The Breakdown: C9's Objective Snowball
The Cloud 9 vs. NRG game was one of the highlight games of last week and one which will define the coming metas as the current champions that dominate pro-drafting and strategy. A spectacle of coordination and strategic play saw Cloud 9 dismantle a high ranking team not through strong individual play or spectacular teamfighting but an overwhelming amount of map pressure; a rare sight in today’s poke and attrition meta. Furthermore, in doing so they played to the latent strengths of Hai’s shotcalling ability that has made them a contender in every season to this point and shows that in the future Cloud9 may become the team to beat once again.
Cloud 9 has had some very perplexing draft problems this split. Despite Lemon’s veteran status as a pick ban master his drafting has felt half hearted and too reliant on past trends to work in prior weeks. Combine that with Cloud 9’s dismissal of obvious power picks in the past such as Corki (despite the fact that they may have one of the best Corki players on their roster in Sneaky) has lead to a lot of confusing and ineffective drafts in previous games.
With this game however C9 decided to completely ignore the meta and play the composition they know works best for them; The high objective control composition. By picking up the recently buffed but still untested Nunu for Rush and the average but not exceptional Orianna and Kalista for their carries C9 took a huge gamble by playing a full objective control composition at a time where the merits of such a strategy are at an all time low; not because they were stupid but that's what they knew how to play and is the style that has seen them garner the most success and acclaim. And it worked beautifully.
To truly understand the merits of such an objective heavy style I’d first like to lay down the order in which these objectives were taken in order to make a point about C9’s vision and strategy. Drag 1 (7 mins)> Herald 1 (9:30 mins:buff goes to Balls)> Drag 2 (13:15 mins)> Herald 2 (15:18 mins:buff goes to Sneaky) > Drag 3 (19:35 mins)> Baron 1(24:30 mins)> Drag 4 (25:48 mins).
Immediately the pattern of their objective taking is clear in that they move back and forth between the bot and top sides of the map to take the neutral camps on respawn or at the very least close to it with them taking a neutral objective off the map about every 3 minutes or so starting a the 7 minute mark dragon take by Rush. What’s also important and interesting to note is that prior to the 21 minutes mark the only turrets Cloud 9 take are the ones they get for free in the double lane swap in the early game. However at the same time they aren’t rolling over or letting NRG take their towers as its only after the the second herald take that NRG finally takes a tower that wasn’t traded in the early lane swap scenario.
This shows us two extremely important facts about C9’s objective takes. 1 they aren’t acrewing a lead through gold. Instead they are acquiring this lead through the natural gold efficiency of their champions. Nunu is the king of buffing and debuffing and the amount of free gold he can offer to champions, especially ad carries like Kalista who rely on attack speed, is enormous as well as the massive aoe gold drain zone that is Absolute Zero. If he shows up in a lane to help push NRG are forced to ult waves for wave clear as Nunu offers so much for quick turret takedowns and often gets to these places unexpectedly with his permanent movement speed buff. These same traits also make him fantastic at clearing out vision especially when matched with Hai as the buffed attack speed and movement speed essentially doubles their sweepers value.
As such the pattern of Cloud 9’s plays is clear. Use bloodboil with Hai to sweep out any defensive vision. Then rotate into a lane with the same movement speed buff to start fights or to threaten turrets. Once the enemy burns important cooldowns move to the neutral objective and use your superior objective control to secure from any steal attempts.
However there is one more element to Cloud 9’s success is their stalling game. Through great wave management you would rarely if ever find them rushing to respond to a runaway minion wave. While this did let Impact take a lot of free farm without the turrets needed to back them up and teamfights being avoided by Cloud 9 in favor of catching out those going to ward it left NRG without a lot of options but to group up and try and force fights.
However without a strong initiator drafted and lacking strong poke NRG could only try and shove down mid turret which C9 would respond to quickly with grouping of their own to let Jensen waveclear or by forcing Altec away from the tower with Keeper's Judgement or just by sending a champion out as bait. This play undoubtedly gave them an extra 10 minutes to get the snowball from dragons and baron to become a major factor and denied aggressive warding of their side jungle which is the key to getting a win in this meta
The benefits of this new strategy are many but the most important is that it limited the amount of wards Cloud 9 needed to make moves on the map. With the ward restrictions this is a great plan and it allowed Hai to place a little over half as many wards as Konkwon (28-44) without the team suffering for it.
The performances: While I stated earlier that this wasn’t a game that was won off the back of stellar performances by any one player there was definitely some stand out performances namely from Balls and Hai.
Balls has been resting on his laurels for some time now and has often relied on his team to do much of the heavy lifting for him (cough* 539 damage cough*). However this game showed there is still life in him as a player as his participation in teamfights was nothing short of impeccable as he channeled his inner Gogoing. The first major teamfight saw him pinning down multiple members of NRG for his team to clean up and would get several key wall slams and knockups that turned a probable 2 for 0 into a 4 for 0 and a free baron take.
Hai too saw his best performance of the split with some excellent dark bindings on key targets and punishing Konkwon and GBM for over aggressive plays. Even if he had a shockingly low ward count his presence on the map simply couldn’t be ignored and his zone control allowed C9 to punish NRG when they tried to halt the objective snowball Cloud 9 was putting together.
Conclusion: While the game was a stellar show of force for Cloud 9 there are still underlying problems with the roster. The fact is objective gameplay like this is incredibly risky and to date they still haven’t shown me that they can play the default poke and siege style effectively. On top of that NRG drafted oddly especially when it came to the mid lane pick up of Zilean for GBM. Still, what is apparent in this game is that C9 is bouncing back and does still have tricks up their sleeve to throw opponents off. It also shows us the synergy and strength of the roster is still there even if they are having some problems tapping into it. One things for sure however; With Immortals facing off against them Sunday they will need to step up to an even higher level if they expect to knock the current king from his throne.