Cloud9's 0-3 knockout stage sparks beginning of NA failure conversation
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It’s raining in Los Angeles as Cloud9 have fallen. Their 2021 League of Legends World Championship run is over and the League Championship Series has been left behind. And even before the final nexus fell in that woeful 0-3 series against Gen.G Esports, the conversation about ‘how to fix North America’ had already begun.

This tired conversation is almost like the NA anthem, at this point. Every year hits a few familiar notes with tons of anecdotes to go with them. NA has awful solo queue. NA has bad work ethic and work environment. NA is only here for fun. NA needs to move their server to Los Angeles — the ping is too high. NA imports too much — they need to invest more in younger talent. NA needs to implement best of threes back into their regular season. Spring doesn’t matter, scrims are useless, the server is too small, PC’s are inaccessible, culture is bad, salaries are too high, people get sick, internal conflict, quarantine is rough, visa issues, it was a bad meta…

Cloud9 Perkz looks defeated at Worlds 2021
Perkz looks defeated during Cloud9’s quarterfinals against Gen.G. | Provided by Riot Games/Getty Images

Regardless of the points being made, every excuse sounds the same. People latch onto certain pitfalls of the North American structure or talent pool and inflate them into this completely overblown and oversimplified core set of issues, many of which can’t be helped. But this kneejerk reaction to losing is actually the true copium. People just want to feel something good, so they spew out random ideas and find weird, niche things to blame to feel like maybe, just maybe, next year NA will do better.

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Unfortunately for the Twitter analysts of the League of Legends world, that’s not how things actually work, and it’s not the attitude that NA teams have when they’re still in the competition. In reality, improving internationally is far more complex than just moving a server or importing less — and the teams at Worlds aren’t concerned about it anyway. They’re concerned about how to win in the moment.

Besides, despite all of our dissertations in November, NA pros and analysts are often even confident in the region’s ability to perform up until the last team is eliminated from the event.

“I’m actually playing against the worst mid in the quarterfinals,” C9 mid laner Luka “Perkz” Perković said upon drawing Gen.G.

“It’s a free road to the Finals,” NA fans screamed.

“Gen.G were not very strong in the group stage and got a bit lucky to escape,” delusional Upcomer LCS reporter, Parkes “parqueso” Ousley, said.

Cloud9 at Worlds 2021
Cloud9 made it out of groups thanks to a strong second round-robin, but they fell 0-3 in the quarter finals. | Provided by Riot Games/Getty Images

The truth is, the NA third-seed could’ve won at its peak. But instead of moving to the semifinals, Cloud9 repeated their “Week 1” performance, with shaky early games and greedy, punishable plays that left them broken and bruised by the mid game each time they loaded into the Rift. Rather than challenging Gen.G early to find an advantage and force them to change their playstyle a bit, they matched them and felt the wrath of three-item Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk.

There isn’t much to say about the series itself; it’s almost as pointless as the conversations already spinning up about how NA can improve. C9 had a weak start to Game 1 and didn’t pounce when they had their single chance in the mid game. After a couple of perfect smites from Kim “Clid” Tae-min, C9 were completely compositionally outmatched, and they paid the price.

In response, they changed their draft for Game 2, but not for the better. After an even worse early game, they got desperate and took bad fights. It was over as quickly as it started. C9 almost looked like they were actually playing League in Game 3, but then they failed to set up objectives correctly and Gen.G punished them for it for a 3-0.

C9 Vulcan grabs his head at Worlds 2021
The Cloud9 bot lane had an uncharacteristically bad day against Gen.G. | Provided by Riot Games/Getty Images

This collapse represents a historical issue for NA and European teams. In the knockout stages of 2015, 2016, and 2018, NA or EU teams always lost their series 0-3, for a combined total of a 0-21 in losing series for those three years.

That’s not to say those teams all had a decent chance of winning those series, but 2017 Worlds painted a different picture. Misfits nearly took out SK Telecom T1 in what could have been the best upset in league history, and Cloud9 went 2-3 against Team WE while Fnatic went 1-3 against Royal Never Give Up. They refused to roll over and die like many other rosters.

It’s clear that NA and EU teams have issues with consistent performance despite occasional moments of competence, and sometimes they just fail to show up and perform as they should. Cloud9 going 3-0 against Afreeca Freecs, just to get stomped 0-3 by Fnatic (who were then swept 0-3 by Invictus Gaming) is the perfect example. Using C9’s 0-3 today as a validation to spew nonsense about NA’s shortcomings is shortsighted.

Cloud9 coach Mithy at Worlds 2021
Mithy sits backstage during the quarterfinals. | Provided by Riot Games/Getty Images

If this year’s Cloud9 hadn’t relapsed into one of those same sort of NA and EU teams that utterly bomb out of worlds, then they could’ve easily matched Gen.G and had a great likelihood of closing out the series. And that’s why there is no need for the kneejerk reaction of “fix this, fix that” — because they could’ve made it work despite all these issues we love talking about in November. Unfortunately for NA fans, they fell victim to the familiar 0-3 collapse instead.

