The evolution of coaching in LCS

Around two years ago head coaches became a necessity for teams in the LCS. In the younger years of professional League of Legends most teams didn’t have the money to support having a head coach. Due to how young the professional scene still was, there wasn’t much availability for people looking to coach. Even if there was a coach, he was mostly just an analyst that helped bounce ideas off the players.

The scene has evolved, making a coach a necessity now. Not just an in-house analyst either. A coach must be able to lead these young players in their professional career. They must be able to give out criticism properly, while also demanding the respect of the players.

Over the past years we’ve seen what having a good coach can do for a team. We’ve also seen the other side of things when a coach can have a negative impact on a team.

Early LCS

When professional LoL started there wasn’t much structure among teams. For the most part you had five players living together with maybe a team manager that helped with scheduling and making sure they were taken care of. Coaching hadn’t really become a necessity yet until Korea began their reign over all the other regions. The West seemed way behind and needed help to catch up.

In the early days of LCS not many coaches had come about yet. Most of the coaches we see today are former players themselves. Teams maybe had an analyst at best, but nothing like a head coach that would need to solve internal issues along with having game knowledge.

Korean coaching

Photo via Riot Games

It’s no secret that Korea has taken over as the best region in terms of competing in professional League of Legends. Korea has taken home the title for four straight years now. SKT head coach Kim “kkOma” Jung-gyun has been apart of every SKT championship and is heralded as the best coach in professional LoL.

North America followed suit hiring several Korean coaches over the past few splits. Most notably Cloud 9’s Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu and Immortals Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo have found much success with their teams after coming over.

 

Before Reapered became coach, Cloud 9 seemed lost without former captain/shotcaller Hai “Hai” Lam on the roster. Immortals were in the same boat before SSONG joined the team this summer. With SSONG coaching, Immortals has jumped from 7th place to 1st place taking wins off many of the top teams from last split. Their macro play has also improved immensely from last split. 

Korean coaches seem to know how to get the most out of their players. They also demand more as an authoritative figure, while also knowing how to deal with internal issues. SSONG and Reapered are accredited with much of their teams’ success since they’ve been brought on.

Western Players’ Mindsets

One could argue that coaching players in the West is much different than their eastern counterparts, or at least in Korea. In Korea, kids are brought up respecting their elders, while in the West kids are brought up more loose. Korean players have also stated that after coming to NA they think it’s much more relaxed compared to training in Korea.

The West seems to lack many good coaches. With some veterans retiring throughout the years, some have stepped up to become decent coaches such as Dignitas’ Cop and Saintvicious. We’ve also seen different personalities, such as Scarra and Lemonnation, not have much success as a coach. CLG’s head coach, Zikz, has received much praise for his coaching. TSM’s anlayst, Parth, has also been around the scene for awhile now.

We’ve also seen in EU with Origen a few splits back not really feeling the need for a coach. It feels that many Western players didn’t see the need for a coach a few seasons ago. That mindset has changed a bit, but some players are still reluctant on just how effective a coach can really be.

The present

Coaches today can’t just be analysts. They must be able to have an authoritative role over their players while also being able to deal with internal issues amongst the teams. Coaches have to know how to effectively get the most out of each practice and also know how to do pick/bans. Coaches have slowly developed into becoming vital in a team’s success.

Cover photo by Riot Esports 

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Dreamhack Summer 2017 Preview

Dreamhack returns for their first event back in Jönköping, Sweden this weekend. With several top teams and even a newcomer to the top tier, Dreamhack Summer 2017 is going to be a platform for teams to prove themselves.

 

Group A

SK Gaming

SK Gaming coming into Dreamhack Summer are the favourites to take the title in Sweden. Recent wins at cs_summit and IEM Sydney can back this up, as well as a semifinal finish at the ESL Pro League finals last weekend.

Photo by: hltv.org

Since adding João “felps” Vasconcellos in February, SK Gaming have had a resurgence in performance. While they had two disappointing finishes at IEM Katowice and Starladder i-League Season 3 in Kiev, the team has made three finals and one semifinal. Along with this journey, a slumping Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo has been able to rise up once again and become one of the top AWPers and IGLs in the world.

With Fernando “fer” Alvarenga looking at his best recently, SK Gaming are looking to take the title in Jönköping this weekend.

mousesports

Looking their best in a very long time, mousesports could be considered one of the favourites for the event. Having star level performances from Tomáš “oskar” Šťastný and a constantly improving Robin “ropz” Kool, mouz look to be taking the title or at least a top 2 finish.

When Nikola “NiKo” Kovač left the team in February, a lot of people thought that the team would be in the dumps. After adding in oskar in the place of NiKo, mouz looked impressive. Stealing the third seed in the EU division of ESL Pro League, and then one semifinal place at DH Tours, topping that off with a quarterfinal finish at the EPL Finals in Dallas; mouz have left people with mouths wide open.

A new and improved mousesports might be the recipe for success, and could possibly lead Chris “chrisJ” de Jong and his boys to the trophy this weekend.

Immortals

Photo by: hltv.org

After two events with their new pickup, Vito “kNg” Giuseppe, Immortals look sort of lost in game. With no clear or proper leadership, and the need for constant double AWP setups, Immortals might leave Sweden with a bucket full of disappointment.

Recently, Immortals with their new lineup have attended two LAN tournaments. Getting an upset win against G2 and a win against Cloud9 at the EPL Finals, they left without a chance at playoffs. A week later they went over to the Americas Minor and ended in 2nd place, losing out to a very confident Cloud9 in the Grand Finals. You can definitely make the argument that Immortals need more time, and I personally agree that they do need more time. But in terms of form, mousesports and SK Gaming are a mile above the Immortals.

Immortals are looking to come into Dreamhack Summer to prove themselves, and to prove kNg as a player. If the team come in their top form they can easily make playoffs, and unless they do, it will be a struggle.

Singularity

Coming in as the Danish underdogs, Singularity are going into this event looking to prove themselves and show the world what they got. In a group with two out of four of the toughest teams at the event, Singularity have a long road ahead of them coming into the group stage.

Battling their way through the European qualifier, Singularity faced the rising Team123, as well as the Polish Pride Gaming. Holstering their star Allan “AnJ” Jensen, Singularity essentially out-skilled most of their opponents throughout the qualifier.

With very little experience at a high level, Singularity will have plenty of issues coming into this event. With more experience, this team could make their way to the top of tier 2, and this event could be the boost they need.

 

Group B

Gambit

The Kazakhstani powerhouse have been the best team coming out of the CIS region in 2017. With the leadership of Daniil “Zeus” Teslenko and firepower of Dauren “AdreN” Kystaubayev and Abay “HObbit” Khasenov, Gambit have soared in the rankings coming into the second half of the year.

Photo by: gambit.gg

With a win at DH Austin and a second place finish at cs_summit, Gambit have shown that they are able to go far in tournaments. Something which they struggled with at the beginning of the year. With that as well, their recent form coming into the event is probably enough to get them to second place or even a win at Dreamhack Summer.

In the group stage, Gambit should have no problems. They’ve shown they’re well above Cloud9 and CLG in terms of skill, although they did lose to CLG at Starladder. Fnatic may be the only team to give them problems, and even then they’re a favourite in that matchup.

