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Cloud9 have found their first win of the 2023 Mid-Season Invitational. After beginning the tournament with a disappointing 0-3 loss to League of Legends Pro League 2nd seed Bilibili Gaming, C9 took down their fellow North American representative Golden Guardians 3-1 in the lower bracket. The series was a rematch of the finals of the 2023 League Championship Series Spring Playoffs, and like that match just one month ago, C9 took the win in four games. GG’s run at MSI is over, while Cloud9 will move on to face League of Legends Champions Korea 1st seed Gen.G on Wednesday, May 17.

After the win over Golden Guardians, Cloud9 support Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen spoke to Esports Illustrated about his team’s first two matches at MSI 2023, how he and his teammates are growing throughout the tournament, and his thoughts on the format changes for this year’s iteration of the competition.

What was the game plan against Golden Guardians today? Did your recent match against them in the finals of the LCS Spring Playoffs impact how you approached today's series?

Not really. I think the meta has changed way too much. I think there are some things that haven't changed, like Annie and Maokai being high-priority picks. Golden Guardians have definitely upped their game since the LCS finals. Even though the outcome of the series was still 3-1, I think both of these series' could have been five games. I think Golden Guardians should have won game 2 today, and then they would have been up on us 2-1.

We just knew we were better. I think this meta fits us better in some roles. For example, Aphelios/Jinx meta is better for us in my opinion because of Berserker, while the mid lane meta is not suited for EMENES. Tank mids aren't really his forte, he's more of a carry player on control mages or champions like Akali and LeBlanc. Some things are good for us; some things are bad for us, but overall, I think we can always rely on having better laners and overall better players.

This is your second series of the tournament after losing 0-3 to Bilibili Gaming. Was there anything you picked up in that loss that helped today?

The BLG series was a bit disappointing because we are doing pretty well against them in scrims overall, so we felt confident that they were a team we could actually beat compared to T1, JDG, and Gen.G, but we didn't show up on stage that day at all. I think we had some bad drafts and we played very poorly around easy timings.

For example, when we played Nocturne, we used Paranoia, whiffed all of our spells, and lost top tower for dragon. We blew our whole gold lead on that, and we were bleeding on our side waves in the mid-game because we were being indecisive.

Overall, our mid game against BLG was very poor. We were bleeding minions in the side waves because we were losing the standoff in mid to Lucian and Nami. We didn't have enough engage to go in on them, so we had to play to sides, but we didn't. It's one of those things where we can't rely on being better than our opponents against Asian teams, so our drafts aren't as good, and then we're losing in game because we aren't sure how to play our draft against theirs. It's hard to explain, but yeah, our drafts against BLG weren't as good as our drafts against Golden Guardians.

We also weren't sure how to play the comps we had against BLG because BLG is playing a little differently than everyone else. Their Lucian/Nami priority is higher than most other teams, and they are very good in the mid game when Bin is playing a splitpusher like Jax, Fiora or Gnar. It's hard to deal with and it's not something we're used to playing against.

That's the biggest difference between BLG and other teams in this tournament. I don't think it's the most effective way of playing the game right now, but BLG likes the carry tops, and it's how they play most games.

In addition to the meta changes you described, we're also seeing some more carry junglers. However, it still seems like the game is played mostly through bot lane. What are your thoughts on the meta at MSI 2023?

Some teams are very heavily bot-focused. T1 will pick Jinx or Aphelios and four tanks and do anything they have to do to get Jinx or Aphelios ahead. If they have Sion, they will lane swap, no matter what, as we saw them do against Gen.G, for example. These teams will do whatever it takes to get their ADC ahead because that's mostly how they win games. Gen.G also has Chovy as a win condition, but overall, the bot lane priority is crazy. You see the same thing with JDG and Ruler.

The only team that stands out is BLG with Bin being more of a carry player than a tank player, but yeah, a lot of teams in this tournament — especially the Asian teams — will do whatever it takes to get their ADC ahead. They will lane-swap with Sion, die to tower, and be down 20 CS the whole game to get the ADC ahead. They will trade 1 for 1 and things like that, and I think that's the right way to play the game right now because Aphelios and Jinx are a bit overtuned compared to the rest of the ADCs in the game.

Lulu, tanks, and hypercarries is a very easy way of playing the game right now, especially when your team has a strong AD carry. I think all the AD carries in this tournament are very good.

