How far can Cloud9 go at the 2016 World Championship?


Can Cloud9 capture the magic of 2014?

There’s less than a week until the start of the 2016 League of Legends World Championship!

We’ve been previewing each of the North American League Championship Teams that made it to the Worlds. If you haven’t already, check out the preview for TSM and CLG. Today, we’ll be taking a look at Cloud9’s chance at the bracket stage. C9 made big changes heading into the summer split with their eye on the Summoner’s Cup, and we are about to see if it pays off.

Making it to the bracket stage wouldn’t be a first for C9; they did so in both Season 3 and Season 4. But the competition has strengthened considerably since then. The LCK has tightened its iron grip on the international scene, and the LPL and LMS now serve as gatekeepers. C9, on the other hand, has struggled through maddening flights of inconsistency.

As is common in League, roster turnover has been a major issue for Cloud9. Only ADC Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi and jungler William “Meteos” Hartman remain from the Season 4 squad that made it to quarterfinals. And Meteos wasn’t even a constant, having been brought out of semi-retirement to replace Lee “Rush” Yoonjae at the beginning of summer.

The other Danish mid lane star

Cloud 9's powerhouse mid laner Jensen.
Cloud 9’s powerhouse mid laner Jensen. /

Through all the changes, Sneaky has been a rock. But just as importantly, in this era of mid laners, C9 found another star in Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen. Jensen had a tumultuous start to both his professional League career and C9. Jensen and C9 went from almost getting relegated at the end of 2015 to the World Championships, where they lost in a groups tiebreaker.

Since then, Jensen has tightened his lane mechanics and more importantly, became a source of consistent late-game damage for a team that often struggles to make the right calls. It’s not uncommon to see C9 games devolve into a solo queue bloodbath, as each member is individually good enough to win fights. Translating those fights into wins has been a stumbling block, though. Jensen has helped the team tremendously in that regard.

Group B: Postseason Buffs

Cloud9’s group is headlined by the reigning world champions, SKT Telecom T1, but SKT isn’t even the first seed. That honor belongs to Flash Wolves of the LMS, another team that traditionally performs well in the postseason. Even IMay, in its first split, showed tremendous resilience in the LPL regional qualifier to knock Team WE out and claim a spot at Worlds.

This may not be TSM’s group of death, but it’s a pretty deep one. All these teams can learn the meta quickly and play in multiple ways. Those are some of the reasons why this group is especially appealing.

The micro: individual matchups

You know what’s up next: a controversial matrix of positional strength.

Worlds 2016 Group B positional breakdown
Worlds 2016 Group B positional breakdown /

Remember: the colors do NOT represent how strong each of these players compared to others at their position. I also took into account how the teams play around each spot and how necessary each position is to the team’s success. It’s subjective, and it’s okay to disagree.

sneakyfingers /

But there’s one thing I will argue to the death: Sneaky is a god-tier ADC. He has been one for some time. The dude is a cold-blooded killer. Nobody in NA did more damage or kill more champions than Sneaky. Sneaky fits almost all the attributes anyone wants in an ADC. Strong in lane? Check. On-time with good positioning for fights? Check. Can solo-carry the game? You bet. Innovates his position with playstyle and champion pool? Uh huh.

Penta kills

? That too. Sneaky is a beast.

If there’s one thing to criticize, it’s that Sneaky sometimes goes too ham, knowing how much his team relies on him. He can be caught out of position with insufficient vision, trying to do too much. That’s where rookie support And “Smoothie” Ta comes in.

After a few weeks of juggling between Smoothie and Michael “Bunny FuFuu” Kurylo, it was apparent that Smoothie did more for the team and coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu was forced to make Smoothie the full-time starter. He is obviously not as renowned as the other supports in the group, but he doesn’t need to be: all he needs to do is keep Sneaky alive.

The other positions

Instead, map presence will fall on Meteos and Jensen’s shoulders. Meteos showed an ability to evolve his playstyle with early Sightstones in C9’s playoff defeat of Immortals. I think that style needs to continue. He is pretty clearly the worst jungler in this group, and won’t carry any of these games. But if he can provide useful information on where his counterparts are, he will have done his job.

Jensen is going to find it tough going into Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and Huang “Maple” Yi-tang. But he needs to at least keep them occupied while providing back-line damage.

Next: CLG's Chances at Worlds

The last position is top lane, the domain of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong. Impact started slow upon joining C9 (sensing a theme here…). But he improved his synergy with the team in the second half of the Summer Split. Then he went full on god-mode in the playoffs, reminiscent of his performance at the Season 3 World Championship. He dominated Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, two of the best top laners in NA. C9 need him to continue carrying.

The macro: team matchups

The good news for C9 is that their primary laners can compete with their group counterparts. But macro gameplay has so often been C9’s Achilles’ heel.

That’s why they brought Reapered in from Korea: to teach them how their actions impact the rest of the map, and what they should do about it. You could see the progress they made using waves in the NA LCS playoffs. They still weren’t as proficient as TSM, though. They prepped pushing waves before roaming and froze around gaps when objectives weren’t in play.

Flash Wolves and SKT each play the map extraordinarily well, though, and will test C9’s cohesion. Both of these teams are also content to play scaling matchups that could take advantage of a suspect C9 late game.

C9’s path to the bracket stage

C9 should be hoping for a bloody, messy group. IMay has a shot to take game(s) off anyone; C9 will have to hope that some of those games come against FW and SKT. For their part, C9 will at least have to be splitting series. That will be tough against SKT, but maybe they can hit FW with something unexpected, like a super early-scaling team built around an assassin mid and Sneaky carrying the mid game. It’s hard to tell how the meta will shape up, but Jensen has a couple TF games in his solo queue history.

What they can’t do: get drawn into long, war-of-attrition type games where Impact split pushes for much of the game and the whole thing could come down to a Baron fight. That works in NA, but I just don’t trust C9’s teamfight engage and objective control, not against this caliber of competition.

Beyond groups, C9 would be a massive underdog against the other expected top seeds. Their only hope may be to pray to face TSM in the quarters. Perhaps their familiarity with that opponent will yield results. But making it to quarters at all is a fantastic goal for this organization. That may sound a little like running in quicksand, since they’ve been here before, but the world just keeps getting tougher and tougher, and getting past the teams in Group B would be a big accomplishment.

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