When Cloud 9 played Dignitas in Week One, they lost the game because Dig took the early advantage and coupled it with taking early initiative in the game. After every kill, they grabbed a turret, after every teamfight, they placed deep wards. Dignitas’ control of the initiative in the game meant that Cloud 9’s early disadvantage stayed with them throughout , and there was no chance of equaling up the gold lead.
LMQ vs. Cloud 9 was almost the exact opposite. LMQ was able to wring a substantial early game lead out of Hai and co., but weren’t able to grow the lead or use it to nail down objectives. Their rotations were based entirely on the teamfights, picks and ganks they were looking for, and much less less their wave control or lane assignments. In this way, LMQ vs. C9 was defined almost entirely by teamfight positioning, tactical vision, combat vision, and item thresholds.And when it comes to team-fighting, this is a clash of the titans. LMQ has very recently made a name for themselves as a group of supreme team fighters. They play incredibly aggressive compositions built to dive, fight and dive some more. They typically pair the hardest engagers (such as Shyvana and Yasuo) with the safe, consistent picks of Lucian, Twitch and Caitlyn. The only time this teamfighting style faltered for them was against Dignitas, whose excellent early map play led to a significant gold lead that no amount of mechanical outplays could match. Cloud 9, on the other hand, are known for their macro play. It has long been known that C9 will fall behind early and come back mid to late game with superior rotations. Their laners are not as historically dominating as TSM or Dig’s, so they tend to give up early kills and gold and only equalized things once the team could start playing the map. This is only half the story though, because Cloud 9 is a fantastic team-fighting group. But whereas LMQ are amazing at the hard engage and diving teamfights, C9 excels at spread out, disengaged teamfights where they draw players in and then reengage. Zyra’s rise to power at the hands of LemonNation was precisely about her unique disengage-reengage pattern in the bot lane. (Janna can disengage, but it’s harder for her to restart the fight she just reset, for instance.)
So, in this way, LMQ vs C9 should be something of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. LMQ is the best team at engaging and diving fights, while C9 is the best team at disengaging and kiting back fights. Both styles counter one another in the right light (my hard engage comp dives your Kog’Maw before he can be useful, versus my disengage comp keeps you off of my Kog for long enough for him to turn the fight.) History, definitely favors the divers in this scenario. Disengaged teamfights are incredibly hard to pull off correctly because communication and coordination needs to be spot on. You need to kite back as a team, in the same direction, with the same amount of damage and CC going out that you can turn the fight once your opponent has overextended. But once that’s happened, you need the reengage to be crisp, clear and decisive. If you reengage too quickly, you get bursted down and die, and if you wait too long your opponent stops chasing and starts look for another objective. So, in a certain way, this gives LMQ the advantage. The skill cap for their playstyle is much lower than the C9 skill cap. At the same time, the idea that C9 is so successful with such a tough playstyle demonstrates how exceptional they are as a team.
In the end, this game came down to three crucial teamfights. In each one, the initiative was traded from one team to the next, the winning team took some substantial objectives and, most importantly, after each teamfight the map was completely different from what it once was. This is the nature of these kinds of teamfighting teams, though. Where a Nidalee /Lucian composition will slowly take your turrets piece by piece across the map at regular intervals, the teamfighting playstyle that both teams brought with them means that every teamfight is a huge map shake up, and the majority of swings in gold, map control, and initiative happen because of them.
Before the fight, LMQ’s lackluster vision stood out as being their largest mistake. They have no vision on the imminently spawning dragon, not even an errant ward in any brush on the bottom side of the map. Cloud 9, on the other hand, have complete vision control over the pit itself, with just enough on the backside of the pit to give them the information they need. In terms of items, the biggest discrepencies are between Vasili and XiaoWeiXiao. Hai has been heavily denied from the early laning phase, and only has a completed Ravenous Hydra to show for it. XWX, on the other hand, has a completed Deathfire Grasp, Zhonya’s Hourglass and Sorcerer’s Boots. The completed hourglass is a bit of a mistake in itemization, however, as the fight will play out. Without the mana regeneration or cooldown reduction of Athene’s Unholy Grail or Morellonomicon, her power in sustained, drawn out fights is much less. Vasili’s advantage is fairly straightforward. The two previous dragons and a more timely buy mean he has a completed Trinity Force, whereas Corki is fielding only a phage/zeal combination.
Cloud 9 also has the superior positioning. Because LMQ lack proper vision and they have a weak hard engage (Zyra Root/Renekton Flash/Flanking are really it) Cloud 9 can create a core of Sneaky/Lemon/Meteos/Balls to poke without fear. Hai, meanwhile, clears the wave, giving him some much needed farm, and means that he can easily get on the backline of LMQ. It’s actually fairly clever that Hai is so blantantly on the flanks. It means that LMQ cannot start a fight without Kha’zix running in and theoretically cleaning up. This gives Corki more time to poke with missiles, and if LMQ ever collapses on Hai, his team picks up Dragon for free.
