This time last year, Cloud9 was crowned as the strongest team in North America, after pushing through the entirety of the 2020 Spring Split with a 17-1 record before running through the playoffs with only a single game loss. Following that level of dominance, many questioned whether it was finally North America’s time to shine at the Mid-Season Invitational, but a global pandemic robbed Cloud9 and their fans the chance of seeing it happen -- MSI was cancelled and Cloud9 didn’t carry the same form into the 2020 Summer Split.
A year later, the world is finally getting back on track and so is Cloud9. With redemption in their sights, Cloud9 put on a show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles for everyone at home, reminding fans of what League of Legends esports has been missing this whole time.
Cloud9 and Team Liquid walked into their respective booths on a sunny day at the Greek Theatre. They were preparing to face off for North America’s crown and a ticket to Iceland for the Mid-Season Invitational. Due to Los Angeles’s COVID-19 regulations, there were still no fans in the stands, but it was a breath of fresh air for the LCS production.
Photo credit: Riot Games
“The entire energy around this whole finals weekend just feels so much better because we’re out of our houses,” Riot Games caster Clayton “CaptainFlowers” Raines said during the LCS Finals broadcast.
For almost a year now, LCS players have largely played from their team offices or homes with the exception of the 2020 League of Legends World Championship. Alongside them, broadcast talent from the analyst desk to the casters continued to work remotely. The empty amphitheater was jarring at times, but the return of live broadcast talent contributed a more intimate touch to what was ultimately an incredible series.
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Cloud9 and Team Liquid both stood out as North America’s golden boys, but their series was an easy one to call for most fans and analysts: Cloud9 would win in three or four games. C9’s playoff dominance coupled with Team Liquid’s weak semifinals opponent would put the former on top in a close, but not too close series.
Team Liquid quickly toppled those expectations though, with strong late-game scaling compositions and a fighting spirit to match the drafts. They weren’t going down easy, and it made for a better series -- that is, unless you’re a Team Liquid fan.
TL pushed early C9 leads and forced the issue with a 2-1 series lead, but it wasn’t enough to stave off the hungry and deprived 2020 spring champions. Games 1-4 went back and forth, with no one able to predict the winner up until a Nexus explosion, and the intensity was only magnified as the series went on.
At a certain point, though, the writing was on the wall after Cloud9 revealed their last trap card in Game 5 -- an early game laneswap that forced Team Liquid’s star top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris behind until Cloud9’s eventual victory.
After four games of intense pressure-cooking action, Team Liquid ran out of steam and Cloud9 reigned victorious as AD carry Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen ran out of the booth and chased down the trophy that was rightfully his. This time, he had the trophy securely in his hands and he knew the team had earned their rightful ticket to MSI.
The amphitheatre was empty and the venue was silent, but Zven’s gleeful sprint toward the trophy was more than just a display of joy -- it’s a reminder that esports and life as we know it is slowly making its way back.
Zven was very excited about C9's win. Photo credit: Riot Games
“I was very excited, this whole series had a lot of adrenaline,” Zven said during Cloud9’s victory press conference. “Winning Game 4 and 5 was kind of a stomp, in a way, but it was still so hype. It's been such a long time since we've played on stage, so when I finally got on stage, I guess I had too much energy to hold back.”
After a year of regret that culminated in Cloud9 failing to win the Summer Split and qualify for 2020 Worlds, Zven and his team finally reclaimed what was rightly theirs. The series wasn’t perfect and neither were the conditions -- Zven opted to describe the outdoor venue as less than ideal.
“It was a fun experiment, but if we had lost I would have been really tilted because I think the environment wasn't fit for competitive integrity I guess,” Zven said. “I don't like when I can't see the timers of the Dragon and Baron because there's a glare, and I don't like that people had to use two handwarmers on cooldown because of how cold it was in Games 4 and 5.”
Even so, it was a miracle that players were able to play onstage at all. Cloud9 and Zven’s special moment and celebration just wouldn’t have been the same through a series of webcams. The energy of the series wouldn’t have hit such high thresholds without the on-site casting of CaptainFlowers and Sam “Kobe” Hartman-Kenzler or the banter between Barento “Raz” Mohammad, Emily Rand, and Mark “MarkZ” Zimmerman on the analyst desk.
Cloud9’s big win at the Greek Theatre -- for all its vices and virtues -- is a special, messy moment that will lead the LCS and League of Legends in general to bigger and better things for the rest of 2021.
Lead image credit: Riot Games