Fnatic

With the home field advantage, Fnatic are looking to come in swinging when they show up on stage. After narrowly going out in groups at EPL Dallas, fnatic are going to come back and they’ll surely be ready to attack.

With a legendary lineup, arguably the best in all of CS:GO, Fnatic reformed after the ELEAGUE Major. Since then, they’ve had some pretty disappointing results. Only making playoffs at one out of four of the $250k+ tournaments they attended. While Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer has made a comeback in his performance, Fnatic as a whole have been a let down. Many looked to them as possible contenders for the number one spot, but they seem to be barely breaking in to the top 10.

With all that being said, Fnatic are in their own country. They’ll have the crowd and confidence on their side. While they should make playoffs, it’s hard to say if they could go any further.

Cloud9

Cloud9 have been the face of disappointment since their win at the ESL Pro League Season 4 Finals in October of last year. They’ve failed to make it out of groups at any big tournament, as well as failing to qualify for the ELEAGUE Major.

Carrying the same lineup, Cloud9 have refused to make any much needed changes. Mike “shroud” Grzesiek has been under-performing immensely since the EPL Finals. With a recently rising Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham, Cloud9 have failed to do anything significant other than winning the Americas Minor this past weekend. While many still say that Cloud9 are the best team in North America, they’re still very far from any meaningful ranking worldwide.

Although coming off steaming hot from their performance at the minor, Cloud9 have very little to show for what they can do at Dreamhack Summer. There is a small chance that Cloud9 could make it to the playoffs, but it’s a very slim one.

Counter Logic Gaming

CLG have been steadily rising since bringing back Pujan “FNS” Mehta into their lineup. With much needed leadership, the team was able to make their mark on the international scene and make their name something to talk positive about again.

Photo by: hltv.org

Bringing in Ricky “Rickeh” Mulholland brought in some much needed firepower. With Rickeh being one of the most consistent players on the team, Kenneth “Koosta” Suen slowly rose up as the team’s star player, finally living up to his potential as a top tier AWPer. While not having much experience aside from Starladder, he showed at the tournament why he can be considered one of the best AWPers in NA, if not the best.

CLG have nothing to lose and everything to win coming into Dreamhack Summer. If the right cards are played, we could definitely see CLG in the playoffs.

Featured image by: Dreamhack

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Does Team Liquid Deserve Their LCS Spot?

After a problematic first week in the North American League Championship Series, Team Liquid’s shaky start promotes questions of the competitive integrity within the League itself. Not too long ago, Team Liquid faced relegations at the end of the Spring Split. Their participation in the Summer Promotion tournament following their poor performance throughout the Spring Split was aided through the convenient substitution of some of the League’s best players: “Adrian” Ma and Peter “DoubleLift” Yilang.

 

CLG bring TL their first loss of the weekend through expert dragon control. Courtesy of lolesports

With Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin in the mid lane, Team Liquid was in dire need of a powerhouse bottom lane, and they bought it. Through “renting” these two players, Team Liquid successfully paid their way out of relegations; conveniently so, as franchising has now begun. In renting DoubleLift, TL successfully rented one of the most mechanically proficient players while also securing a venerated shot caller currently at the head of TSM.

 

 

Team 0-2

Currently, Team Liquid sits at 0-2 in the standings. Their losses against Echo Fox and Counter Logic Gaming were both head scratchers in very different ways. Against CLG, Team Liquid were gifted three kills onto Piglet’s Jhin, followed by ten minutes of TL shuffling up and down the river looking for plays they could not find. In game two of TL vs CLG, dragon control led to an inevitable four stack Elder, allowing CLG to dismantle TL in a team fight forty minutes in the making.

Echo Fox versus TL proved Team Liquid had more weaknesses than substitutions could patch, but it also showed how much synergy matters on the competitive stage. Watching the first game of this series showed one of two things: Echo Fox has mastered map movements to a T, or that TL has no idea how to work as a team around objectives. While the latter is definitely true, Echo Fox did show a masterful ability to work the map. However, this has yet to be challenged by a top tier team.

In game two, Henrik “Froggen” Hansen and Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham proved to be a high-pressure combo, killing Slooshi’s Cassiopeia under tower with the Taliyah and Lee Sin synergy. Akaadian then stopped by every lane, snowballing advantages in every sector of the map. Reignover’s Elise was nowhere to be found, failing counter ganks that should have been called out far before they were initiated.

Echo Fox show that dominant map movement and teamplay are the two things that matter most in League of Legends. Courtesy of lolesports

TL then proceeded to ignore a Rift Herald drop in the mid lane until it had already taken a tower and a half. Once again, game two was defined through TL being out macroed as an entire team. Each of these players has undeniably great mechanics, but ultimately Echo Fox brought what TL could not buy, teamplay.

 

Liquid Without the Team Part

 

Teamplay is something Team Liquid sincerely lacks. Team Liquid’s lack of confidence in one another transcends the stage as Piglet has suggested in recent interviews. Piglet has told reporters that he would like to play mid again, while also stating that he should not bring it up to his team for obvious reasons. He openly doubts his teammates, creating an environment of disrespect that will deny team cohesion. Piglet calls out his team’s ability to shot call, claiming there is a lack of clarity in calls. This does not bode well for TL as Erving Goffman, American Sociologist, has stated that the greatest threat to a team is not being able to act in synchronized behavior (Goffman, 1959).

The caliber of play Team Liquid has shown in their first week of the LCS is severely lacking in comparison to their super sub bailout squad that barely beat Gold Coin United in the Summer Promotion Tournament. Due to the last minute substitutions during Team Liquid’s escape from relegations, the Summer split now hosts a team that is of an undeniably lower caliber than teams in the NACS. To add insult to injury, fans will be unable to watch NACS games this season, which will undoubtedly be entertaining, to say the least.

 

TL Goldenflue optimistic before his substitution. Courtesy of lolesports flickr.

For the sake of competition in the NALCS, we must hope that Team Liquid can turn things around. Perhaps the “impersonal contacts between strangers [which]  are particularly subject to stereotypical responses, will change [when] persons come to be on closer terms with each other… this categorical approach recedes and gradually sympathy, understanding, and a realistic assessment of personal qualities take its place” (Goffman, 1963). Team Liquid hosts some undeniably talented players, but until they learn to cooperate, they will continue to be an undeniably untalented team.

 

 

 

 

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Featured Image Courtesy of lolesports flickr

Goffman Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959 Print.

Goffman Erving. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, 1963 Print

 

Why Dardoch and Xmithie are perfect fits for their teams

It’s only been one week into the Summer Split of the NALCS, but Immortals and CLG look impressive. During the off-season, the two teams agreed to swap junglers Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero.

Most people only saw CLG as the clear winners of this trade. With Xmithie looking to have peaked as a jungler, few expected Immortals to have much success after the transfer. Immortals had different plans, though, as they were able to take a commanding 2-0 week after sweeping last split’s champions, TSM. Both junglers seem to be perfect fits on their new rosters.