The fight actually begins as a direct result of Cloud 9’s control. They know LMQ doesn’t have wards in the river, so they extend out into the river. Once LMQ decide to collapse (on Balls, who has been caught out by Zyra’s slow) they kite back into a bush LMQ doesn’t have vision of, and all of a sudden pounce on the poked down team. Zyra flashes out once she’s caught, but Cloud 9 have the vision advantage. All Corki needs to do is pop in and out of the bush to juke Leblanc’s damage, while Meteos and Hai bring down Lucian. Mor actually saved the fight for LMQ in certain respects, as his flash and ultimate prevent Hai from getting any resets and continuing the fight. Still, Cloud 9 take the initiative off LMQ, grab an objective for their troubles, and all because they played the teamfight exactly the way they wanted to.
LMQ aren’t finished, though, they just disengage because they’re so low, while C9 take the dragon relatively healthy. Ackerman immediately returns to base, buys homeguards and teleports in to reengage the fight with XiaoWeiXiao. When I saw him chase so far, 1v4 without his ultimate, into the C9 jungle where there is no vision, it looked like a suicide mission, but this is where LMQ’s hard aggression all the time really pays off. XiaoWeiXiao only has enough mana for a mimiced distortion, but hitting four members of C9 means they should be low enough for Ackerman to finish. Mor follows up, grabbing a double kill, though Sneaky cleans up two kills as well.
This is the fight that Cloud 9 relies on, game after game, split after split, to make them champions. They’re behind early (3K or about 10% gold) and an objective they want pops. So, they fill it with tactical wards and use that vision control to pick the choicest engage possible, kiting the enemy into unknown territory.
Quite literally everything Cloud 9 did right around dragon they do wrong around this baron fight. They have no vision, desperately start a fight without being together, and end up getting killed by a choice LMQ reengage. Pre-fight, Cloud 9 is up 5K gold, or about 10% on LMQ. The item discrepancy mostly comes from Meteos, who has 1.5 items on the enemy Nunu and, interestingly, Lemonnation, who has the defensive Aegis and Mikael’s against Mor’s Liandry’s Torment.
Cloud 9’s fight mistake comes from their positioning. Despite having 4 champions that can jump the Baron pit, Meteos is the only one to fight NoName and Ackerman inside it. Balls, Hai, Lemon and Sneaky all head for XiaoWeiXiao, Mor and Vasili. If Hai had jumped with Meteos, the damage pressure he would have brought to the LMQ tank line, may have helped C9 secure a kill (for resets) or Baron itself.
Instead, Hai gets immediately exhausted, and Zyra’s Stranglethorn immediately disengages for his team. This leaves the C9 core past the enrance of the Baron pit, which means that LMQ’s tankline gets a free pass to run in and disrupt any incoming damage from Hai, Meteos and Balls. Then, when Meteos dies and Balls flashes away from the fight, Sneaky is easy pickings for Leblanc and Vasili.
Interestingly, C9 did take out Vasili, which likely saved their inhibitor. But Ackerman, XiaoWeiXiao and Mor were enough to nab the middle inhibitor, which would go down quickly thereafter.
Cloud 9, on the ropes after another failed teamfight for the exact same reasons as above, have lost 2 inhibitors, baron vision and almost every single one of their turrets. They have, however, eked out a gold lead mostly on Meteos, who had hit final build while NoName was looking to finish Banshee’s and a sixth item. A Guardian Angel protects Vasili from Kha’zix’s burst, but also interestingly from giving Hai any resets as well, while Ackerman has finished off with an endgame offensive Black Cleaver.
Without any vision, Hai is immediately caught out by 4 members of LMQ. They try to put some damage on him, but without any hard engage to lock the bug down, Kha’zix’s improved leap takes him straight to safety. This is LMQ’s big mistake. Rather than return to the Baron pit, where they have vision, Ackerman Slices and Dices into the Cloud 9 team to lock down Hai. But with a Randuin’s, Specter’s Cowl and Maw of Malmortius, LMQ isn’t able to burst him down. Lemonnation’s Tidal Wave hits most members of LMQ, while Mor’s Zyra ult misses, which quite literally saves the entire fight for C9. Without any hard CC to lock them down Vasili or XiaoWeiXiao’s burst, they continue kiting back while Sneaky shreds down Ackerman and NoName with auto attacks and rockets.
Then, Meteos proves why he’s the best jungler in North America. On Lee Sin he’s built a Guardian Angel, which means he can dive as far as he wants into the enemy backline with a few seconds before death. This not only allows him to kill Ackerman (which gives Hai the reset he needs to down Vasili) but he also can facetank Mor, NoName and XiaoWeiXiao long enough for Hai to get another set of resets from Vasili’s imminent death and clean up both Mor and NoName with Sneaky.
Vision is everything. Cloud 9 and LMQ both showed proper command of tactical wards, which allowed them to engage fights in their turf without any surprises coming at them. It also showcased the core concept of teamfighting team compositions, where a fight happens and an objective follows. Dignitas was pressuring objectives and finding teamfights while doing so. LMQ was pressuring teamfights and finding objectives afterwards. And as much as we talk about rotations, map movement and macro play, getting down and brawling with another team is still a great way to win a game professionally. Teamfighting games can be decided at the drop of a hat, though, where one dragon swings things entirely in your opponent’s behavior, or a pick gone wrong can lose you the game.
In either case, both Cloud 9 and LMQ prove themselves as top tier teams with this game. I’m excited to see what other surprises the NA LCS has in store for us this split.