LCS: Is Going from Licorice to Fudge the Right Decision for Cloud9?

League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games. /

Cloud9 recently announced that it will be making a switch in the top lane from Licorice to Fudge, calling questions about whether the swap is warranted.

Even as Worlds continues to rocket towards the finals without their teams, LCS fans still have something to look forward to: the offseason. And it was Cloud9, potentially the best team to not make Worlds, who kicked off Mr. Offseason’s Wild Ride by announcing changes to their coaching staff. Then, after initially announcing that they would be bringing the band back in 2021, Cloud9 announced yesterday that they would be promoting their Academy top laner Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami to the main team to replace long-time starter Eric “Licorice” Ritchie.

This move came as a shock to a lot of Cloud9 fans, who saw the team’s implosion during the 2020 Summer Split as more the fault of coaching and team identity than any one player. If any player was to be blamed, Licorice would have probably been further down the list than players like Nisqy, Zven, and Vulcan, who underperformed in key games down the stretch. The question is, then, why would C9 make this move?

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Tim Sevenhuysen of Oracle’s Elixir had a pretty compelling argument for why moving from Licorice to Fudge makes sense for C9. Fudge apparently has a much higher buyout, making Cloud9’s ability to shop him limited, and Licorice is a known quantity that would be more attractive to teams (especially given how orgs are looking to prove to their investors that they are spending money wisely, using it on a Worlds semifinalist and first-team All Pro).

The big question that I still had at the end of this video, though, was: how much of a downgrade is Fudge from Licorice? The answer, surprisingly, is not that much and he could very well turn out to be an upgrade.

Using statistical analysis and grading system, I plugged in Fudge’s stats from Summer 2020 in Academy and compared them to Licorice. Here are the two compared by the five key data points my model uses:

Screenshot created by Josh Tyler.
Screenshot created by Josh Tyler. /

As you can see, Fudge beats Licorice in every statistical category except for vision score and laning grade, which we’ll touch on in a moment. However, the massive difference in adjusted KDA (“aKDA”) is a bit misleading for two reasons.

First, Licorice had a very low aKDA in Summer 2020 because he was dying more (2.4 deaths per game) than he had in the last two years. I would expect that his deaths will stabilize closer to his two-year average (about 2.0 per game) next split and his aKDA to improve closer to his two-year average (around 2.8) as well.

Second, Fudge averaged 4.4 kills per game which is absurd compared to LCS top laners. In the past two years, only two players have ever averaged 4 or more kills per game in the LCS – Deus with CLG in Summer 2020 and Kumo with Cloud9 in Summer 2019 – but those two averaged those high kills in only two and four games, respectively. Fudge will probably not be able to replicate those high kill counts in LCS against better players.

However, even taking those two considerations into account, the gap between Fudge and Licorice in aKDA is massive. Licorice has proven that he not only has the aggression necessary to succeed in the LCS as a carry top laner (thanks to his high kills and damage) but also is able to toe the line and play defensively. Ornn was actually his most-played champion in 2020, and he posted a 9-1 record on the ram with a KDA over 10 and averaging 1.2 deaths per game.

Not only can he play weakside well (Sett is his second-most-played champ), but he can play carries like Camille, Gangplank, and Wukong effectively as well. With this diverse champion pool, he should be able to replicate Licorice’s role on Cloud9 in 2021.

With all of that being said, we do have to look at a few downsides that Fudge has compared to Licorice. His lower VSPM is not really a big concern for me, since vision is a skill that younger, raw talents tend to acquire as they gain more experience. However, his laning stats are a big cause for concern.

Fudge is graded as an above-average laner going against Academy talent. He averaged 284 gold up at 15 minutes, a 7 CS advantage, and 242 experience lead at 15 minutes. Those are good numbers, yes, and his 89.55 laning grade would be third-highest among LCS top laners (behind Licorice and GGS Hauntzer) but playing regularly against LCS players I’d expect those stats to dip.

With all of those factors taken together, Fudge is given a grade of 87.7 based on his statistical performance. Keep in mind, this grade is adjusted downward to reflect the quality of competition he was facing. Had he posted these same stats in the LCS, he would be the highest-graded player in the league.

By contrast, in a “down” split Licorice was graded at 89.2, the second-best LCS top laner behind 100 Thieves Ssumday (who was a 91.3). By contrast, in the Spring Split, Licorice was our highest-graded top laner at 93.4. Granted, he was bolstered by the fact that everyone on C9 was a monster that split (mid laner Nisqy was the only member not graded 90.0 or above) but the fact remains that Licorice is still easily a top-three top laner entering next year.

Having said all of that, given our expectations of Fudge and how well Cloud9 supports young players, I cannot say definitively that he would be a downgrade over Licorice. If he performs even close to his Academy level on the LCS stage, Fudge would easily be a top-three top laner on day one. Heck, he could easily end up being the best in his role his rookie split, similar to how Blaber took the LCS by storm in spring.

On the other hand, who knows how much of Licorice’s strong performance is dependent on playing for C9? Given his strong laning and low deaths, I suspect that his level of play wouldn’t dip too much if he went to a team like Evil Geniuses or TSM, but he might not be the slam-dunk player he is right now.

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In sum, this is a smart calculated risk that Cloud9 is taking by going with Fudge over Licorice. Given Fudge’s youth and potential to continue developing, C9 might have a future MVP candidate on their hands and it makes complete sense to get him experience as soon as possible. Even if he doesn’t reach that potential, though, Cloud9 can rest easy knowing that their talent pipeline will keep on churning until they find the next potential star.