Going into the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split, Cloud9 has surpassed expectations so far. The team’s success has catapulted player Eric “Licorice” Ritchie into conversation about the best top lanes in North America–with hardly a round of games at the highest level under his belt. The team’s aggressive, top-centric approach has turned Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen into a mid where commentators praise roam timings more than 1v1 prowess.
Coming into Week Six, Cloud9 felt like the kind of team 100 Thieves want to be. Both teams’ top laners favor champions that keep up side lane pressure. Neither team wants to decide everything with a 5v5 in the mid lane. But Cloud9 has been less afraid of the sure play with crisper execution. Cloud9 excel with pick comps, then snowball into a much cleaner victory.
In Week Six, however, 100 Thieves turned around the status quo. With smart use of fast-tempo jungling, 100 Thieves’ win over Cloud9 targeted the dominating team’s strengths as well as their weaknesses. The game stands to illuminate some of Cloud9’s crutches and what they need to secure in draft and early game for future victories.
Both teams opened with popular mage bans that easily gain priority in laning phase, signaling the importance of having mid lane control. For Cloud9, that included banning Ryze, the champion 100 Thieves’ mid laner has shown a strong preference for in 1-3-1 setups. The Alistar ban removed some of the power of engage that Andy “Smoothie” Ta brings to Cloud9. And while Camille has counterpicks, she has become the preferred duelist champion for getting priority in top lane relatively early.
North America’s popular Skarner first pick again indicated that 100 Thieves’ game plan hinged on having strong lanes. Skarner often looks for invades to snowball off fast clear speeds and high tempo games. Cloud9 went about countering this plan by going for Gnar, a champion that often gains and maintains top lane priority if Camille isn’t in the picture. Although Cloud9 then went for counterpicks in mid with Corki into Galio and Kalista, a lane-crushing champion, 100 Thieves had answers to both decisions.
Thresh and Varus is a very all-in lane in the sense that Varus can stand behind Statikk Shiv and Rapid Firecannon champions later, defaulting to poke, and not necessarily even match wave clear, but it can answer Kalista well enough as Kalista doesn’t build these items either. With a strong enough laning support, Varus can play decently into the Kalista matchup when he gets points in Q and has a first back to buy items.
100 Thieves could also ban champions that play well into Thresh in second phase without arousing suspicion because Braum and Tahm Kench are the only champions Smoothie has played in LCS outside of Alistar and Taric. Smoothie settled on Taric to counter 100 Thieves’ engage, but had to sacrifice lane pressure for it.
The draft didn’t exactly give 100 Thieves the two winning lanes they wanted, but such a feat becomes difficult on red side. Instead, William “Meteos” Hartman used the tempo he had as Skarner over Sejuani from fast clear to camp mid and look for gank opportunities. That made it very difficult for Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen to take advantage of his counter matchup.
In Cloud9’s Week Two encounter with 100 Thieves, Cloud9 got a major advantage from having priority top and mid lane and using that to snowball Eric “Licorice” Ritchie with Jensen’s Taliyah.
Although simply camping a lane instead of backing earlier to get wards down first sounds like a less-than-optimal use of jungle tempo, 100 Thieves’ strategy correctly identified Cloud9’s win condition: Jensen’s use of mid lane priority in controlling the map.
Then, even though Cloud9’s jungler was the first to make a move, Meteos ended up with a farm advantage, and Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen’s presence in the bottom lane relieved pressure top, allowing Kim “Ssumday” Chanho to rotate mid with Meteos to give Yoo “Ryu” Sangwook the first back in the mid lane matchup. That allowed mid to remain even and for the lane to repeatedly reset evenly until Varus and Thresh started to get control of bottom lane and Meteos hit level six.
One of the most punishing things about Skarner is that the very first Flash Ultimate often guarantees a kill for a good player. Skarner has strong synergy with Thresh, as Dark Passage serves as a gap close without Skarner having to burn Flash. The threat almost always exists for a bottom lane gank with 100 Thieves’ composition once Skarner hits level six.
While both mid and top lane fell behind in farm against their counters, these actions in the first 10 minutes of the game ensured that 100 Thieves could survive against Cloud9’s preferred approach of controlling the map through mid lane until Varus could purchase his first complete item. Varus’ Guinsoo’s Rageblade buy allows him to hit a power spike before most other AD carries who need two items to feel just as strong. 100 Thieves looked for a fight around dragon immediately after Varus finished the item and snowballed easily.
In many of Cloud9’s games, Jensen will get the better early back in mid lane, allowing him to roam to top side quickly. 100 Thieves looked for a safe top lane pick, stabilized mid, and forced around dragon by using a jungler with a faster clear.
Even then, however, Cloud9 could have won the game. Corki is one of the most obnoxious late game champions, and Jensen outfarmed Ryu despite constant pressure. Yet 100 Thieves used a less-obvious flaw to abuse Cloud9 at Baron.
Cloud9 often like to set up 1-4 or 1-3-1 or 3-1-1 compositions with Licorice to threaten Baron. Occasionally, however, a lack of coordination around this game plan arises. With Taric, Cloud9 can use this setup very well. Licorice can pressure side lanes, and even if he Teleports second to Baron, the Taric ultimate can stall until he can enter the fray and engage. Against Gangplank, this works very well, as, even if Gnar has pushed Gangplank to turret, he can still ult the fight before Gnar’s Teleport can channel.
For whatever reason, however, Licorice often seems hesitant to push this kind of advantage. It’s almost as if he isn’t quite sure how far he can push the side lane or if getting caught by a jungler shadowing him will greatly impact his team. 100 Thieves exacerbated this potential concern with Skarner and Galio: two champions very good at shadowing side laners for collapse.
Throughout the match, Licorice appeared very hesitant to push past river. 100 Thieves used this advantage to bait Baron frequently, giving breathing room to Ssumday’s Gangplank. Then, when Licorice finally did Teleport in, he engaged well ahead of his team, wasting the stun duration from his ultimate.
100 Thieves won the ensuing fight, secured Baron, and swept Cloud9 cleanly.
In their victory over Cloud9, 100 Thieves revealed they had a good read on their foes and drafted a smart composition. But takeaways for Cloud9 fans wondering if they’ll end the split at the top for the first time in the Jensen era.
Jensen often has a better back against his opponent mid laners, and the team controls the map via his roams to top. Cloud9 love snowballing through strong lanes and setting up their top laner to split push later. The team appears extremely reliant on the former and inconsistent in execution with the latter when Baron enters the equation.
These factors may just mean that Cloud9 will do well to prioritize a fast clearing jungler in order to ensure they can have a favorable 2v2, and Jensen will have freedom around the map. On Patch 8.4 with new itemization, many mid lane matchups will teeter on jungle interference. It may also mean that Cloud9 need to get better at using advantages in the bottom lane. Their early game problems have a wide variety of solutions.
For Baron setups, Licorice needs to find more ways to pressure without fear. If 100 Thieves were to expend resources to collapse Licorice’s split-push past river, Cloud9 would be able to secure vision around Baron in exchange. More practice playing compositions where the team has to follow up on Licorice’s engages instead of Smoothie’s (as in this game) would help iron out the kinks in team fights as well.
But ultimately, Cloud9’s loss to 100 Thieves signals how important back timings and jungle priority can be in side-laning compositions and why western teams often shy away from them. Both Cloud9 and 100 Thieves should be applauded for their efforts to continue working on these strategies rather than discouraged by a loss like this one.