Quarterfinal Breakdown (Part 2): Cloud 9 looks to upset Samsung Blue
On Saturday, October 4th, Cloud 9 will take on Samsung Blue in the second half of a delicious NA/Samsung quarterfinal doubleheader. But don't make the mistake of assuming that Cloud 9 is facing the same fate as TSM likely is. Unlike Samsung White, Samsung Blue was actually challenged in the Group Stage, and their loss at the hands of Fnatic provided a blueprint for Cloud 9's potential success. This may come as a surprise considering the hype that followed Samsung Blue into the Group Stage, but they've long been considered the weaker of the two Samsung Teams overall, their superior head to head record not withstanding. That said, the gap between the two isn't very large, and Cloud 9 has their work set out for them if they're to pull off the upset.
Samsung Blue's is a vastly different beast than their sister team, and that difference is embodied in their mid laners. While Pawn typically prefers to just farm up in lane, Dade plays extremely aggressive, and has a Champion Pool littered with Assassins. The rest of Samsung Blue mirrors this play style with constant ganks from their jungler Spirit (in stark contrast to his play in the recent OGN) paired with an in your face style of play in every lane. Samsung Blue's primary strategy in the mid game is to turn pick's into objectives, using aggressive rotations to catch the enemy team off-guard and out of position, and then use the power play to either take a team fight, close down the objective, or both. You would think that such a play style would be heavily reliant on SSB winning the laning phase, but they've shown a remarkable ability to come back from some pretty large gold deficits to win the game. That said, SSB has not looked as sharp as they have in the past. It appears that SSB relies on the opposing team being uncomfortable in the face of their aggression, but when faced with an opponent equally comfortable with it like Fnatic, their previously crisp team fighting began to show some cracks. So if you're keeping track at home, the key to beating SSB is to go even or win the laning phase, and then match their aggression with aggression.
Mid Laner: Dade
A lot can change in a year. At the 2013 World Championship, Dade's well known Champion Pool issues were exposed, and his struggles in the mid lane against the likes of xPeke and Alex Ich were the primary reason Ozone failed to advance out of the Group Stage. This year, Dade returns to the World Championship as one of the very best players in the world. His Champion Pool is now much larger than advertised, and with another year ox experience in the strongest league in the world under his belt, he arrives fully formed and ready for redemption. The biggest obstacle to his success will be himself. A less than spectacular Group Stage, in the context of a player expected to be the best at his position, might have him remembering his previous failures on the world stage. And if the pressure starts to get to him, SSB might be in trouble. After all, a Dragon without it's head is not half as deadly.
Top Laner: Acorn
One of the strongest Top laners in Korea, and a Rumble specialist from long ago, Acorn would be a star player on just about any other team. But on a team with Dade, Deft and Spirit, he's just another one of the guys. As such, Acorn focuses heavily on just being a rock for the team, playing a variety of tanky, supportive style Champions, and relying on his mechanics to be useful on a team where the Top Laner has very low gold priority. He absolutely excels in this role, an Cloud 9 is going to have a problem on their hands if they let him get any of the big tanky power picks of the current meta.
As quite possibly the best jungler in the world, Spirit brings a lot to the table. His Champion Pool is broad, and includes every single power pick you can think of, and his jungle pathing is plain ridiculous. His Lee Sin is particularly terrifying, though the same can be said for most of the top Korean Junglers. You may be able to get by as a pro jungler without playing Lee Sin in other regions, but not in Korea. And Spirit is arguably the best of them. Also, his Rengar is terrifying.
Another player who entered the World Championship riding a hype train, Deft has been outstanding in some games, and less so in others. He was notably obliterated by Rekkles in SSB's loss to Fnatic, but then laid a massive beating on Vasili and LMQ later that day. The variance in performance can likely be chalked down to the substantial difference in skill between Rekkles and Vasili. His opponent in this match up is somewhere in the middle of those two, so Deft should perform better. Deft's strength lies in exceptional positioning, a skill that fits well with SSB's mentality, and one of the main reasons why SSB is so good at coming back from deficits. Like most Korean ADCs, Deft is an exceptional Twitch player, something C9 is going to have to adjust to if they hope to pull off the upset.
The weakest player on a team of giants, Heart's primary role is to protect Deft in team fights, a job he excels at. Heart is not a flashy player. His vision control is effective, but not on the level of Mata (who is?). His laning is just okay, which was a contributing factor in their poor performance against a Fnatic team with exceptional players in both bot lane roles. What Heart does do is effectively perform the role that SSB has assigned him, and for that, he is enough.
Based on Cloud 9's performance in the Group Stage, it's clear that their boot camp did wonders for a team that looked less than stellar coming out of the NA Regionals. While Hai seems revived in the mid lane, the real story coming out of the Group Stage is how Cloud 9's map movements have reached a whole other level. The extent to which they played with NJWS was beautiful to watch, and turned what should have been a stomp into the LoL equivalent of a master chess player running circles around an amateur. Make no mistake, if SSB thinks they can get away with entering the mid game with a deficit, and still expect to come back, than they have another thing coming to them. Cloud 9 is unarguably the first Western Team to have not only a similarly high tactical understanding of the game as top Korean teams, but the ability to put those tactics into practice.
Mid Laner: Hai
Hai has shown massive growth since the NA Regionals where he looked, for lack of a better word, terrible against Bjergsen. Spamming Korean Solo Que has clearly paid off, as Hai has shown a substantially wider Champion Pool, with improved mechanics and a better grasp of how to play the map so far this tournament. His split-pushing tactics were the primary reason Cloud 9 was able to compete with, and beat, Najin White Shield. So long as he doesn't pick Talon again, Hai should be able to at least not feed against Dade.
