Welcome to my 2018 NA LCS Spring Split Preview Series! I’ll be releasing my thoughts on each team during the 10 days before the season opener on Saturday, January 20th.
Now, the first contender: Cloud9
Quick: Name the most successful North American League of Legends organization ever.
Who did you think of? Was it Counter Logic Gaming and their pair NA LCS titles (plus that second-place finish at MSI 2016)? Was it Team SoloMid, with their record six NA LCS trophies in ten tries (including the last three), having never missed a final? Or was is Cloud9, a team with two NA LCS titles, three consecutive regional gauntlet wins, and the only NA team with more than one Worlds bracket stage appearance since Season 2?
Choosing the greatest NA organization is difficult, because the selection hinges one what competitions we, as fans, value more. Which achievement weighs heavier: An NA LCS championship, or a knockout stage finish at worlds? How many domestic banners would TSM tear down for one Worlds semifinal finish, or a single MSI trophy?
If domestic performance is the measuring stick, TSM has no equal in North America. But if the true indicator of an organization’s strength is their international performance, then Cloud9 is the most successful NA org, advancing out of the group stage in four of five Worlds they’ve attended.
Cloud9 have yet to miss a World Championship since their inception in 2013, but the road to qualification this year, with four world class teams clustering at the top of NA LCS, might be their hardest ever. A roster shakeup around the top side of the map has seen the departure of top laners Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong (Team Liquid) and Jeon “Ray” Ji-won (EDward Gaming), as well as their impressive jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia (Golden Guardians). In their places, C9 added top laner Eric “Licorice” Ritchie from the now-defunct Challenger team eUnited, and jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, recently released from TSM.
Much like Colin “Solo” Earnest on Clutch Gaming, Licorice enters a stacked, veteran roster on which he will not be expected to do more than tank. Despite Impact’s flashy showings on Singed against Team WE in the quarterfinals of Worlds 2017, C9 rarely demands a threat from their top lane, preferring to use the position as a tanky split-pusher and/or front liner to protect mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and AD carry Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi. We saw C9 utilize Shen’s early Stand United threat better than any team at Worlds, and that strategy might be the most demanding thing they ask of Licorice this split. He played Shen in Spring Promotion last fall, displaying a familiarity with the champion despite losing two of three games.
While Licorice might be a mechanically-inferior top laner compared to Impact or Ray, he brings stability and heretofore untapped growth potential that neither Korean import offered. C9 found themselves splitting time between Impact and Ray through much of Season 7, and that lack of consistency arguably damaged their ceiling. They know who they’re getting with Licorice; a former C9 Challenger substitute in Season 6, he’s spent long enough inside the organization that if C9 didn’t like what they saw, they wouldn’t have brought him back.
Helping Licorice not get smashed in lane is Svenskeren, who will likely dedicate his early pathing to pressuring the solo lanes. Not only will Licorice need the help, but Cloud9 are notorious for their terrifying mid-jungle synergy, with Contractz nearly as responsible for Jensen’s MVP-level Summer 2017 as Jensen himself was. Having been ruthlessly excoriated by Reddit for his ineffective Worlds 2017, then quickly kicked from TSM in favor of a pair of fellow Europeans and an unproven NA youngster, Svenskeren enters 2018 with a massive chip on his shoulder. He’s eager to prove that he’s more than the wardbot TSM made him out to be in groups, and will hopefully find more time on the aggressive junglers (Lee Sin, Elise) that better suit his style of the play. Considering that C9 largely let Contractz off the tank leash towards the end of Season 7 (Warrior Rek’Sai, Ezreal, Graves), don’t be surprised if you see Sven back in his carry ways soon.
Balancing the top side of the map is perhaps the best American bot lane in the league. Sneaky and support Andy “Smoothie” Ta struggled to find their footing in the laning phase for much of Summer 2017, slow to adapt to the new Xayah-Rakan meta. But by the time Worlds rolled around, Sneaky was setting damage records on Xayah and Smoothie danced around for clean Rakan initiations. They learn quickly, and at their best, they’ll carry harder than Jensen. Adaptability will be the watchword of bot lane this split, with a deep pool of champions and a meta that will begin with Overheal-Relic Shield, but certainly will not end there.
Central to the success of Cloud9’s newest incarnation is Jensen, the explosive carry mid laner who unfathomable KDA and farming prowess have few equals in NA LCS. Known for his exceptional Orianna play, Jensen surprised many by adding Aurelion Sol and Galio to his already deep pick pool. Supportive choices like those will give C9 flexibility in drafts that target Jensen, and open unexpected compositions. I expect Jensen to relish his new partnership with fellow Dane Svenskeren, who is at the very least a sidegrade to Contractz.
It will take some time for this new roster to function properly, but as the soul of the team remains intact, the adjustment period shouldn’t last too long. If Licorice can find success in the top lane, the rest of his teammates will follow suit. For Cloud9, Spring Split will be a time for working out the kinks, and the acquisition of crucial Championship Points that will help their positioning for Worlds later this year. That’s the measure of success for the best team in NA, after all.
Cloud9 Academy Roster:
Top: Ziqing “Shiro” Zhao
Jungle: Raymond “Wiggily” Griffin
Mid: Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer
AD Carry: Yuri “Keith” Jew
Support: Tristan “Zeyzal” Stidam
Coach: Jonathan “Westrice” Nguyen
Next, a leader departs, and his team picks up the pieces…