Cloud9 are now 7-0 during the spring split and will look to make it 8-0 against Evil Geniuses on Monday night. As with any undefeated team, there's room for overreaction, hot takes and genuine analysis of why they've been so dominant in North America's League of Legends Championship Series. ESPN Esports' Emily Rand and Tyler Erzberger took a look at how C9 have been so successful thus far and where their place may lie in NA LoL history.
2020 Spring C9 is the best NA team you've seen since ______
Erzberger: I haven't seen such swagger from a team in North America since TSM in the summer of 2016. Team Liquid, obviously, has been our back-to-back-to-back-to-back league champions, but their reign has always been one of turning on a second or third gear when needed. TL have never overexerted themselves in the regular season and have had small slumps along the way before ultimately using their experience and pedigree to take over in the postseason.
This C9 team is different. Every game feels like they have a chip on their shoulder and have something to prove, not only to everyone in North America but the entire world. It reminds me of the TSM team in late 2016 that went into each game wanting to make a statement. They knew they were the best in the LCS and believed they could go far on the international stage. This isn't to say that the current C9 team will achieve the international success of TL 2019 or the domestic dominance of their 2018 iteration, but C9 has a ceiling that feels higher than any NA team since that historic TSM squad.
ESPN Daily newsletter: Sign up now!
Rand: I'm going to agree and say 2016 summer Team SoloMid. Regardless of the hindsight goggles that everyone loves to put on post-worlds, TSM were NA's strongest international hope that year, especially in the context of teams that year, and the strongest team that NA has sent to an international competition (despite C9's 2018 worlds semifinal appearance and Team Liquid's 2019 Mid-Season Invitational final appearance).
The thing I like the most about this C9 team is that they're willing to make aggressive mistakes early. Sure, I'll roast jungler Robert "Blaber" Huang for overestimating his damage on a Level 3 Elise, but I'd much rather them err on the side of aggression. It's been a while since NA had a team that was willing to do that. I hope C9 never loses this.
Who is the most valuable player on the C9 roster?
Erzberger: For me, it's Robert "Blaber" Huang. While I wouldn't necessarily say he is C9's best player, I do think he's the most important. When it comes to pure mechanics, there are few players in the world as gifted as Blaber, and he's shown that on the worlds stage, outdueling the likes of G2's Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski and Griffin's Lee "Tarzan" Seung-yong in the early game. The issue was, outside of those opening minutes, Blaber was simply outmatched by two of the best junglers in the world. He has the fast fingers and the raw instinct to be a world-class jungler, but it'll be up to C9's coaches to take him to the next level.
If Bok "Reapered" Han-gyu can help Blaber reach his full potential and clean up his rough edges, then there's no reason why C9's starting jungler can't be one of the best players in the world. I fully believe that Blaber is a special talent, be it in North America or in any other major region, and his growth throughout the year will be the difference between C9 being a dark horse contender at worlds or a legitimate threat to the title.
Rand: Eric "Licorice" Ritchie or Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen for very similar reasons. Since his debut, Licorice has proven that he will play whatever his team wants and frequently has stuck to the weak side as his junglers went elsewhere. With Zven, C9 now have two remarkably strong side lanes who are both willing and able to play the weak side or scaling matchups if necessary. This is huge for Blaber, who is effectively a rookie, despite having had LCS starts in the past. With such dependability in the side lanes, this allows mid laner Yasin "Nisqy" Dinçer to play a variety of champions without worrying about whether the entire team is going to get shoved in. This is a team that can split resources however they want, and it starts with Licorice and Zven.
What odds/percentage do you give them to finish the regular season 18-0?
Rand: We're in our eighth season of the League of Legends Championship Series and no team has ever had an undefeated split. The two teams that came the closest were 2016 spring Immortals (17-1) and the aforementioned 2016 summer TSM (17-1). It's difficult to have an undefeated split due to myriad changes within the game itself. Patch updates from one week to another change the game on a macro level, champion priority changes and sometimes players just aren't as good on new meta champions as they were in the previous meta. At worst, patch updates cause entire roles to transform into something completely different. This C9 team looks good, but if they go 18-0, they'll have done something that has never been done in the LCS. I'm betting against C9 because of how difficult an undefeated split is to execute.
Erzberger: I would go 30%. This team is ridiculous, and they might very well turn out to be the best starting-five North America has ever produced, but going undefeated throughout an entire regular season is difficult. And based on how C9 play the game -- quick, pedal to the metal -- I do foresee a game or two in which they get upended through a sloppy first five minutes and the opposition snowballs their advantages to get an upset win. Yet, with how serious C9 seem to be taking every game -- not overlooking even the weakest opponents -- I wouldn't count them out to go undefeated.
These guys are historically good, at least through seven games.
If they win the spring split, can/will Cloud9 be able to compete internationally?
Rand: I keep going back to our first Rift Rewind in which League of Legends European Championship caster Indiana "Froskurinn" Black brought up mechanical differences between players in North America and players in other regions (more specifically the LEC). She made the point that even NA teams that understand side-lane pressure and macro trades are more likely to make more mechanical mistakes. This is something I had personally internalized about NA players, but that doesn't make it less true. It's something that NA players (regardless of whether they're native talent or hail from other regions like Europe or South Korea) have been increasingly vocal about following the chatter that took place this past offseason regarding NA's struggles internationally.
Looking at Saturday's game against TSM, for example, there were a lot of mechanical errors on TSM's side that led to C9's early snowball. Despite what I would consider a less-than-inspiring TSM draft, there were windows for TSM to win this game, particularly after Blaber decided to go in on a 2v2 with Nisqy against Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett and Soren "Bjergsen" Bjerg despite being at an obvious disadvantage due to the mid wave position and champions themselves.
This is my long-winded way of saying, tentatively yes, I think this C9 roster could potentially compete internationally, but they would need to play a lot tighter than they currently are doing. They have the pieces but would need to be more consistent and have cleaner execution.
Erzberger: They can do well internationally, but the question is how well can this iteration of C9 do internationally? Talent-wise, in a perfect world, I don't see why they couldn't have a similar run to Fnatic in 2018, in which their skirmish-heavy style spearheaded by an aggressive jungler leads them to a favorable bracket that gets them to a final. North America isn't a strong region -- watching a majority of the games could tell you that -- but that doesn't mean C9 should be discounted. Thus far, they've been head and shoulders above even the good teams in the LCS.
But for C9 to get to a high enough level to succeed internationally, they'll need to clean up their mistakes. Blaber is a bundle of raw talent. Same with a lot of the younger members on the C9 roster. If they grow throughout 2020 as you'd expect, then by the time worlds comes around in October, they should be a top-five squad and a challenger to even the best teams in China and Europe. Currently, though, even with their stylish victories, they have holes. A better coordinated (and drafted) TSM team today probably runs off to the races after those early two kills and doesn't look back.
If we grade C9 on a curve, considering that they play in North America, sure, they're already a dangerous team that could cause some major upsets at worlds. Maybe, if they're lucky, they can make a semifinal run as they did in 2018. This team shouldn't want to be an underdog, though. Right now, C9 is a great North American team. I hope by the end of 2020, we can simply say they're a great team.