Cloud 9’s dominance in the North American professional League of Legends scene dates back to last season, and their sustained success comes in large part to their internationally focused approach to regional competition. They pay attention to the world metagame, but incorporate their own strategies based on local influences as well. The emergence of solo lane Soraka in the North American solo-queue challenger scene is one such influence, which the team has incorporated into the highest level of professional team play. Over the course of the past few weeks, Cloud 9’s mid-laner, Hai “Hai” Lam boasts a 3-0 record with Soraka, earning a target ban status heading into their regional playoffs.
What makes the emergence of Soraka in Cloud 9’s games particularly interesting is the gradual progression and development of the champion and team composition itself over the course of the three games in which she has been featured. Unlike KT Rolster’s Kha’Zix, piloted by both sister teams Arrows and Bullets, the strategic development of Soraka in C9’s team composition seems to have taken place during competition, rather than internally in practice.
Soraka: A C9 Primer
Role: Cloud 9 features Soraka as a solo-lane champion, specifically geared towards the middle lane and piloted by Hai. Her current kit takes advantage of mana-efficient wave clear in the form of Starcall, which is used repeatedly to push the minion wave to her opponent’s tower. This pins the opposing champion to their lane, reducing the roaming capabilities of currently popular mobile picks such as Lulu, Ziggs, and LeBlanc.
Lane: Soraka’s tendency to push towers extremely hard is well-supported by her incredible self-healing. A self-cast Astral Blessing provides health recovery and a temporary armor buff that allows her to withstand engagement from different kinds of opposing jungle ganks. The attention that Hai receives from the opposing team’s jungler allows a myriad of plays to be made by Will “Meteos” Hartman, which mostly involves counter-jungling and counter-ganking the middle lane as well. At level 6, she can affect the map globally with Wish.
Team Composition: Teams built around Soraka make use of Starcall’s magic resist reduction, and primarily consist of champions that deal magic damage. The current top-lane metagame is well-suited for a Soraka-inclusive composition; Renekton’s Dominus, Shyvana’s Burnout, and Trundle’s Subjugate, among others, all benefit greatly from the area MR shred from Starcall, and are often area-effect as well. Magic-damage bottom-lane champions also benefit, such as the up-and-coming Corki pick, and AP-scaling supports such as Sona, Annie, and Morgana.
Item Build: Soraka’s teamfight potential is incredibly reliant on applying repeated applications of Starcall, which forces Cloud 9 to limit their teamfighting opportunities to only after a specific item threshold in which Hai is not only durable enough, but mobile enough to stick with the rest of his own team, as well as the enemy team. As such, the core Soraka build consists of Athene’s Unholy Grail for sustain and cooldown reduction, Rylai’s Crystal Scepter, which provides an area effect slow when using Starcall, and situation-dependent level 2 boots that provide necessary damage resistance.
Weaknesses: In the mid and late game, her non-reliance on Lich Bane makes her a poor choice for providing individual damage to towers and Baron Nashor. While she has an average base movement speed, she doesn’t have any other speed-up or slow-down abilities outside of Rylai’s, which makes her particularly poor at rotating without some form of movement speed itemization. Her strict dependency on the core build of both Athene’s Unholy Grail and Rylai’s Crystal Scepter means that she has a delayed power spike compared to other champions who can spike after the first item only. Hai’s 383.89 average gold per minute this split allows him to reach an item build of Doran’s Ring, Athene’s, Rylai’s, and Ninja Tabi in approximately 18 minutes.
Case Study: Red Side vs. Team Curse
CRS: Zed, Lee Sin, Thresh
C9: Kha’Zix, Lulu, Pantheon
CRS: Leblanc, Elise/Trundle, Caitlyn/Karma
C9: Renekton/Evelynn, Morgana/Lucian, Soraka
In week 10 of the LCS Spring Split, Cloud 9 debuts the Soraka pick against Team Curse. The last-pick Soraka comes as a bit of a surprise, even for the casters themselves. This is a last-pick call, as the picks and bans have so far set up the centrepiece of Soraka to come in at the last moment. An “Balls” Le’s Renekton is a major lane bully and will require Jungle assistance, but the Evelynn pick from Meteos will allow him to fly all over the map and make the counterjungling plays and counter-gank the middle lane against Elise.
The level 1 fight between both teams is a revelation for those unaware of Soraka’s teamfight potential. Both teams commit to the engagement, and Soraka’s magic resist shred from Starcall is useful for repeated spells. Hai uses barrier here to absorb extra hits in order to apply the necessary area affect damage to allow early kills onto Renekton and Zach “Sneaky” Scuderi’s Lucian.
Cloud 9 sets up a 2v1 mid against Joedat “Voyboy” Esfahani’s LeBlanc. While Soraka alone can push the wave early and pin LeBlanc back to her tower, Soraka performs reasonably well in this 1v2 lane thanks to her sustain and ability to safely clear waves under her own tower. With Daerek “LemonNation” Hart on Morgana in the middle lane, he has space to roam to make double-gank plays with Evelynn. Soraka also has global presence on the map with Wish, but Hai ends up switching back to mid at the 7-minute mark anyway.