Photo via Riot Esports

Mid/Jungle Synergy

Before the split, mid laners Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun and Eugene “Pobelter” Park were heading in opposite directions. Huhi was often criticized at the weak link of CLG in his first split, but looked much improved in the spring. Meanwhile, Pobelter was known as being one of the only NA mid talents, had one of his worst splits in spring. Statistically, he was near the bottom when comparing stats among other mids.

Xmithie and Pobelter had previous experience playing together on CLG back when they took the 2015 NALCS finals. The support of Xmithie has helped him and Immortals as a team. Pobelter finished the week with a massive 10 KDA and looked like his former star self.

Huhi benefited from having a more aggressive jungler as he was able to help with roams and pressure his lane more with Dardoch behind him. Huhi did work this week doing 33 percent of his team’s damage while also having the third highest KDA among mids.

Jungle Styles

Stylistically, Dardoch and Xmithie are night and day in comparison. Dardoch is extremely aggressive and loves to make big plays. Xmithie is an efficient pather and likes to play more supportive in tracking the enemy jungler while helping his laners.

On Immortals, Dardoch was a huge voice on the team. On a team of very passive personalities, his ego took over and he basically did whatever he wanted. Immortals staff even acknowledged this in their offseason video where they highlighted some of the team’s issues. On CLG, Dardoch plays with the presence of other strong vocal players such as Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. With veteran leadership already in place on CLG, Dardoch isn’t required to do as much of the heavy lifting as he was on Immortals.

With Immortals, Xmithie is willing to sacrifice resources to allow his team to gain leads. Immortals players have rather passive personalities that could easily be run over by someone like Dardoch. But with Xmithie, they have someone willing to help the team by all means necessary. As the meta shifted back to carry tops and tank/support jungles, Xmithie fits perfectly. Xmithie does not try to make flashy plays that will make himself good, rather he tries to allow his carries to do what they need to do.

Team Environments

Photo via Riot Esports

It almost feels that this is the strongest roster and management staff Dardoch has ever played on. With strong veteran presence leading the way on CLG, he can worry about his own play rather than his teammates. CLG has experience dealing with egocentric players having dealt with star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Dardoch also isn’t relied upon to be the sole shot caller. It’s been known that Darshan and Aphromoo are very vocal in game and help a ton with the macro play.

The Immortals roster felt like it needed a fresh start after playing with Dardoch for a split. In the video going over Spring Split, the roster members felt that because of Dardoch a lot of the relationships amongst team members felt very “artificial”. With that type of team environment, you can’t expect young players to be at their best. Xmithie comes from an environment where team bonding and friendship were a strong vocal point in success. Xmithie doesn’t have near the ego of Dardoch, so you can expect Immortals are riding this honeymoon phase all the way into Week Two.


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Cover Photo by Riot Games

CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS Part 2

Welcome to Part two of our CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS. For the first part looking at the build up and protagonists of our CLG story, check out my article here.

 

The Split

Not many fans of CLG were expecting much from the Spring Split. Eyes were glued to how the new rookies would integrate into the squad, whether the veterans could teach the new kids how to play the Rift in the LCS, and truthfully if they’d manage to scrap their way into Playoffs. First was the surprise win over long time rival and new home of star ADC Doublelift, TSM. Then, the honor of being the only team in the Spring Split to actually take a win off of the (almost) undefeated Immortals squad (with a cheeky baron steal into Darshan backdoor win). CLG surprised everyone with a 13-5 split, narrowly passing Cloud 9 in Week 9 with Team Liquid being… Team Liquid… and securing fourth place.

Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

It was the split that even the most faithful were cautious in hoping for. The team meshed together as a unit, and countless interviews with CLG players highlighted this. The story line was never about one star player winning games. Rather, it revolved around which player would the team elect to carry them this game. We saw stellar performances obviously from the likely culprits: Darshan with the split pushes that the other team could not answer, Xmithie with the Smite wars and overall map control, and Aphromoo leading his lane to dominance.

But it wasn’t just the vets. Viewers caught glimpses of greatness with Huhi, as he broke out the Aurelion Sol to great effect, still drawing bans against that pocket pick. And Stixxay came up huge when the team needed him most. His triple kill in the final fight between the long time rivals took the Finals for CLG and sent them to MSI. In many fans’ minds, it was clear that the CLG management knew what they were doing, maybe even better than they thought.

But back to the story lines. What a roller coaster of a split. While some looked to CLG’s playoff as a result of other teams failing expectations, that shouldn’t detract from the accomplishment at hand. They didn’t take it because Huhi or Stixxay were amazing diamonds in the rough. It wasn’t the steadfast veterans, the grizzled familiar faces after the roster shuffle, that carried the CLG banner to victory. No. It was the team. They came together, they held each other up, and most importantly, they never stopped believing in each other. The rag band team of veterans and rookies took the split, and ultimately the finals, to propel them further than even they had hoped for: representing their region at the second most important Riot tournament besides Worlds.

Sweet, sweet victory. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

From “Unlikely” to “Runner-ups”

The now (in)famous power rankings going into MSI 2016 didn’t have CLG doing much. At their brightest, CLG were a dark horse roster, one that could make some upsets and maybe see themselves get into Playoffs. But they weren’t expected to do much. If they showed up, it would be mildly surprising. If they flopped, it also wouldn’t be too shocking a revelation. They weren’t the dominant (domestically) G2, the juggernaut SKT T1, or the stacked Royal Never Give Up. Heck, they weren’t even as hyped as the LMS’ representatives Flash Wolves. The Flash Wolves didn’t mince words with their expectations of CLG, with SwordArt’s comment towards them simply being, “We don’t actually have any preparation. Because CLG is the worst team besides IWC teams.” Ohh the irony.

Worse than an International Wildcard Team you say? Well that’s awkward for you. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

In true CLG fashion, they did the exact opposite of what the pundits and critiques expected them to do: they thrived. I’m not one for taking phrases from others, but man did ESPN writer Tyler Erzberger put it perfectly for CLG’s mantra, “Respect all, fear none.” This was a roster that didn’t claim to not prepare for an opponent they felt was weaker, because they knew they had to do that to every opponent they would meet. Their record tells the story of group stage well. They had a 2-0 record against Flash Wolves and G2, and a 1-1 record against SKT, RNG, and BAU Supermassive (I mean, it is CLG, Wildcards are pretty much confirmed their kryptonite…).

Of course, in a perfect kind of story line, the team that looked down on CLG were the ones facing them in the Semis. The Wolves had to look across the Rift at the team they felt was as strong as an IWC team. Still, even with their group stage performances, many were timid to cast their vote in favor of CLG. Sure, they had bested the Flash Wolves, but that didn’t paint them as clear favorites going into their confrontation. Keen observers would’ve had the two as neck and neck, equal parties, and that the battle would most likely be a back and forth series.

It was, in a lot of ways, a clash of styles, and a clash of ways to play League of Legends. Flash Wolves brought strong talent and mechanics in their games. Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan in particular found many advantages in his laning phases that put the Wolves ahead. Of course, CLG, on the other side of the spectrum, trusted in each other, in their own style: teamwork and macro plays. CLG played the maps out like an ebb and flow of a tide, and ultimately came out on top of the Wolves in a 3-1 series. The under-looked team, practically spit upon by SwordArt’s comments, came out convincingly on top to move onto the Finals of MSI, the first time any North American squad had done so at a Riot International tournament.

