The World Championship was a huge disappointment for C9 fans. After a very dominant showing in the North American scene, they seemed quite out of their element, going 1-2 for an immediate elimination to Fnatic. Worse, their losses seemed rooted in silly mistakes, both in champion select (leaving Kassadin and Lissandra open) and in the first 2 minutes of the game (giving up first blood pre-laning phase in game 3).
However, at the Battle of the Atlantic, they were back for revenge, having learned from their international failure with an improved champion pool, updated style, and smarter picks and bans.
First, let’s go over the C9 strategy we’re used to. The old C9 was very objective oriented. They based their compositions largely off of three factors.
First, they had 2 key bot lanes that they ran a lot: Thresh Draven, and Ashe Zyra. They ran Thresh Draven every game they could until they switched almost entirely to Ashe Zyra in Week 5. Both of these lanes had notable advantages in pushing towers as well as taking dragon. Draven’s single-target damage destroyed dragon, in conjunction with Nasus’ ultimate, while Zyra’s plants tanked dragon damage and added extra dps.
As well, these bot lanes enabled Meteos’ unique style. First, they did not really rely on ganks pre-6. Draven Thresh simply dominated most other lanes, while Zyra Ashe relied on poke and disengage to not have to fight pre-6. This allowed Meteos to farm to 6 hard.
Second, they liked to pair together their top and jungle lanes. While not 100%, Zac Rumble/Kennen was a common combo of theirs, while Nasus was more flexible as far as top laners go. Balls roaming to dragon or mid for a teamfight with the power of Kennen/Rumble ultimates won them many a mid-game engagement.
Finally, in mid they liked to run high single-target damage champions, with Hai picking up tons of Zed and a decent amount of Twisted Fate and Kha’Zix. The mobility and single-target burst on those champions allowed him to follow up on the AoE damage of Balls and lockdown of Meteos/LemonNation and even Sneaky (on Ashe) to kill whatever target they needed.
If you need any indication as to how important that was, they only took 3 losses in the Season, one in week 1 to CLG (who banned Zac/Thresh/Rumble), one to Vulcun (who banned Zed, Thresh, Rumble), and one more to Vulcun in week 9, when Cloud9 inexplicably picked up Sona/Vayne, when Zyra/Ashe was open, perhaps fearing the Zed pick, and wanting an ADC who could 1v1 split-push against him. TSM, arguably the next best North American team, banned Elise, Jayce, and Twisted Fate in most of their games against C9, with only one ban against LemonNation.
How did Fnatic so thoroughly dismantle C9 at worlds? Picks and bans.
First, C9 never banned xPeke’s Kassadin, and he was able to dominate games 1 and 3 with Kassadin.
Second, Fnatic targeted Hai for bans, banning a total of 8 mids, with a respect Rumble ban after Balls’ performance in game 2.
Third, C9 abandoned their usual compositions, first-picking Shen, leaving Hai without a mid he had played regularly, when Fnatic picked up Kassadin, while also allowing Fnatic to pick up Zyra (a pick that also invalidated Thresh as a pick for support, given the weakness of Thresh to Zyra).
We can talk about the level 1 mistakes until we’re blue in the face, but the compositions in Game 1 and 2 didn’t even look like Cloud9.
In game 1, Hai was on an AoE AP mage, while Balls was on a pure split-push tank, as opposed to a roaming teamfighter. As well, Ashe Sona has a pretty weak dragon, all-things considered, because Ashe’s low damage is not supplemented by Zyra’s plants. The Elise pick without a follow-up single-target assassin was also unusual. But even worse, they still went for their immobile, low-damage ADC, Ashe, against a double assassin dive, and with very little peel.
In game 3, C9 went with a composition that might have been standard for them, but with a few fatal flaws. Unlike in game 1, Balls was playing an AoE top (albeit one we’d never seen him play before, Vladimir). Hai was mid on Kennen, who was very handily able to bully Kassadin. But Meteos was jungling on Nocturne, with no hard initiation from Ashe, as they dropped the Ashe from Ashe Zyra, opting for Corki instead (presumably to avoid the Kassadin/Lee Sin/Leona dive). This left them with no real ways to force a fight when they had an advantage, whereas Fnatic had Varus ult, Leona, and even Shen flash-taunt, not to mention Lee Sin.
