Cloud9 did not come into their second series of the 2022 League Championship Series Championship against Evil Geniuses as the favorite. Since attending the Mid-Season Invitational as the reigning champion of North America, EG had only dropped three games in the summer split after returning to home soil and were well-established as the favorites to win another domestic title.
In an interview with Travis Gafford a week before the series, Cloud9 top laner Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami turned heads by stating that C9 wouldn’t just win against EG, but it would be a 3-0 and "the fastest series ever." The statement was interpreted by many as competitor confidence or the bold statement trolling that Cloud9 is known for, but when C9 took the series 3-1 against the defending LCS champions, any laughter was replaced with shock.
How did Cloud9, a team who had only narrowly defeated Counter Logic Gaming 3-2 one week prior, dismantle Evil Geniuses in such convincing fashion to qualify for the League of Legends World Championship? Let’s take a closer look.
Solo laners step up
Cloud9 mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen had not looked like himself all split, and understandably so. For the first time in his career, Jensen found himself teamless to start the season in 2022 after Team Liquid replaced him with a recently unretired Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg. Jensen had plenty of rust to shake off throughout the summer split and was a relatively quiet part of C9’s success throughout.
“I'm definitely not where I want to be, by any means,” said Jensen in an interview with Inven Global during Week 2 of the summer split. “I'm still making a lot of mistakes in places where I normally don't make too many, and I think decision-making and how many mistakes are made are the main difference-makers for top players compared to the rest.”
Photo credit: Cloud9
Similarly, Fudge was taking time to re-acclimate to his traditional role of top lane after spending the first half of 2022 as a mid laner as a result of sweeping changes C9 had made to their roster.
“I definitely think I am not at the level of matchup knowledge that I had in 2021, strictly because I haven't been playing the matchups that often,” Fudge explained in an interview with Inven Global in the first week of the summer split.
Jensen and Fudge couldn’t have picked a better time to come online. Both solo laners’ performances in the postseason series against CLG were big steps up from their respective summer split performances. Jensen went 10/9/33 in K/D/A in the five-game series and dealt an average of 613 damage per minute, punctuated by a carry performance on LeBlanc in Game 5, and Fudge’s Kennen was a revelation in multiple moments of the series.
Read more: All teams qualified for Worlds 2022
Against EG, Fudge got the better of top laner Jeong “Impact” Eon-young more often than not, but the real story of the series was in the mid lane. Jensen ran circles around LCS summer split All-Pro mid laner Joseph “jojopyun” joon-pyun and provided more value to his team on the utility picks of Orianna and Zilean when he wasn’t styling on LeBlanc. There are many reasons C9 are a strong team and many reasons that they were able to beat Evil Geniuses, but if Jensen and Fudge didn’t make the return to form that they have in the LCS Championship, C9 would have had no chance of winning the series.
Evil Geniuses jungler Kacper "Inspired" Słoma is a frontrunner for the Most Valuable Player award in the LCS Summer Split. He’s the best jungler in the league on the 1st place team and in the eight weeks of summer, he was named Player of the Week three times. He’s arguably been EG’s best player throughout the whole season, but last Sunday, Robert “Blaber” Huang, got the better of Inspired.
Throughout the series, Blaber was constantly one step ahead of Inspired, working well with support Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and his solo laners to create a field of vision that stifled the innovative nuance of Inspired’s jungle pathing that has made EG such a force this season.
Photo credit: Riot Games
Blaber was able to utilize this information to get the drop on the side lanes of Evil Geniuses before their jungler could often answer. Crucially, he showcased the best synergy he had all year with Jensen to punish jojopyun’s aggressive laning and stifle his playmaking in the mid game.
Blaber looked on the same page with his teammates, particularly his revitalized pair of solo laners, more so than he has since this C9 roster made their debut in the summer split. Shutting down Inspired isn’t the only thing a team needs to do to beat Evil Geniuses, but to have a chance at taking down the reigning champions, containing their superstar jungler is a prerequisite regardless of win condition or game plan.
Kim “Berserker” Min-cheol has quietly been one of the best ADCs in the LCS this season. Despite competing in a region an ocean away from his home for the first major league season of his professional career and playing with three different supports across six months, the young marksman has put up some impressive performances. He has been so good that Evil Geniuses’ ADC Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki outright stated moments after winning the spring title that he considered Berserker better than him.
Berserker wasn’t always given chances to shine in what started as a very shaky summer split for Cloud9, but as the team began to come together, the moments in which he was able to shine began to outweigh those when he was not in frequency.
Berserker’s own ability was never in doubt, but between two solo laners looking to return to form and a recently role-swapped support duo in Zven, there were a lot of factors at play that did not allow him to match the highlight reel performances of Danny during EG’s 15-3 summer split run.
That all changed in the series against EG. With Zven looking far more comfortable as a support after having time to acclimate to his role and develop synergy with Berserker and a revitalized solo lane duo ready and willing to commit to the unrestrained approach of C9 jungler Blaber, Berserker was put in a position to carry, and carry he did.
Photo credit: Cloud9
In three games playing Zeri and one game of Aphelios, Berserker utterly outclassed Danny in every phase of the match. Danny is not a player known for his laning, and frankly, neither is Berserker. Their greatest strengths are in their teamfighting, but in the C9 vs. EG matchup, Berserker played lane like a man possessed. He was either outright getting leads 2v2 with Zven or dictating the lane in less volatile matchups -- such as in Game 3 when Danny played Seraphine -- to limit EG’s options on the map.
When all was said and done, Berserker came away with a 5.0 KDA and a series average of 707 damage per minute -- the most of any player in the series. This isn’t to say that Berserker was the sole reason that C9 beat EG, but with C9 firing on all cylinders and coming together at just the right time, the prospect of Berserker being able to put up even greater performances in his rookie season than he already has is exciting. For C9’s opponents, that’s terrifying.
Make no mistake -- this was far from EG’s best performance this season. They failed to respect C9’s ability to challenge them around neutral objectives in ways most teams could not in the Summer Split and missed an uncharacteristic amount of abilities on an individual level. That all being said, there’s no chance Cloud9 beats even an underperforming EG without their solo laners stepping up and the team as a whole allowing Berserker to play to his full potential.
Having already qualified for Worlds with their win over EG, Cloud9’s next matchup is Saturday against fellow NA Worlds representative 100 Thieves to see who will be the first team to make it to the grand final of the 2022 LCS Championship in Chicago.
Lead photo credit: Cloud9
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