To Face a God

It was only a befitting ending. Sports animes aren’t Mary Sues. It’s about learning, about hardships and about trying to take those lessons and bringing them into the next competition. So when CLG lost 3-0 to SKT, not many were surprised. It’s the narrative any time a team faces SKT, whether it’s in region rivals like KT Rolster or pre-exodus Rox Tigers, or the latest crop of non-Korean teams hoping to make a dent in the armor that is SKT’s record internationally.

Heads held high to face the gods. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

It was a bit of a miracle run overall, and while they did lose it all in the end, CLG weren’t completely outmatched. Like any good team, they had their shining moments against SKT. In the first game, far behind SKT and ultimately completely outplayed for the first half of the game, CLG almost made the comeback against the Gods. Through smart play and a cheeky hide-and-then-five-man-dive-poor-Faker-and-Wolf, they almost mounted a convincing lead, but ultimately lost to the superior skill and experience of SKT.

On the back of a strong comeback that ultimately fell short, CLG started game two strong, with a 3K gold lead on the Korean giants at the 14 minute mark. The rest of the game was a back and forth, punch for punch game where both teams matched each others plays, with the game being swung in SKT’s favour during a decisive team fight victory. For all the hype and near moments of excellence, CLG eventually dropped the game, unable to withstand the onslaught.

Game three was probably the finale of the series everyone expected, but no NA fan hoped for. It was a lashing, as SKT showed masterfully how to rotate the map and pick off CLG members who seemed completely caught off guard. Outside of a prolonged fight that showcased a lot of CLG’s strength at the 32 minute mark, it was hard to say they stood much of a chance. Ultimately the bloodiest game of the set, and really the most one sided, SKT walked away heads held high, sitting on top of the world of League of Legends.

Murica. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG, on the other hand, walked away beaten but not broken. They still stood toe to toe against the team favored to take it all, the team who ultimately would take Worlds again, and then would end up taking MSI again too. It’s hard to imagine a world where the rag tag team, compiled of a couple of rookies, would be able to take down that dynastic of a team.

But it’s not the victory that makes the story line. It’s the sheer run of it all, a team from NA, going up against multiple opponents who not only were touted to outclass them as a team, but were supposed to outclass even their region. It was the first time an NA team made it into the finals of a Riot international tournament. What an amazing run from a team whose only talent was in working together, in picking up where their teammates faltered.

It wasn’t big roster moves and long time rivals TSM. It wasn’t storied Cloud 9, the wunderkids of the NA LCS, with their opening split of dominance in their minds. No, it was the roster that had every single NA LCS fan, even the most faithful of CLG fans, scratching their heads at the off season. They took it to the finals of MSI and brought recognition back to their region. While the ‘best’ story line is highly subjective and up for debate, the Spring Time of Dreams CLG are at least in the top five for League of Legends esports. And it’d be a damn good sports anime plot line too.

 

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Team Liquid's starting roster for 2017 NA LCS Summer Split

NA LCS Mid-Season Roster Updates

The break between spring and summer has been relatively quiet in North America. Very few big name players were traded, acquired, or released from teams. Most of the biggest changes are at the coaching position, whose impact is difficult to gauge without watching drafts and getting feedback from the players themselves. Here is a summary of every mid-season roster update so far in the NA LCS:

Traded Players

Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett

After a single split with Immortals, Dardoch has been bounced to another roster. Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) traded their jungler to Immortals for Dardoch. He brings a higher carry potential and early proactivity. He also brings an out-of-game personality that has been cited as the source of team-wide issues. CLG’s support staff will need to rein Dardoch in and properly channel his aggressive playstyle to find success.

Jake “Xmithie” Puchero

CLG's Xmithie was traded to Immortals for Dardoch

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Xmithie was traded to Immortals in exchange for Dardoch. This is a surprising trade, considering CLG decided to keep their entire roster intact in the off-season leading into Spring Split. Immortals will be receiving a seasoned, veteran, shot-calling jungler to compliment their remaining teammates, particularly the younger players in the bottom lane. Hopefully, Xmithie will ameliorate any out-of-game issue and provide stability within the team.

LCS Aqcuisitions

Jason “WildTurtle” Tran

Unsurprisingly, WildTurtle has decided to leave TSM to find a starting role elsewhere, and he has. FlyQuest is bringing him on as the primary AD Carry. WildTurtle helped TSM win the NA LCS Spring Split, but had a rocky performance at Riot’s Mid-Season Invitational. FlyQuest finished fifth this spring, and with this acquisition they will look to move up in the standings this summer.

Yasin “Nisqy” Dincer

FNA Nisqy enters NA LCS ad mid laner for Team Envy

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Nisqy enters North America from the EU Challenger Series. His spring split team, Fnatic Academy, qualified for promotion into the EU LCS Summer Split. Their slot was bought by Ninjas in Pyjamas, who signed an entirely new roster. Nisqy joins Team Envy after his strong showing within EU CS. Envy finished last split in tenth, and fought their way through the promotion tournament to defend their spot in the NA LCS. Changes in the mid lane may stabilize their gameplay for better overall performance.

Choi “Pirean” Jun-Sik

Team Envy is also signing Pirean to their roster as a mid laner. Pirean most recently started for Phoenix1 in Summer 2016, and helped keep the team in the LCS after finishing eighth and fighting through the promotion tournament. This past split he was benched as a substitute mid laner behind Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook. Pirean looks to share mid lane duties with Nisqy. However, Pirean does seem to be the starter on the LCS website.

William “Stunt” Chen

Stunt is switching teams for the second time in six months. From substitute support on Dignitas to starting support on Phoenix1 to sharing the support role on Phoenix1, Stunt is now signed to Immortals as a substitute. While Stunt had some of the highest first blood rates, kill participation, and average KDA, he sacrificed high death shares and lower overall damage than his counterpart, Jordan “Shady” Robison. The Immortals infrastructure may be able to develop his talent in a stable team environment.

Terry “Big” Chuong

Big joins Team Dignitas as support

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Big is listed as a player for Team Dignitas in Riot’s Global Contract Database, and may be starting over Alex “Xpecial” Chu in Week 1. Xpecial was benched in favor of Stunt a few times throughout the Spring Split. Big most recently played for Echo Fox’s sister team, Delta Fox, in the NA CS. It would be surprising if his starting role on Dignitas is permanent this summer.

Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon

Team Dignitas also signed Shrimp, a jungler substitution. DIG’s early split woes, and late split streak, rested mostly in the jungle position, as Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun built synergy with the rest of the team. Signing Shrimp on as back-up could be a response. Shrimp split jungle duties for Japan’s DetonatioN FocusMe this spring, helping them finish first in the regular season and second in playoffs.

Brandon “Mash” Phan

The last NA LCS substitute worth mentioning is Mash, who has signed to Echo Fox as AD Carry. Echo Fox started the Spring Split strong, but faltered in the second half, finishing eighth in the regular season. The bottom lane was much to blame. Mash comes onto the roster after finishing first in the NA CS with Gold Coin United. While Yuri “Keith” Jew is still listed as the starter for Week 1, it would not be surprising to see Mash splitting time in this role.

