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The Rocky Road Cloud9 Took To Worlds

Eric Corona / ESPAT

Written by 

André González Rodríguez

Posted 

4th Oct 2021 09:16

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League of Legends' biggest tournament of the year is almost here and in just one week 22 teams will be competing in it for a chance to hoist the most prestigious trophy, the Summoner’s Cup. 

Among those teams is North America’s Cloud9, a team that at the start of last year’s 2020 season was looking like one of the best teams in the region’s history and then historically collapsed. This collapse prevented them from qualifying for the World Championships, making it a first in the organisation’s history. But now that they’ve requalified and were actually able to attend Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) this year, they have a chance to redeem themselves and rectify their past woes.

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How Cloud9 Qualified for Worlds

Lock In Tournament

Having had missed Worlds for the first time in their history was a huge blow to the organisation’s name and fame. In order to combat that, Cloud9 went on the offensive during the offseason, making some of the more significant changes. The team initially let go of their longtime head coach, Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu and released their reigning first-team All-Pro top laner, Ric “Licorice” Ritchie - this came as a surprise knowing that Licorice being a North American resident and a good performer meant they had a hot commodity. This was rounded out by the letting go of their mid-laner, Yasin “Nisqy” Dincer.

With those changes done, this meant that Cloud9 was ready to rebuild: a hefty overhaul so to speak. After they let go of Licorice, the organisation decided to promote their Academy top laner, Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami into the start LCS roster, crucially keeping room for more imports. Following this, Cloud9 went on to make one of the most historic roster changes - at least in the Western side of the scene - to date. They brought over one of the Western greats, mid-laner Luka “Perkz” Perkovic. This immediately created an aura around the team that (barring their 2020 spring performance) hadn’t been felt in a long time.

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This aura didn’t make itself shown right away though as to start the season, Cloud9 were jumbling everything during the first-ever League Championship Series (LCS) Lock In tournament. They started poorly but slowly were able to ramp up, add the first-ever reverse sweep in tournament history versus a strong-looking 100 Thieves and Cloud9 had made the finals versus their now rivals, Team Liquid

Once in the finals of the Lock In tournament, Cloud9, like in the semifinals, fell into a quick 0-2 hole. This meant that a reverse sweep was in order. Luckily for them, the order began to be fulfilled until a fed-up Team Liquid put an end to it in a game five slaughter.

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2021 Spring

Thankfully for Cloud9, that Lock In tournament wasn’t for nought, as due to their persistence and perseverance, the team managed to play a total of 17 games during the tournament. This meant that this group of five essentially played a regular season’s worth of games in just two weeks - terrific experience for a new roster. 

This experience immediately made itself shown come the spring split’s start - the aura was finally here. They finished the regular season at a 13-5 record, giving themselves a bye going into the Mid-Season Showdown (MSS). The Perkz signing already paid dividends as he nailed himself a first-team All-Pro spot but was somewhat overshadowed by jungler, Robert “Blaber” Huang’s spring split MVP coronation.

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During the MSS, Cloud9 made quick work of everyone in their playoff path - this included a matchup versus Team Liquid in the semifinals in which they took them down in 3-1 fashion. They met up with Team Liquid once again in the finals but it was a bit different this time. Team Liquid were sporting their substitute jungler who they had relied on before, Jonathan “Armao” Armao, due to starting jungler, and second-team All-Pro Lucas “Santorin” Larsen having to step down due to health issues. 

Many thought this would be a breeze for Cloud9 but that wasn’t the case. Somewhat similar to the Lock In finals, Cloud9 got themselves down 2-1 early, this meant that Team Liquid had multiple chances to close it out. Thankfully for Cloud9, everyone stepped up, especially Fudge who took on the brunt of criticism early on. This meant that Cloud9 finished the series victorious and were able to qualify for MSI for the second year in a row.

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Image via Riot Games
Image via Riot Games

For all intents and purposes, this was Cloud9’s first-ever MSI, due to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling last year’s midseason tournament. This was the chance for this new look Cloud9 to make waves and establish themselves as the representing force of North America. 

Mid-Season Invitational

The results at MSI weren’t the prettiest. During the group stage, the team dropped an unexpected game versus Japan’s DetonatioN FocusMe. Losing a game versus a historically bad international region immediately brought out causes for concern for the North Americans.

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This was later somewhat rectified after Cloud9 defeated the reigning World Champions, Korea’s DAMWON Kia. They also were able to take a game off of eventual invitational winners, Royal Never Give Up from the Chinese region. But even then, Cloud9 could never really get on track, thus creating a not so pretty picture. 

