North America’s performance in the group stage of the 2022 League of Legends World Championship was an undeniable disappointment. All three teams representing the League Championship Series finished 1-5 in their respective groups, either tying for last place or taking sole possession of it by the end of the group stage. However, for a multitude of reasons, Cloud9’s performance in Group A looms as the largest disappointment for LCS fans with hope in their eyes this fall.
Cloud9 won the 2022 LCS Championship in convincing fashion, but their dominant post-season run was not the only reason expectations for their team were a tad higher than that of 2nd seed 100 Thieves and 3rd seed Evil Geniuses. Heading into Worlds 2022, the players on C9’s roster boasted more international experience and/or greater international results than the 100 roster and everyone on the EG roster aside from top laner Jeong “Impact” Eon-young.
Historically, C9 has been the most successful international organization in North American League of Legends, and while they were seeded into a tough group with 2nd League of Legends Champions Korea seed T1, 3rd League of Legends European Championship seed Fnatic, and League of Legends Pro League 3rd seed/defending world champion EDward Gaming, C9 had historically beaten greater odds in multiple group stages of Worlds’ past.
Instead, Cloud9 stumbled right out of the gate against Fnatic, a match that would have been an expected win even without Fnatic’s poor luck leading up to the Worlds 2022 Play-Ins. A draft that was all over the place was accentuated by poor individual play in many “must win early” matchups, and while C9’s draft was more balanced in game 2 of the group against EDward Gaming, the individual skill gap was far larger and led to a more crushing defeat than the one at the hands of Fnatic.
There are plenty of gripes with Cloud9’s drafts throughout their Group A run, but crucially, the quality of composition was only the main factor in the loss to Fnatic. In every other loss for Cloud9 in Group A, the primary reason for it was a gap in skill between the individual players on C9 and their opponents.
This isn’t an unusual trend – South Korean teams and Chinese teams almost always have more individually skilled players than teams in North America, but for this iteration of Cloud9, that fact was a death sentence.
The largest part of Cloud9’s power-up in the post-season after finishing 5th in the 2022 LCS Summer Split was due an improvement in individual form amongst multiple members. Top laner Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami finally hit his stride after returning to his main role for summer after a brief stint in the spring as a mid laner, and mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen, who was teamless in spring, got his last bit of rust off before the start of the 2022 LCS Championship.
As a result, most members of Cloud9 boasted individual skill gaps against their opponents as well as significantly deeper champion pools. While their teamplay improved, too, it was a far smaller factor than the changes to C9’s players individually between the regular season and the post-season. Unfortunately for Cloud9, any individual gaps in skill or champion flexibility the players boasted were almost entirely eroded against the likes of international competition.
“We had the biggest champion pools because we could play all the matchups; we could win the lanes and play their counterpicks,” Cloud9 jungler Robert “Blaber” Huang said after C9 started Worlds 2022 0-3. “It doesn’t feel like that at Worlds. It feels like other teams were the ‘Cloud9’ of the group.”
With the dynamic flipped, C9 was unable to win lanes the way they had in North America, particularly in the case of Fudge, who was criticized for favoring Fiora and Jax over safer, durable top lane picks.
In C9’s first game of week 2 of Group A, they convincingly beat Fnatic with a bot-lane focused composition built around the Jinx of AD carry Kim “Berserker” Min-Cheol. With Fudge on Ornn and Jensen on Azir, C9 opted for full scaling but ultimately ended up winning early anyway due to Blaber’s destruction of Fnatic jungler Iván "Razork" Martín Díaz. However, the very next game, C9 went back to a draft more similar to their week 1 compositions with Aatrox in the top lane and a less defined win condition.
No team can succeed internationally with one style, especially if that style is purely indexed towards late-game scaling, but seeing C9 abandon the one strategy that had gotten them a win in the following game – an elimination game, no less – was perplexing. C9 was a team with the highest expectations of any LCS representative, and fans and analysts alike were disappointed seeing them abandon a strategy that had finally worked after three disappointing loss to start Worlds 2022.
Because of C9’s form in the 2022 LCS Championship, the low expectations of 100 Thieves, and Evil Geniuses dealing with a roster change only one month prior, C9 entered Worlds 2022 as North America’s greatest hope at international glory on their home turf. Instead, they leave the tournament as the greatest disappointment of the LCS.