Kim “Ssong” Sang-soo

Ssong is another newcomer to Immortals this summer. Stepping in as coach, Ssong has been the head of LCK teams such as Longzhu Gaming and ROX Tigers. Most notably, he was coach when ROX Tigers finished top four in the 2016 World Championships. Signing Ssong shows Immortals’ dedication to improving as a team, and building the proper environment for growing talent. It will be interesting to see how much he elevates the team compared to last split.

Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco

Saintvicious returns to Team Dignitas as coach

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

One of the longest serving veterans of the NA LCS, Saintvicious returns to Team Dignitas this summer. After Apex Gaming chose him as coach, and they qualified into the LCS, Saintvicious was kept on as staff when Apex and Dignitas were acquired by the Philadelphia 76ers. Coming into Spring 2017, Saintvicious joined Team Liquid as a strategic coach. However, after Liquid’s nasty Spring Split, Dignitas has welcomed him back to assist David “Cop” Roberson.

Nick “Inero” Smith

Formerly of OPL’s Tainted Minds, Inero will be head coach for Echo Fox this summer. Prior to Tainted Minds, Inero coached Dream Team and Mousesports in the EU and NA Challenger Series. Tainted Minds was caught up in scandalous reports of mismanagement from players within the team, which eventually led to a competitive ruling from Riot. The staff and players were released, which has allowed Echo Fox to sign Inero on as head coach.

Dong Hwan “Violet” Kim

Team Envy has signed Violet, a reputable Starcraft II player, as head coach for the summer. Violet has been signed to Envy as a Starcraft player since the beginning of 2016. His crossover into coaching League of Legends seems risky considering Envy just missed relegation this past spring. Maybe Violet’s strategic gaming background will allow Team Envy to develop new tactics or playstyles.

Changes to Starting Rosters

Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng

Doublelift promoted to starting AD Carry for TSM

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Unsurprisingly, Doublelift returns to play the Summer Split as starting AD Carry. Although the star AD Carry had taken a temporary hiatus from professional play, Doublelift was temporarily loaned to Team Liquid by TSM for the last few weeks of the Spring Split to help prevent their relegation. Although TSM won the 2017 NA LCS Spring Split, the team aspires to improve for international competition. Based on their underwhelming performance at the Mid-Season Invitational, Doublelift could be crucial for attaining their higher goals.

Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer

Starting Goldenglue as Team Liquid’s mid laner is one of the most controversial roster appointments going into the Summer Split. Leading into the Spring Split, Team Liquid signed Goldenglue and Austin “Link” Shin for mid lane duties. Later in the split, Team Liquid overhauled the roster, moving their AD Carry into mid lane and starting the substitute AD Carry in bottom lane. The team was also almost relegated, even though they had Doublelift on loan from TSM.

In the meantime, Goldenglue bootcamped in South Korea to play against the best in the world and elevate his gameplay. Only time will tell if his Korean solo queue experience has paid off. Goldenglue may be the player with the most pressure on him, coming into this split.

Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin

Piglet is also being reset into his normal role, AD Carry. Team Liquid announced their roster on Twitter as the same roster they signed coming into 2017 Spring Split. While “Midlet” exceeded expectations on a few occasions, it was not a long-term solution for Team Liquid’s problems. Hopefully, the bottom lane meta is more suitable for Piglet to carry, as he has done historically.

Leaving NA LCS

Dylan Falco

Team Envy’s Spring Split coach, Dylan Falco, is leaving North America to coach Fnatic in the EU LCS. His replacement will be Violet, as mentioned above. For more information on Coach Falco’s relocation, and the rest of the roster updates for the EU LCS, check out EU LCS Mid-Season Roster Updates

Status Unknown

Adrian “Adrian” Ma

No updates yet on Adrian for Summer Split 2017

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Adrian was last mentioned signing to Team Liquid while their support, Matt “Matt” Elento, needed to step down due to personal issues. Last playing on March 18, Adrian has not been mentioned in any team announcements for Summer Split. Team Liquid did part ways with Adrian, and Matt came back to assume the starting role, but nothing has been reported since then. Adrian left Phoenix1 due to disagreements with teammates, so it is possible that teams are hesitant to bring him into the mix.

Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo

After a disappointing Spring Split, Ninja has been replaced by two mid laners. There have been no announcements about his status since. He could be in contact with other NA LCS teams. He could be considered for a Challenger team. Ninja could also transfer to another region. The Summer Splits will be starting soon, so it is possible he remains unsigned altogether.

David “Hermes” Tu

Hermes joined Immortals coming into the 2017 Spring Split. He had an almost completely new roster of players, and together they finished seventh in the regular season and missed playoffs. Since the announcement of Ssong entering this position, nothing has been heard from Hermes. Judging by his Twitter, Hermes seems to be a free agent.

Simon “heavenTime” Jeon

HeavenTime is another unaccounted coach. Echo Fox brought on Inero as a replacement, but nothing has been seen from HeavenTime. With the season restarting soon, it is possible that he remains unsigned, as well.


MSI Team and Player Statistics: Oracle’s Elixir

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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CLG’s 2016 spring of dreams: The sports anime team of the LCS Part 1

When people say what draws them to esports and sports, you’ll often hear two philosophies: to watch the best of the best play their game at the peak level of competition, or for the story lines that weave themselves on and off the playing fields.

This piece is for the second group. This article started in my mind as a joke, as I was looking back with a friend on past NA LCS splits playoffs and remembered just how insanely storybook like Counter Logic Gaming’s (CLG) run to win the Spring Split in 2016 and their performance at MSI was. In my mind, it was the greatest sports anime style narrative we’ve yet to see. (Rivaled by Cloud 9’s Cinderella story to Worlds in S6, mind you.)

I mean, THIS happened so anything is possible folks…

What do I mean by this? Well, think about it. Long time team, they had just come off a big win but now were thrown into question, lots of pressure on the roster, and a bunch of faces old and new, veterans and no name rookies, who managed to stick it to the pundits and win it all.

Hell, even the archetypes are there: the Leader (Aphro), the Cutesy dopey one (Huhi), the Downplayed ace (Stixxay), the Steady and silent one (Xmithie), the Pretty one (Darshan), and the Mr. Serious Coach Guy (Zikz… kind of).

The narrative practically writes itself folks. There were ups and downs, moments it looked bleak and others where they shined as a team, not as individuals. They coalesced, they backed each other up on and off the rift, and they showed that team work meant more than flashy players and big transfers. They also lost in heart breakers, they had to buffer themselves to the community’s constant criticisms, and ultimately to have faith in each other.

With MSI behind us, and the NA LCS ultimately losing their top seed at the next Worlds, lets take a look back a brighter time for North America, a time where, funny enough, the team representing the region was not seen as the best team there. They were criticized harshly going into it, and many felt that perhaps they would not be the best showing for the NA LCS internationally. It turned out, they were. This is the first part of a two part series, so be sure to check in tomorrow for our dramatic conclusion!

