What Could Have Been: SSB vs. C9 Worlds Season 4 Quarterfinal
What Could Have Been
Samsung Blue vs. Cloud9 Worlds Season 4 Quarterfinal
Most people's memory of the Season 4 World Championship is usually centered around Samsung White's utter supremacy, and rightfully so considering it may have been the most dominant run through a tournament we have ever seen. They only dropped two games in the entire tournament and those losses were mainly a result of underestimating their opponents and trolling. What stands out in my memory, however, is the thrilling quarterfinal series between Samsung Blue and Cloud9. After the complete destruction of Team Solomid by Samsung White in the first quarterfinal, everyone expected a similar outcome in the next series. The narratives for both SSB and C9 ran quite parallel throughout the year with both teams winning domestic titles in the Spring and losing in the finals of their Summer splits. The two teams had similar play styles focused around mid to late game shot calling, rotations, and team fighting, making up for their shortcomings in the early stages of the game. Despite the similarities, Samsung Blue was viewed as a more talented version of Cloud9 and they were the heavy favorites going into the quarterfinal. Most analysts were picking Samsung Blue to take the series convincingly, three games to one. While the series did end up being a three to one victory for Samsung Blue, it was far from convincing and turned out to be one of the more surprising series of the tournament.
Throughout the year C9 and SSB had been the most consistent teams in their regions. C9 won the NA LCS Spring split and made it to the final of the Summer split before they were upset by Team Solomid. Similarly, SSB won the OGN Spring season but would go on to lose the Summer final against underdogs KT Arrows. Both C9 and SSB fell victim to incredible individual play from particular members of the enemy team. C9 would fall due to the outstanding play of Bjergsen and Lustboy on TSM. The standout play of these two players is what propelled TSM through the playoffs and is what allowed TSM to ultimately overcome C9. For the KT Arrows, the ballsy, hyper aggressive play of Kakao and his synergy with his mid-laner, Rookie, were what fueled their upset against SSB. With C9 and SSB both playing a mid to late game style where the focus was on rotations, map and objective control, and team fighting, they were certainly more consistent throughout the year. However, the standout MVP performances from payers like Bjergsen and Kakao were what allowed those underdog teams to upset them. Despite these loses, both C9 and SSB were considered the stronger teams going into the World Championship. Their more consistent shot calling and macro play was expected to get them further than the individual skill and early game focused style that had defeated them. In fact, the KT Arrows, with their risky play style, would not even qualify for Worlds. While the loses showed that the teams were flawed, C9 and SSB still looked strong and were expected to perform going into the World Championship.
Though the two teams found differing levels of success during the group stage, C9 and SSB displayed both the strengths and weaknesses that would manifest later on in their quarterfinal series. SSB had a fairly easy run through their group, winning in their patented style using great macro play and dominating late game team fights. SSB would go 5-1 and finish their group in first place. The only game dropped was against Fnatic in a game where they may have gotten a bit overconfident. This match was Spirit's first professional game on Jarvan IV. Also in this game, Dade and Deft would find themselves caught out of position multiple times, both in lane and in team fights, ultimately costing SSB the game. This overconfidence was also present at the start of the Summer final that SSB lost to the KT Arrows, and it would manifest once again in the quarterfinal against C9.
C9 had a much more difficult time in their group where they lost a tiebreaker against Najin White Shield to finish in second. Alliance, Najin White Shield, and C9 would all go 1-1 against one another with the wildcard team, KaBuM! e-Sports, finishing in dead last. The one game that KaBuM! did manage to win was an inconceivable upset against Alliance which knocked them out of the tie for first, leaving C9 and NJWS to play for first. In their three games against NJWS, C9 showed some very shaky pick/ban tendencies often allowing the star carries on the enemy team to get champions they were very strong on. NJWS also showed that C9 did not have the individual skill to match up and dominated the early stages of the games. Hai was another problem for C9 in the mid-lane, as his champion pool was very limited and his play was very inconsistent. What made C9 competitive for these three games and allowed them to even win one was their superb shot calling and decision making. On the fly, C9 was able to come up with unique split pushes and rotations to work NJWS around the map and stall the game. By stalling, C9 could nullify the gold lead built up by NJWS and eventually compete in team fights. Despite their ingenuity, C9 would lose the tie breaker and go on to face SSB.