Was today’s performance the best version of this Cloud9 roster that we’ve seen? Not at all. Were all of the fans and analysts who predicted a C9 win out of their minds? Not at all. So should NA take this single series and run with it, using it as a weird, personalized battering ram to shove their arguments about this year’s signature NA weakness down the throats of every Reddit and Twitter thread? Not at all.

NA is “not that bad”

When looking at the overall performance of NA at Worlds, combining each game played by Cloud9, 100 Thieves and Team Liquid, it’s clear NA can keep up. Looking at the regional performances from play-ins to quarters, NA had a pretty solid win rate against every region other than the League of Legends Champions Korea, where their overall record was 1-8. But against the Chinese representatives, NA went 3-3, and against the European teams, NA was 3-2. Against emerging regions, NA went 8-2, including Cloud9’s play-in stage games.

The issue isn’t salary, imports or any single thing. Because yes, there are plenty of factors that handicap the region going into these big tournaments, but none of them actually matter once they’re there. The only thing that truly matters is whether or not the teams prepare well in their boot camp, adapt to the patch, keep morale high and perform near their ceiling on game day.

Cloud9 at Worlds 2021
Cloud9 was the only NA team to advance, despite Team Liquid having a better record in the group stage. | Provided by Riot Games/Getty Images

At Worlds, the best-of-three regular season debate is worthless. More games against mediocre teams wouldn’t have necessarily helped NA prepare better for Worlds. The “import import import” meme is completely irrelevant, too. People just like to hate on the region for its vampiric practices, even though they make the region stronger overall.

None of these stereotypical NA issues actually hamstring their representatives the way we like to say they do. The same goes for all of ‘Western’ League of Legends. The 2019 Mid-Season Invitational featured Team Liquid and G2 Esports in the final. 2018 saw C9 in the semis against Fnatic. G2 made semis or better at Worlds three years in a row from 2018 to 2020. 100 Thieves are basically only losing to finalist teams in groups. Team Liquid beat every team they meet at Worlds, they just couldn’t catch a break, and Cloud9 did the same at MSI this year.

Speaking of MSI 2021, it wasn’t quite as awful as we like to say it was. Perkz reminded everyone during an interview during the play-in stage that C9 beat DWG KIA, Royal Never Give Up and MAD Lions at the event.

“We are from NA, so we have to work a bit harder to be better than other teams in some other regions,” he said. “NA is the worst major region, that’s just a fact … [but] it’s not that bad. NA teams can beat other regions’ teams. You’re definitely on an uphill battle, but you can hike the mountain.”

Perkz, touted as the greatest western player of all time, knows there isn’t actually a huge gap. He acknowledges the pitfalls, the extra challenge, but he is also more realistic in his explanation of the dynamic between the regions.

An apple a day keeps … semifinals away? | Provided by Riot Games/Getty Images

Did any of the stereotypical NA issues stop 100 Thieves from obliterating Edward Gaming in their final game? Nope. Not even the late arrival of their star jungler, Can “Closer” Çelik, could stop them from wiping EDG out of tiebreaker contention. It also didn’t stop Liquid from taking out Gen.G, MAD Lions or LNG Esports.

The real issue is teams don’t consistently perform to that level. They are prone to winning the games they shouldn’t when they need to the most and losing the games that are considered free, which ruins everything. Team Liquid have gone 3-3 at the last four Worlds, but that always includes one loss against a should-be weaker team that sours their two wins against those teams we say are so much stronger. And on the flip side, even FlyQuest went 1-1 with Top Esports last year in the organization’s first-ever Worlds appearance.

We all love drama, we all love to overreact to everything. But maybe, just maybe, NA’s biggest issue is the very “NA’s biggest issue” conversations we have every year. We’ve invested in local talent, we’ve formed incredible rosters, we’ve built out better mid-grade teams to challenge our top rosters and we’ve made spring matter less and put more games in our season. Now we need to just accept that there are things we can’t change and figure out how to stop caring about them.

Cloud9 head back to NA with a final Worlds 2021 record of 9-9. | Provided by Riot Games/Getty Images

This conversation is so tired. This song that we sing sucks. Each Worlds is like its own verse, and each November, we repeat this awful chorus. It isn’t catchy. It’s lame and poorly written.

Maybe, instead, we can write a never-ending bridge where we all just root for our favorite team, be happy if they win, get sad if they lose and try to accept that NA is a semi-decent region that has the tools to surprise us if they really want to. But even if they bomb out, there’s nothing we as a community can say or do about it other than hope next year will be different.

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