Since their dominant Season 1 run, I have consistently rated Cloud9 as not just a Western team but the top Western team, even when they were down a game to both LMQ and CLG, and many insisted they had lost their magic amidst a growing and improving scene. Many have seen this as misplaced fanboying, so I may as well get it out of the way. I am a huge Cloud9 fan. Why? Because as an esports analyst, I care most for teams that revolutionize the game. In many ways, having a traditional fan-team relationship requires *not* knowing who will win; my closeness to the scene and relevant data takes much of the uncertainty out of fandom, rendering it pointless. And greatness has been apparent in Cloud9 from their beginnings.
For one, I’ve been a fan of Meteos ever since he was a Skarner main in Season 2 – not because Skarner is my favorite champion, but because his unique style convinced me he had what it took to control the jungle scene in the same way as the Diamondprox of Seasons 2 and 3. But the whole team has had more than just a hint of uniqueness about them. What makes them so unique, and why do I see them as the best team in the west?
Ultimately, what made Cloud9 a unique team in North America is playing to win. Most of the original North American and European teams were built around streaming personalities. Obviously, those teams *wanted* to win, but they didn’t structure the entirety of their team around positioning themselves to win, both on and off the field.
Cloud9’s Korean influences have been both crucial and overstated since Day 1. Yes, they took a lot of inspiration from OGN when it comes to champ pools. However, their playstyle was vastly different, with Meteos often preferring to power farm the jungle in the LCS during an OGN meta which was focused heavily on the early game.
But it is in their mindset that we can truly see the influence of Korea. If there is one area of the game in which Korea has consistently been head and shoulders above the rest of the world, it is in their dominance of champion select. Cloud9 followed in their footsteps, becoming one of the first Western teams to bring on dedicated coaching staff, with Alex Penn serving as an analyst and LemonNation’s famous notebook driving their champion select advantage. They were known for powerful team compositions that they ran again and again throughout their dominant 25-3 Season Three Summer split, with two champions making up the majority of the picks for all of their players but Hai, who focused almost exclusively on assassins.
They built their win condition from champion select on, with two strong compositions centered around constant lane pressure in top and mid lane allowing Meteos to make plays where he saw fit. Their strong push power and dragon control allowed Cloud9 to turn their lane control into global objectives. Focusing on the out-of-game elements of gameplay made them the first North American team to treat LoL like a sport, not a game.
Many have talked about Cloud9’s lack of roster swaps as an advantage, and it is. But it’s easy to simply shrug it off without looking into why they have never needed a roster swap. While many teams have quickly fallen into the blame game, Cloud9 have always supported each other, with a focus on improvement as a team.
Well, when you’re in a game, you never hindsight something. So like, if somebody does a stupid dive, you do not call that guy out. You don’t say anything bad. You make a bad play, whatever, just move on from it. That’s the past. So, when that happened, we were just like, alright, whatever. Moving on, what’s the next thing we do? What’s next. Just make plans for ahead.
I don’t really care for what my stats show. I play to win this game. I don’t necessarily play to win the lane. I do a lot of things that aren’t really selfish. Like, a lot of people give Meteos crap for taking my blue buff. It’s not mine; he can take it if he wants. It just depends on who can make more out of it. And if me farming mid vs me diving bottom — Whatever one’s more important, I’ll go do that one. So all I want to do is win the game…I don’t want to be a star or anything; I just want to win the game, and that’s what’s important to me.
This win-focused mindset has led Cloud9 to some of the most unique play in the game. In their now-famous Season 3 Summer SPlit, Meteos played a unique farm-heavy style that lead to low deaths, high kills, and a yet-to-be-broken 12.7 KDA. The efficiency of their play was notable even to Korean junglers, many of whom deferred to Meteos as the best jungler in the world. However, while building win conditions even before the game began vaulted them to NA supremacy, it is their in-game creativity under pressure that has made them a truly great team.