What did this reveal? Their reliance on single-target mids left them open to target bans (especially when having to target ban xPeke, one of the best mids in the world). Their dependence on bot lane synergy (Ashe being a weaker pick without Zyra, and Draven being almost unplayed by any other team) meant that Fnatic could simply secure Zyra and throw their bot lane into disarray, given the strength of Zyra vs Thresh, and they needed Balls on the right picks, as he stood out in all three games, but only for good reasons on Rumble.
Once they were in game, despite these disadvantages, and despite giving up first blood, they played extremely aggressively (especially in bot lane). This is not at all the patient C9 we were used to.
With all of that in mind, how did they play differently at BotA?
Perhaps thinking C9 hadn’t learned from their mistakes at Worlds, Fnatic left Kassadin open, and he was immediately snatched up by C9. They also secured their aggressive bot lane (although Thresh was replaced with Leona). However, their top lane and jungle picks were new (at least for pro-scene C9; Meteos has been playing a ton of Vi in solo queue for a long time).
With the Karma pick, at least two of their laners (Balls/Hai) were at an early game disadvantage., and C9 knew it, trying to set up for a 2v1 top. Balls was clearly expecting the 2v1, starting briefly at wraiths before running to lane.
However, unlike in Worlds, where they ended up playing overaggressively in their weaker lanes, C9 was content to sit back passively and lose lane.
Observe the below:
Cloud9 is far down in cs to start, with a 13 cs deficit top (bot lane), a 14 cs deficit mid, and an effective 9 cs difference bot (top lane). But instead of trying to make plays before that, they play relatively passively. The moment Hai hits 6, however, they feel safe to be aggressive.
Kassadin and Vi pinch on Karma as she tries to re-enter the fight, and Meteos picks up the kill, making the exchange 3-1 overall for C9.
Meanwhile, Balls free farms and pushes bot.
From here on out, the mobility of C9’s comp proves to be far too much. Every champion on C9 has a chase ability, whether it be Vi’s 2 gap closers, Draven’s movement speed and ranged knock-aside, Kassadin’s Kassadin-ness, Leona’s lunge and ultimate, or Shyvana’s movement speed and Dragon form. C9 continues to use this to make small picks here and there, taking objectives. However, the real turning point comes about 23 minutes into the game. C9 is up 5k gold when Leona gets caught out of position and dies. Fnatic tries to chase onto Draven, but chases right into a trap. C9 picks up the triple kill, baron, and shortly thereafter, the surrender.
C9 goes with a very standard composition with them. We can see that they have switched out Thresh for Leona, Hai is on a single-target, AD assassin, Balls is on an AoE teamfighter, and Meteos is on a jungler with huge post-6 ganks/counter-ganks and good dragon control/teamfighting.
The game is largely even, with back-and-forth play up until about 17:40
Both teams have taken bot tower. Both teams have taken 1 dragon. C9 is up 2 kills, but down about 60 cs, and the gold difference is barely 100. Note the positioning: Meteos is tucked into wraiths, Draven is at tower, and Fnatic is mid but for Renekton. Most importantly, Kha’Zix sees the fight starting and is heading mid. This is one thing C9 does very well: rotate to a fight as it’s starting, and show up in time to have an impact.
The game is pretty determined from that point, as C9 picks up 2 towers and a huge lead. Not much notable happens from there, except for this 5-man Rumble ultimate after a desperate Thresh engage
What makes these games so interesting?
The NA scene is definitely going to be more competitive this year, with a reinvigorated TSM, a Vulcun with a chip on their shoulder, and revamped Coast, not to mention the new European American team. But Cloud9 looks well adjusted to dominate again this split.
Mattias “Gentleman Gustaf” Lehman is a big time nerd-gamer who has been involved in both SC2 and LoL. He has ranked as high as Diamond 1 in solo queue and Diamond 3 in arranged 5s.
You can see his other work here: