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Cloud9 - Contenders or Pretenders?
Team EnVyUs - New Name, Old Faces
Cloud9 is entering playoffs with a lot of questions. Based solely on their individual performances one would assume they are a top contender to win the split, but their record against their playoff opponents suggests they are anything but. They've lost both their regular season series to Immortals and TSM and have only managed to split series with CLG and Liquid. Despite having some of the best performing players if Cloud9 want to win it all, they need to step up in some big ways.
The Resurgence Of Sneaky
Player wise Cloud9 has some great performers. While many would peg Jensen as the standout star of the team, Sneaky has flown under the radar a bit and had an excellent split of his own. His positioning in team fights has been immaculate, and he has the third highest damage per minute in the league trailing only Doublelift and Wildturtle. He has the tendency to drift in and out of games, but when he's on top of his game he can carry a match almost single-handedly.
That’s not to take anything away from Jensen as he is still the most explosive player on the roster. He is the most capable member of the team when it comes to winning his lane, and he combines this with a strong affinity for roaming that can often snowball his other lanes as well. He hasn’t had quite as good of a split as he had in Spring but he is still a top-tier mid laner who rivals both Bjergsen and Pobelter.
Behind the carries is a robust but largely average support team. Meteos is back to looking like a capable jungler, but he doesn't quite have the explosive potential of Dardoch or Svenskeren, Nor does he have the brutal efficiency of Reignover or Xmithie. Smoothie is an excellent mechanical player and has had his moments but isn’t carrying games in the same way Biofrost does. Finally, there’s Impact who is rarely a liability and has his moments, but he's not the man to make or break C9's playoffs run.
Title Bound or Bound to Fail?
With the roster C9 have they should be real contenders to win the whole split, but so far they have shown only middling success leaving many fans puzzled. Why is this team that looks so good on paper failing to win consistently against other top teams? The answer lies in their early game. While they excel at laning, C9 has shockingly bare early game objective pressure for a top team. They still have amongst the lowest dragon control rates in the league and don’t take early towers either. Compared to IMT and TSM, it’s clear why they are outclassed; they just don’t accrue gold leads in the ways these teams do. Instead, their play is focused on a lot of skirmishes, particularly around mid, which works but not consistently when facing better team fighting and skirmishing teams.
The one big question that C9 has to answer then is how will they adapt to the changes to lane swaps. They've already beaten Team EnVyUs twice this split, and with NV appearing to be on the downturn too, it's likely they'll be able to keep a couple of tricks up their sleeves and still come up trumps.
Team EnVyUs is the most debatable addition to the North American Summer playoffs. While the team rocketed onto the scene with two perfect weeks, since then the team has been on steady decline, ending the second half of the split with an abysmal 2-7 record. With teams like Phoenix1 and Apex both having late season surges many would debate whether NV was even the sixth best team at the end of the split. So how did the team that had looked so good the first half of the split fall so hard in the second half and what do they need to do to rekindle the magic before their match against Cloud9?
Solo Lane Woes
Team NV is a team that is defined by their two solo lane stars. Both Seraph and Ninja have had long and impressive careers and during the first couple of weeks of the split it looked like they would be in contention for the best solo lane pair in NA. But as the split dragged on, cracks in their play became massive rifts that have defined the team's tragic drop off in quality.
Seraph comes out as the cleaner player of the two, but for a star player his stat line has ended shockingly bare of any major positives. Compared to his closest contemporary, Ray, his Kill Participation and damage share all fall short. That doesn’t make him bad, but average which, unfortunately, falls far below the expectations he put on himself last split. Perhaps, part of the issue is his adaptation to the meta. After putting in a lot of work on a select few champions in the early part of the split he has experimented so much that he has a unique champion for nearly every series played with very few standing out as particularly good; be it carry or tank. Because of this, his role on the team is muddled as he is neither particularly good in the laning phase nor a strong enough team fight presence to carry the team. That said the one positive I can see is that his performance on tank Ekko is notable and with the pick returning to the meta I would expect a high priority to be placed on it in their match against Cloud9, especially with Impact mostly playing team fight utility picks.
It is Ninja, however, who has been the real let down for the team. While he started out serviceable and able to play what the team needed, his play has devolved to consistently below par with him being one of only two starting mid laners with more deaths than kills and he has the lowest damage share of any mid laner. Furthermore, his champion pool is incredibly weak for the meta with his Viktor being among the least impactful. Instead, he picks utility mages like Karma, but unfortunately, his performance on these champions is sub-par as well. In order for him to have a chance against Jensen he needs to step up big time or at the very least learn to pick up picks like Viktor because right now he may be the worst performing mid laner in NA and he’s going against one of the best.
The Consistent Shadows
Their bot lane of LOD and Hakuho has been a surprisingly stable addition to the team. They don’t attract nearly the same attention as the top side of the map, but they’ve remained consistent over the split, which isn’t something you can say for Seraph and Ninja. As for Proxcin in the jungle; he’s a bit of a wildcard. His aggression is a hallmark of his play, so when Seraph and Ninja could no longer consistently dominate their lanes, he was unable to exert the same pressure that he could apply at the beginning of the split.
Ultimately, NV will probably be happy with their first split in the LCS. With barely any off-season practice to speak of, they’ve done well to place this highly. While it’s unlikely for them to upset C9 and seal a semifinal berth, they’ve had two weeks of practice and if they can recapture their early season form they could trouble the more seasoned C9 roster.