Match breakdown: Cloud 9's improbable comeback
Match breakdown: Cloud 9's improbable comeback
The Cloud 9 vs. Vulcun match at the end of Week 5 Day 1 was the largest comeback of the split by any team. After the game, even Hai and Meteos were flabbergasted as to exactly how it turned on its head. Think about what happened. Vulcun at one point was up 11-1 in kills with an 11k gold lead and they had Zuna on Tristana, a champion known for late game prowess. Yet the teamfights went in favor of Cloud 9 again and again. Everyone at the studio was wondering what just happened. How did Cloud 9 come back from such a deficit? How did late game Tristana not carry? Isn't Vulcun a late game team? Why is this happening?!
Before we get into why this happened, I need talk about teamfight roles. There are a few positions and roles that need to be defined before we can begin the analysis of the comeback.
Cloud 9 team: Ryze, Zed, Nunu, Ashe, Zyra
Vulcun team: Shen, TF, Eve, Tristana, Thresh
What is the ideal role of these champions within these compositions and what do they accomplish in teamfights?
Ryze (Balls): Midline Mage - Ryze has medium range and strong durability. He doesn't get to select his targets due to having mediocre maneuverability. As with most midliners, he doesn't necessarily get to pick what he fights, he just fights what is close to him. Ideally in a fight Ryze can reach the enemy backline and blow them up, but he is often used best as a damaging turret to whatever is around him in a fight.
Zed (Hai): Frontline Dive – When things are going well in fights, Zed is further forward than anyone else; however, he is no tank. His objective, as is the objective of most frontliners, is to threaten the enemy backline. Zed does this by providing consistent kill threat on the enemy backline. Ideally Zed uses angles and attempts to flank around the enemy mid and frontline to access the backline.
Nunu (Meteos): Midline Tank – Nunu is about zone control. His absolute zero as well as great durability make him incredibly difficult to maneuver around. When you add in the fact that Nunu speeds himself and an ally permanently with blood-boil, you see why this guy belongs in the middle of fights. Ideally Nunu keeps the enemy backline at bay while aiding his own backline with buffs and peel, while spamming laugh. Note: Jungle Nunu generally plays further forward than support Nunu due to durability.
Zyra (LemonNation): Backline Peel – Zyra sits next to her AD Carry and puts up large protective zones that prevent the enemy from approaching properly. Ideally Zyra lands Es and Rs in spots where the enemy wants to be, effectively preventing them from getting where they want to go -- namely, on top of the opposing AD Carry.
Ashe (Sneaky): Backline Carry – Hit stuff!
To sum up: Not only does C9 present a balanced attack, they have an extreme amount of backline peel when we consider that Nunu and Ashe both contribute heavily to the cause.
Shen (Sycho Sid): Primary Frontline Dive Tank, Secondary Backline Peel – To clarify, depending on who he ults he becomes Frontline Dive or a Backline Peel, it just depends on who he wants to buddy up with for Stand United. In this situation the ideal play for Shen is to Stand United on top of Eve and become a Frontline Diver, buddying up and destroying the backline of C9.
Twisted Fate (ManCloud): Primary Frontline Dive, Secondary Backline Mage – Depending on the situation he can play backline mage or frontline dive. Due to the nature of his Ultimate he gets to pick his precise position, and has the option of dodging the midline entirely; however, it is ridiculously dangerous to do so and only works within great amounts of chaos. The ideal play of TF is to perform dives on the enemy backline.
Evelynn (Xmithie): Frontline Dive – Specifically from the flank. Eve has huge issues initiating directly through a team and thus needs to use her stealth to get around the sides of teams. This is why it's often difficult for a team to penetrate a team's base at the end of games: there's no way for Eve to initiate. Ideally, Eve is one of the first ones in the fight and lands an ultimate on the enemy backline.
Thresh (Bloodwater): Primary Backline Peel, Secondary Frontline Dive - Thresh is quite unique. He primarily plays as backline peel in teamfights with the potential to be a frontline dive if he lands a death sentence. Ideally he gets into a good spot slightly ahead of his AD carry and goes to town with the box and his flay to prevent people from getting to his backline carries.
Tristana (Zuna): Backline Carry - Hit stuff!
To sum up: Vulcun has a team of primary and secondary divers with a complete lack of midline control. They want to live in the chaos and prevent standard teamfights from breaking out because they have trouble controlling the lines of the battlefield.
