Following their dominant performance in the 2017 North American League Championship Series, all eyes were on Phoenix1 going into their semifinal match against NA stalwart Cloud9.
Despite a convincing loss to C9 in Week 9, P1 appeared to have solved many of their issues during their quarterfinals sweep of Dignitas. Their control over a 1-3-1 setup combined with C9’s early-game woes made this semifinal the NA match to watch.
But after only an hour and a half of game time, it was over.
“Week 9 we beat them pretty handily,” C9 jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia said. “And I wasn’t really expecting too much.”
In the quarterfinals, Phoenix1 had attacked Dignitas jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun by banning his strongest jungle champions. P1 devised a similar plan of attack against Contractz, banning three jungle champions in their first ban rotation in Games 1 and 3.
“I knew they’d for sure ban jungle champs because, I guess their junglers can’t play those champs or they don’t like playing against them,” Contractz said. He shrugged. “That kind of limited my pool a bit and I was stuck on Kha’zix. He’s not as strong as Rengar or Lee Sin in my opinion. It sucked for me because it did limit my pool a bit. But overall I think we came into this series really confident.”
Contractz and Cloud9 had reason to be confident. Along with the organization’s strong pedigree and history of making the finals time and time again, C9’s focus throughout the split involved integrating Contractz into their already well-developed roster. By contrast, Phoenix1 had shuffled their players around in both the regular season and postseason. Surprisingly, despite a low winrate and his comparative lack of experience with the team, Jordan “Shady” Robinson started as P1’s support for Games 1 and 2 over William “Stunt” Chen.
“I’m actually super surprised because I might be a little biased, because I’m friends with Stunt, but I think he’s just way better than Shady,” Contractz said. “I don’t know why they keep playing Shady. Sure, he’s okay but he’s not known to be super good or anything so I was surprised to see Shady in instead. It doesn’t change our preparation that much. We just have to be a bit wary that he can play Brand or Vel’Koz.”
Even with the jungle bans, Contractz was a key part of C9’s plan to shut down Phoenix1’s early jungle rotations, stymying P1’s preferred 1-3-1 setup.
“The first game we had a really good matchup for Jensen but they also had Shen and LeBlanc,” Contractz said. “It’s hard to make plays early because they’re always going to have head count unless we can push up a mid wave and rotate through river. Overall it’s just that we had really good control in bot and top river.”
Unified vision hasn’t always been one of Cloud9’s strengths. Even in his more dominant carry performances, Contractz struggled to coordinate with C9 mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen to lay down a good vision net for possible invades or tracking Contractz’s jungle opponents. Due to their lack of communication, Contractz’s risky invades or routine vision rotations were often punished harder than those of other NA junglers.
“In the beginning of the split or even at the end of the split, we honestly didn’t work that well together,” Contractz said. “We never moved together. Usually we would ward opposite sides and wouldn’t really communicate as to what side we wanted to control.”
Contractz credits the extra week of preparation for their improved coordination.
“I think now we’re working pretty well together,” he said. “[Jensen] says when he needs help, when his lane is bouncing, pushing forward, and I can be there at the right time to back him up. We’re getting better at controlling one side of the map together with pink wards.”
Despite an uneven regular season, Contractz recently received the Rookie of the Split award alongside his coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, who won the Coach of the Split.
“To be honest, I didn’t think I’d win [Rookie of the Split],” he said. “I thought Akaadian would just win it. He had a pretty dominant first half and I was pretty shaky and inconsistent throughout the split. I’m just thankful for the support I’ve received from all the fans, it’s pretty nice.”