Cloud9’s League of Legends Worlds 2022 campaign came to a close following a final Group Stage defeat to reigning champion EDward Gaming. Similarly to its regional peers, C9 has struggled to make an impact throughout the tournament, picking up only a single win against LEC side Fnatic.
As the first seed of a major region, C9’s early exit can certainly be deemed a failure. However, this iteration has only existed for a few months, having finally come together three weeks into the 2022 LCS Summer Split, and its ceiling has clearly yet to be reached.
If there’s anyone who knows how far C9 can go in its current state, it’s head coach Max Waldo. Having only come into the role in February, at just 23 years-old, Waldo may be the youngest and least-experienced coach at the Worlds main stage, but with an LCS title already under his belt the fledgling coach has proven himself a more-than-worthy leader.
During an interview with The Loadout, conducted at the end of Day Five of the Group Stage, Waldo opens up about his first year as a coach, C9’s time at LoL Worlds, working with Nicolaj ‘Jensen’ Jensen, where NA goes next as a region, and a certain turret-toting champion that could yet make more appearances on the Worlds stage.
The Loadout: Mr. Max Waldo, thank you for joining us. I just wanted to start by getting some general thoughts from you on Cloud9’s Worlds campaign. It feels – and correct me if I’m wrong – like you spent a fair amount of time on-stage trying to figure out what sorts of drafts worked for you, and what that winning formula would be?
Max Waldo: So some general thoughts are that we’re a really new team – we all only got together in the third week of summer, so we had those six weeks. And then we had playoffs, where we ended up winning summer and becoming champions. So I’m really proud of how this team has gone so far in such a short period of time.
I think a lot of times we have a lot of different directions where we want to go, and where we know we can be successful. And I think we’ll get better and better as time goes on at really locking that down quickly.
That formulation came to fruition briefly today with a win against Fnatic, which was part of what I can imagine has been an absolute rollercoaster of a day for you – going from hopium to copium. So what has that process been like for you from game to game, start to finish?
So [when it came to] our plan for the draft against Fnatic, we had a really clear idea on what would be best for us. We executed on our conditions really well, and that game was really nice for us. For EDG and T1, they’re really good teams, and we’re a really new, fresh team. So it’s really daunting playing against, you know, such strong opponents – it’s difficult to get the advantages that you can expect you might get in a draft.
For the EDG draft, for example, we wanted to draft stronger early game against their one-two Maokai to be able to control space around objectives a lot easier. But, of course, we fell behind in the early game, so it was difficult for us to control that space. And then we can’t re-enter against Maokai and Thresh – placing saplings in the bush and then hooking us when we’re slow. Just falling behind early made it so difficult to win this game. And the draft against you T1… do you have any questions?
I mean I loved it – perhaps for all the wrong reasons! With the T1 draft I assumed this was everyone having a bit more fun, but at the same time were picks like Bel’Veth and Heimerdinger things that you had actually prepared for some point in the tournament, but didn’t find spots in the draft for?
Heimerdinger is an idea at the tournament that not only Cloud9 had – there’s other teams that are playing Heimerdinger. It wasn’t the perfect situation for it, but we wanted to use it in this game.
It was also against T1 that we got to play matchups where we got to really show our mechanical skills. So Fudge got to play Fiora against Jayce, Jensen got to play Akali against Sylas, and Jensen got multiple solo kills against Faker – two if I remember correctly – so he got to show Faker how to play Akali/Sylas so I’m really happy.
Honestly I was like “wow, C9 Incarnati0n has joined the server!” It was so good to see Jensen do what he does best on the Worlds stage. He’s only been with you guys for such a short time, so what’s it been like having him and his experience – especially his Worlds experience – here throughout this process?
Jensen is really good to work with. It’s also reassuring when you have Jensen on your team because he’s never missed Worlds. Throughout Summer Split we were like ‘alright guys, Jensen’s never missed it, so we’re gonna get it this year’ and we did.
Conversations with Jensen are great. He’s really open, really thoughtful, [and there’s] ideas he’ll think about really well. He takes a lot of things into account and he’s super enjoyable [to be around]. Every conversation I’ve had with Jensen goes super well – a lot of times better than I can imagine.
That’s lovely to hear. I actually want to circle back to the Donger real quick, because you were saying that other teams have been trying it. Today wasn’t quite the spot for it, so where is the spot for Heimerdinger at Worlds? Because I want to see more of that!
