The Breakdown: Cloud 9 vs Dignitas

When they first met in the Spring Split of 2014, Dignitas shocked North America by defeating their heavily-favoured opponents, Cloud 9. In the ensuing weeks Cloud 9 would lose to TSM and CLG as well, causing some to question whether the gods of the NA LCS were indeed mortal. In their rematch in the first super week of NA LCS, Cloud 9 looked shaky. And unlike their characteristic losses, generally against a snowballing team or with a poor team composition, Dignitas took Cloud 9 down by out-rotating and having superior team-fighting against the best strategic team in North America.

The Draft: Picks and Bans

Interestingly, neither team seemed unhappy with champion select. It was quick, efficient, without many surprise picks or heavy advantages to one side or another. By the end of the drafting phase, it was clear that both C9 and Dignitas had received the champions they were looking to receive, and fielding compositions they were comfortable with.

[tabgroup][tab title=”Bans”]The ban strategy for Dignitas centered around Crumbz and Meteos. Ban out Elise and Evelynn, then first pick Lee Sin, and you’ve placed Meteos in an awkward position. Zion is a well known Lee Sin player, so if Meteos lets Kha’zix slide, he’s forced on to one of the lower tier junglers like Vi or Xin Zhao. Cloud 9 bans are almost all snowball champions, which shows plenty of respect for ZionSpartan and Shiphtur’s play. C9 knows if either players gets rolling on Jax, Leblanc or Kassadin, they can hard carry a game from there. This gives both Imaqtpie and Kiwikid freedom to pick for the bot lane, as well as Crumbz for the jungle[/tab][tab title=”Dignitas’ team”]Shyvana_Square_0_25bLeeSin_Square_0_25bLulu_Square_0_25bLucianSquareZyra_Square_0_25b

One of the most balanced teams played by either Dignitas or Coast in living memory, and truly a testament to the new power of the new team. On Coast or Spring Split Dignitas, it was rare to see such hard meta picks, because the teams had very discernible weaknesses: Scarra was an under-performing mid laner, or Wizfujin was an underperforming marksman. But on the new Dig team, Zion doesn’t have to pick a hard carry like Irelia or Jax. He can play Shyvana, build tanky, and trust his team to carry alongside him. Shiphtur on Lulu is probably the best example of this. A pick geared more towards utility than for damage, Lulu is the linchpin that helps the team both stick to targets and kite back away from them. Lucian is easily the most versatile marksman, able to siege, kite, team-fight and roam effectively. Zyra here is mostly a counter to Lemonnation’s Morgana pickup. Dignitas clearly expected C9 to field a team along these lines (Twitch, Trundle, Morgana were huge for them in the recent All-Star tournament) and Zyra was picked purely as a lane counter to Twitch/Morgana. If she and Lucian can land enough harass through the enemy minions, it becomes much harder for Twitch/Morgana to all-in the enemy bot lane with a successful Dark Binding.

[/tab][tab title=”Cloud 9’s Team”]Trundle_Square_0_25bKhazix_Square_0_25bTwistedFate_Square_0_25bTwitch_Square_0_25bMorgana_Square_0_25b

A Cloud 9 team composition that should surprise no one, especially Dignitas. Kha’zix was a huge jungler for Meteos even before his surge in popularity after Insec’s showing at IEM Cologne, though the recent nerfs in 4.7 might have driven Meteos on to Lee Sin if he had been available. Trundle was Balls’s go-to pick at All-Stars, and Lemonnation played Morgana all through that tournament as well as their playoff run. Twitch, largely regarded as the strongest marksman since Najin Black Sword re-popularized the champion, was a first pick for Cloud 9 as well. But this composition performs best by disengaging smartly and reengaging when the time is right. Without a Lulu, Kha’zix has weak engage in a 5v5 situation. Additionally,  Trundle can only properly engage with a flank or well timed teleport. So, Cloud 9 wisely locks in Twisted Fate, who provides the hardest of engages once he attains a Zhonya’s Hourglass. The Zhonya’s TF engage will allow C9 to properly start fights with their better scaling champions, and hypothetically win with that teamfight power in the mid and late game.[/tab][tab title=”Win Conditions”]Unfortunately, if your only hard engage in the late game is a Zhonya’s Twisted Fate, you’ve painted a huge target on said Twisted Fate’s back.  Twitch/Morgana is a decidedly weaker bot lane than Lucian/Zyra,  at least for the early levels. Once Morgana and Twitch approach level 9, a proper Binding should equal a kill. Similarly, Trundle tends to get bullied by Shyvana if she avoids trades at level one. So, Dignitas know who to target  with Lee Sin’s early game power: Twisted Fate.