Top Laner: Balls
Another player who struggled at the NA Regionals, Balls looks much improved on the World Stage. He made both NJWS and Alliance pay for not respecting his Rumble pick, while also showing a lot of comfort on Maokai. His exceptional Ryze play adds another wrinkle to a top lane match up that should be highly contentious. The key for Balls will be getting the 1v1 top lane he prefers, as he's clearly uncomfortable in the lane swap/fast push meta.
Meteos has played exceptionally well at this year's World Championship, despite not playing a single game so far on Lee Sin. His Elise has been in point, while his Kha'zix was a key factor in C9's victory over NJWS. That's par for the course for a player who has long been the best at his position in North America. Cloud 9's chances of victory will rely heavily on his ability to counter Spirit's aggression across the map.
Sneaky's growth into one of the best players at his position has been both swift, and surprising, as Cloud 9 rarely unleashed him throughout the 2013 season. So when Sneaky showed up for the Spring Split and began dominating team's left and right, the community flabbergasted. But this growth has been a major reason why Cloud 9 arrives at this year's World Championship a far more well-rounded team than last year. Sneaky's comfort on Twitch will be key to Cloud 9's success, as it allows them more flexibility in their Pick and Ban phase than other Western Teams who are forced to just ban it out (hello TSM).
The tactical mind of Cloud 9, LemonNation brings more to the table than you can possibly see in C9's games. His mind is going to be tested against a team with as many power picks as SSB has, and his ability to craft a winning pick & ban phase is crucial to C9's upset hopes.
The lazy thing to do here would be to assume SSB is going to win because KR>NA and all that, but I think this series is going to be far closer than anyone expects. Cloud 9 is one of the most intelligent teams in the Tournament, and you have to assume they've watched SSB's matches against Fnatic over and over again, and figured out how Fnatic was able to beat them. And while Cloud 9 doesn't have quite the same level of mechanical skill as Fnatic does, they are smarter, and their tactical understanding of the game is better. If Fnatic was able to take a game from SSB, than I have no doubt that Cloud 9 can.
C9 will need to follow Fnatic's Blueprint to pull off the upset
What Cloud 9 needs to do to win
Come out of the laning phase with a lead. Cloud 9 has exceptional map movements, and know how to team fight. Their target prioritization is generally excellent, and their strong ward control should prevent SSB from catching them off guard. Thus, I believe the winner of each game is likely to be the team that enters the mid game with the lead (relatively speaking, a 5k lead into a Tristana/Ryze comp is a ticking time bomb), and closes it down. C9's largest skill deficit in the early game is likely Hai, so their game plan should be to ward the surrounding jungle, and make sure Meteos is ready to help as needed. Balls should be able to survive against Acorn, and Sneaky and LemonNation are likely a match for Deft and Heart, at least in lane. But Dade has a very similar play style to Bjergsen, and we all know how that match up played out at Regionals. Hai's ability to survive lane against Dade will be a major factor in every game. To that affect, C9 needs to come up with some strategy to neutralize Dade. Banning Zed doesn't help much, as Dade's Yasuo and Kassadin are exceptional. One of these days, I'd like to see a team put their duo lane mid against the enemy mid laner. It's a risky strategy, but one that could play dividends against a team that places such a heavy emphasis on their mid laner. The likely scenario is that the most C9 will be able to do is slow Dade down, and try to close the game down before he can take over it. Personally, if I had to ban one Champion away from Dade, it would probably be the Kassadin. A fed Zed is much easier to deal with than a fed Kassadin, and as Hai probably hasn't picked it up, it's likely to be a free pick for Dade otherwise. So this is the game plan.
- Pick Strong Lanes
- Do everything you can to keep Dade from getting ahead.
- Use Vision Control to prevent SSB from getting back into the game
Sounds easy, right?
If Deft gets hot like he did against LMQ, SSB's victory is all but assured
What SSB needs to do to win
Take out Hai. Repeatedly. That c9 plays substantially worse when their shotcaller, Hai, has a bad game is a matter of historical record. Failing that, utilize exceptional team fight coordination to claw their way back into the game. The odds are definitely in favor of SSB here, as they just have more ways to win. That's what happens when you hold the mechanical advantage over your opponent. And while Cloud 9 is the first Western Team to really grasp strategy on a Korean level, the fact remains that they're just now catching up to a region that's long since excelled at the tactical side of the game. This is a study in whether the student can beat the master. Deft and Heart have been less than spectacular in lane so far this World Championship, so it may be a good idea for SSB to get Deft on Corki, a strong early game Champion that he played exceptionally well on in the Group Stage. Dade should be able to take care of himself in the mid lane, so the key for Spirit is to be ready to counter-gank when Meteos inevitably camps mid. Dade/Spirit should have the advantage over Hai/Meteos every time, which makes any mid lane gank by Meteos potentially devestating for Cloud 9, and a boon for SSB. Fnatic was able to pull off the upset because they have a strong mid-laner who can manage Dade, but I don't think Cloud 9 has that in Hai. So the game plan is simple.
- Have Spirit camp mid and make Hai's life miserable.
- Force early objectives before Cloud 9 is able to regroup, and to take advantage of Hai's less than perfect shotcalling when behind.
- Maintain Vision Control to prevent C9 from playing the same games they did against NJWS.
That's right, I'm going down with the Ship. Apple Pie all the way.
Cloud 9 (3-2)