Could C9 have stayed on top if they took a page from FPX?
Something echoed by many North American analysts is that North American teams cannot be successful at international events without being able to play multiple styles. Analysts thought FPX would also be punished for their one-dimensional style last year and end up being the World Champions instead. Often unnoticed are the huge opportunity costs of learning how to play multiple playstyles. Cloud9 has been the latest victim of this in the LCS Summer Split and to see what they should have done, we need to look back at FunPlus Phoenix, draw parallels between the two and see how C9 could have practiced differently.
The wake-up call of G2 vs FPX
Analysts and casters speak a lot about how being one-dimensional and playing one style leads to a team being exploited by international teams at Worlds. If being one-dimensional is so risky, then why did FPX win Worlds last year? G2 was, at that time, able to execute multiple different playstyles in Season 9. Split-pushing, late game team fighting, early aggression, lane swaps and even funneling when that strategy was meta. If Diversification is needed to be successful on the international stage, then why did FPX, one of the most one-dimensional teams in the history of League of Legends, crush G2, the most flexible team in League of Legends history, and take home the trophy?
Using FPX as a case study
FPX spent months honing in on their one strategy that involved early skirmishes, team fights and turret dives. Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang FPX’s, midlane and centerpiece of their strategy, would roam around the map with engage-related champions such as Nautilus and Sion, to help side lanes and help enable jungler Gao “Tian” Tian-Liang to execute his carry jungle style. Being a carry jungler in the modern meta is very difficult without being backed up by your team. Doinb was always first to roam and roamed with Tian to make sure that FPX always had a numbers advantage in early skirmishes.
If you can’t already tell, this is starting to sound familiar. It’s not exactly what C9 does, but its something similar. FPX did not have diversification in what styles they played, but they did have diversification within their most played strategy. Watching the pick and ban of the World Finals was frustrating to a lot of fans because it looked like FPX always got what they wanted. Every single FPX member had a diverse amount of champions that fit into their style. Each member was able to potentially pull out three to five champions that go along with the strategy, so they were guaranteed to be able to play their bread and butter each game.
The obvious strategy would be to ban out Doinb. However, his style was so unique that banning his champions would lead to the meta champions falling through the ban phase. Also, Doinb showed a very deep champion pool throughout last year and lots of success on almost every champion he played.
Parallels between FPX and C9
There are a lot of similarities between FPX of last year and the C9 of this year. While Yasin “Nisqy” Dinçer has a very different champion pool in comparison to Doinb, they still play a very similar style. Doinb would use tankier mid lane champs and Nisqy would usually use mages, but the end result is both midlaners are known for sacrificing lane and roaming around to map to help other lanes carry.
Tian and Robert “Blaber” Huang are arguably even more similar than Doinb and Nisqy. Tian and Blaber are both carry junglers who like to fight early and often. They even have a similar champion pool and are known as deadly Lee-sin players. These mid-jungle duos set the tempo that their team plays at. When the mid-jungle is doing well FPX and C9 smash the game, when mid-jungle is doing poorly they often lose. Both bot lanes are also good in team fights and capitalizing on ganks.
C9 needs to refocus
C9 needed to diversify within their style and not their playstyles. There are numerous ways C9 could have worked towards mastering their style further. If each role has a deep champion pool that coincides with your playstyle then it helps prevent a player from being banned out in champion select. If you want to be diversified within your strategy, a good way is to practice champions that fit into your style but are also more flexible.
An example of a very strong team comp is Galio, Xayah, Rakan, Camille and Jarvan IV. This team is clearly able to roam and make big mid-game plays, the kind of style C9 would probably appreciate. It also has the ability to split push late game with Camille, fight late game with Xayah, dive turrets with a lot of hard engage and move around the map in the mid-game with Galio. “No one would ever get this perfect of a draft” is something one could argue. Fortunately, all of these pieces are replaceable.
For example, if Galio is banned, who do you pick? Rumble still combos with Jarvan and Camille well. Orianna or maybe even a tanky initiator would work mid lane too. If Xayah and Rakan get banned, then Kaisa and any other engage support like Alistar or Nautilus could take their place as a bot lane. This team comp has a diversified way it can be played. If you are worried about matching styles against a team that also likes to play aggressive and roam, this would be a good hedge to allow you to have win conditions to fall back on if you lose the early game. Incorporating flexible champions into your current playstyle helps diversify your win conditions and help keep your team from being exploited by international teams.
Playing flexible champions and sticking to your strengths
Some common misconceptions in League of Legends are that champions that scale well are always bad in lane or that you have to sacrifice laning phase in order to scale. Popular persona and caster for LCK, Nick “LS” De Cesare, has been championing the strategy of picking champions that are both good in lane and scale well since the last World Championship. A couple of these champions would be Azir and Xayah, though there are many more. Instead of trying to learn a new playstyle with champions people are unfamiliar with or potentially are even a different type of champion altogether, it is often better to play what you and your team are good at.
C9 had Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen learn to play melee champions and mages in the last few weeks of the LCS season. Trying to master this while still staying sharp at your current playstyle is extremely difficult, even for pro players. It was pretty apparent from the eye test and from C9’s record that they have regressed with their old style by stretching their players too thin on the kinds of champions they are playing.
How experimenting hurt C9 instead of helping them
If C9’s goal was to win the split, then experimenting definitely hurt them. Continuing to crush every game and claim the first seed going into playoffs would have set them better off to win the Summer Finals. If C9 is only concerned about Worlds, then the question would be: has this experimenting made them better off as a team? It really doesn’t seem that way. Most of what they tried could not win at all, which is way different from hard stomping and winning every game. If these strategies couldn’t beat bottom to mid-tier LCS teams, how could they stand up to top LCK and LPL teams?
Maybe they felt like soft-inting games in order to get more experience playing from behind. But 5-5 isn’t that bad of a record, some may say. It sure is when C9’s game record the entire rest of the year was 35-2. If they wanted to get five losses at the previous rate they were getting them, it would have taken 92.5 games (not literally) and their record would be 87.5-5 (still not literally). Even if we just say they are as good as they used to be at their core style, which is unlikely, then giving up ground on being first seed in North America is a big mistake for Worlds. You risk getting a group with the first seed from South Korea or China, which can be a death sentence for the group stage.
In the end, C9 tried to learn new playstyles. C9 should have instead diversified within their proven playstyle by incorporating champions that are more flexible. Instead of continuing their dominance over North America, C9 is now no longer the favorite to win the Summer LCS Finals.
Featured image via Unikrn.
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