When you're at the top, everyone is going to take their shot to knock you off. Cloud9 has been in that position all season long in the North American League of Legends Championship Series, starting off the split with a resounding 2-0 sweep over defending champion Team SoloMid and not looking back since. After its seventh win on last Friday night over Team Liquid in an unexpectedly close 2-1 affair, all eyes were on the upcoming Sunday matchup against FlyQuest, led by former Cloud9 captain Hai "Hai" Lam. At the time, FlyQuest sat right behind the undefeated C9 at a record of 6-1 with a chance to take sole possession of first place with a win.
There wasn't a more talked about regular season matchup in NA since Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng made his debut on TSM versus his former club Counter Logic Gaming at the start of 2016. C9 vs. FLY lived up to the hype, the sides throwing haymakers in a close contest that went the distance. In the end, the undefeated kept its record intact by the end of a long Sunday night. The only member remaining from the original C9 that won the league in its first season, Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi, can stick a feather in his cap: he one-uped his friends and former teammates on the Milwaukee Buck-backed FlyQuest.
"I think it's too early to tell [if this will be the best iteration of C9]," said Sneaky. "We're [only] four weeks into LCS right now, so it's too early to tell. It's also spring split, and there is not an insane amount on the line. Normally in summer it feels like teams stack up, try something in the spring that didn't really work, fix it, and get all all their problems solved. They come back a lot stronger, and it's super early in spring and we're trying to figure out everything."
The underlying storyline of the first half of the season in North America has once again been the failure of heavily imported teams failing to live up to lofty goals. The bottom two teams, Dignitas and Team Envy, are the two teams with the most South Koreans on the team; both expected to be higher in the standings at this point. Where the imports have failed, it's been the rise of homegrown NA talent. Specifically, junglers in NA, are crowding the top of the statistical categories of halfway through the season. C9's rookie jungler Jaun "Contractz" Garcia being no exception.
"We were pretty strong in Season 3," Sneaky remarked about the inaugural C9 which took the league by storm with a 25-3 regular-season record and a flawless run through the postseason. " was so insane. All the teams felt so behind on everything, like they would do the dumbest stuff everywhere: kill themselves, didn't know how to play the game, and two-versus-one we were masters of. It's hard to compare [current C9] right now."
Despite qualifying for this year's IEM World Championship, Cloud9 declined the invitation to Katowice. The org cited it wanted to focus on the spring split and the current unknown of getting foreign players and staff, which C9 has many of, back into the United States.
When asked which team he'd like to see take C9's place in Poland, he said, "It's hard, because I feel like a lot of [NA LCS] teams would not go for the same reasons we aren't. It's going to go down a few tiers. I don't feel like it'll be TSM or FlyQuest, it'll probably be lower than that. Obviously, if we don't go, I'd like to see TSM or FlyQuest, because they seem to be the second, third strongest teams. I don't know which is better than the other, but they both look really strong. So I hope one of them, but I don't think either of them will go."
If not C9, FLY, or TSM, three of teams with the easiest communication amongst all five members, the NA LCS might have to rely on one of the hybrid-speaking teams such as Phoenix1, Immortals, or even the likes of Dignitas or Envy to represent the region at the biggest IEM event of the year.
Instead of trying to replicate TSM's Katowice victory from 2015, C9 will stay at home, grinding away, hoping to continue its perfect season. FlyQuest and Team Liquid both came dangerously close from ending it, and the pressure of continuing to win will only rise as the season progresses. For now, though, Cloud9 will prepare for a rematch against Team SoloMid (6-2) on Saturday, and a tough match against the tough Phoenix1 (4-4) on Sunday.