Let's finally get into the game.
(7:46) Vulcun absolutely manhandled Cloud 9 for the entirety of the early game. At 7:46 Xmithie picked up a double kill and gave Vulcun their eight kill before the game was 8 minutes in. Never this season has Cloud9 undergone so much pain in the early game.
Meteos was getting outpaced by the mobility of Cloud9 and for the first time all season was getting taken to school by Xmithie's jungle Eve. After the game Meteos admitted that he hadn't played Nunu in two weeks and he didn't like playing the champion. It showed. But this game wasn't about the early game. It was about the teamfights.
(10:41) This was the fight where everyone thought Vulcun had defeated Cloud 9. While Meteos was having a ward war with Xmithie, a fight broke out by Dragon. In the fight, Meteos was dropped before another member of Cloud 9 could get in range to attack. Furthermore, Vulcun were able to bring all five members of their team together almost instantly, with TF ulting in from mid and Shen from top.
After killing Meteos's Nunu, all of Vulcun dove in unison to close and kill Sneaky's Ashe and Balls' Ryze. The important thing to note in this fight is battle lines simply didn't exist. Hai was unable to provide any threat because he wasn't mobile enough to arrive in the fight; Meteos could not play midline because nobody was ahead of him and he died immediately. But most importantly, Sneaky had no protection because the lines of his own team were out of sorts, and the four potential divers from Vulcun destroyed him.
(10:48) After Cloud 9 got demolished by Vulcun at Dragon, as Hai said in the post-game interview, it was time for them to "channel their inner CLG" and try to take the game super late. They realized that the game was not controllable at the 11-minute mark and they had lost their footing. It wasn't until 21:18 that Vulcun was able to pick up their next kill.
(21:16) Before the stall, the gold score line read Vulcun 19.0k - Cloud 9 14.0k, a 35% lead. After the stall the gold was 35k - 26.8k. Although the lead had grown from 5k to 8.2k, the percentage lead was now reduced to 30 percent. It's important to note that when a team is stalling it's not about the total gold differential, but about the percentage differential in power. In this case the stall can be considered successful.
Comebacks of this magnitude happen so rarely that we must not only cherish the ones we get, but also understand why they happened. In this game it was mostly about the teamfights and the imbalances that Cloud 9 created.
We need to consider the optimal teamfight cases for both teams.
Optimal Vulcun teamfight: Vulcun wants multiple divers and chaos. Ideally Xmithie on Eve will flank around the side or back and land an ultimate on the backline of Cloud 9. Shen will arrive and taunt the threats. Then, TF will port in to either finish off the Cloud 9 backline or start working on the Cloud 9 midline. While all this is happening Zuna and Bloodwater will be handling the frontline threat of Cloud 9 on their own or participating in the dive themselves. Essentially Vulcun wants to avoid the midline of Cloud9 and focus on carry protection and destruction
Optimal Cloud9 teamfight: Cloud 9 brings exceptional midline control into teamfights. This means they actually want structure in fights. They can keep Nunu and Ryze in the middle of fights while Zed dives priority targets; furthermore Zyra and Ashe need to stick together behind the rest of their team. The optimal teamfight for Cloud9 is more about preventing Vulcun from playing optimally than it is about pulling off any crazy combination. They want to force Vulcun's divers to be forced to peel and they want to trap Vulcun's front and back liners in the midline where they aren't comfortable.
Comeback fight #1
The comeback began at 30 minutes when Cloud 9 got a break and killed Xmithie in the jungle:
(30:07) The absolutely critical note is that Eve was dead before the first comeback teamfight began. Cloud9 found Xmithie attempting to flank for a Vulcun teamfight and punished him for it. After that, they threw caution to the wind and decided to try a 5v4 fight while down both Zed and Ashe ultimates.
This fight is the midline control that Cloud 9 had over Vulcun which is best illustrated by this picture:
(30:24) Consider for a moment what Vulcun's options are in this very moment. Zuna is sitting inside a close to exploding Zyra ultimate and a Nunu ultimate, which Kobe coined "the Venn Diagram of Ultimates". Not only does he have to duck out of the giant circles in front of him, he needs to worry about potential Zed assassinations.
