For most western fans of competitive League of Legends, yesterday's match between Cloud9 and FlyQuest was the highlight of not only this week but of the first four weeks of competitive League of Legends across the map. While European fans may be looking forward instead to Unicorns of Love vs. G2 Esports later this week, while other fans may be joining me in both anticipating and dreading the upcoming Telecom Wars, no one can deny that FlyQuest and Cloud9's match represented a convergence of compelling storylines that quite rare for the North American LCS. Before this year I would never have imagined that I'd see Cloud9 the organization have to do battle with so many of the players that fans would, if asked, identify as being the soul of Cloud9. In many ways, it was a coming of age for one organization, and perhaps the dawn of an entirely different one. For a long time, Cloud9 has struggled to break out from under Hai's shadow, but in the eyes of many viewers the death of FlyQuest's nexus at the end of Game 3 represented the birth of a new, independent Cloud9.
Consider me the dissenting opinion.
Let me be clear: I expected Cloud9 to win the series, but by only the thinnest of margins. The simple fact of the matter is that FlyQuest are, on the whole, outclassed across the board lane by lane, or so I thought. To me, this series proved both how vulnerable Cloud9 are and hinted at the terrifying levels to which FlyQuest might claim if their current growth continues unabated. Hai held his own against Jensen anytime he wasn't outright hard countered. Balls took on Impact and nearly got the better of him. Moon proved that he may well be the best jungler in the NA LCS. Altec and Lemon, long considered the two stragglers on a team much better than them, proved that they could go toe to toe with the best bottom lane in the league. Cloud9 went to Worlds last split. FlyQuest was chilling in NA Challenger last split.
While it's true that FlyQuest does sport a significant amount of legacy talent, the reality is that the last time these players were in the LCS they all looked like just that: legacy players past their prime. Now Hai seems able to delete Jensen at will and looks like the far better teamfighting mid laner out of the two -- a fact that should come as terrifying to a team as reliant on their teamfighting as Cloud9. Balls looks to be back in the form he had during 2015 Worlds, where he looked like one of the strongest western mid laners in the tournament despite the memes made about him. The most radical transformation has come from Lemon, who was a walking target the last time we saw him in the LCS with a KDA barely above that of Bodydrop. Now he's outshining the best in the league on a regular basis.
Bizarrely, FlyQuest themselves seemed to believe that they weren't up to the task of taking on Cloud9, and prepared strategies meant to take them off guard instead of preparing themselves to play standard games. It's easy to understand how they fell into that trap. Everyone, myself included, thought that Cloud9 would come out ahead in any match that came down to a standard game of League of Legends. What happened on the rift was exactly the opposite, however. Both Games One and Two saw Flyquest prepared unorthodox and, frankly, ill-advised strategies that ended up backfiring in their faces. Game One they drafted around giving Impact Camille and then shutting him down, but they failed to take into consideration that the picks they needed to accomplish that hobbled their teamfighting to the point that they failed to make good on their snowball and close out the game before Cloud9 could recover.
What happened on the rift was exactly the opposite, however. Both Games One and Two saw Flyquest prepared unorthodox and, frankly, ill-advised strategies that ended up backfiring in their faces. Game One they drafted around giving Impact Camille and then shutting him down, but they failed to take into consideration that the picks they needed to accomplish that hobbled their teamfighting to the point that they failed to make good on their snowball and close out the game before Cloud9 could recover. Game Three, when offered the chance of picking nearly the same composition that they thrashed Cloud9 with in Game Two, FlyQuest instead opted into a Zed-centric composition that had almost no way of winning a teamfight built into it, especially after Jensen revealed his pocket Zilean pick to punish the blind-pick Zed. In their desperation to avoid a standard game of League against Cloud9, FlyQuest forgot to ask themselves whether or not they would win a standard game to begin with. Game Two proved quite decisively that the answer was that they would win a standard game, as their bog standard composition completely bowled Cloud9 over in that game.
My opinion is this: FlyQuest are the best team in the league but don't realize it yet, and that fact hobbled them enough to lose to Cloud9. They are the giants that don't realize their own strength and are thus cowed by enemies that they could just as easily crush. The facts are laid out for anyone to see. Game Two supports this idea strongly, as their bog-standard blue side draft completely eviscerated Cloud9, who lost spectacularly in one of the most one-sided games of the day let alone the series. The results of the other two games are at least as important, however. While FlyQuest did lose both of them, it was only the most narrow of defeats in both cases. Specifically, they came back from a significant deficit in Game Two through their teamfighting with a composition that was in no way designed to excel in teamfighting. In fact, it's not entirely clear what the composition was intended to excel in at all, as Maokai, Miss Fortune, and Malzahar all excel in teamfighting, but were paired up with a mid laner that is practically incapable of teamfighting well, and yet Hai still managed to make the Zed work in said teamfights. The deciding factor in the game ended up being Impact, though, who was taking almost no damage during the pre-teamfight standoffs due to the poor overall DPS on the side of FlyQuest. Had Hai simply picked Corki again, which was both available and almost inarguably the best choice in the situation, he would have freed up Moon to pick a more standard jungler while also dramatically increasing his teams DPS to the point where Impact would have been the tank who was shredded, not Balls.
The next time these two teams meet, I expect two things. First, that barring some radical shift in the metagame to a place that's unfavorable for FlyQuest, we'll see them play much more standard compositions that don't hobble them before the series even begins. Second, I expect that the final result will come out in favor of FlyQuest, not Cloud9. This series should have served as a wake-up call for both teams, and it will be far more difficult for Cloud9 to change their style of play to lineup well against FlyQuest than it will be for FlyQuest to simply stop trying to be cute in champion select. While it's true that Cloud9's support staff is the more potent of the two, it also doesn't take a genius to see what happened in this first series. Thinkcard may be new to the job, but Hai and Lemon aren't, and between the three of them they should draw the correct conclusion. Unless we see some massive growth out of Cloud9 in the interim, then, I would expect that not only will FlyQuest take the next series, I expect that it won't even be close.
The last two years have seen some excellent Challenger teams take the LCS by storm right out of the gate, but both instances took place in the EU LCS, where Origen and G2 Esports both took over the league during their respective highs. Now, we're seeing the same story play out once again in the NA LCS, and it's only fitting that it should come at the hands of three of the five men who are best known for being the first challenger team to truly shake up the LCS. For those of you who are too new to the scene to remember the meteoric rise of Cloud9, this is exactly what it felt like and I, for one, am excited to see how high FlyQuest can rise.