Finishing out the Spring Split in a sweepingly victorious fashion, Cloud 9 reclaimed their hold on first place seed for their second Split in a row. Though the beginning of the Spring Split saw Cloud 9 briefly falter, the team’s open-mindedness and willingness to take risks in employing new strategies throughout the Spring Split paid off in the long haul. Cloud 9 is undisputed in terms of both coordination and individual laning; the majority of the team sports some of the highest KDA’s in NA. While in the past, Cloud 9’s top and bot laners have missed the limelight to the likes of Hai and Meteos, it would be unwise for any team to overlook the individual skill of any player on Cloud 9.
Unfortunately, mere weeks before All-Stars, Hai was hospitalized due to a collapsed lung (he is recovering well) and it was announced that he would be unable to fly or travel to All-Stars, much to both him and the team’s stark disappointment. CLG’s Link will be filling in for Hai as Cloud 9 takes to the stage in Paris, and hopefully a strong team synergy can be achieved as all of the members of Cloud 9 have been looking forward to and preparing for this tournament since the start of the Spring Split.
Regardless of being one original team member down, this will be an exciting time for Cloud 9 as they will finally have their chance to square off yet again against Fnatic, who did take them down at the IEM World Championship. Cloud 9 will also have the opportunity to take on both SK Telecom T1 K, OMG, and the Taipei Assassins – Much anticipation has been building as fans wait to see how Cloud 9 will perform against some of the best Asian teams in the world.
Meet The Team
An “Balls” Le – Top
Balls has shown time and time again that he is one of, if not the best, top laner in North America. He is consistent and reliable, and when asked about his views on playing top lane, he has stated that he “does not try to innovate, he just plays whatever is strong in the current meta.” Across this season there have been no small amount of balance changes to the game and the meta for top laners has been predominantly all about tanky, tanky, and more tanky. Balls has adapted to these changes and has shown that he can play whatever his team needs. Size doesn’t matter to Balls; he can carry his team no problem, bravely face-tanking headfirst as he helps peel and push his team to victory.
Austin “Link” Shin – Mid
It is well-known now that CLG’s Link will be filling in for Hai at All-Stars as Hai continues to recover from his collapsed lung. While Cloud 9 will not be running with their traditional roster, Link is still an incredibly strong mid laner and has shown many times across the course of the Spring Split that he can certainly hold his own in the mid lane. Cloud 9 will be looking to Link to be at his best this coming weekend as they take on fierce competition from around the world. Look to see how Link matches up against mid laners like Faker and xPeke as we progress through the Group Stages.
William “Meteos” Hartman – Jungle
There is no denying that Meteos is by far one of the best junglers in North America. Now with a wider array of strategies and more experience under his belt, Meteos is sure to have more cards in his hand this time around than he did at World’s. Boasting an incredible ability to make plays, carry his team, and possessing an uncanny ability to guess and predict enemy junglers moves, it will be up to Meteos to lay it all on the line in Paris. All eyes will be on him to see how his performance and abilities stack up against the likes of Korea’s SKT bengi and OMG’s pomelo. This will be Meteos’ time to shine as he and the rest of his team look to crack the competition at All-Stars.
Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi – AD Carry
While traditionally, the bot lane of Cloud 9 has received relatively less attention than the team’s other counterparts, there is much to be said for Sneaky’s performance thus far in Season 4. Sneaky has demonstrated exceptional skill and holds the highest KDA in NA, just above King of The Jungle Meteos, and Sneaky also holds third in highest GPM after finishing the Spring Split. His impeccable teamfight positioning and dedication to keeping himself strong throughout all stages of the game makes Sneaky incredibly difficult to mettle with the longer the game continues. With support LemonNation by his side, Sneaky will look to leave his mark in more ways than one this weekend.
Daerek “LemonNation” Hart – Support
Though quiet, there is no mistaking that LemonNation is the heart and soul of Cloud 9 and the keeper of their best laid plans – All-Star Paris will be another opportunity for Lemon to add further ideas and strategies to the C9 notebook. Known for possessing an incredibly deep champion pool, LemonNation is the right-hand-man of Sneaky and has helped set up and maintain control of the bot lane with unrivaled determination and slow-but-sure annihilation of other team’s lane control and vision. It is sure that LemonNation will be bringing a full notebook to back his team as they prepare for All-Stars, and he is not to be counted out if a team is looking to take down Cloud 9.
