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Unpacking the biggest upset in LCS finals history — NRG vs Cloud9 LCS Summer Finals

NRG caused the upset of the decade over a dominant Cloud9. We break it all down

There’s no denying that NRG’s 3-1 win over Cloud9 in the finals of the 2023 League Championship Series Championship is the biggest finals upset in the competition’s 11-year history. Cloud9 was heavily favored coming into the series and hadn’t lost a single game in the post-season. NRG, on the other hand, had been swept by C9 one week prior and was less than 24 hours removed from scraping out a 3-2 win in the lower bracket final against Team Liquid Honda.

So how exactly did NRG pull off such an amazing upset to win their first LCS title as an organization? Let’s take a closer look at a few key factors that allowed NRG to topple C9 in the finals of the 2023 LCS Championship.

Shutting down the chocolate factory

C9 wins many of their games through bot lane. AD carry Kim “Berserker” Min-cheol is almost universally considered to be the most talented player in the LCS, and his strong teamfighting is matched with impressive 2v2 threat due to the synergy he’s built with support Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen across the past three splits. Oftentimes, it’s top laner Ibrahim “Fudge” Allami who lanes conservatively and absorbs pressure gracefully while C9 gain advantages through bot, mid, or sometimes in the jungle 1v1 due to Robert “Blaber” Huang’s superb early game pathing.

NRG flipped the script in the finals, opting to focus Fudge heavily with pressure from their jungler, Juan “Contractz” Garcia, but occasional visits from NRG mid laner Cristian “Palafox” Palafox and support Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun. Fudge’s play was certainly not the only factor in NRG’s upset, but C9 was unprepared for such a strong top side focus and it showed in the difference in cohesion between the two teams on that side of the map.

Unexpected picks

One of the most impressive parts of NRG’s win over C9 was the way NRG approached drafting. Despite being pushed to the brink of elimination the previous day, NRG pulled out several picks that they had not shown the entire post-season.

NRG AD carry Victor “FBI” Huang played his first two Zeri games of the post-season, which allowed him to absorb early game pressure while scaling into a point of relevance in the teamfights where he shines for his squad. Top laner Niship "Dhokla" Doshi played Jax in all three wins for NRG in the series after not playing it once in the post-season, and Contractz’s early game pressure towards the top side of the map put Fudge at enough disadvantage for Dhokla to get the better of him on several occasions throughout the series.

There’s no doubt that NRG was in superior form when compared to C9, but the way they approached the series in terms of draft prep was a huge factor in catching C9 off-balance.

Mid gap

There’s no nicer way to say it – Cloud9 mid laner Jang "EMENES" Min-soo was outclassed by his opponent in the finals of the LCS Championship. Palafox has been a pivotal part of NRG’s success all summer and hit a new career peak throughout the post-season, but his play opposite of EMENES was a masterclass.

With Azir missing from EMENES’ champion pool, C9 was forced to ban the Emperor of Shurima throughout the series to prevent Palafox from running rampant on the powerful mid laner. Despite this, Palafox still got the better of EMENES more often than not, even in the sole loss NRG suffered to C9 in game 1. In game 2, Palafox took center stage with an 8/1/7 Jayce performance and then allowed FBI to steal the show in game 3, opting for a successful utility role with a 3/1/18 Taliyah game.

The lack of Azir for EMENES wasn’t the only issue. After playing a decent Jayce game in game 1, EMENES reverted to popular spring picks Annie and Ahri in game 2 and 3 respectively and failed to match Palafox’s impact both in lane and around the map.

In game 4, EMENES looked like he could be the saving grace of C9 with a 4/0/0 start on Yone, but he was caught out multiple times in the mid game and ended the game with 4/5/3 triple-slash. Mid lane was not the only reason C9 lost to NRG, but Palafox’s dominance in the matchup throughout the series cannot be understated.

It’s important to acknowledge that, like C9’s 3-0 win over NRG in the previous round of the post-season, that the games were more competitive than the score of the series may indicate. Even with superior play and advantages across the map, game 3 and 4 were decided in the late, late stages of the each game. Throughout the series, there were many moments that C9 could have clawed back like they have so many times in the past year.

History has a tendency to gloss over details, especially as time passes. The nuances of the series itself will give way to the fact that NRG’s 3-1 win over Cloud9 in the finals of the 2023 LCS Championship is the greatest upset in LCS finals history.