Quarterfinal Game 1
In the first game of the series C9 were the beneficiaries of some strange and perhaps overconfident picks and bans from SSB. SSB opted to ban out Zed, a champion Dade had been dominant on throughout his career, and Maokai, a champion Acorn had been 3-0 on in the tournament. Instead of these favorable picks SSB decided to build a poke composition around Jayce and Nidalee. This composition was very similar to one they ran in their first game against the KT Arrows in the OGN Summer Final, a game they would also go on to lose. Another strange decision from SSB was to put Deft onto Tristana, a champion he had only played twice competitively to that point to very limited success. This decision was even more questionable considering Kog'Maw and Corki were both available and Deft was considered to be one of the best ad carries in the world on those two champions. SSB's poke composition went against their normal style of play, and it was evident, as their tendency to fall behind early really hurt them. A poke composition that gets behind early essentially becomes useless and that is exactly what happened here.
C9, on the other hand, showed that they were quite proficient with their composition. Their team comp was quite crowd control heavy with Ryze, Syndra, and Morgana. They were able to effectively use this composition to pick off SSB players from a distance and focus them down. C9 were also able to learn from the previous quarterfinal between SSW and TSM in which Dandy was able to take three of the first four buffs from Amazing in the jungle. C9 predicted that SSB would try the same tactic and invaded SSB's bottom-side jungle early on to try to counter their movement. The result was C9 catching out and killing the support, Heart. They were able to snowball this small early lead and took complete control of the bottom side jungle. This lead also allowed Hai to hold his own against Dade in lane. After a successful early gank from Meteos, Sneaky and LemonNation were able to win the bottom lane, taking advantage of Deft and Heart's laning which was quite poor. Sneaky was also the star of this game having one of the best performances of his career, finishing the game 15/0/7 on Lucian. The entire team finished with impressive stat lines while SSB found themselves having to battle back from an early hole without their signature team fight champions. C9 would close out the game easily with SSB unable to retaliate. The first game of this quarterfinal was not at all what people expected, and perhaps not what SSB expected considering the decisions they had made. It seemed as though they may have underestimated C9 and tried something new, much like they did against the KT Arrows.
Games 2 & 3
In the next couple of games SSB showed a return to normalcy with their compositions and play style. In game 2 SSB got back on more comfortable picks including Acorn's famous Rumble and Dade's renowned Twisted Fate. Deft also returned to a champion he was familiar with in Twitch, often initiating fights for his team with Dade and Acorn following up. For C9, Hai was able to get Zed but SSB was able to predict this pick and counter. Despite an early death from Dade, SSB shut Hai down quite hard and he lost that early advantage. Hai ended with a terrible stat line and was very ineffective on Zed, often diving into SSB and getting killed before he could assassinate anyone. Acorn and Dade dominated the game and showed superb map control and awareness executing their double teleport composition. in spite of a couple of deaths in lane, SSB were still able to get around the map and contest all objectives due to their use of the double teleport. Once SSB had gained firm control of the game and built up a lead, Hai was up to his old tricks again trying to split push on Zed and work SSB around the map. He was able to do this to some partial success as he was able to sneak between minion waves and avoid detection. At first SSB was indecisive and Hai secured an inhibitor turret while his team then secured the baron. This would only stall out the game for a few minutes and his subsequent attempts at the split push would be subdued by the double teleport. While Hai and C9 showed some ingenuity and resourcefulness, the map awareness and execution of SSB was too much to overcome.
In game 3 C9 tried to build a composition to burst down the SSB carries. Balls was on Rumble, a champion he was the best on in North America and arguably in either LCS. With the Rumble ultimate, C9 could get people low enough so that Hai's Syndra and Sneaky's Graves could burst them down. However, this composition was offset by SSB's decision to put Heart on Braum, which was a direct counter to C9's composition. SSB decided to try a poke composition once more, but this time focused it around Dade and Deft, allowing Acorn to play Maokai, a champion he was much more comfortable on than Nidalee. With Dade on Jayce and Deft on Corki, the duo were main sources of damage for SSB which was more in line with their traditional play style. With these champions SSB could also team fight much better than they could have in the first game. C9 tried the same invade from game 1 but this time it was SSB who countered and won the early skirmish. With the game more even, considering they were not able to get the early advantage from the invade, C9 failed to dominate the lanes like they did in game 1. There were many skirmishes early on with SSB coming out on top due to the superior teleport play of Acorn. C9 would often misuse their teleport with Balls not being able to capitalize. Spirit was also a monster on Lee Sin in the jungle, helping carry the early game and finishing 7/0/9 on the champion. Because the early game was handled much better by SSB, their poke composition was more effective at taking chunks out of the health bars of the C9 carries while laying siege to turrets. Deft showed just how great he was on skill shot ad carries expertly spacing his abilities to output the most damage and displaying tremendous skill shot accuracy. In this game SSB showed that although their styles were similar, there was a gap in skill and execution between the two teams.
