When Cloud9 entered the Summer Split off of a fairly disappointing showing at the Mid-Season Invitational, fans of the organization were quick to defend their team’s placement at 2021’s first international tournament. After all, the five individuals comprising this all-star roster were at the peak of their positions within North America, and making a change would risk upsetting the delicate balance of a winning formula that took all of Spring to get right.
Fans were less thrilled about having to justify Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen’s absence from the starting line-up, given that the player was the best performing marksman in the region. Calvin “k1ng” Truong’s implementation into the line-up seemed clumsy, last-minute at best, and yet the dubious honor of making the most controversial roster change of the North American off-season would be snatched away from C9 merely one day into the Summer Split.
Team Liquid’s newest member, Barney “Alphari” Morris, had demonstrated time and time again that he could compete with the best of the best. Even the LCS’ opening segment, an episode of The Replay Files, recounted Alphari making his international debut, going toe-to-toe with SK Telecom T1 at the 2017 World Championship alongside TSM’s Tristan “PowerofEvil” Schrage and Evil Geniuses support Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun. Season after season of consistently putting out top-tier stat lines with minimal success eventually led the superstar top laner to try his fortunes elsewhere, leaving Europe for NA this off-season.
In Spring, Alphari absolutely demolished the competition, maintaining an average KDA of 4.3 despite being relegated to playing weakside more often than not. Combined with the fact that he was ahead in CS 80% of the time — and regularly accruing an overwhelming 700g lead over his opponent through early lane differential alone — Alphari was Team Liquid’s force to be reckoned with, an ace-in-the-hole revealed from minute one.
And so it became even more perplexing that, after a single defeat against TSM, in which he decimated lane opponent Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, Alphari was benched after just one game of the Summer Split. Thomas “Jenkins” Tran would take up the mantle for the rest of the split, effectively neutralizing one of TL’s most prominent carry threats.
With C9 re-introducing Zven into the line-up on June 22 the Spring champions were finally back at full fighting strength — the same, unfortunately, would be unable to be said about their opponents.
Top Lane Trouble
With Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami’s gameplay entering a renaissance during the Mid-Season Invitational, C9’s top laner looks nothing short of stellar in comparison to Spring. Fudge’s statistics have evolved from praying that the inevitable deficits he is met with throughout the early game (-2 CS in lane, -80g, and so on) are small, to echoing Alphari’s Spring breakout. Fudge is now ahead in CS 73% of the time, and almost always finds himself up at least one wave of CS with Gold and XP to match. While not quite as spectacular as Alphari’s stats, Fudge now claims the vacant throne of the LCS top lane.
Jenkins, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. The rookie has had a great deal asked of him, but even when taking some of the more forgiving top lane matchups in the league (Golden Guardians’ Colin “Solo” Earnest, FlyQuest’s Eric “Licorice” Ritchie, Dignitas’ Aaron “FakeGod” Lee, and so on) into consideration, Jenkins ends up being down in CS over 85% of the time. The same is true for his Gold and XP statistics, with the current carry top lane meta requiring laning phase stability more than anything else.
In this matchup, Fudge went deathless, posting 4/0/7 on the scoreboard with the newly-enabled Viego. On the other hand, even factoring in TL’s 4 dedicated top lane bans (Sett, Gwen, Lee Sin, Renekton), Jenkins was still left hanging out to dry as a 0/6/0 Nocturne.
While TL had the best top laner in the league throughout Spring, with C9’s counterpart leaving a lot to be desired in the realm of consistency, the tables have turned. TL cannot rely on Jenkins to carry games, but blame does not fall squarely on the rookie top laner’s shoulders. Another unfortunate circumstance struck TL during this split, touched on below.
Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen has had his redemption arc enter full swing. A standout year on FlyQuest saw the veteran jungler’s stock rise, and TL jumped on the opportunity to get a calm, confident player that could comfortably switch between carry and utility picks at whim. Unfortunately for TL and Santorin, health issues have plagued the jungler all year round, and TL have essentially written off the next few weeks of the regular season to give their star jungler time to recuperate. In his place is another TSM alumnus, Jonathan “Armao” Armao.
While Armao is certainly serviceable, his champion pool seems antiquated, opting for picks such as Sejuani, Olaf, and Trundle in the face of 2021’s ever-changing carry meta game. Complete invisibility in TL’s chain of losses against the other top teams - TSM, 100 Thieves, and C9 - is again an unfortunate result of circumstance for TL, as the team finds themselves playing with 60% of their starting roster.
Topside woes were indeed an issue for TL this game, with Jenkins, Armao, and even veteran Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen posting a combined KDA of 0/10/4, but it also goes to show how much C9 have improved when it comes to moving around the map as a cohesive unit. MSI saw Robert “Blaber” Huang constantly getting exposed and caught out for seemingly mindless aggression and contests around Scuttle Crabs, but now Luka “Perkz” Perković is moving with his jungler.
This game, in particular, saw Perkz influence practically every lane, rotating hard on Yone despite having a difficult laning phase versus the long-ranged Azir. This was in part thanks to an early kill being handed over to the Yone courtesy of Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme’s Rakan locking down Jensen’s Azir, but also due to sheer laning prowess and comfort allowing the C9 midlaner to build a 20 CS lead before the 10-minute mark.
In fact, massive leads in each lane seemed par for the course during this game, with TL’s first real answer only coming through around 20 minutes in, a single pick onto Blaber that was answered minutes later with an Infernal Drake-fueled cleanup courtesy of Zven’s Kalista.
From that point onwards, TL were unable to fight - simply being forced out of any kind of contest for neutral objectives, ceding Barons, Drakes, and towers alike - with their composition favoring a front-to-back-teamfight that never came. Azir and Aphelios would, in an ideal world, sit back while Braum and Trundle created space and set these two machine-gun carries up for success, but even with Nocturne resorting to solely using Paranoia as a disengage tool, C9’s dive was unable to be stopped.
This wasn’t the rematch of Spring Finals that fans were hoping for, but it’s likely that the next time these two teams clash the game will be more competitive. If not, there’s always playoffs — and if TL can pick up the pieces, maybe we’ll see yet another Finals in which these two giants go head-to-head. Stay tuned to TrackLoL for coverage all the way throughout.