Compare this to Sneaky's predicament. He is under no threat whatsoever. Due to Eve being absent from this fight, Sycho Sid's Shen has no vehicle to join the teamfight and dive Sneaky's Ashe. Likewise the third diver on Vulcun, MandatoryCloud has no ultimate up from the earlier skirmish which resulted in the death of Eve.
Sneaky gets to do whatever he wants in this fight, while Vulcun is at complete mercy of the Cloud 9 midline. In this example, the gold lead is almost meaningless. Cloud 9 picked up a Baron after a 2-0 teamfight and found a glimmer of hope for a comeback.
Comeback fight #2
(43:45) Again, the start of this fight is immensely important. Sneaky lands an Ashe arrow onto Zuna which puts the fight immediately at odds. Notice the lines of this fight. Sneaky is being completely hugged by his Support. Nunu and Ryze are appropriately in-front of him and placed themselves in the middle of the fight. Hai is biding time for his eventual assault on the Vulcun backline.
Then look at Vulcun and compare it to their optimal teamfight positions. None of their three primary divers are in position. Shen and Eve are trapped in the midline and have absolutely no access to Cloud 9's backline. Bloodwater is the sole member of Vulcun who is in his optimal backline peel position for this fight. It's no wonder that it swung so heavily in Cloud 9's favor despite the gold disadvantage.
This fight was initially set up by a previous strong push by Cloud9 where they burned Xmithie's Eve ult and Sycho Sid's Stand United, which is another variable into why this fight was so fortunate for them. After the teamfight victory (44:45), Cloud9 was able to take their first inhibitor of the game inside Vulcun's base.
(50:10) This was the closest Vulcun came to getting an ideal 5v5 fight in late game. Mancloud teleported into range of Sneaky while SychoSid was coming in with Stand United. Unfortunately, Xmithie was not in the flank position and could not join for the three-man dive that was required to wreak havoc on the Cloud 9 backline. Zuna and Bloodwater were also appropriately positioned as backline carry and peel as they tried to get past the presence of Meteos and Balls.
Cloud 9 was also very close to optimal at the start of this fight with a slight delay on Hai becoming a diver of the backline. Once Hai pushed up slightly due to the absence of a Vulcun midline, he was able to appropriately position in the fight.
What wins this fight for Cloud 9 is how they instinctively hold to their position roles despite a chaotic fight. This is best shown in this picture:
(50:28) Again we must contrast the positioning of Vulcun and Cloud 9. Cloud 9 has their midline Nunu and Ryze smack dab in the middle of the Chaos, whereas Vulcun is leading the charge with a combination of backline and frontline. When Zuna jumps forward for a kill he completely exposed himself, because he jumped past the line of safety. This is easy for Zuna to do because within the Vulcun team composition, there is no line of safety.
The final battle was actually a 4v4 which did not involve Cloud 9's frontline dive or Vulcun's Twisted Fate. However, this fight was another great example of Cloud 9's impeccable control of the battlefield.
(53:27) Notice how even though Meteos's Nunu is the furthest forward member of the C9 team he's still technically in the midline. Nobody on Vulcun was able to make it past him unless they focused him directly and it gave ample time for Cloud 9's damage threats to take care of business. He perfectly did his job of controlling his area of the battlefield.
For the final time, Vulcun was unable to pull off its optimal teamfight. Due to the nature of rushing Baron, Xmithie was unable to get into flank position for an Evelynn ultimate which in turn diminished SychoSid's ability to combo dive with him. Once the fight began they became entangled in the midline of Cloud 9; exactly what Cloud 9 wanted.
Finally, after 20 minutes of safety, Sneaky was free to take any chance he wanted. In this fight, he swung the tides by shooting directly at Zuna, who was caught completely off guard by the Ashe arrows coming over the wall. Consider Zuna's predicament at the time; he had just spent an eternity slogging through a robust midline from Cloud 9 and was not expecting a backline attack. It was perfectly timed by Sneaky.
Cloud 9 won the fight without suffering a single casualty and pushed straight up the mid lane for the victory.
At the end of the day, Cloud 9 played its composition optimally throughout its comeback. For Vulcun, while it played the early game fantastically, it didn't have a solid plan to transition to victory. Wins in the LCS are getting harder to come by every week. Last split, a team facing a 1-11 kill deficit less than 11 minutes into the game may have rolled over and died. Now with Cloud 9, no game is over until the nexus falls.