In the 2020 spring split of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) Cloud9 took home the North American crown for the first time in six years, in the most dominant fashion the region has ever seen. All five spots on the LCS-All Pro team for Spring were held by the Cloud9 roster; and their jungler, Robert “Blaber” Huang, won the split MVP. Though they did lose two games over the course of the spring split, Cloud9 looked indomitable, winning the finals in a sweeping fashion.
There are several teams who have been vocal about taking the challenge to Cloud9 in summer. With the start of the LCS summer split rapidly approaching, and the vast majority of roster announcements complete, is any team going to be able to beat them in the Summer Split?
The most obvious challenger to Cloud9’s dominance is the team that preceded them, Team Liquid (TL).
TL had an awful spring split, no one is going to deny that. Finishing ninth place in what is the worst title defense LCS history is far from the ideal way to get the year started, especially after four consecutive domestic titles. As a result, the team parted ways with star ADC Yilliang “Doublelift” Peng after two years with the team, opting for newcomer Edward “Tactical” Ra. Doublelift’s time at TL was largely defined by him being both the in-game leader and the primary win condition for the team.
However, to label TL’s poor spring split as being the fault of any one person, including Doublelift, is wildly mischaracterizing the situation. TL was frequently losing in almost every position, with the only player who wasn’t consistently lackluster being Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, though he frequently failed to have a greater influence on the map after the laning phase in most games. Coming out of the early game often at a deficit, TL seemed completely lost in the mid-late game. They lacked the synergy that made them so dominant in the two years prior. They seem to recognize this though and have made a welcome change in signing Joshua “Jatt” Leesman to the role of head coach.
In summer, TL will be looking to rebound but without their star ADC, it seems unlikely that they default to the bot-centric playstyle that made them so unbeatable in splits past. This will be the first time we see Team Liquid stray from “their playstyle,” likely in favor of the currently dominant mid-jungle centric style. They certainly have the star power on the team to take the fight to C9, but it’s incredibly uncertain whether they can improve fast enough to be better than the 2019 iteration of themselves, which C9 certainly has already done.
Team Solo-Mid (TSM) was another team that did not perform up to expectations during the spring split. They were slated by most analysts to finish within the top three teams but were disappointed in finishing fifth with a 9-9 record in the regular season and improving to fourth in playoffs. TSM failed to find synergy with their spring roster and released Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett in addition to releasing Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup in favor of Doublelift.
The acquisition of Doublelift has TSM fans incredibly excited, and for good reason. TSM has reacquired three of the players that gained them their 2016 and 2017 summer championships, and expectations are higher than ever. Not only that, but Doublelift often has greater effects outside of his role on a team. He gives a team an instant identity and way of playing the game, through him.
However, there is a big compromise on all of this. TSM played a very top-centric play style last split. In picking up what is universally agreed to be a weak jungler in Mingyi “Spica” Lu, having both a top and bottom side that are highly demanding of resources may cause more problems than it solves. Not to mention that neither of those playstyles are ‘in’ right now. All of the successful teams internationally are playing mid-jungle focused games, and all other strategies seem to be falling short. With their biggest mid-jungle weakness aligning to C9’s biggest strengths, it seems unlikely that this TSM roster will be able to take the fight to C9.
FlyQuest (FLY) is the most direct of the three contenders for the crown this split. FLY finished 2nd place in the spring split and did not make any roster changed coming into summer. They let go of ‘weakest link’ top laner Omran “V1per” Shoura, confirming Colin “Solo” Earnest would retain the starting spot he earned during playoffs.
FLY is a team that continuously improved over the course of the summer split, finishing fourth in the regular season and improving to second by the end of playoffs. They looked especially strong with Solo in the top lane, improving from losing 1-3 to Evil Geniuses with V1per to winning 3-1.
FlyQuest likely will continue to improve and look like a stronger version of the team we saw in playoffs, which is a good sign. However, keep in mind Cloud9 will not be stagnant, they will also be improving. If FlyQuest couldn’t beat them then, what has changed? An overperforming FlyQuest may be able to take the championship battles over an underperforming C9, but overall a repeat of spring is the most likely outcome.
Will a team be able to beat C9? It seems unlikely. They are just too dominant. There are teams that could take the fight to them under the right circumstances. But, with the motivation level and continuous improvement of C9, the other teams would have to undergo massive shifts in their form to be able to contest.
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Nicholas Kanan is a student, writer, gamer, and human being. In that order. Nick has been an avid follower of esports for the better part of a decade, beginning with Starcraft II in 2011 and switching focus to League of Legends since 2013. He is a regular viewer of the LCS and makes it social, introducing friends and family into the world LoL Esports. Check out my Twitter for more of my thoughts.