The Set Up

I still remember the shock of the off season between Worlds 2015 and the NA LCS Spring Split 2016. Losing  Eugene “Pobelter” Park seemed like a blow enough. Pob was, as I always said, a solid, if not uninspiring, Mid laner. The perfect fit for CLG, who often had… on and off Mid laners. That was fine. Maybe the team had some crazy import in mind, right? After all, Faith has always been part of the CLG fandom. But that wasn’t all.

Then the unthinkable happened. Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng traded in the blue and gray for the black and white of long time rivals TSM. Why not top it all off with picking up two almost unheard of rookies in Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes and Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, and CLG pulled a full CLG and went counter to everyone’s expectations. They finally found the solution, the team that got them that coveted NA LCS Finals and Worlds appearance. It was supposed to be the Golden Age. Then they decided to remove two key players and replace them with untested rookies.

The rag tag team of dreams, NA’s hope at MSI. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

The scene was left scratching their heads, as eternal rivals TSM looked to rebound after an off performance during their last Summer’s playoff showing, having gotten arguably the strongest ADC in the West from the very team that beat them. TSM’s rivals, of course, were left with two rookies, Stixxay having been promoted from CLG Black, while Huhi was reportedly scouted in Korea for his talent. But they both had big shoes to fill, and while being surrounded by some of the most storied veterans in Top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero and Support Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black, CLG fans felt that maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to pull out a playoff win in Summer.

Alongside the player changes, CLG brought on a new head coach by the name of Tony “Zikzlol” Gray, now a household name as arguably one of the best coaches in North America, there was a lot of new faces and questions mixed with hopes.

Nobody expected that the team would amount to much in Spring. Even CLG didn’t. A win on domestic soil seemed a great showing, but the impressive showings didn’t end there: they also went on to place second at Riot’s Mid-Season Invitational, after showing up against international teams and only falling short against Korean juggernauts SKT. Then again, what would a good sports anime be without the unlikely happening?

Our protagonists

Archetypes in Anime aren’t really set in stone. Sure, there are tropes and there’s kind of constant themes throughout, but archetypes are always kind of murky grounds. Some will disagree with the ones I find almost ever present. Some will say I forgot some. Hell, it’s even likely you’ll disagree with my identification of the players in their archetypes. That’s fine, I’m not claiming objectivity here. But if I were writing the show, this is how I’d envision the players.

Darshan: Even his teacher calls him Zionspartan… but fans now call him Darshan, and arguably last Spring was some of the best times for the one they call Darshan.

He was a monster in the Top lane, eloquent in the lane swap meta, and a menace when left to split push to victory. If fans of the NA LCS had a dime for every time Darshan would split push to win with Fiora or similar split pushers, they’d have a lot of dimes. It wasn’t quite the Flame Horizon in the Top lane, but it was pretty damn close, and many of the W’s in CLG’s Spring Split could be chalked up to the dashing Darshan.

Darshan, probably thinking about how to style his hair or like the next song to cover… Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

Of course, it’s not just about how the players played, but their place in our overall story, right? Darshan could’ve been the kind of Clutch Player, the one who shows up when the team needs him the most and somehow pulls off the victory. But I think the other side of Darshan plays out more in my mind: He seriously was the pretty boy of the group. Amazing facial hair and style aside, he also sings amazingly. If he were to walk onto stage, I feel like he would have to have a flower background and a close up zoom in, as his eye sparkled or something. Next to Huhi, Darshan would probably have the most fanart of himself if we’re being totally honest.

Xmithie: Xmithie has been a staple in the NA LCS since his time way back in Season 3 with Team FeaR and Team Vulcun. He’s been a stable force in the scene, never quite as strong as some of his flashier compatriots in the Jungle, yet Xmithie never failed though to remain a rock and foundational piece for many a team. Hell, he was the unchallenged Best Lee Sin NA for a while folks…

Over the shoulder eye brow raising smoulder. Courtesy of Riot Flikr.

But more than that, Xmithie fit into the CLG story line as that Steady and Silent one. For the entirety of the Spring split and into MSI, Xmithie put in production for the team, helping his lane mates get ahead and maintaining overall map control.

He was there where and when the team needed him and read the game to know who to set up and get ahead. In some ways he was like a tactician for the squad, if not for Aphro’s obvious influence in that department. He was, however, always the quietest member it felt like. He wouldn’t be the player dominating a scene in the show, but he would show up at the right time to help a fellow player. The strong, silent type that always held a place in your heart for his sincere concern for his fellows.

 

Huhi: Huhi came in as a heavily scrutinized player, always at the center of criticism for the team and seemingly always the one that had to go. Still, through all of this, it seemed like the bubbly personality of Huhi persisted on. While notorious for his pocket picks like Aurelion Sol, Huhi’s performance on the rift has always been polarizing. He’s either the one surprisingly carrying his whole team on his giant space dragon back, or the one that’s the anchor for the early game of the team. Huhi was always a polarizing player, but he was never a negative player.

If you don’t find this image heart warming and wholesome, I ask you kindly, but firmly, to leave. Courtesy of Yahoo Esports.

It was his off the rift presence that was the perfect fit for somewhere between the comedic relief and the adorable one of the group. Just check his Twitter, and see the beauty that is the HuhixHaru.

It was, however, I think Huhi’s defining feature in my mind of his overall positive attitude in the face of adversity. He always seemed happy, always ready to try and prove himself again, and never daunted by opponents or critics. He would keep the team cheery and would offer his positive attitude to the team atmosphere.

Stixxay: Fans of CLG may have forgotten this, but Stixxay was considered once one of the weakest members of CLG for a time. Not many should be surprised by this, as stepping into the shoes of ace ADC and Best in the West Doublelift is definitely a tall task. But Stixxay never seemed fazed by those who didn’t believe in him. He was always stepping up, and I think the shinning moment of his Spring career was the Tristana play that propelled them to their victory over TSM and onto the MSI tournament.

From Zero to Hero in no time flat. Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

In a lot of ways, Stixxay would seem our protagonist for this show. The young kid, stepping into the ace role for a team, under heavy scrutiny by fans and pundits, and with a kind of self confidence in himself and his team that felt slightly above what one might feel was warranted. He and Aphromoo set out to prove everyone wrong, the young gun under the mentorship of the leader and brain in the botlane duo of Rush Hour.

Interviews with Stixxay showed this side time and time again: he felt he was good, damn good, but not in a pretentious way, not by putting others down or overstating his point. He felt he had the mechanics and just needed the time to ripen and he could match Doublelift’s legacy. Well, as a spoiler, it seemed he wasn’t too far off, and while a discussion of whether he’s ‘better than’ Doublelift or not would be a hotly contested debate, it’s safe to say that the rookie has proved himself, long before gaining the moniker of Big Dixxay.

Aphromoo: If ever there was a franchise player to match the level of Doublelift, it could be argued that it would be Aphromoo. Support, as a position, occupies a unique role within League of Legends: they’re both the ones to set up the plays and their lane mates success, while also generally tasked with the shotcalling role. In short, the best Supports are often the ultimate altruistic leaders. Aphromoo is no exception to this role either, often being praised as the driving force behind CLG’s success, being the leader the team needs on and off the rift.