On top of their potential as bullies in the first few levels, Dignitas also have the better siege composition. Lulu/Lucian have both strong wave clear and tower burst with Trinity Force and Lich Bane, while Twitch and Twisted Fate are both low range, low mobility champions. The danger of a Wild Growth’d Shyvana or Lee Sin diving them under turret is very real, and even with Morgana/Trundle to kite back, it’s harder for them to disengage. Still, Cloud 9 does have the more dangerous late game. So, if Meteos can get a few successful ganks off in the early game, and they can rely on their natural team-fight prowess and late game scaling to take the win late. Of course, if Dig can keep TF off of Zhonya’s for long enough to snowball a lead, they can steal a victory from c9. Spoiler Alert: Dignitas does.[/tab][tabgroup]

Level One and Early Lane:

Dignitas have a well-rehearsed level one reminiscent of level one ward starts from late season three. Their goal? To find the C9 duo lane and match them Zyra/Lucian. They throw three warding trinkets to see every possible route for the c9 bottom lane to go top, and then camp the river to make sure they properly identify the lane assignments. Cloud 9 assumes the deep wards are a red steal, but Meteos does grab his red buff first without trouble. This puts him on a path to head for an early bot lane gank, but the Dignitas trinket wards still see Meteos’ path, which cues Crumbz to head for the early counter-gank. Meteos avoids it, however, choosing instead to hard farm his jungle. And while Zion is playing up in lane, Lucian and Zyra also push up hard with a constant river ward. The early level advantage they get at level 3 allows them to keep Twitch too low to engage, even if Morgana successfully binds Kiwikid’s Zyra. Hai also loses out on an early trade and pressure, and by level 5, all of Dignitas’s lanes are successfully bullying their counterparts. This prompts Crumbz to continue searching for Kha’zix in the jungle and for counter-ganks, but Kha’zix eludes him at every turn.

First Blood:

Meteos can’t hide from Crumbz at his second blue. He has a ward that watches Meteos take red and return to base, while he passes off his blue to Shiphtur and heads to his own red. With an early double long sword start, he shreds through the buff while Meteos returns to base, and immediately heads to the jungle pathway between mid lane and blue buff. It is immediately obvious to Crumbz that Meteos has started the blue when his Sonic Wave doesn’t connect, so he dives deep on Twisted Fate while a Whimsied Lulu rushes in to provide him with backup. Hai locks a red card, instantly flashes, and dies to the double ultimates of Crumbz and Shiphtur.

The read from Crumbz in the first part to focus the enemy blue buff actually provides a huge amount of pressure. It keeps Meteos off of his other lanes, especially Lucian/Zyra, and it denies Twisted Fate the ability to infinitely push and roam. A blue buffed TF can lock red card after red card, shoving his opponent under turret and getting strong roams with his ultimate. A buffless TF has to lock blue cards to prevent himself from going completely out of mana and can’t flank or gank his losing lanes.

First Turret:

Just after Shiphtur and Crumbz kill Hai, Kiwikid and Imaqtpie get another strong engage on the enemy duo lane. Twitch is down a level do to an early back, but Morgana looks for a Dark Binding/Soul Shackles combination. With Grasping Roots and Stranglethorns, Zyra is able to lock down and damage Morgana enough to force flash, heal and base, leaving Lucian and Zyra free reign to siege up the turret. Shiphtur, after clearing out his wave mid lane, immediately roams top and helps take the turret there, making sure Twitch and Kha’zix can’t counter the siege at all.

This frees up Lucian and Zyra to roam to the bottom outer turret and begin taking that down while Twitch is still shoving the top lane. ZionSpartan has already swapped lanes with them, making sure Twitch can’t take top, while also providing immediate dragon pressure with the threat of the teleport. Shiphtur and Crumbz have warded the same pathway to the enemy blue and happen to catch Lemonnation without any backup. After killing C9’s support, the whole team rotates to Dragon and bumps their gold lead even higher.

Rotations, Rotations, Rotations:

The bottom lane turret is still Dignitas’ immediate objective, and the gold lead on Imaqtpie means he’s up a Bloodthirster to Sneaky’s Bilgewater Cutlass and Daggers. Qtpie gave up a kill to a successful Twisted Fate gank, but a combination of Shiphtur’s pressure mid and Zyra’s wave-clear in the bottom lane keep Twisted Fate and Twitch from hard pushing the bottom lane turret, and let Qtpie get back to lane without losing an objective.

And here, Meteos and C9 get out-rotated. Lee Sin expands his ward coverage of the eastern jungle, which allows him to control both the respawning blue buff and the enemy bot lane turret. Meteos, however, grabs his red and heads straight for Lee Sin’s blue while he’s off and about in the bottom side jungle. And while Dig doesn’t have the vision to show where Meteos is, they do have the vision to show where he’s not. This lets Crumbz head straight into the enemy bottom lane taking a second kill on Lemonnation and the bottom lane turret without much trouble at all. Meteos trades the bottom turret for the top one, as he attempts a gank on ZionSpartan, who easily escapes. Dig then steal another blue (Kha’zix has the Dig blue, which means still no blue for TF) and rotate their duo lane and jungle to mid, where they score another kill and another turret.

