Cloud9 And Team Liquid’s Rise As The Fastest Winning Teams Of The NA LCS
By Kelsey Moser
Team SoloMid has won the last three consecutive NA LCS splits, and before them, Counter-Logic Gaming took the previous two titles. To start the new 2018 season, however, both of North America’s most recent champions sit near the bottom with a only a win to each of their names. Instead, other long-time staples of the league of rose above them to kick-start the season: Cloud9, and a rejuvenated Team Liquid.
Cloud9 and Team Liquid have shared a relatively aggressive approach to winning that single them out, even among the region’s elite. With average game times below 40 minutes and average gold leads above 1,000 at 15 minutes, Cloud9 and Liquid are the fastest winning teams in the league. But pick priorities and team setups make them very different.
Cloud9 has gone for more 1-3-1 or split-push style compositions, with an emphasis on giving counterpick to new rookie top laner Eric “Licorice” Ritchie, but they favor strong side lanes in general with double Spellbook bottom lanes to open up for mid collapses. Team Liquid pays a great deal of attention to the bottom lane, and have had more success in midgame team fights.
Cloud9 starves them out
In the NA LCS, Gangplank sits tied with Ezreal for most first-picked champion. Gnar is the most picked top lane champion in the league, and has been blind-picked in 50% of his games. In all of their games, however, Cloud9 have looked to give Licorice a comfortable matchup, picking his champion after his opponent. That doesn’t mean, however, that Cloud9 looks to play to top lane with repeated ganks or to set up Licorice to have consistent side lane pressure as the match progresses.
Rather, Licorice’s top lane pressure is part of Cloud9’s move for multiple lanes of priority facilitating jungle invades. With 56.3 percent jungle control, Cloud9 often looks for opportunities to deny enemy camps and set up top side invades. Bottom lane chooses Unsealed Spellbook to keep the lane constantly pushed on the opposite side of the map as well.
Contrast this sharply with how Echo Fox has used strong top lane matchups and bottom lane Spellbook. In the match against Team SoloMid, for example, Echo Fox’s bottom lane Teleported top side, giving up priority to assist in Heo “Huni” Seunghoon, who was facing a dive as Gangplank. This move cost them a considerable amount of map control to assist Huni on a champion that scales well anyway. Licorice only received 22.9 percent of team gold next to Huni’s 24.5 percent.
Eventually, all of this will collapse to mid lane when Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen facilitates a final push. Cloud9 is the only team to have taken all three turrets before their opponents in every game.
Cloud9’s strategy falls apart, as it did against Echo Fox, if Licorice or Jensen cannot exert enough side lane pressure to avoid succumbing to a team fight. As strong as Cloud9 have looked in coordinating side lanes early for the jungler, it fails in maintaining this pressure when Baron is in play. As snowballed as Svenskeren got on Jax, he couldn’t convert the pick to effective team fighting.
Team Liquid breaks through the lane and drags it to Baron
While Cloud9 will look to get three outer turrets first, Team Liquid have focused a particular lane, sometimes to the detriment of overall map balance. Team Liquid have gotten the first turret in each of their games, and while this has mostly been a bottom lane focused endeavor, Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong has done a great deal of work left to his own devices.
For example, in TL’s game against OpTic, a Teleport bottom lane against priority gave Impact a free lane to push all the way through Tier 2 while his team held bottom. Team Liquid didn’t play well to this advantage, however, and mid continued to push into Eugene “Pobelter” Park’s Malzahar. He gave up waves to continue to roam bottom, and OpTic didn’t take advantage of either error.
Team Liquid often aim to get the advantage in a side lane trade, but have fallen off balance on the rest of the map as a result. When Jake "Xmithie" Puchero moved top side against 100 Thieves, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng froze to zone on a cannon wave, allowing the minions to focus fire and push onto his side of the map. This, however, created an easy trade opportunity for 100 Thieves and a snowball that reached mid lane.
But with picks like Tristana and Malzahar coming into high priority for Team Liquid, they have found a way to compensate for errors in mid game Baron setups. Malzahar excels at looking to suppress someone in fog of war, and Team Liquid have even favored the likes of Gragas -- a jungler that hasn’t enjoyed much popularity in the current meta -- to separate targets. Tristana has a lot of freedom and safety to catch up in side lane trades and rotate to capitalize on Malzahar picks in team fights.
Cloud9’s approach ends up being somewhat more reliant on coordination in the early game, while Team Liquid have a stopgap for giving up waves they shouldn’t give up. As shown in the 100 Thieves game, however, Team Liquid responds poorly to side lane pressure in looking to maintain Baron control, constantly pulling Impact help get vision and giving their opponents free side lane pressure. Because 100 Thieves accrued strong enough leads on Yoo “Ryu” Sangwook and Kim “Ssumday” Chanho, they could force Team Liquid to trade Baron control for structures.
A matter of minutes
Cloud9 bested 100 Thieves by giving them no quarter. 100 Thieves drafted losing lanes and a tank jungler, giving Cloud9 free reign to close the game with a strong top matchup and an Unsealed Spellbook bottom lane approach.
When the two teams eventually collide in Week Four, Team Liquid's tendency to occasionally fumble trades should allow Cloud9 to make gains.
Cloud9 will not likely execute mid-to-late game map trades as well as 100 Thieves, so with their approach, they need to overwhelm the jungler. As Xmithie has picked tank junglers in all four games he has played, Cloud9 can get a good matchup and move from there.
Denying Malzahar and Tristana can also give Cloud9 more time on their clock and a better means of approaching Baron. But even so, with the compositions it has drafted, this new Cloud9 roster hasn’t shown the same team fighting finesse as Team Liquid, and victory will come down to minutes. The longer the game drags, the more it will feel like a Liquid victory.
With Patch 8.2 in play and bottom lane Relic Shield sustain out the window, Cloud9’s style of strong side lane play feels even more relevant, and Team Liquid may have to dance to their tune. So far, massive lane leads have come to Liquid from the mistakes of teams like OpTic’s poor Teleports or Clutch Gaming and Team SoloMid’s questionable invades. As Cloud9 already have a good read on the meta, I give it to them to starve out their prey.
Statistics courtesy of Oracles Elixir.
You can read more of Kelsey's work here.
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