Reviewing the Gauntlet
In a surprising turn of events, Cloud9 (C9) has beaten ROX Armada (previously Invincible Armada) in the final stage of the 2017 Mobile Masters Invitational at the Prudential Center in New York. Armada nearly completed the “Run the Gauntlet” challenge, defeating four teams in succession – Tempo Storm, Tribe Gaming, GankStars and NRG – before ultimately falling to the last boss of the gauntlet, Cloud9. This was surprising to me, as in my eyes, Invincible Armada had always been just that: invincible. So, what led to this outcome?
Throughout the five matches of the Invitational, Armada did not significantly vary their team composition. In every match bar one, they locked in Baron as first pick, choosing him for their laner druid’s extremely capable hands. If NRG hadn’t banned Baron, it’s likely Armada would have again first-picked Baron for that match. Their jungler, Mango, chose assassins such as Taka, Blackfeather and Koshka. Their new roamer, Engineeus, taking over the role that Willy had performed superbly in the past, was the only one who changed his hero nearly every match (except for picking Glaive twice), as if eager to prove that he can play multiple heroes, and play them well.
Armada won their first four matches under twenty minutes each, with their aggressive and intimidating playstyle. All of the matches were best of one, as opposed to the usual best of three format seen in most other Vainglory tournaments. Armada won $3000 for every match won, winning a total of $12000 for four matches, a nice sum in their pocket.
In the final match, some believe Armada may have been fatigued, having played four matches with intense concentration beforehand. C9, on the other hand, were completely rested and ready, which may have played a role in the final result. In this match, Armada once again chose Baron as their first pick, following the maxim, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Bearing in mind the end result, this may have not been the best choice against Cloud9. Having seen three matches with Armada playing Baron beforehand, they were ready with a strategy to counter him. As it was a best of one format, neither team had the luxury of a rematch. I believe choosing Taka was one of the major reasons Armada ended up losing, as he did not have enough utility during teamfights. Engineeus as Lance also did not perform optimally, dying early on. Cloud9 showed incredible synergy and mechanical skill this match, with every one of their players at the top of their game. With Oldskool as Vox, gabevizzle as Ardan, and iLoveJoseph as Koshka, they were a force to be reckoned with. This match, the tables were turned. It was Cloud9’s turn to gain early advantages leading to their control of the map. For the first time in the gauntlet, it was ROX Armada that ended up fighting an uphill battle, performing well, but ultimately unable to stand up to Cloud9’s top notch synergy and execution.
To analyze exactly how Cloud9 was able to get the edge over ROX Armada, let us first look at another match of theirs. Apart from Cloud9, the team that gave them a run for their money was GankStars. The matches between GankStars and Cloud9 varied slightly in draft with the support roles of the opposition (GankStars had Lance, Cloud9 had Ardan) and Armada’s support (first Lyra, then Lance). While Lance can offer peel against a Koshka, he can’t completely negate an engagement like Lyra with her Bulwark. Where GankStars failed to capitalize on was the early-game potential of Koshka. Koshka is stronger in the early game than Taka and they needed to snowball fast before she fell off.
GankStars made a few rotations into Armada’s jungle but were not able to find many kills, objectives, or a gold lead larger than 3 thousand gold. Following a team fight at the 12 minute mark, GankStars were aced and from then on it went downhill for them. On the other hand, Cloud9 were able to snatch 2 quick kills early on and take the first turret and gold mine before the 10 minute mark. Also at this point, iLoveJoseph’s Koshka had a 20 cs lead over Mango’s Taka.
By the 13 minute mark, a 4 thousand gold lead had been amassed by Cloud9. While druid kept up with his laning efficiently, Mango was starved for gold. Around the 19 minute mark, Cloud9 just barely won a team fight and was then able to take a kraken and all of Armada’s lane turrets.
At this end point, the deciding factor in team fights was the difference between druid’s and Oldskool’s build. “I think a little bit of a mistake from ROX Armada was not playing a scaling composition. As soon as you get to the late game, that’s where it gets dangerous against Oldskool. Oldskool shines in the late game, that is what he wants”, I paraphrase FooJee. Oldskool’s Breaking Point build required him to build stacks off of Mango and Engineeus in order to deal greater amounts of damage, whereas druid’s build was for burst damage and had no scaling potential. In the two major team fights (one before kraken and the final team fight), Oldskool was just barely able to win out, and he ended the fights with 15 and 20 stacks of Breaking Point respectively.
With these builds in mind, the difference in team fighting strategies was another nail in the coffin for Armada. Knowing they were at a disadvantage and not wanting to allow Koshka to jump on their back line, they never fully committed to Oldskool and therefore he was able to build those breaking point stacks and dwindle down his target’s health. On Armada’s side, druid only kept applying a stagnant amount of damage. It’s important to note that while both GankStars and Cloud9 used assassins, Cloud9’s strategy did not prioritize the Baron, but rather his teammates. If Cloud9 could build stacks and force an early fountain of renewal from Armada, the fight would be in their favor. So, by dominating the early game and building for the late game, Cloud9 was able to pull off a winning performance in terms of momentum and map control, but they only narrowly won their team fights against Armada’s composition.
Ultimately, I wholeheartedly believe Cloud9 deserved this win, defeating the reigning World Champions. On the other hand, I also believe ROX Armada didn’t show us all the tools at their disposal, saving the other aces up their sleeves for Vainglory Worlds to come later this year. ROX Armada is still as much of a threat as before, and they’re just getting started, but Cloud9 has also reinforced that they deserve to be seen as a major threat.
Article written by DarkSquall and Ryann17