Cloud9 looked poor against every other team in the six-team group, even going 0-2 versus the Pacific Championship Series’ (PCS) PSG Talon, and were only able to split games with Oceanic underdogs, Pentanet.GG. This meant that Cloud9 finished with a mediocre 3-7 record and weren’t able to qualify into the top four. 

With that performance in the back of their heads, Cloud9 returned to their home region, hoping to maybe let bygones be bygones and get back to business.

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2021 Summer

Fresh off of a poor MSI performance, Cloud9 felt the need to make some alternations to their superstar studded roster. They decided to move their starting AD Carry, Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen down to Academy, propping Calvin "k1ng" Truong into the LCS roster. This change proved to be uneventful as Cloud9 ended up bringing back Zven to the roster. Cloud9 never really got to taste first place again and continuously hovered the third-place spot, finishing in fourth place going into the LCS Championship.

In the first round of the playoff bracket, Cloud9 got to rematch Team Liquid. General thoughts going into this matchup were uneasy as both Cloud9 and Team Liquid weren’t looking like their best selves in the regular season but Cloud9 was still seen as the favourite. Team Liquid ended up enacting revenge over the spring champions in dominating fashion. This meant that Cloud9 now had to battle through the losers bracket, not unfamiliar territory for the organisation as they’ve shown to perform well with their backs against the wall - one can just look at their regional gauntlet runs in the past.

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Once in the losers bracket, Cloud9 first had to face off against Golden Guardians in which they quickly swept. Past that, they had to take on an Evil Geniuses that looked surprisingly strong all summer long, they swept them as well. This meant that an all-encompassing historic and rivalry filled match-up versus Team SoloMid was in order. The winner takes the last Worlds spot and moves further in the bracket, the loser stays home.

Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT
Tina Jo/Riot Games via ESPAT

Both Cloud9 and Team SoloMid went tit for tat in the series eventually landing on a fifth and final game for all the marbles, here Cloud9 completely crushed Team SoloMid in 30 minutes and solidified themselves as the last North American representative.

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The momentum of that game five wouldn’t continue though as once they faced off against eventual LCS Championship champions, 100 Thieves, they couldn’t muster up much. This meant that although they didn’t keep their championship, they still rectified last year’s lack of Worlds trip.

How Well Could Cloud9 Do At Worlds 

As the sole North American team to play in the play-in stage, Cloud9 not only have their work cut out for them but have immense pressure on their shoulders, it also doesn’t help that they were placed in the tougher of the two groups. Even then, Cloud9 still have a solid chance to make it out of play-ins and qualify into the main stage. But as the cliche goes, it just depends on what Cloud9 shows up and if all of their players show up as well.

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Cloud9 is certainly not on everyone’s radars when it comes to them dominating play-ins, far from it actually. Some would pen down Cloud9 as a team that won’t even make it into the group stage, but that’s where the quality of their players may tell a different story.

There are several players that can be seen as x-factors for the team. Be it the famously well-performing internationally, Perkz, their solid bottom lane or their newly arisen top laner. But one x-factor is the most important of all, their jungler Blaber. Their main key to success back during the spring was Blaber’s explosive and dominating aggressive playstyle, Cloud9 essentially ran their game through him. This meant that if Blaber wasn’t on then the whole team was off. This showed during MSI where Blaber could never find his groove, thus creating issues for the team in that tournament. The lack of groove continued all the way through to the summer, as even though Blaber was still in the upper echelon of the jungle players, he still wasn’t that MVP calibre player. Cloud9 need him to step up at Worlds.

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Eric Corona / ESPAT
Eric Corona / ESPAT

Apart from him, all of the other x-factors have their roles to fulfil. Fudge needs to keep improving and staying at that good pace, and their bottom lane needs to keep the game and their lane in check; no losing and keeping things even. This leaves the mid-lane, where apart from Blaber, Perkz can come in clutch due to his extensive experience. 

As the only player in this roster to have reached a Worlds final and have won MSI in the past, this is where his known leadership and experience can come in.

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To round it up, Cloud9 have several important marks to hit, be it Fudge and the bottom lane staying strong or Blaber and Perkz taking the mantle. Either way, this is up for Cloud9’s taking. This is the final step for Cloud9 to rectify their 2020 woes. 

 

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Cloud9 At Worlds 2021 Group Stage

Photo via Riot Games/Getty Images

Written by 

André González Rodríguez

Posted 

15th Oct 2021 23:20

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