Keys To The Game
What will determine whether Cloud 9 takes home an overall international victory at All-Star Paris? Take a look at Cloud 9’s strategies for success from an analysis perspective, courtesy of my fellow writer, Buddy “Tonric:”
Cloud 9 have made a name for themselves as the most rotation-focused team in North America. And while last season, their reactive, disengage playstyle powered them through the Summer Split with an incredible win rate, Meteos‘ strategy of power farming didn’t stack up internationally at Season 3 World’s. Since then, the team has transitioned (albeit, a a bit painfully – Dropping games to TSM, CLG, Dignitas and XDG) into a dominating and active team that punishes poor rotations and chooses smart teamfight engages. Though they may not have the same ability to suffocate an opponent through powerful laning (such as TSM), their laners have improved remarkably since the start of the season. With a meta more focused on team-oriented, supportive mid laners, Hai’s natural tendency to roam and make plays for his team has only gotten better. At the same time, the Cloud 9 bot lane has also proved its ability to dominate lanes with picks like Lucian, Thresh and Leona. It’s fairly rare to see Cloud 9 fall behind in the laning phase, as they did quite commonly in Season 3, which should only help them when they are up against some of the best laners in the world, like SKT’s Faker and Fnatic’s Rekkless and YellOwStaR.
Cloud 9’s other trademark would be their signature teamfighting style, which dominated and shaped late Season 3 in North America and has continued to do so into the current season. Cloud 9 perfected the reactive, counter-engaging teamfight, built to split, disengage and control the ensuing onslaught. While the style originated with their trademark Ashe/Zyra/Rumble combination, they played it through with Nocturne, Shen, and even assassins like Zed and Ahri. Today, picks like Lucian, Morgana and Kha’Zix help create perfect opportunities to isolate out of position enemies and take them down one by one. Interestingly, Hai and Balls have ignored the more typical disengage champions often preferred by their counterparts in lane (TSM and Korean teams prefer to run Mundo/Nidalee/Lucian as their core disengage comp) in favor of strong lane bullies, like Renekton and Lulu. This style of teamfighting has shown its strength against the gank squads from China and Southeast Asia, where Cloud 9 used their superior movement speed and positioning in order to bait WE and TPA into less than ideal engages, and then restart fights with Kha’Zix to assassinate out of position players.
Breaking Down Playstyle By Lane
Top Lane: Balls has dominated the North American Spring Split from the top lane, proving that not only is he the best top laner in North America, but he is also the most versatile. While most North American top laners can be classified as either lane bullies and duelists (ZionSpartan, Innox) or teamfighters (Dyrus, Nien, Cruzer), Balls was able to perform exceptionally as any role his team needed. Whether he is bringing out Tiamat Renekton, full tank Shyvana, or his favorite pocket pick, Rumble, Balls is usually able to turn fights almost single-handedly. Balls has also demonstrated his strength on both Jax and Trundle in the NA Regional Playoffs – Going an incredible 20/11/39 across five games (His Trundle KDA was a whopping 8.6). Expect Balls to be on the receiving end of a multitude of ganks from both Link and Meteos. Meteos and Balls synergy is one of Cloud 9’s strongest points, and an early gank visit top by Meteos generally spells First Blood for Cloud 9.
Mid Lane: CLG’s shotcaller is a veteran in the mid lane, playing three splits as the mid for CLG, and has risen across the last split to be a cut above most other NA mids (that aren’t Bjergsen). Link’s adoption of playing more supportive mid laners like Lulu, Orianna, and Nidalee have put more dependence on jungle and bot to carry rather than from mid, though his LeBlanc is a force to be reckoned with.Where Link will likely shine is from his shotcalling. When other players might call for a pick or rotation, Link excels at understanding the game and utilizing the win conditions of his present team composition to out think an enemy, engaging in teamfights that win games. However, developing strong communication for a team normally takes months, so Cloud 9 could react sluggishly if they haven’t completely integrated in their new and temporary shotcaller. Look for Link to roam and create universal pressure around the map. If things go well, he will grab the intiative in a game and he won’t let go.
