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|League of Legends Season 3 World Championship Preview: Cloud 9|
“NA … plays too slowly. Now if they go into the mid-game at their own pace, their power can be recognized …”
-Kim Dong Jun, OGN Shoutcaster
It’s fitting that the stereotype of the North American League of Legends scene matches the stereotype of Americans in general. We’re big, loud, and a little slow on the uptake, but if we catch you, you’re in for a fight. It might not be the prettiest scrap you’ve ever seen, but it’ll be a brawl nonetheless.
The three North American representatives are arguably the strongest the region has sent to Worlds to date. Cloud 9 wrecked nearly every opponent they faced, accruing an incredible 25-3 Summer Split record. Team Vulcun didn’t stray far behind, managing a respectable 20-8 record, and Team SoloMid went into the playoffs at PAX at 14-14, but made their power known by taking 2nd behind Cloud 9.
Despite the individual power of these teams, things do look bleak for the Americans on paper. To start, no North American team has won a series outside of the Group Stages against a foreign foe. The only team with Worlds experience is TSM (not including WildTurtle), which may explain how they are able to perform so well in live venues.
Fellow Leaguepdian Spellsy also broke down how NA is the League of Throws. First Blood after 2:30 only lends itself to a 61% win rate, while the first tower at 4:00 only leads to a 59% win rate. There’s even an 11% chance teams can come back from losing an inhibitor after 26:00. Compare that with Korean play, where there is little margin for error at a 97% win rate after taking out the first inhibitor.
What does this mean? Recall Kim Dong Jun’s quote. NA plays very methodical, which gets them in trouble if they fall to early pressure. However, if NA chooses to reverse the stereotype, if they become the hunters and not the hunted, they increase their chances of victory immensely. Basically, they need to weather out the storm of early game pressure, and then “flip the switch,” so to speak. Look back at Spellsy’s article. A 94% win rate if the first Baron is taken before 24:00, and a 96% win rate if the first inhibitor falls right after at 26:00. NA needs to transfer that sort of explosive mid-game play style into the World Tournament in order to find success. Who has the best chance to carry this burden?
The North American Champions: Cloud 9
All aboard! The hype train is churning full steam ahead for Worlds. A stunning performance at PAX Prime showcased an on-point Cloud 9 decimating both Dignitas and Team SoloMid. Their 5-0 playoff run only added fuel to the engine that just keeps on churning out wins. So what’s in store for Cloud 9 at Worlds? Brandishing only 29 champions picked in the Summer Split, the least amount in North America, isn’t exactly threatening. On the contrary, it has proven to be Cloud 9’s greatest strength. Let’s understand Cloud 9 as a whole by looking at them individually.
Balls picked a champion that he hadn’t played in the Summer Split, going 3-0-4, and farming at 440 gold per minute. Not only is Balls extremely deadly on Rumble (Going 15-7-22 in all three games against TSM in the playoff finals), he’s got an ace in the hole. This is where a scary idea and pattern starts to emerge for Cloud 9.
His Zed play is truly powerful. He shredded TSM in Game 3 of the playoff finals at 7-1-11, gaining a 75% kill participation score. He’s everywhere, but what’s more scary than Hai’s Zed play? Well, as Zed himself might say, “The unseen blade is the deadliest.”
Game 1 against Dignitas saw Hai bring out Fizz, a champion that he didn’t pick in the Summer Split … ever. Hai’s Fizz was a wrecking ball on paper at 5-1-6, though in game he didn’t get his first kill until 21 minutes on a bottom lane roam. From there, though, he took on three members of Dignitas in between the first two mid towers and [two of them]. It was a scary enough pick that TSM banned the champion in Game 1 and Game 2 of the Grand Finals.
Starting to see a pattern? Another Cloud 9 pick that we haven’t seen, and another dominating performance. If Hai gets his way, he’ll be on a bursty/slippery assassin at Worlds.
Sneaky isn’t a one trick pony, though. He’s an exceptional duelist as well as team fighter, and teams should rightfully take notice when he takes Ashe to the Rift:
Sneaky was undefeated with the Frost Archer in the split at 11-0. He grabbed another two wins in the playoffs against Dignitas, too, earning perma-bans from TSM. That didn’t bother Sneaky; he just pulled out Varus and went 14-2-20 over two games. By now, the pattern should be evident, Sneaky did not play Varus in the Summer Split.
There is nothing wrong with this strategy. What is a team going to do? Target ban the Support player? Not likely, as doing so would leave all of Cloud 9’s other favorite champions on the board. Instead, we’ll most likely only see a Zyra ban, if anything. Lemon was 11-0 during the Summer Split with Zyra, and played her four out of five games in the playoffs. If 11-0 sounds familiar, it’s because Sneaky was 11-0 with Ashe. They love that combo, and will play it whenever they can.
And why shouldn’t he play her? He had 312 assists in the summer, the second most of any Support in North America. Just over 42% of those came on Zyra, proving there is power in the plant.
Zyra was banned out in one game of the playoffs, but Lemon just switched over to Thresh and played fine. Overall, LemonNation is a bit of an anomaly in the Cloud 9 playoff pattern because he didn’t have to pull out anything new. This begs the question: What else is up his sleeve for Worlds?
His most played champions are Zac and Nasus, where he is undefeated at 8-0 and 10-0, respectively. That kind of power does not go unnoticed, and those two champions were banned out against Cloud 9 a combined 15 times in the split.
However, Zac was only banned once in the playoffs, and Nasus was never banned. Easy picks for Meteos, right? Not so fast! Instead of playing either of those champions, Meteos elected to play Elise and Nocturne when available.
He had only played those champions a combined four times in the Summer Split, and yet he still put up impressive numbers. His stats on Elise across three games were 11-4-24. He was even more impressive on Nocturne, despite playing one less game, picking up 13 kills, only one death, and racking up 14 assists. Meteos embodied the Eternal Nightmare by terrorizing TSM in Game 2 of the playoff finals for nine kills and no deaths.
This is a scary jungler that doesn’t die often, and he decided to make a statement in the playoffs by not showing off his most picked champions. Meteos essentially said to the world,”I can pull out anything at anytime.” He’s given the world another thing to worry about.
No, if we learned anything from Cloud 9 this season, it’s that they’re smart. They trolled the entire world. They only showed 29 champions in the Summer Split not because they have a shallow champion pool, but because they’re deceptively deep.
This is Cloud 9’s greatest strength going into Worlds. Sure, teams can plan for their most powerful champions, ban or pick them away, or build compositions around them. As we saw at PAX, it won’t matter. Cloud 9 pulled out three champions they hadn’t revealed prior, and did well on them, too. Meteos ran two of his least played champions, and LemonNation will most likely not be target-banned.
Cloud 9 hasn’t revealed all of their cards. They still have surprises up their sleeve, and that should worry any team at Worlds.