This creativity was first on display in their Season 4 Spring Split game against Team Coast. Rather than go with a traditional lane swap, they sent Gragas bot lane to 1v2 with his heavy wave clear, and sent their duo lane mid. This added pressure in mid lane allowed them to invade red buff, then double safely back onto their own red buff, securing a 3-buff start for Meteos. Moreover, Gragas got to lane well before Team Coast’s duo lane, allowing him to get an early level 2, and stay even in farm.
While Team Coast would be able to pick up two kills early on, thanks to recovery ganks from Evelynn, Cloud9 remained even in gold thanks to a 36 cs lead 7 minutes in, with Hai outcsing Shiphtur 41-15, a visible product of Cloud9’s innovative and reactive lane swap. As a result, Shiphtur would not reach 100 cs until the 20-minute mark, by which point Hai had 150 cs and Meteos had a 36 cs lead on Nintendude. When Team Coast took a 2k gold lead and held it, Cloud9 improvised on the fly by abusing map vision for ultimate backdoor potential. Team Coast pushed in as 5 with baron buff on top lane, and in the meantime, Meteos split-pushed in on the inhibitor, taking it down quickly. However, he then feinted out of vision range to convince Team Coast that he had backed. Emboldened by their gold lead and baron, Team Coast went hard on Cloud9’s inhibitor, at which point Meteos revealed himself and pushed for one of the most exciting wins of 2014 as his team prevented Team Coast’s recall:
By Season 4 Worlds, Cloud9 seemed back up to their Season 3 form, and Hai showed mastery of the sneaky split-pushing Meteos had already shown. In Game 2 vs Najin White Shield, he single-handedly kept Cloud9 in the game despite a 6k gold deficit by pushing top lane like a man possessed. Upon spotting Najin Shield responding to him, he pretended to recall before returning to his push and taking down the inhibitor – not to mention Gorilla’s Nami – using a baited baron to draw Najin’s attention:
Lest you think Cloud9 a one-trick pony, reliant on cheese to win games, they win a teamfight 4-2 a moment later vs the devastating teamfight power of Kayle + Twitch, picking up the baron a moment later, and sneaking an inhibitor after that:
Later in the game (51 minutes into the game), they pick up yet another teamfight victory, 5-0, and push to win, making them the first North American team in two years to pick up a win vs a Korean team.
In their followup match against Najin White Shield, Cloud9 manages to pick up a nexus turret, a dragon, and an inner turret, losing nothing in return. Najin White responds by pushing mid, and Cloud9 uses map presence to trick Najin Shield into recalling before taking anything. Cloud9 eventually wins the game, but put on a remarkable display about how to take advantages from behind.
None of that would compare to Hai’s secret agent mission against Samsung Blue, during which he abused bush after bush to sneak all the way into Samsung Blue’s base, only just being caught by the last wave and failing to take down the inhibitor. Had he succeeded, he would have helped to put Cloud9 up 2-0 against Samsung Blue, and well on their way to the semifinals.
At IEM San Jose, UOL pulled ahead to a 1k gold lead against Cloud9 thanks to their unique combo of Warwick + Poppy being able to zero out any target in combination with LeBlanc. However, 30 minutes into the game, Cloud9 seemed to figure out how to beat the composition, diving as 5 onto Vizicsacsi’s Poppy and split-pushing with an on the fly 3-2 split, picking up a free inhibitor with no losses.
Cloud9 is not the best team in the world, and never has been. There is no question as to that. But in the last 3 splits, they have shown themselves to be the best, most innovative Western team quite consistently (with only a brief international stutter against Fnatic due to lack of experience). They have shown themselves to be dominant over other Western teams thanks to a learned talent from Korea: a gameplan. They took the idea of coaching and coordinating a win condition from champion select on and ran with in in a way no Western team had ever thought of, and it shows. However, where they truly shine is when the shit hits the fan and they have to improvise. Amidst the helter-skelter, they have shown themselves capable of briefly outplaying the best teams in the world when it comes to map pressure. This is what make me so intrigued by their playstyle, as that level of innovation can only be compared to other great innovators like DiamondProX.