At this point, there are 5 kills on the map, a 5% gold lead and 3 turrets to one. Cloud 9 isn’t far behind in gold or experience, but they’re clearly losing the game. Why? Because Dignitas has taken the initiative at every turn and has never let go. Cloud 9 are forced to react in every situation. They are dictated to, rather than dictating. After every one of Dignitas’s kill, they have the power to take an objective and easily do so. When Cloud 9 take a kill off Dig, all they’ve done is push Dignitas back a bit. By the time they can group to take a turret, Lucian is already up and returning to lane, their wave is too small to push with, and the turret’s untouched from any other harass. After the first few turrets have opened up the map, it’s easier for Cloud 9 to trade objectives (like top for bottom turrets) but Dig always takes the better trade. On top of that, Dig have used their tempo to take map and vision control not haphazardly (Cloud 9 spend a large amount of time warding the southern jungle, but never make any play with it) but tactically. If their objective is mid, they have the flanks of mid warded. If their objective is bottom, they have the eastern jungle warded. And that map control leads to the first true team-fight of the game, where Dignitas score a three kills without taking a single death.

The Point of No Return:

Cloud 9 have just taken advantage of Dig’s base timers. They just took the second turret top, which gave them extra gold, presence and map control, but they were low after the push and needed to back. Twitch was farming the empty bot lane, and hard pushed with Meteos and Hai coming up for support. Zion teleports to the bot lane turret and Cloud 9 burns all three of their ultimates (Void Assault, Destiny and Rat-a-tat-tat) to try and kill him. He Dragon Descents over a wall at 50% HP and gets out for free. In the meantime, Crumbz is looking to cut the team off while Lucian and Zyra push the empty mid lane to the 2nd tier turret. When Crumbz passes a C9 ward, they immediately engage for the pick (this would be the 2nd pick their pick composition actually completes. Once Shiphtur and Zion show up behind Crumbz, Cloud 9 tries to disengage into their eastern jungle, where Lucian and Zyra cut the team off and Dig takes a 3-0 engage.

Now, this is probably one of the first team-fights that Cloud 9 has been so one-sidedly beaten in. Cloud 9 knew they didn’t have Balls’s teleport, not that his Blade of the Ruined King rush gives him the tank stats to act as the front line for C9. Morgana saw Lucian and Zyra rotating into the eastern jungle (which is still lit up by Dig’s deep wards) but they don’t have an out. If they try to pick off Crumbz, they at least get a kill for their trouble. If they run up the lane, they get collapsed on by Zyra and Lucian anyway, and probably give up the same 4 kills and mid turret.

So, we have one of the first, bona fide, poor strategic calls from Cloud 9. After blowing three ultimates to unsuccessfully pick off ZionSpartan’s Shyvana, they don’t back out. They try to push a second bottom tier turret. And while the punishment doesn’t come until 2 minutes later, they are certainly punished by Dignitas’ greater map control, rotation and strategic play.

The cleanest baron in Dignitas history:

Now, Dig are up 3K gold, which is about 10%. This manifest mostly in Shiphtur’s Deathcap and Crumbz Randuin’s components, neither of which are truly team-fight defining in any sense. Shiphtur and QTpie have just grabbed the blue and red buff respectively, and the team heads to the northern jungle to refresh their deep vision. That only means one thing: Dig wants a Baron.

Now, historically, if you’re dominating your opponent, Baron is a rough call. Ideally, you’d rather bait it to force the enemy team out of a turtle, sweep another team-fight, and then crack inhibitor turrets. But in this instance, Dignitas is probably right to grab the baron. They know they’re in for the long haul when it comes to sieging down the inhibitor turrets and a fed Lulu hasn’t really hard carried games for many teams before. They need more than just 3K gold, they need combat stats to dive turrets. And diving through a Morgana/Trundle is tough work even for Shyvana/Lee Sin.

It’s actually important to note the map movements of the team while this warding is happening as well. Lucian is hard pushing the mid lane with tactical wards on his flanks, and Zion is hard pushing the top lane with the strength of a completed Sunfire Cape to help him duel Trundle. This wave control affords Dig map control, because Morgana and Kha’zix can’t access the Northern jungle while Lee Sin/Lulu are clearing and placing deep wards. C9’s only hope is a lone sight ward that has slipped by Dig’s net of pinks around the dragon pit.