There are certain players whose reputation transcends their on the Rift abilities. Aphromoo is one such player. Courtesy of Riot Flikr.

It’s the perfect plot line too. The mentor, the veteran, the one left behind the famous departure of lanemate Doublelift. Aphromoo had to prove himself not only mechanically as a player, but to prove himself to the team captain and mentor everyone believed he could be. He was given the untested, gifted, and highly coachable player that was Stixxay, and their role in the team ultimately became the lynch pin for their success.

While Darshan was known for his split pushing, Huhi his pocket picks and Xmithie for his selfless jungling style, it was the Bot lane duo that often was tasked to face some of the best and strongest opponents and carry. If it’s not a saying, it should be, that behind every God ADC is a Support who whipped them into shape, and look no further for proof of this then the Lethal Weapon duo that is Stixxay and Aphromoo.

Zikz: An untested team needs a leader, but it also needs a coach. Zikz stepped into the role of Head Coach before the roster was finalized, replacing William “scarra” Li and being promoted from Head Analyst position. Fans will remember Zikz for his simple, elegant style, a classy suit and non-distracting hair gave him the appearance of a largely non-menacing coach. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Zikz has established himself in the coaching role, holding one of the longest tenures as such, in a position that largely has seen more revolving doors than an European Super Team.

“Ok guys, if we destroy their Nexus first we win. Break!” Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

So how does Zikz play into this story? Well, he’s the behind the scene coach, the one who propels his team, prepares them to the best he can, and then sits there and watches as his work and tactics unfold before his eyes. Zikz was always there with his team, laughing, encouraging, being one on one with many of the players, and arguably a lot of CLG’s success can be placed as a fact of his impressive coaching. He was a strong Runner Up for the Coach of the Spring Split in 2016, and is a constant contender for the best coach each split.

He also plays the role of the coach who not much is known about. He’s been a relative silent force in CLG’s presence, and while this fits that narrative well of the behind the scenes coach who is stronger than he comes off, it also gave him the kind of mysterious aspect to him. All he needs is some glasses to push up his nose menacing when a team falls into his well laid trap and he’d be perfect.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 everyone!

Is That a Jojo Reference? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr and bad MS Paint skills.

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Can Dardoch finally find success on CLG?

Star jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett will be transferred to Counter Logic Gaming. Counter Logic Gaming has stressed how important friendship is amongst their successes, but failing to get out of the first round of playoffs last split was the last straw.

Photo by: CLG

 

Risk vs. Reward

It’s no doubt Dardoch is one of the most talented junglers in North America. He’s always been one of the more consistent carries of every roster he’s been on. For CLG, his aggressive jungle style is a complete 360-degree change from Xmithie’s jungle style.

Since his time on Team Liquid, Dardoch became known around the community as an extremely talented player with a poor attitude. When Team Liquid released their documentary Breaking Point, Dardoch was at the forefront of a lot of team issues. He’s a player who’s not afraid to speak his mind and can be extremely blunt with his criticism of his teammates in-game. He was also quick to clash with head coaches, most notably TL’s former coach Choi “Locodoco” Yoon-sub.

When Immortals took on Dardoch, they sought an extremely talented jungler who could replace the void left by former jungler Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin. Dardoch was a star on the Immortals roster, but his teammates around him struggled to match his talent level. When the losses started to pile on, Dardoch’s toxic attitude came back again. In Immortals most recent video, you can see that Dardoch’s attitude had not changed since his time on Team Liquid. Immortals players noted how they really never felt like friends and that their relationship was “artificial”.

Dardoch, individually, is one of the most talented players in the region. He literally felt like he had Immortals on his back in some of their games during the regular season.

Moving Forward

Without a doubt, CLG’s roster will be the best one Dardoch’s every played on. If he can continue his stellar play, I don’t see why CLG can’t contend for an NALCS title.

The weakest points of the roster will most likely be in the solo lanes. Top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun have been extremely inconsistent on CLG. HuHi did look much improved last split, so there is hope. Darshan can show phenomenal performances one game and then get over aggressive split pushing the next. He’ll need to become more consistent and return to the form he had when he was a contender for best top laner in the region.

With Dardoch coming in as the new jungler, stylistically this will be the first time CLG has had an aggressive early game jungler. Xmithie was more known for tracking the enemy jungler and counter ganking. Dardoch looks to make aggressive plays in the early game.

CLG has been known to start splits very slow, usually not adjusting well to the meta. If CLG struggles early, we could see internal issues arise among players. CLG, in particular, is quite experienced in handling egocentric players having star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng on the roster for several years. Aphromoo should be able to handle any tension that arises amongst the team, but even Doublelift wasn’t at the same level of Dardoch in terms of toxicity. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

CLG has stressed friendship among players over the past few years. If Dardoch can come in and mesh well early, they can contend with the best. If they struggle to adapt to the meta once again, internal team issues could arise.


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Cover photo by: Riot Games

 

CLG’s Playoff Profile: United They Stand, Or Divided They Will Fall

Setting the Stage

Counter Logic Gaming (CLG), the perennial contenders (or pretenders) of the NA LCS. They’re (almost) always in contention for playoffs every split. There is always some kind of hype behind them, but they often do the exact opposite of what everyone expects. They were the only NA LCS roster to leave the off season intact, retaining all the same five starters from over a year ago. Top lane held down by the one called Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, veteran long time LCS Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, hot and cold Mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, zero to hero ADC Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, and team captain on and off the Rift, Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. It’s the same squad that brought North America some pride at MSI, and then proceeded to lose both games against Wildcard Cinderella story Albus NoX Luna.

Even his teachers call him… Darshan? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG’s path to the playoffs was one that could’ve (or should’ve), gone very differently. They had a rough start to the split, where other teams could draw on new players as an excuse. A strong surge in the middle and a wonky, long game three against EnVy make this CLG roster very… CLGesque. But they’re in the playoffs, and up against the hot and cold Flyquest. The record between these two doesn’t really help us in favouring a side. Both have beat each other in a 2-0 series. While CLG’s win was more recent, Flyquest looked stronger in their last week of games.

 

The Players in the Jerseys

What about the players themselves? Darshan hasn’t had quite the split he had last year, often winning his lane and split pushing CLG to victory. Oftentimes he looks as if he’s trying too hard to be too much for the team. Whether it’s the increased skill in the Top lane, a decline in mechanics, or a massive meta shift (the last one being quite likely), Darshan doesn’t seem to be as solid of a rock for CLG as he used to be. The bright side? Darshan has looked a lot more comfortable in the recent meta than in the first half of the split. If he can temper his aggression, become slightly more calculated in his 1 vs 1’s, or contribute otherwise, he can still be the Top laner CLG need. But that’s quite a few ifs.

Xmithie, the constantly underrated Jungler to the point of being overratedly underrated, has looked… uninspiring this split. Statistically speaking, his KDA is the lowest in the league for Junglers at a startling 2.4 (relative to, say, the highest being 3.8 on Galen “Moon” Holgate). He also ranks at the bottom for Kill Particpation, a vital stat for Junglers at a measly 63.1%. It could be the reason that CLG started so slow. Rookies like Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham and Juan “Contractz” Garcia were on hot streaks, single handedly taking their teams to wins; but as these rookies have cooled down, and the meta shifts away from carry Junglers, we may see the steadier Xmithie return.

