When it mattered most, Cloud9 was able to overcome the odds, defy the narrative, and escape from a stacked group at the World Championship.
While this may sound like a recap of the events that occurred this weekend in Busan, they also resonate quite well with the Group Stage of the 2014 World Championship. And in both situations, C9 took the world by surprise and proved why they’re the most prolific, successful, and consistent North American team on the international level. Now, this year’s iteration of the Cloud9 lineup exhibits more similarities to the original squad in more ways than one. And with a quarterfinal appearance looming on the horizon, we could see history rewrite itself at the hands of North America’s perennial contender.
Four years ago, Cloud9 was faced with the impossible task of overtaking the Korean powerhouse of NaJin White Shield and the European Champions, Alliance, as the upstart North American organization had just finished its third ever split and was attending its second ever World Championship, coming off a disappointing loss in the quarterfinals to Fnatic just one year prior. However, this time, the team was recharged. With zero roster changes, C9 was ready to take the World Championship by the reins.
The team ended the first round robin with a record of 2-1, completing an upset over Alliance while faltering at the hands of NaJin. Additionally, they would convincingly topple over the Brazilian representatives, KaBuM! Esports.
Just a few days down the road, Cloud9 would find themselves in a position to rise above the field and secure a spot in the quarterfinals, as a loss to Alliance and a win over KaBuM! gave them a record of 3-2; the same record as their European counterparts. Only two games remained in the group as Cloud9 found themselves facing the already locked-in NaJin, while Alliance was heading to the Rift to face KaBuM! one final time in the group stage for a free ticket into the quarterfinals. The stage was set for Alliance to walk right into the top eight.
Alliance only needed a win and a Cloud9 loss. They got neither.
Cloud9 would go on to miraculously upset NaJin, while Alliance would fall at the hands of KaBuM!, completing the greatest series of upsets in League of Legends history, not even hours apart from each other. C9 eventually advanced to the knockout stage after losing a tiebreaker with NaJin, while Alliance would fall out of Worlds contention, only for the organization to evaporate completely before the start of the next season.
Fast forward to this past Sunday when Royal Never Give Up, much like NaJin White Shield, had established a stranglehold over their respective groups, emerging as the clear favorites after the first round robin. After experiencing defeat at the hands of the West, not once, but twice, both RNG and NaJin were proven to be mortal, while hope flickered in the eyes of fans of the West.
However, in the tiebreaker round, Cloud9 faltered, and the East toppled over the West yet again. The North Americans were relegated to the 2nd seed in Group B, giving way to a matchup with yet another top-seeded foe in the Knockout Stage.
Whether you look back four years or four days, the narrative is exactly the same. Cloud9 headed into both groups with the odds stacked against them, and staged an impossible performance both times around. When it came down to a tiebreak round, neither iteration of the squad had anything left in the tank to topple over their mighty foes one last time. But that’s okay. Both teams set out on incredible missions and both of them accomplished what they set out to do.
And now, as the Knockout Stage approaches, Cloud9 will enter its 5th Worlds quarterfinals in 6 years, and the team will once again put itself on the line in the process. However, if we transport ourselves back to 2014 for a moment, and recall how Cloud9 faced Samsung Blue, it’s easy to remember how the team took a game off the Korean titans, and even pushed them to the edge in the fourth contest, nearly forcing a fifth and final game.
As the team prepares to face a vulnerable, yet stalwart Afreeca Freecs squad on Saturday, perhaps Cloud9 can strike yet another blow to the LCK. Except this time, the odds of finishing the job seem higher than ever. The hope that flickered in the eyes of the West four years ago now roars like a violent fire. It’s more clear than ever that this year’s team could maybe find the spirit that propelled Cloud9 to the edge of glory in past years. Perhaps this year, the team can finally cross over the brink.
Photo Credit: Riot Games, League of Legends, Cloud9