North America’s Chance at 2019 Worlds Pt. 2: Cloud9

Up next on my list of North American League teams to discuss is my personal favorite, Cloud9. Now, if you didn’t read my last piece on Team Liquid, I would recommend you do so; not only to give my posts more views (haha), but because it gives all of the background and introductory information you may need to understand this one.

Cloud9 has historically been the most successful North American team outside of their region. They’ve always performed consistently at world tournaments, despite often being the last seed from North America; often grouping them with some rough opponents. You can call it luck, or you can call it fate, but no matter the odds stacked against them, they always do substantially better than expected; whether it’s through out-smarting their adversaries, or running straight through them.

Originally, the first rendition of Cloud9 were known for their genius shot-calling and team play. Long-time mid-laner, Hai, carried them with strong communication and decision-making; allowing them to beat those that were technically more skilled than them. Now that Hai has gone, they have still managed to maintain that cohesion, but are more known for their strange and unique drafting, run by coach Reapered.

That all being said, they haven’t had strong domestic performances in years. They still only have the one domestic title, from the original roster, but have since always fallen flat in the playoffs. They have, however, qualified for every World Championship since their franchise has existed, but it’s always the hard way: through the gaunlet. For those who are unfamiliar with what the gauntlet is: the Rift Herald wrote a preview for last year’s that you can find here. It does an okay job explaining it throughout.

So looking at the past history of Cloud9, it’s easy to see why hopes would be high for them. Even if they aren’t fantastic in the regular season, they follow-up by providing a strong late-year run, both before and during the World Championship. But how do they look coming into this year’s tournament?

International Performance

Because Cloud9 hasn’t won a split recently, they haven’t had much international practice. Aside from the World Championships and occasional Rift Rivals, they don’t attend tournaments such as MSI; who require you to be the best team in your region. So in order to start the review of their recent international play, we have to go all the way back to last October, at the 2018 World Championship.

As I’ve said through both last post and this one, Cloud9 performs well at just about every Worlds. Last year was no different, taking down two Korean powerhouses, and the best Chinese team, which was way more than what was originally expected. Drawing the hardest group, they were picked to finish last by most analysts; but instead, they squeaked past European team, Vitality, and Korean team Gen.G to make it to the playoff stage.

Past that, they surprised even more people, by destroying yet another Korean team, Afreeca, who had performed well up until that point. This changed the game for not only Cloud9, but the entirety of North America, who had previously been dominated by these larger regions. Many think it is the most impressive international performance a North American team has had in several years, rivaling Team Liquid’s MSI finish this year.

Juxtaposing that is last month’s Rift Rivals performance. Going a solid 0-4, Cloud9 was the only team in the tournament to not pick up a game win. Not only that, but most of the games weren’t even close; getting demolished in 20-30 minutes, which for League of Legends is pretty short.

However, excuses do exist for the horrid results they got. The team was incredibly sick, forcing jungler Blaber to play mid-lane and ADC in the tournament, due to Sneaky being absent. Also, Licorice had been experiencing really bad wrist pain, but had to play because there weren’t any other players left on the bench to sub in for him. So, you could say Cloud9 might have been running at approximately 40% of their normal strength. Still, I feel the team should have been able to do at least a bit better, by making the games much closer, and not look God-awful.

So, the past two international performances give two different looks at this Cloud9 team. While they were stricken with many problems in their last one, they proved to be in rough shape against their EU opponents. However, they managed to pull off an outstanding placement just this past year, and have only swapped one player in their roster since said tournament, so they obviously have the potential to repeat the showing.

Domestic Performance

Now, let’s look domestically. As I said previously, Cloud9, while being a strong force in North America, hasn’t won a championship in the past 5 years. This spring split, they maintained that pattern in the most accurate way, finishing at second place in the regular season, and then getting reverse-swept in the playoffs by TSM to end third place overall.

The summer split, sadly, has been very up-and-down for Cloud9. Starting off with outstanding performances, they found their way in first place, tied with other teams like Optic Gaming, but then fell from grace, and entered a battle for second or third place, which they have been in for a while. Due to Licorice’s wrist injury, they played 4-5 games without him, and because they were in a slump, they even tried subbing-out 7-year player, Sneaky at ADC.

Now, once that didn’t work, they brought him back, and Licorice is healthy again, so they have their full roster. But nonetheless, they have dropped several games to teams they shouldn’t have; from Flyquest, to Golden Guardians; who are both barely in the playoff race. Past that, TSM had a 7k gold lead on them in one game, but they managed to make a miraculous recovery. And while some may point out that it was an impressive feat by Cloud9, it was mainly due to TSM’s implosion, and obviously they shouldn’t have been in that spot in the first place.

Looking ahead, they did recently beat Team Liquid this past weekend; and it was the first time they’d done so in a while. So you could say they’re trending up. But their inconsistency with their roster; as well as just their performance, even at full health; are both scary to me, as a fan of the team, and the region’s success.

Overall

Cloud9 is incredibly hard to read right now. I can see a world where they make it to the World’s semifinals again, and I can also see a world where they lose in the group stage. There’s a world where they win the summer split, and get first seed, and there’s a world where they have to fight their way through the gauntlet yet again; either making it as the third seed, or not making it at all. In fact, their domestic placement may end up deciding their international placement, as it’ll help make their road much easier or much harder.

The full potential of this team is clear: they have the strength to take on roughly anyone in the world. I don’t see them ever beating a team like G2, because they, in many ways, are a worse version of them. But, most standard teams can get outrun by Cloud9 in pretty much any game, if they perform well enough.

If I were to put a guess, I would say they’d end as the second seed for North America, and then once again pull off some C9 magic, to get through groups. However, their recent lack of consistency makes it hard for me to envision them going further than that. In the end, we’ll see in October. Until then, I’m going to continue to write about them in the hopes they make it far.

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