While Soraka is effective in her debut here, there’s a noticeable lack of mobility coming from Hai’s build, as he doesn’t complete his Ninja tabi until 27 minutes in, and not only has he died a few times due to it, but missed a few opportunities to catch Curse with Rylai’s and stick to them. This leads to Hai’s build adjustment in the next game.
Case Study: Blue Side vs XDG Gaming
Cloud 9: Pantheon, Lee Sin, Lulu
XDG: Renekton, Kha’Zix, Lucian
Cloud 9: Evelynn, Karma/Corki, Soraka/Trundle
XDG: Shyvana/Ziggs, Elise/Thresh, Kog’Maw
Cloud 9’s Lulu ban on blue side sends an odd message, telegraphing that they have a different priority pick in mind. XDG fails to recognize that Evelynn is still up on the board, and definitely should have banned her in the third go-around, regardless of whether or not Soraka would have been picked. A blue-side Evelynn first pick does not necessarily hint at the Soraka composition, but the Karma/Corki sends a fairly strong message due to Corki’s high magic damage and Karma’s poke.
Hai makes the adjustment from the first game and builds Mercury’s Treads just before the twenty-minute mark, rounding out the core of Soraka’s build. However, Zachary “mandatorycloud” Hoschar is fairly fed at this point on Ziggs, making the hard push with Soraka relatively difficult. Meteos states during the team’s post-game interview that closing out the game is difficult because of the wave clearing ability from Ziggs, as well as the lack of crowd control in Cloud 9’s composition.
In the above teamfight at XDG’s top outer turret, Hai attempts to heal-bait with Soraka in order to force the teamfight, but the consecutive crowd control effects from both Elise’s Cocoon and Thresh’s Death Sentence (chain-cc, if you will) prevent Soraka from applying too many stacks of MR reduction, thus causing XDG to defend the turret successfully despite a number of player deaths from both sides. In order to be successful with Soraka, she needs to be constantly applying Starcall to the opposing team, and providing sustain in order to win a drawn-out teamfight. Unfortunately, LemonNation’s Mikael’s Crucible activation is still on cooldown during this fight, which could have turned the tide in their favour.
Case Study: Red Side vs Team SoloMid
TSM: Lee Sin, LeBlanc, Kha’Zix
C9: Trundle, Thresh, Lulu
TSM: Lucian, Shyvana/Karma, Elise/Gragas
C9: Renekton/Evelynn, Morgana/Corki, Soraka
Cloud 9’s final game featuring Soraka comes against Team SoloMid, whose picks and bans at this point seem to reflect poorly on their attempts to prepare for a possible Soraka composition. As red side, C9 manages to pick the Starchild once again in a composition featuring area magic damage from Renekton, Morgana, and Corki, with an Evelynn jungle that will certainly cause trouble in the middle lane and TSM’s jungle. Not only is Cloud 9’s composition ideal for Soraka, but the lack of hard cc on TSM’s side makes the decision rather easy.
The real feature of this game is not so much on Hai’s play, but rather how the presence of Soraka on the map allowed for other players to shine. Balls’ Renekton essentially won his lane against Marcus “Dyrus” Hill’s Shyvana straightforwardly and easy, as the duel between both steady top-laners goes in favour of whoever has the champion matchup advantage. Meteos also gives Brian “TheOddOne” Tran fits in the jungle, often taking advantage of Elise’s forced presence in the middle lane to either take blue-side jungle camps or simply counter-gank to force Flashes from Elise as well as Gragas, piloted by Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg.
Balls snowballs his advantage effectively, forcing difficult teamfights that fully take advantage of the Dominus/Starcall combo. TSM shows poor preparation for this match, as they continuously bait themselves into Soraka heals that lead to poor teamfights and lost towers. In the sequence below, TSM gets baited twice in the same fight, failing to kill Soraka in the first bait, but losing two champions for Corki in the second.
Alex “Xpecial” Chu commits onto Soraka with Focused Resolve, but the Meteos flanks Team SoloMid with Evelynn, turning the teamfight around and forcing TSM to retreat through the middle lane back to their own inner turret.
Despite Mantra on Inspire, Soraka manages to keep up with TSM by flashing in with Starcall and Rylai’s, continuing the engage until the inner middle turret.
Curiously, TSM tries to re-engage onto Sneaky’s Corki, and while the burst damage is sufficient to secure the kill, Hai is in perfect position to re-apply Starcall to allow Balls to tower-dive and secure a kill on Elise.
Poor decision-making on Team SoloMid’s part, combined with excellent execution on Cloud 9’s part, allows numerous Soraka-centric plays to thoroughly drive the entire game in the latter team’s favour, resulting in a one-sided affair and a secured top seed for Cloud 9.
Sweet Starchild o’ Mine
The emergence of Soraka as a middle lane champion for Cloud 9’s crucial victories during Super Week in the North American LCS reinforces their reputation as a world-class professional League of Legends team. Their ability to develop ideas from the local metagame into a dominant strategy in the LCS is an indicator of how they’ve used their time in the LCS itself as an opportunity to prepare for international competition.
Soraka has her share of vulnerabilities, namely her delayed power spike, lack of mobility, and siege potential, which prevent her from being perceivably overpowered; however, a great deal of preparation is required in order to plan against this strategy. While her time in the North American spotlight may have very well been her last due to potential must-ban status against Cloud 9, she remains an indicator of the team’s commitment to independent strategy development, with an eye for the world metagame.