Game 4 Thriller and What Could've Been
After games 2 and 3, it seemed as though SSB had found their form and C9 were finished. C9 looked heavily outmatched and it seemed as though their game 1 win was a fluke. Individually C9 could not match SSB in skill, but their shot calling meant that they were never completely out of a game. Hai's shot calling for C9 always made them competitive, and this was once again the case in game 4.
In the final game SSB once again went with a team fight composition, with Acorn back on his Maokai, Deft on his Twitch, and Dade on his world renowned Yasuo. Dade was arguably the best Yasuo player in the world and had previously hard carried SSB to victories with the champion. With C9 facing elimination, the decision to allow Dade to have Yasuo was highly questionable. However, C9 were able to get Balls back on his best champion, Rumble, and Sneaky on his very strong Corki. While these picks were solid for C9, Hai was forced onto Talon, a champion he had been terrible on during the tournament. Hai on Talon had been 0-2 with an overall KDA of 0.44 and a stat line of 3/16/4. Hai's unsteady play would go on to plague C9 once again in this game. Early in the game SSB were able to win the lane swap and Spirit's impact on Rengar was huge. With two successful ganks in top and mid and the dragon, he gave SSB the lead. However, C9 were able to battle back by grouping early and taking a fight in the top lane. The early grouping allowed C9 to even out the kills and start to reduce their gold deficit. They were even able to take a dragon fight in which 9 of the 10 players would die with only Sneaky left alive to actually kill the dragon. Balls showed improvement in this game, as his Rumble ultimates were much more accurate and impactful around objectives. In this game it was Dade, and not Hai, who would begin to split push, taking two turrets in the bottom lane. This would lead to SSB winning a fight in C9's base and taking the inhibitor. At this point in the game nearly all of SSB's gold lead was in the hands of Dade who was nearly 5k gold ahead of Hai. After the inhibitor take SSB took control of the game, sieging turrets and taking another dragon. The teams grouped around the baron with SSB peeling off and winning another fight. However, they had lost a couple of members and were only able to take an inner turret off of the team fight win. After the respawns, the teams met once again around the baron with SSB ahead nearly 10k gold. What would ensue after this was a thrilling series of plays that would nearly push the series to a game 5.
It seemed like a second baron fight was incoming but the teams both decided to pull back. Dade took a strange and risky path into the mid-lane and was caught out by a great kick-flash from Meteos' Lee Sin. Meteos wasn't known for his great mechanics on Lee Sin but was still able to catch Dade with the rest of the team quickly following up. They would chase up the mid lane and due to a terrific Rumble ultimate from Balls they would catch out Deft's Twitch just before he could go invisible. Acorn was then also caught out as he tried to go in and save Deft with his Maokai ultimate. That left all five members of C9 alive with just Heart and Spirit defending, meanwhile there were 40 second death timers on the other three members of SSB. C9 shoved heavily up the mid lane taking the inner turret, the inhibitor turret, and the inhibitor. All the while Heart was trying to stall them with his Nami while Spirit regenerated at base. At the nexus turrets C9 was able to kill Spirit and take both turrets exposing the nexus. After an incredibly hectic base rush they were able to get the nexus just below 20% when the remaining SSB players came back up and were able to kill them all. With C9 getting aced and multiple SSB members up, Acorn teleported into the C9 base while his team followed up and they won the game. It was a very thrilling finish with C9 nearly pulling out a win despite being 10k gold down. Listening in on the team communication of C9 as they pushed up to the nexus, one can see that they were slightly hesitant to pull the trigger and were just a bit indecisive. Had it not been for that indecision they may have been able to get the crucial couple of hits on the nexus that would have closed out the game. It was a great finish to a game that should not have been that close.
Due to their fantastic synergy and shot calling C9 was able to capitalize off of a slight mistake from SSB. They nearly took that moment and ran away with the whole game. The final base rush was very frenzied and the result of the game rested on a razor's edge. If one ability was used differently or if C9 did not hesitate in that final moment, the series could have gone to five games. The quarterfinal was very memorable with C9 putting up a great fight against SSB, a team that was more skilled and heavily favored. As it stands, this quarterfinal series was a great showing from a true underdog that showed the importance of team play and decision making. Had this series gone to a game 5 it would have been one of the most exciting series of the tournament and would have been one of the best showings of a Western team against Koreans. In a fifth game, I doubt C9 would have won the series, but they would have had a chance and we can still wonder what could have been.
Images from Lolesports Flickr
Stats, figures, and match histories from esportspedia.com and oracleselixir.com