The past year for Cloud9 has teetered between optimism and despair. Once known as the most stable organization in the world of League of Legends when it came to keeping their starting five intact, the two-time North American champions are now in between two different players at the support role.
Support Michael "Bunny FuFuu" Kurylo signed with Cloud9 during the offseason, and he was a part of the Gravity Gaming team that made the postseason twice in 2015. Considered one of the best young playmakers in the NA region, Bunny has shown he has the mechanical skills to be a top talent - now he just needs to learn how to lead a team.
Support/Mid lane/Jungler Hai "Hai" Lam is one of the iconic figures of the North American LCS. Possibly the greatest in-game leader in the history of the league, Hai's selfless style propelled his squad to success the past three years. A natural mid lane player, the C9 captain came out of a brief retirement last season and moved to jungle to get C9 back on track. With Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae, the reigning league MVP, acquired during the offseason, Hai moved to his third position in under a year's time: support.
The difference? So far, like he has been since he began his career on C9 back in early 2013, Hai has been essential to Cloud9's success, as the team is 2-0 with Hai at support and 0-2 with Bunny.
"It sucks sitting at home and watching the team lose." Hai told ESPN after he and Cloud9 improved to 2-2 on the split with a win over CLG. "Even though they lost [on Saturday], we're a team - we lose and win together, even if I'm not playing."
Before Hai's return on the final day of Week 2 to get C9 back to .500, the team suffered one of their worst losses in franchise history, Team Impulse. Coming off the quickest defeat in NA LCS history against Immortals, TiP stunned the world when they took down a team that has made it to the World Championships the past three years.
"Well, I've been playing with these guys for three years so I know everything about them and how they play the game," Hai said when asked about the differences between his version of Cloud9 and the one where Bunny is the starter. "It's [also] a small sample size. It's been two games [for Bunny], and I've gone 0-2 before as well in past seasons. [...] Maybe it's just that the players are more comfortable playing with me."
On the subject of his fellow support teammate, Hai stuck up for Bunny. He explained that teams were exploiting the fact that he is new to the team, and that they made it difficult for him from the pick/ban phase. "It's not like [Bunny] is the reason that the team is losing games."
Hai says he thinks his teammate was in the top half of supports in the league. The issue, though, as he pointed out, is that Cloud9 is going to need time to adapt to playing without him as the in-game leader. As a team that has been led by the same person for three years straight to major success, the absence of said captain can leave the team wandering aimlessly - regardless of how talented the starting five is individually.
"I don't care about [any other team]," Hai answered when asked about the top contenders in the NA LCS. While admitting that he thought the undefeated Immortals looked good so far, he followed up by saying it doesn't matter who is better or worse than them, just how good Cloud9 is.
"Me as a person, regardless of what I do, I always have confidence in it," Hai said on his switch to his third starting position in under a year. "It's not that I'm not humble, but I'm just very confident in the things I do, because I have to be. You're a captain. You need people to follow you. And if you're wavering with the things you do or want to do, then people will start faltering. So you have to walk into it headstrong, shoulders out, head up, and [step] forward without looking back."
During the times Cloud9's leader isn't the game, they try to fill the gap by having more of the team talk when it comes to making plays or making moves on the map. "When I'm not playing, I think Bunny and Rush start talking a lot. And obviously, [the three other members] talk a lot more than normally to give information to Bunny that he wouldn't know."
Closing the interview, Hai talked about how well he and the player that replaced him in the starting mid role, Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen had synergized when he moved back onto the team as a jungler in the 2015 summer split. Although showing growing pains in his first few months on the team, Jensen eventually turned into one of the main reasons why C9 were able to turn around their disappointing season and make a Cinderella-style run to the 2015 World Championships.
Like Jensen, Bunny's transition into the team isn't going to be seamless overnight. "I hope the fans keep cheering for us, for Bunny and I," Hai said. "And for them to lay off a little bit on Bunny, because there is already a lot of pressure on him to try and fill my shoes. I don't think he needs the added pressure of the community [lambasting] him. It feels bad for the player, and all the rest of [Cloud9] are trying to defend him. It feels a lot better when you know [they] aren't [berating] you. We are closely connected to the community, and we do care what they think because they're a part of our lives."
Whether Hai or Bunny starts on Saturday, that will be decided during the week leading up to the games. Whichever support they choose to start, Cloud9 will be back on the Rift this coming weekend to up their record above .500 when they take on longstanding rivals Team SoloMid (2-2) and Dignitas (2-2).