Cloud9 officially have their backs against the wall at the 2021 League of Legends World Championship. Following a 3-0 sweep of Oceania’s PEACE in the play-in qualifier, they’ve dropped their first three games of the group stage.
It has been a frustrating tournament for the North American side, who held a substantial lead in their second game of the main event against China’s FunPlus Phoenix before crumbling in the climactic moments. On Wednesday, their string of losses continued at the hands of the reigning world champions and the current toppers of their group, South Korea’s DWG KIA.
We've already beaten them at MSI. Let's do it again 😈#C9LoL are taking on @DWGKIA in Day 3 of the #Worlds2021 Group Stage! #C9WIN
📺 https://t.co/Vf9p6k5qpR pic.twitter.com/JtlTPIpv3q
— Cloud9 (@Cloud9) October 13, 2021
Cloud9’s Vulcan talks team and region performance
For C9, destiny is now out of their hands. They will likely not only need to win to win all three games in the second half of the group stage, but also require help from other team’s results to make the eight-team playoff.
“Our mid-game has been pretty lackluster, pretty bad,” Cloud9’s support Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme told Upcomer in an interview after the team’s defeat to DWG KIA. “It’s getting exposed against some of the best teams in the world. Yesterday [against FPX] was a bit of a throw, right? So that was a bit different, but I feel like our early-games have been pretty alright, but we’re getting abused in the later stages, so I’m not sure.”
C9 has not been alone in their struggles during the group stage. During the first round-robin of the main event, the six Western teams combined for a record of 4-14. Out of those four wins, two of them were in head-to-head matchups between Western teams. Another was NA’s 100 Thieves playing Japan’s Detonation FocusMe, a region appearing in the main event for the first time in their history.
“We’ve been doing fine in scrims against [NA and EU] teams for the most part, but when we scrim Asian teams, we’re getting fisted,” Vulcan said. “So it’s hard to get a lot out of those games, even though people say lose [to] improve or whatever, sometimes it’s hard to get a lot of games when games are lost early from individual mistakes, or the enemy team makes a good team play that we’re not too sure how to react against.
“You can, in that case, kinda theorycraft about how you want to defend against that next time. There are some learning points, but it’s been rough.”
It’s all about Asia
The leading narrative from players, including the leaders atop of the current standings, is that the Summoner’s Cup race only revolves around Asia this year. All four Chinese teams finished the first round-robin with a record above .500, and the only South Korean team not to do the same was Hanwha Life Esports in Group C.
Vulcan sees DWG KIA, Edward Gaming and Royal Never Give Up as the favorites to win it all from what he’s seen and played against thus far.
“Yeah, I think so [that there’s a gap between the Asian and Western teams],” he said. “Maybe I’d still think Europe is better than NA. I think we can beat Rogue, though, on that note, next time we play them. There’s definitely a big gap between West and East this year, it feels like.”
The game that most will be remembered from C9’s first week in the main event if they fail to make it out of groups will be their folly versus FPX. From almost the first minute of the game, the North American side controlled the pace and were the ones dictating the pressure, punishing the former world champions in numerous skirmishes to build a hefty gold lead.
When it was over, however, players were caught in side lanes and indecisive decision-making led to FPX finishing off C9’s Nexus while starring mid laner Luka “Perkz” Perković was left in an awkward quasi-base race by himself on Ryze.
“It’s hard to step back and say we had a good early-game, and we had a lot of chances to win that game the day of or the day after a loss like that,” Vulcan said. “But it’s at least nice to know that we can go toe-to-toe with some of these teams and not just get fisted the whole game and have no hope. Even though we lost, it gave us some hope that maybe we could do some damage or drag down a team if we were going to go out.”
This isn’t the first time Vulcan has found himself down in an 0-3 hole at a European-located world championship. He faced the same predicament in 2019 as part of Clutch Gaming, which ended up winless after all six group stage games. Two years older, though, Vulcan feels he’s evolved and matured as a player on Cloud9, learning to deal with adversity better and be a leader when things get tough.
For now, though, all they can do is hope to duplicate what Europe’s Fnatic did in 2017 when they dropped all of their first-half group games before staging an epic comeback to make the playoffs. Although most teams in Iceland will have a few days off before continuing, Vulcan and Cloud9 will only have a single day of rest before returning to action on Friday.
“I think we have scrims lined up for tomorrow,” he said. “And then maybe we’ll play some board games tomorrow night.”
They’ll be aiming for a miracle or at least an opportunity to drag a fellow rival to the nearest airport with them.
Tyler Erzberger is entering a decade of covering esports. When not traveling around the world telling stories about people shouting over video games, he’s probably arguing with an anime avatar on Twitter about North American esports.