The Hai Paradox
Hai's career was filled with contradictions. He was one of the more criticised players in the west when playing, yet his retirement produced more mourning than most. Despite his champion pool and technical ability being questionable, his comfort champions were some of the more complicated in the game. And while he was considered to be one of the weak links on Cloud 9, his departure has prompted the worst run of form Cloud 9 has had since bursting onto the NA LCS scene two years ago.
Cloud 9's debut split was simply dominant. Only two NA teams had positive win/loss ratios in the Summer Split of Season 3 - Cloud 9 and XDG. Even Team SoloMid could only muster up a 14-14 record. In contrast, Cloud 9 won 25 of their 28 matches - a degree of dominance not expected from a newly-promoted team, even one as talented as Cloud 9.
At this point, Hai was playing well. He had the highest KDA out of all LCS mid-laners. However, it was Meteos and Sneaky who were racking up the truly impressive numbers. Even at this point, Hai was a third carry for the team. That his KDA was the best of all mid laners in the NA LCS perhaps had more to do with Cloud 9's dominance than it did with his individual skill.
Nonetheless, he was still one of the best mid laners in North America. Admittedly, mid lane was considered to be one of NA's weaker roles. As mid lane talent improved, and the likes of Bjergsen and Fenix arrived on Californian soil, Hai's mechanical ability came into question. While Cloud 9 continued to be an NA giant, their disappointing international performances placed the spotlight squarely upon Hai's shoulders. Eventually Hai and the rest of the Cloud 9 roster parted ways.
Cloud 9 replaced Hai with Incarnati0n, and on paper it looked to be a significant upgrade. Meteos, fans were told, had been learning how to shotcall alongside Hai, and he would now take over the role full-time. While Hai was generally accepted to be the best shotcaller in the West, Meteos had been able to learn Hai's style and strategy, and it was believed that the transition would ultimately result in a superior roster overall.
So far, however, Cloud 9 are in a rut, having performed worse over an extended period of time than they ever have before. It is clear that Hai's shotcalling is missed, and despite having a more talented mid laner, a lack of communication is hurting a team that is perhaps the most dominant in NA LCS history.
Cloud 9 were a unique entity. They dominated the LCS for multiple splits due to their tactical superiority over their opponents. Of course, they had an incredibly talented roster, but such a roster alone did not warrant the level of dominance that they held over the NA LCS in their first two splits. Other NA teams caught up with Cloud 9 when they improved their own tactical abilities, but Cloud 9 consistently remained at the top of the standings because they had an x-factor: Hai's shotcalling. Many teams had sufficient, or perhaps even proficient shotcalling; Cloud 9's shotcalling, however, was at another level. Everyone knew exactly what they were meant to be doing at all times, and Hai's consistent chatter was crucial to this general understanding.
Therefore, admittedly in hindsight, it should not be too much of a surprise that Cloud 9 has suffered without Hai. Perhaps it was a more drastic decline than was to be expected, but some form of a decline was to be expected. Cloud 9 was a team built around Hai's shotcalling. It was the fuel of their dominance, and without it, they are but a collection of parts, waiting for a new engine to kick them into gear.
What then of the future? Can Cloud 9 rise from the ashes, like a Phoenix? Or is the team destined to remain a disappointing shadow of its former self?
We cannot be sure of what will happen to Cloud 9 in the future. Undoubtedly they have replaced Hai with a more talented mechanical mid laner. However, they need to find a strong shotcalling structure if they hope to reach their former glory, let alone exceed it internationally. The rest of this split, and the splits that will follow it, hold the answer to the important question that Cloud 9 must answer: Can Cloud 9 rekindle the spirit of Hai's shotcalling, and reclaim their spot as a giant of the NA LCS?
We always knew that a Hai-less Cloud 9 would hold both risk and reward. At the moment, it is the risks that have come to fruition. However, Cloud 9's skill cap has also increased. If they manage to pull their shotcalling together, they have the potential not only to challenge for the title of 'best team in the west,' but also to become a force to be reckoned with internationally. A lot of pressure lies on Meteos' shoulders in this regard. Having seemingly been given the role of shot caller, it is crucial that he steps up and fills the gaping hole that Hai left behind if Cloud 9 are to reach the heights that they are capable of reaching.
It is time for Cloud 9 to say H(a)i to the new incarnati0n of their team; sometimes things must get worse so that we can learn how to make them better again.