Jungle: Likely the best player on Cloud 9 and arguably the overall best player in North America, Meteos‘ jungling style set the meta for all of Season 3 and continues to set the pace in Season 4. Along with Curse’s IWillDominate (who brought us jungle Pantheon and Wukong), Meteos popularized most of the strongest jungle champions in the Spring Split, focusing on Kha’Zix, Lee Sin and Elise. While he was known for playing passively but opportunistically in Season 3, focusing on counter-ganking much more than initiating his own ganks, Meteos seems to have shifted gears. While some junglers who have been forced to aggressively change styles have fallen off in the past few months, Meteos has stayed just as strong on the likes of Evelynn and Kha’zix as he ever did on Nasus or Zac. Meteos consistently applies proper pressure in the right lanes to snowball match-ups in favor of Cloud 9. Watch for him to camp the weakest lanes on the enemy team and rotate into mid-game teamfights.
AD Carry: Cited as one of the exploitable weak points of Cloud 9’s team in Season 3 and reported to only succeed when he and LemonNation could force lane-swaps onto their opponents, Sneaky was slightly under the radar moving into Season 4. But as the rest of Cloud 9 transitioned to a more aggressive team, Sneaky happily followed suit. And though he still excels with strong siege-oriented champions like Lucian and Corki rather than the weak early game Ashe, he has truly come up for Cloud 9 as a marksman who can hold his own in lane. Sneaky benefits most from C9’s disengage teamfighting model, where his team draws out and elongates enemy engages before snapping back with the perfect counter. Lucian and Corki will likely be dominant champions in his pool, as their mobility and ability to siege combine the strengths of Cloud 9’s teamfighting with the importance of the objective focused game.
Support: Without a coach on the Fields of Justice, it can sometimes be hard for teams to accurately and decisively direct their efforts to the best objectives. But while other coaches watch the game, biting their nails and hoping for the best, C9 has the benefit of LemonNation. Well regarded as one of the best strategic minds in North America, LemonNation has also overcome some of his mechanical limitations that were commonly exploited by other LCS teams in their early matches. Lemon (and his infamous notebook) commands the pick/bans for their team, characteristically predicting compositions from opponents and instantly locking champions as quickly as possible. Through most of the split, Lemon focused on Leona, Thresh and Annie, but adopted Morgana and Karma as bully oriented supports in the playoffs. Morgana was 100% drafted or banned for Lemon, and it would not be surprising if she is a central point for the team at All-Stars.[/tab][/tabgroup]
While Fnatic has more international experience than most of the other teams combined, Cloud 9 is actually not as far off in this regard as some of the other teams competing at All-Star. The core of the All-Star lineup played in both Season 3 Worlds and IEM Cologne without a roster shakeup, and Cloud 9 has played all the major regions except for Korea at this point in the season. In fact, Cloud 9’s commanding victories over IG and TPA in IEM gave them new lifeblood for many fans and analysts who were doubting NA’s top team. If TSM and CLG couldn’t cut it before them, why would the new top dog perform any better? Well, as it turns out, an incredible grasp on the current metagame and a focus on macro strategy was able to defeat the rough-and-tumble styles of both TPA and IG. Those rotations couldn’t beat out Fnatic, though, who handed them another loss in the growing rivalry between the two western teams. Either way, Cloud 9 was able to give all teams a good run for their money, and it would be expected that they can do the same at All-Star Paris.
While Cloud 9 has proven that they are indeed the strongest team in North America, how will they fare against the likes of SK Telecom T1 K and OMG? This weekend will undoubtedly give us a firsthand look at how NA’s poster team stacks up against the legendary powerhouse Asian teams. Win or lose, Cloud 9 looks to be the team fans believe can most strongly represent NA, and the experience Cloud 9 will gain as a team will only help them as they look to extend their domination into the Summer Split. Much will fall on Meteos in ensuring that his laners get off to the kind of starts that they need and it will be important that Link can find a strong synergy with the team to help them perform as best they can, despite less than ideal circumstances.