All the while, Cloud 9 have Twitch, their team-fighting marksman with the only kill in the game, split pushing the bot lane turret. This is big mistake number two for Cloud 9. Trundle has teleport, so they just need to reallocate lanes in order to put out the same pressure on the bottom inhibitor without giving up Baron team-fight pressure. But instead, confident with their wards, Dig start Baron.

Cloud 9 do have an advantage here: Destiny. Dignitas can clear out as many wards as they want. All they need to get vision of the Baron pit is have Hai press R. But without a Zhonya’s completed, Hai has no way of using the Destiny to cut the Dignitas team off from disengaging the baron pit. So, down their AD Carry, down their Twisted Fate Ultimate, Cloud 9 only have one hope to fall back on: Meteos smite steals the Baron.

Unfortunately, with the wards the dig has around the Baron pit, it’s a simple Zyra ultimate to keep the team off the team for that last few seconds of Baron’s HP. By this time, Hai’s ultimate has worn off, so the team has zero vision in the baron pit anyway. And event though it was tricky to send Hai bottom lane to push the inhibitor turret with Sneaky (though without a LichBane, TF’s turret pressure is decidedly low) an easy teleport from Zion protects Dig from any back-door shenanigans.

The Endgame:

At this point, Cloud 9 are desperate. Their only real hope to win this game relies even heavier on Hai’s shoulders. If he can just scrounge together enough gold to complete that Zhonya’s, maybe C9 can win team fights with clever pick-offs of Lucian and Shiphtur. It’s a long shot, but that’s their only course of action. Unfortunately, that course is delayed by another 4 minutes when Dignitas takes Baron, as even a perfect TF ultimate couldn’t win them a team-fight against Baron-ed up Dignitas.

But, rather than turtle to this point, clearing waves with TF’s wildcards and using Trundle pillar and Morgana Binding to zone Lucian from bursting the turret, Hai is sent to push out the top lane, presumably to get the gold he needs to finish that precious Zhonya’s. This 30 second mistake gives Dignitas time to chunk the inhibitor turret to 50% HP and allows Zion to grab the last remaining outer turret in the bottom lane.

Even though Hai does come to clear waves before their inhibitor turret, Dig grabs it with relative ease, but wisely don’t overcommit for the inhibitor, instead peeling back for another dragon and round of shopping before closing out the game. With the base cracked, it should be fairly straight forward for Dig to push down the middle inhibitor, use that pressure to continue the siege in the other lanes, and ultimately gain victory over C9

The Last Stand:

At this point, C9 have no hope. They have  inferior siege, especially since Lulu is opting towards Lich Bane and with an inhibitor down, it’s unlikely that any other situation works out in their own favour. So, rather than drag the game out, Cloud 9 call for a Hail Mary and start a teamfight on their dead inhibitor.

Hai finally has his Zhonya’s Hourglass, so he can initiate on Zyra, but QTpie cleans up Meteos and TF while the team kites back. Sneaky has been throwing down Rat-a-tat-tat bolts from the back line, but once the Soul Shackles stun wears off, QTpie, Shiphtur and Crumbz collapse on the rat and finish the game.

In the end, Cloud 9 lost this game by getting out-manoeuvred. To date, only really Counter Logic Gaming was able to beat the innovations and adaptations of C9’s strategies. But Dig were able to capitalize on their early initiative advantage, and use it to suffocate the map for C9. They had the vision control to translate objectives into kills and vice versa, and they had the map movements to close off and collapse on favourable team-fights.

C9 lost in two places: First, they let dig dictate the blue buffs for Hai, keeping all of his middle lane pressure bottled up in the mid lane. TF got his first blue at 22 minutes when 4 turrets were already down for C9 and his ability to gank and snowball side lanes was non-existent.

Secondly, they lost when they overcommitted to the bottom lane 2nd tier and the Crumbz pick afterwards. If they’d gone back to base after taking the outer turret, the gold lead wasn’t insurmountable and they could have stalled the game. If they’d run up the lane rather than following Crumbz into Lucian and Zyra, they may have been able to properly defend their remaining outer turrets. But by chasing Crumbz and giving up three kills, which would translate into both the mid lane inner turret and Baron control, they backed themselves into a corner.

Time will tell if this game was a fluke or a sign of a rise or fall in NA LCS power. Dignitas certainly looked good in lane and with macro play, while C9 seemed uncharacteristically aggressive. Over the next few weeks, we’ll certainly see. But taking two games off a team that barely lost in the past year of competitive play is a step in the right direction for Dignitas certainly, and the North American region as a whole.

This article was edited by ShiraShira.

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An esports enthusiast currently working for Square Enix, Buddy "Tonric" Sola is a Gold Mid/Top main whose favorite champions include Jax, Master Yi, Zed and Volibear. He loves to analyze the high level strategy in professional league, with a particular focus on pick/bans, champion synergies and team compositions.

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