There is hope. While North American and LCS fans did have to suffer through an early exit from an international competition once again, there are a lot of positives to take from Cloud9's showing at this year's Mid-Season Invitational (MSI).
Following the marquee signing of Luka 'Perkz' Perković, expectations were sky-high for Cloud9's new roster. The Croatian midlaner had broken trophy records in Europe and even lifted an MSI title. With his leadership and remarkable abilities, it was hoped that NA could finally compete with the best once again.
While this year's MSI was ultimately a disappointment for the team, the tournament was never going to be more than a fruitful training exercise that nudges Cloud9 closer towards rejoining the best teams at Worlds later this year.
The international experience Cloud9 have gained is priceless and now the talented squad needs to ensure that they take what they've learned and use that to further improve themselves ahead of the World Championships later this year.
Leading the pack
The LCS is about to get back underway for summer and Cloud9 stand out as the team to beat. This year, the scores from the Spring and Summer Splits will be combined to determine NA's strongest teams.
That gives Cloud9 a head start, as they pipped Team Liquid and TSM to first place in spring with a 13–5 record, putting them one win ahead of their rivals. From there, Cloud9 stormed the playoffs, with a dominant 3–0 win over 100 Thieves and two victories against Team Liquid to claim the LCS title.
However, MSI was a different beast. After last year's tournament was cancelled, Cloud9 had waited a year and a half to return to the international stage and they were instantly met with an almighty challenge after being paired with reigning world champions DWG Kia in the opening round.
A disastrous start saw the NA champions suffer a shock defeat at the hands of Japan's Detonation FocusMe, but Cloud9 were able to regroup and pulled off a surprise of their own with a monumental win over DWG to ensure they progressed through to the Rumble stage.
From there, the competition grew fierce. Cloud9 were moments away from defeating China's Royal Never Give Up – who went on to win the tournament – only to be caught off-guard by a genius backdoor call from their opponents.
Cloud9 would sensationally win their rematch with RNG, proving they can challenge the strongest teams in the world, but their inconsistency came back to bite them. PSG Talon had gone on a late resurgence and Europe's MAD Lions managed a surprise win over RNG themselves, which ended Cloud9's hopes of forcing a tiebreaker for the final spot in the semi-finals.
Their record of 3–7 wasn't enough, with an astonishing loss to Oceania's Pentanet.GG the final nail in the coffin – PGG's only victory in the Rumble. While obviously frustrated that they didn't go further, Cloud9 had held their own with extremely good teams and the victories over DWG and RNG prove that the roster can challenge the elite.
Australia's next top LoL stars
And another positive for the LCS champions was the performance of 19-year-old top-laner Ibrahim 'Fudge' Allami. This time Cloud9 benefitted from Oceania's talent pool, as the young Australian had a phenomenal showing at MSI.
He recorded more average kills (3.7) than any other top-laner who made it to the second round of MSI and also tied PSG's Huang 'Maple' Yi-Tang for the most solo kills at the tournament (10). Fudge reached that tally in four fewer games, though. On top of that, Fudge recorded more kills (35) than other toplaner during the Rumble Stage.
Fudge has shown tremendous growth since his shaky debut in the LCS Lock-In earlier this year. If he keeps improving at this rate, he'll be an international superstar in no time. He's already shown that he can step up when the pressure is on.
Cloud9's ties with Australia don't end there. In a shock turn of events, the team has undergone a roster swap, as veteran Jesper 'Zven' Svenningsen has been moved into the academy in favour of handing an LCS debut to Australian bot-laner Calvin 'K1ng' Truong.
After spending a year and a half with Cloud9's Academy, K1ng is finally getting his shot in a major league. The 23-year-old has competed in the Play-In stages of multiple Worlds and MSIs, but now has a chance to make the main event.
Zven is extremely competitive however and will do what he can to take the spot back. That added motivation and extra competition can only be good for Cloud9 as they aim to continue improving.
The change could be a stroke of genius in preventing the team from plateauing. Last year, Cloud9 had dominated the LCS in spring, but failed to secure a Worlds spot during the Summer Playoffs. The players have since admitted to getting complacent, so the current roster will be determined to avoid making the same mistakes.
There are plenty of teams who'll be ready to pounce if Cloud9 do slip up. 100 Thieves have now strengthened with the addition of Felix 'Abbedagge' Braun, a human highlight reel in the mid-lane, while TSM and Team Liquid also have very strong squads.
For now, though, Cloud9 are still the heavy favourites to take the LCS crown and represent NA as its top seed.
The roster has an extraordinary skill ceiling and after improving a lot during their time at MSI, including fixing their draft identity, we can expect to see a reassured yet hungry Cloud9 side dominate the LCS once more.