs, they scraped by in the gauntlet with inspiring play from their Danish mid-laner and AD Carry Sneaky. The odds are stacked against them, how will they fare against this Korean empowered super team from Europe? I am not too worried however, Cloud 9 and Fnatic have always shown impressive games and they will continue to do so, in the future.
Photo credits to: onGamers, ESL, Team Fusion