This offseason, a sizable amount of outside money entered the North American League of Legends scene. Apex Gaming and Team Dignitas were purchased by the Philadelphia 76ers, the owners of the Washington Wizards and Golden State Warriors invested in Team Liquid, and the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks purchased FlyQuest, the newest team in the League. These teams joined a few others who received outside investment over the past few years (including Immortals and Echo Fox), as the level of money in North American League of Legends has risen steadily — and the level of foreign imports has risen with it.
Despite the influx of outside money and talent, Cloud9, first founded in 2012, has dominated the first third of the Spring 2017 NA LCS Split. Amidst all those changes, C9 kept four starters from the roster that finished second place in Summer 2016, promoting 17-year-old jungler prospect Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia from its Challenger roster to the LCS stage. Through three weeks, C9 is 6-0 in matches and 12-2 in games, alone in first place and one game ahead of rivals Team SoloMid and FlyQuest.
Since sweeping TSM in Week 1’s title rematch, C9 has swept Immortals, Team Envy and Echo Fox and beaten Counter Logic Gaming and Team Dignitas 2-1. C9 has not yet faced 5-1 FlyQuest or 4-2 Phoenix1 (or 2-4 Team Liquid), but through three weeks it seems pretty clear who the best team in the league is.
Other teams have had better early games -- both FlyQuest and Echo Fox have larger average gold leads at 15 minutes, and Cloud9’s 43% First Blood rate and 43% First Tower rate rank near the bottom of the league. But no team closes out games as cleanly as Cloud9.
Despite taking the first tower in less than half of its games, C9 gets to three towers first in 71% of them (second in the league behind TSM). C9 also ranks second in Dragon control (63%) and is tied for first in Elder Dragon control (71%). Cloud9 has also died less than any team in the league — 130 times in 14 games, 18 less than second-place FlyQuest -- as the mid-game mistakes that plague many other North American teams have not been a problem for C9.
A lot of C9’s success can be quite clearly attributed to the individual strong play of its starters. Support Andy “Smoothie” Ta, top laner Eon-yeong “Impact” Jung and mid laner Nicolaj Jensen are the top three players in the league in KDA, and Jensen leads all players in CS per minute (10.0) and Earned Gold Per Minute (324.6). Every single starter ranks in the top two in his position in at least two categories, and Contractz has been able to leave a significant mark with his playmaking potential on carry champions (6-0 on Kha’Zix, 2-1 on Lee Sin).
Strong laning in the mid lane and bot lane (both rank in the top two in early CS differentials), coupled with a support that almost never dies (Smoothie has died 21 times in 14 games ... next-best is FlyQuest support Daerek “LemonNation” Hart, with 34), a playmaking jungler and a world-class top laner with incredible map awareness and team-fighting acumen (Impact ranks No. 2 in assists and kill percentage and No. 1 in damage per minute and Earned Gold Per Minute among NA top laners) — it’s hard not to see why C9 has stayed undefeated, and why it has the potential to do so for some time.
How much time? Well, C9 faces Team Liquid and FlyQuest in Week 4, so that should tell us something. Liquid has struggled, so that will likely be an easy task for C9, but FlyQuest is 5-1 and has smashed through the weaker teams in the region. FlyQuest’s roster, with former C9 veterans An “Balls” Le, Hai Lam and LemonNation, is also very familiar with C9 and how it likes to play. And even if C9 gets through Week 4 unscathed, Week 5 is even tougher, with series against 4-2 Phoenix1 and 5-1 TSM.
If C9 survives all that and emerges on the other side 10-0, there’s another potentially tricky week in Week 6. C9 will square off against the only two teams better in the early game so far: Echo Fox and FlyQuest. After that, things get a little easier: Team Liquid and CLG in Week 7, Immortals and Envy in Week 8, and Phoenix1 and Dignitas in Week9.
Over the next two weeks, Cloud9 will face the three best teams in North America that aren’t named C9. If it can get through that (and we’ve seen so far that it surely can), there’s no reason to think this undefeated run can’t continue.
Stats via Oracle’s Elixir.