Sports

Cloud9 takes esports to the next level

After making data analytics a major part of their strategy, the professional esports organization Cloud9 pulled off its first League of Legends Championship win in six years.

A legendary name in the esports community, Cloud9 has spent the past six years coming extremely close to victory with a string of second-place finishes. However, thanks in part to adding data analytics to their preparation strategy, the team finally pulled off the win, becoming the 2020 League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split champions.

With a remarkable 17-1 record, the Cloud9 team did more than just win—they completely dominated the competition. Making the accomplishment even more impressive, the team pulled off the record-breaking season with a new roster and team culture.

Off

Enjoyed by millions of players around the world, League of Legends is a dynamic game that has grown over the years to take center stage in esports. Even though the multiplayer online battle arena game has been around for a decade, mastering it takes an ongoing investment of time, skill-building, and developing an impressive knowledge of the game. It is ever evolving, with Riot Games releasing new patches or updates to League that changes the strengths and weaknesses of champions every two weeks. With over 140 champions for players to choose from and a combination of 10 champions battling it out throughout a match, the strategies for victory are endless.

There’s no shortage of data in League of Legends, including champion selection, win rates, builds, and historical team drafting strategies. The ultimate challenge is how to leverage the data to find the competitive edge. Cloud9 collaborated with Microsoft to develop solutions that allow coaches and players to train, draft, recruit, and play at championship level.

I think that data has a huge role to play in League of Legends.

Eric “Licorice” Ritchie, LCS Top Laner, Cloud9
A woman working on a computer and presenting to a group.

For the win

Using the power of Microsoft Azure, Cloud9’s Game Insights Platform dynamically takes in information from a variety of sources—including the game’s own API and, more impressively, from actual video of matches. Using computer vision to create millions of data points, the system can track the movements of all 10 players throughout a match and draw critical insights that Cloud9 players and coaches can leverage during their match preparation.

Driving this new effort, Cloud9’s lead data scientist Halee Mason has been critical to the team’s success. A diamond-level League of Legends player herself, Halee and her colleague Danny Brady have paired an intimate understanding of the game with in-depth data analysis, helping Cloud9 with everything from champion selection to scrim feedback.

Drafting a competitive team

In addition to tracking player movement, Cloud9 uses Microsoft tools to focus on the draft, a critical moment in League of Legends competition. With the changing meta and team tendencies to draft and ban particular champions, the Cloud9 Power BI dashboard helps the coaches and players prepare for each draft with a strategy for success.

Carefully constructing a team of five champions requires team alignment and practice to get the competitive edge on opponents with strategic counter-picks and protective bans. Throughout the week, the coaches and players create simulations based on historical data to prepare for real-time decision making based on situations they may encounter during their weekend matches.

A group of men looking at a laptop computer.

Preparing for battle

During each split, Cloud9 players and coaches craft their weekly schedule to prepare for the upcoming weekend matches. Every day includes a morning workout, scheduled scrims against other teams, and team meetings.

Throughout the week, the players and coaches consult the Cloud9 Power BI dashboard to review which champions their opponents are competing against and who they've historically drafted. Before implementing the dashboard, players and coaches used to search websites for hours to glean similar insights. Providing Cloud9 players and coaches with these trends and patterns allows the team to focus on preparing and applying these insights to anticipate their opponent’s next move.

Meet the players

Eric "Licorice" Ritchie, Top Laner

"Having data available just helps us practice more efficiently, and have better focuses for what we should be practicing, and for what champions I should be practicing or what I should be prepared to play against."

Yasin "Nisqy" Dincer, Mid Laner

"Data just made it easier for us, before we might have not played as many champions if we didn't have the data or we would maybe play differently. I do believe that the talent was still there, but data just made it even easier for us to succeed."

Bobby "Blaber" Huang, Jungler

"I went to the Microsoft Hackathon and I worked with a bunch of Microsoft employees that were working on projects for C9 to help us in a way. Mainly they were just projects to help our team function easier."

Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen, ADC

"I appreciate that I can just ask someone, hey, what are people doing with this champion, starting items, support, champion of choice, runes, build order, and items. Data helped me a lot to get a good grasp of a new champion to learn faster than anyone else."

Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme, Support

"Data and technology has just made our whole process easier. It's just a lot more efficient to look at the data tool that we have and look at all the champions."

Looking to the future

Innovating and optimizing data analytics at Cloud9 doesn’t stop with the current solutions. Cloud9 and Microsoft continue to collaborate on future technology, including at a two-day hackathon that took place late last year. Pairing Halee Mason, Cloud9 owner Jack Eitenne, Senior Data Engineer Danny Brady, and Cloud9 jungler Blaber with around 100 Microsoft employees, the group created prototypes that might one day make their way into the Cloud9 toolkit to gain the competitive edge—not just in League of Legends, but also in games like Team Fight Tactics and Super Smash Bros.

While it’s still too early to say what’s coming next, as the team continues to drive esports innovation alongside the tireless work of their champion players, one thing is for certain—second place just isn’t enough for Cloud9.