Oh, well, you should talk to Tristan ‘Zeyzel’ Stidam – he’s the man to talk to about Heimerdinger. But mainly the spots you want to pick Heimerdinger – wow Zeyzel would be so good, if we could get him in the room…
[Usually you think about Heimerdinger] when pushing lanes will suffocate the opponents. Heimerdinger historically has also been really strong against champions that have to engage onto you. Because once you commit against Heimerdinger, he has all his turrets down and then he’ll ult and place another turret, or he’ll ult and use his grenade to stun everybody. So he’s really good against teams that have to commit onto you.
He’s also good because he can push a lot of different lanes, and that sort of locks this opponent to ‘I’m stuck in lane and it’s difficult to recall, and I have limited options’. But Zeyzal can talk to you about Heimerdinger for an hour if you want him to.
I’m definitely up for that! You’ve spoken about how you’re a very fresh team, and you yourself are very new to your position. You’ve faced your own personal challenges this year I’m sure, between everything in spring that led to you taking up the mantle and the changes in summer. And, yet, you’ve still managed to win an LCS title and get C9 to Worlds in your first year as a head coach. So I’d love to get some more personal reflections on your year, and where you feel you’ve grown the most throughout?
Well, first of all, thank you, that’s a beautiful description of how this year has gone. So how I’ve grown the most… how I’m feeling about the whole year… I’ve definitely improved a lot, [but] parallel to that I’m not totally satisfied with where I am – I’ve identified a lot of areas where I have to improve.
When we won [LCS] Finals, I remember someone asked me a similar question. And I talked about holding on tight to outcomes, and how if you let go of certain outcomes, it’s freeing. You don’t feel like things have to go a certain way, or have to be just as planned or perfect, right? You don’t want to let perfect be the enemy of good.
Another big area of growth that I’ve experienced this year is ‘balance’. I have struggled with balance a lot, and I still struggle with it. But compared to myself, let’s say five years ago when I was in high school, I live a much more balanced, organised, and well put together life. And I think a lot of that is because of Cloud9 and the structure it has given me.
I think a lot of that is also from the people at Cloud9 – the staff, the managers, Jack [Etienne] – having conversations with me and talking to me about how important this responsibility is, and what I can do with it to be a really great, positive influence to people.
I think that’s another big area where I’ve been able to balance a lot of responsibilities, and also being able to do a lot of fun things without really falling into too many pitfalls, at least for now. So, that means sleep good, eat good, workout, and work as much as you can inbetween.
That’s a beautiful summation, thank you for that. Thinking about the rest of the region, regardless of how the rest of the Group Stage plays out, North America has struggled this year. I want to get your thoughts on where you feel the region needs to push on from here.
It’s tough, I’m not going to have the best solution. But in Korea and China they have a larger player population, lower ping, more access to practice, and they practice more. So maybe our LCS schedule should be different – it’s a thought, I’m not 100% sure about that.
Maybe instead of playing five games, we should adopt the schedule that is commonly being done at Worlds, and what teams in Korea and China do where they play three matches, take a break, and play three more. Maybe that would help us, but I think that’s a small increment of improvement where there’s a much bigger area we have to improve on, so I don’t know what’s in between there. I think that’s a start, but this is a big issue that I don’t think I’m going to be the only person working on solving…
It’s a good stepping stone, and I’m not going to make you fry your brain thinking about it more after a long day! Last big question I have is regarding the meta, because I feel like we’re really starting to see teams proficient in playing these carry toplaners start to come out on top. As we progress into the Knockout Stage, do you feel that these teams will start to dominate those who play your Ornns and Maokais in the top lane?
It’s definitely difficult to blind pick a lot of the tanks when you’re against toplaners that can play the Camilles, Fioras, Gangplanks, right? So today we one-two’d Ornn against Fnatic, and they just put Maokai top and they lost lane to Ornn.
But if we want to [play] Ornn against EDG or T1, it’s Jayce, Fiora, Camille, Gangplank – there are so many picks that are going to beat Ornn in lane that are going to beat Maokai and Sejuani in lane as well. It’s just more difficult when you’re against a team that has access to so many different picks. You have to consider a lot more in draft, and the order in which you pick your champions has to be much more precise and intentional.
Very quickly before you go, who’s your favourite to win it all at this point?
EDG or T1 – they knocked us out! But I want to decide on one, hold on… I’ll take EDG, they looked the strongest today [despite losing to T1].