League Championship Series: Cloud 9 On To "Step Six" After A Shaky Summer Split
The summer split was rough on a lot of teams. Cloud9 was one of the teams who had it the worst.
Two weeks ago, Cloud9 jungler Hai “Hai” Lam emerged from his computer with hands shaking and a huge smile, for a good reason. His team had just beat longtime rival Team SoloMid, which put them back in the running for seventh place – rekindling hope for Cloud9's surge for Worlds.
“[Team 8] lost their last game, and we won our last game – which just happened – so we have the momentum going with us,” Hai said in his post-game interview with caster Rivington. “Hopefully we'll carry that into the next game, and complete our six step process.
“Step five is to beat Team 8, and step six is world domination. We're a little far from there, but it's a six step process.”
Despite the jovial tone Hai takes, it is the last line that hints at what a trying and emotional time Cloud9 endured in their summer split. A former mid laner, Hai was replaced by Nicolaj “Incarnati0n” Jensen just weeks before the summer split's start. Hai cited a wrist injury and problems within the team as his reasons for stepping down, according to the Cloud9 website.
He would not return as jungler until the sixth week of the summer split, two thirds of the way through.
Cloud9 began with a solid showing against Team SoloMid in the first week, winning their first game of the split, but the team deteriorated from there. They would not win again until the second game of the third week against Team 8.
Even when Hai returned as the team's jungler, replacing Will “Meteos” Hartman, their performance was inconsistent at best, until they hit their lowest point in week 9. They lost against Team Dragon Knights, the weakest team consistently in the split, with TDK sporting an unconventional split push team comp.
Split push Kha'Zix, wha?
The damage done to their score was almost irreparable. After such a sound defeat, no one was sure if Cloud9 could hit that elusive seventh place that would ensure them with the championship points needed to at least escape relegation.
“Whenever a team adds a new player into their roster, they go back into a little honeymoon phase...Granted, I'm not a new player, but it still has the same effect,” Hai also stated. Cloud9 had two of these honeymoon phases in one split, and it definitely affected their playing.
Nearly sent to relegations after losing against the worst team in the split, Cloud9 recovers in an unexpected way: against Team SoloMid
Cloud9 could never catch Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming, Team Impulse, or Gravity, the top four teams in the summer playoffs, nowhere near old Cloud9's performances. Hai states this sentiment perfectly after his first win back with the team against Team Dignitas:
“Well, I'm not a jungler, so it worked out,” he teased when asked about the curse of Rengar, and how North American junglers picking Rengar tended to lose.
The name of the Cloud9 game this year seemed to be morale, and how the negative effects could permeate its players. Meteos left, citing personal issues, and Hai returned despite his own low morale reasoning for leaving, making for “the shortest league retirement ever.”
After a sound defeat against Team Dragon Knights, all hope seemed lost for them. They were not the same team that came in second place in the spring playoffs. That is, until Cloud9 played their game against Team SoloMid.
A wombo combo of destiny.
The two teams were neck and neck until the Baron fight that became one of the iconic big plays of the summer split. Cloud9 had seized the Baron, and four of Team SoloMid's team were out of position in a line against the wall on the right side. An “Balls” Le, playing Gnar, used his flash to set up a four-man stun with his ultimate, shoving them on the wall.
This set up the rest of the team's wombo combo: Hai playing Shyvana used his ult to carry Team Solo Mid to one place, where Incarnati0n on Orianna used his ult to kill Lucas “Santorin” Larsen and Jang-sik “Lustboy” Lam, while crippling Marcus “Dyrus” Hill and Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg enough for Cloud9 to finish them off. They caught Jason "WildTurtle" Tran as well, securing the first out of two aces to decisively defeat Team Solo Mid in an impressive display.
A chain of events that quickly turns into dominoes.
“Alright, we're doing Baron,” Hai said excitedly to Rivington after the game. “I know we're getting Baron, we get the Baron. Next thing I know, Balls does a four man GNAR!, and at that point I'm like 'Alright, they just ******* lost the game.'” Awkward silence and laughter ensues afterwards, but the fact of the matter is Cloud9 hadn't performed so massively since the spring playoffs, and everyone in the room knows it.
Just last week, Cloud9 sealed their victory – their step five – against Team 8. It was a decisive match and a quick one, at thirty-two minutes and thirty-four seconds. Team 8 didn't stand a chance against the momentum Hai talked about before.
After the game, the team is full of smiles and hugs. They get to hang onto their precious league points, which gives them a highly probable chance for appearing at Worlds this year, despite such a difficult split that nearly took them out of the running.
Images that stand out at the end of this game are Daerek “LemonNation” Hart's tiny waving towards the crowd with a giddy smile, Incarnati0n making sure he high-fives each fan's outstretched hands, Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi ducking his head to hide his smile.
“Looking at the scoreboard right now as well... I know you guys can't see it, but only Hai has the two deaths,” Rivington said of the game against Team 8. “It's very reminiscent of an old scoreboard Cloud9 would have. Sneaky, no deaths. Balls, no deaths. ...very reminiscent of those play styles where they just control those fights so well and get out immediately.”
This is what Cloud9 is known for: their controlled play style that so rarely lets emotion get in the way, until low morale forced a slump in their games. Their games against Team SoloMid and Team 8 show that the calm and collected Cloud9 are still very much alive, and they will be around to take their shot at Worlds.
Cloud9 will not be in the North American Summer playoffs, but they have a very good chance at joining the other top North American teams at Worlds. If Cloud9 does have enough points to make it to Worlds, they'll be joined by Team Liquid, Counter Logic Gaming, Team Impulse, Gravity, Team SoloMid, and Team Dignitas, after these teams fight it out in the summer playoffs.
Making it to the summer playoffs wasn't one of Cloud9's goals this split, after all they had gone through. They just wanted to make it to seventh place so they don't have to compete in a regulation match, and have hope for an appearance at Worlds.
Having the tides turn against Team SoloMid seems fitting, and their victory against Team 8 ensures a long hiatus and plenty of time to practice. They will need it: their overall performance this split will not get them far in Worlds.
On to Step Six: World Domination.
Caster Phreak helped soothe this fear, quoting Hai at the end of the Team SoloMid game, saying “Hai said 'I'm going to play the rest of the year with this team. If that means relegations, so be it. If that means Worlds, they're not going to switch me out.' This is the squad that Cloud9 will be running for the rest of the year. That might be a very long run for the rest of the year... That miracle split season is still alive for Cloud9 right now.”
The banter between Rivington and Jatt further brings this message across at the end of the game with Team 8, laughing about what Hai said about 'Step 6.' “It gives them a chance... a chance... at Worlds. At world domination. The six step plan can now be put into action. One of the longest steps, though. The biggest hill to climb.”
“I feel like you need some sub-steps in there. Just saying.”
Keep the hope alive.