The format of MSI 2023 is drastically different from previous iterations of the tournament. How has playing fewer opponents changed the way you prepare leading up to the event, and do you prefer this format to those of previous years?

I like that there are less best-of-ones than previously, but I dislike that an unlucky draw means fans don't get to see NA vs. EU or LCK vs. LPL. It sucks that Golden Guardians had to go out playing against a team they've already played against in the LCS finals. Same thing for MAD Lions against G2 — we've all seen that one before, and I think most fans would have much rather seen G2 vs. Golden Guardians and C9 vs. MAD Lions. That kind of thing would be much more fun to watch for most fans, so that kind of sucks that that can happen, but I guess there's no format where that entirely couldn't happen.

I think this format is better than the old format where you play a bunch of best-of-ones then the top four make the big stage. There are upsides and downsides, but overall, I like that there are no best-of-ones. I think best-of-ones are just not healthy for the game. The only good thing about it is it gives you more "EU vs. NA" or other rivalry matches because you're guaranteed to have at least a few.

When we spoke in New York at Worlds 2022, you mentioned that you felt you weren't able to make adjustments after losing your first three best-of-one matches. How would you say your team's performance at Worlds 2022 compares to this team — with 4/5 of the same roster as last year — and how you've performed at MSI 2023 so far?

To date, I have not played this role for a whole year. I think June f*****g 20th of last year was my first game as a support player. I'm improving every single day. I'm playing against and learning from people like Keria, Hylissang, and Mikyx. They have different good qualities — the craziness of the EU supports vs. how smart the Korean support players are vs. how skilled the LPL supports are — to pick up on.

I think I learn something new every single day. Sometimes, I look like a clown on stage, and that's fine, because someone has to do it, but I'm improving every single day and we are improving every day as a team. I feel confident that, with more time, we can be so much better at Worlds.

Even if MSI isn't our tournament, I think people like EMENES are learning so much from this tournament. He's learning he has to be a lot less selfish and be a team player by playing Annie, K'Sante, Sion, Ornn, Lissandra — that kind of s**t. As a support player, I'm improving so much every day, even if you don't always see it. Like I said, sometimes I'll look like a clown on stage.

C9 Zven and C9 Blaber at MSI 2023

C9 Berserker and Zven at MSI 2023

What can you say about Berserker's development? This year, he's already added another LCS title and MVP award to his collection, and even in the loss against BLG, he seemed to get the better of his individual matchup more often than not.

He has definitely gone from being a selfish, 'it's all about me' player to being a player who understands the team game. I think, in the past, he would tend to not sacrifice for the greater good of the team. For example, at Worlds 2022 in our first game against Fnatic, he picked Miss Fortune into Aphelios for his own comfort, even though the team needed something else in that game. He's learned from that, and I think I helped him with those kinds of things.

I think he's making a lot of progress, both in communication with better English and also just having a better understanding of our team culture. And also just being a better player. I think he's improving very, very fast and he's very, very talented and skilled.

I'm happy to be playing with him. I feel like, sometimes, I'm dragging him down a little bit, but it goes both ways, right? I think on stage against BLG, we had some moments in the lane where I think if Berserker had played better, we would have gotten 2v2 kills in our Xayah/Rakan games. He could have Flashed a Nami bubble, but he made a mistake that game. Then, I made a mistake in the next game.

We're a duo and we always talk together about our mistakes after every game. It doesn't matter if it's scrims or stage games, we talk. We watch the replays and we improve, so I'm very happy about our communication as a duo. We can always talk to each other without tilt no matter what and just improve from our mistakes.

We've spent a lot of time looking back from this current moment, so for my last question, let's look forward. Any thoughts on Cloud9's next matchup against Gen.G?

I think Gen.G showed some weaknesses against T1. It could have been a 3-0 for T1 very easily. I think that it was interesting to see how the drafts changed over time. Gen.G opted to ban either Aphelios or Jinx in the first ban phase and then first pick the other to avoid that matchup. They got pretty hard in that series.

I think Gen.G is a much more standard team than T1. They're the type of team we can play against. I'm not saying we'll win or we're favored, but we can definitely play against them, while teams like T1 or JDG are a little bit too strong for us. Gen.G is someone we can at last compete against, so we'll see how it goes.

All images by: Colin Young-Wolff via Riot Games