Stats aren’t everything, though, and Xmithie is still a strong player for CLG. He has experience and always seems to be where he needs to be. If it makes any CLG fan feel better, Svenskeren ranks only one place above Xmithie. That’s saying something. A Jungler’s role in League of Legends is one of tacticians, making plays to get your teammates ahead and out-thinking the other Jungler. This is something Xmithie has had multiple seasons of practice with.

There are a lot of stats to look at when thinking about Mid laners. Huhi is one of those players that isn’t necessarily understood through his stats. He often looks unstoppable on certain champs, and utterly lost on others. His stats are interesting, though. When you think of Mid laners, you want two things: damage output and CS difference at 15. On the first point, Huhi does pretty well. He places fourth among starting Mid laners with a Damage Per Minute of 559 (28.1% of CLG’s overall damage), putting him third overall for Mid laners.

On the second part, Huhi was dead last, only higher than the much maligned changing Liquid Mid laners of Goldenglue and Piglet. You can never count him out though. He can come up big for the team on certain champions, like Syndra and Aurlieon Sol. His damage output, even while behind in lane, is impressive. He also will play a vital role against Flyquest in (trying) to shut down Hai and possibly get inside the head of the veteran shotcaller.

From zero to hero, Stixxay’s journey with CLG has gone from fans criticizing him to praising him. Can he lead them into another Spring finals? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

CLG’s botlane duo seems to be almost always the stable foundation for the whole roster. This is the case now more than ever. While the rest of the team fell flat some games, or looked completely bewildered, Stixxay and Aphromoo found consistency. It has put Stixxay in the spotlight. From a harshly criticized player, to challenging Aphromoo as CLG’s strongest laner, Stixxay has come alive this split. He is tied with Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi for second in Damage Per Minute at 546, and third in Damage percent at 26.9%. Remember, that’s all coming out of a split that was half dominated by Utility Ult ADC’s, too.

On the other hand, Aphromoo’s contribution to the team isn’t just on the Rift. Stats for Supports are always hard to read. His presence is known inside and out of the Rift, as a team leader and cool head for the squad overall. There’s a lot to be said for that, and a lot to be said about a Support’s ability to bring out the best in their ADC. Stixxay is performing up there among the greats of the league, like newcomer No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, and long time staple, Sneaky.

 

The X Factor

So what does all this mean for CLG? Well, pretty much the same as always. CLG aren’t expected to take it all, and a deep drive into the playoffs will give some hope to the Faithful. It’s a position they’re all too accustomed to, though. So what needs to happen for CLG here? What’s their X factor? Well, as lame as it sounds, they need to stand as a team again. That was this roster’s strength last year. Stixxay didn’t out-mechanic any ADC in NA of note. Darshan was great for splitpushing, yes, and Aphromoo was always Aphromoo, but it was the team that won that playoff. The X factor is for that team to reappear in this playoff run. Not just the strong talent that each player has shown off at times, but for them as a team to move and work together again.

This is a different CLG than last Spring though. Stixxay, as many have pointed out, has grown into one of the strongest ADCs in the region. Aphromoo is still hailed for his strength as a player and a leader. When Huhi is playing his best, he’s an absolute monster. Darshan can still pull off some insane plays. Xmithie still shows up and performs for his team. It was the roster that looked good as a whole, not as individual units. Some part of me wonders if that is for better or worse.

Can Huhi step up to the plate for CLG when they need him? Courtesy of Riot’s Flikr.

As Piltover’s Sherrif says, “The whole is better than the sum of its parts.” CLG fans will need to see that team play again. The macro and teamwork-oriented style of play, while picking each other up. CLG seems too much like a team trying to always make a play. From greedy 1 vs 1’s for Darshan to awkward engages in the bot lane, CLG needs to get themselves back to their position of working as a team and thinking rather than just hoping the plan of attack works. While the obvious players to watch are Stixxay and Huhi, CLG haven’t relied on solo carries since the Doublelift days. They will win as a team.

 

Predictions

3-2 CLG over Flyquest, 3-1 loss against TSM.

I’m not convinced that Flyquest is back to winning. I wonder more if it was the similar phenomena where teams just can’t seem to handle the ‘new kids on the block’ or not. That being said, you can’t bat an eyelash at Hai “Hai” Du Lam and his boys. They’re a strong roster, and whether that’s more off the back of Hai’s magic touch at shotcalling or as a genuine threat, they’re still tough and always a team that can show up and take the win. CLG seemed to play to the level of their opponents this split though, which might mean they’ll be firing on all cylinders against the mind of Hai.

Nonetheless, I think CLG will pull it out in the end. I just think they have it in them to take down Flyquest, but it really depends which CLG and which Flyquest show up. Hence my 3-2 win. I highly doubt we’d see a complete blow out either way. However, if either team comes to these games playing at their lowest, we might. If each team comes performing at their best, it’ll be a back and forth series. Both teams are underdogs to make it deep into the playoffs and will have that underdog identity hanging over their heads. For CLG, this will be old news. For the new (old?) Flyquest boys, this may be a new feeling.

TSM, on the other hand, I don’t see CLG standing much of a chance against. They looked absolutely horrendous against TSM (I would know, I had Huhi, Aphro, and Xmithie on my Fantasy team…). They didn’t seem to put up much of a fight in their most recent meeting. TSM had control the entire time, and with that in mind, I really can’t see this series going CLG’s way. I’m generous and thinking, hey, maybe they can squeeze one game out. If they do manage to pull out a win, it would possibly be an even bigger upset than their past two wins in playoffs against TSM.

Counter Logic Gaming support, Aphromoo

Over/Under (Part 2): LCS Players Below Expectations

Last week, I highlighted NA and EU LCS players who have been performing above preseason expectations. This week, I am highlighting the other end of the spectrum: athletes playing below expectations. These are players who came into the Spring Split with a reputation that they have failed to live up to in the first three weeks. These members will play a key role in the improvement of their respective teams; if they fail to do so, they may not make the playoffs.

Lucas “Cabochard” Simon-Meslet

 KDA: 3.6 (Tied 4th Top)

Team Vitality top laner, Cabochard

courtesy of Riot esports

Team Vitality, Top Laner

DPM: 383 (8th Top)

Some of Cabochard’s numbers seem decent, but his damage is below expectations. Taking into account Cabochard has played five out of nine games on skirmish-oriented split-pushers (and a sixth on Poppy), 383 damage per minute is too low. He averages ahead in CS at 10 minutes, has an okay KDA, and middling Kill Participation. He receives the largest share of his team’s gold out of any top laner (23.9%), but only contributes 21.1% of his team’s damage (tied 8th Top). Cabochard will need to transition his lane leads into successful teamfights if Vitality are to make it to playoffs.

Jonas “Trashy” Andersen

KDA: 2.6 (7th Jungle)

Splyce jungle, Trashy

courtesy of Riot esports

Splyce, Jungle

KP: 60.5% (Lowest Jungle)

After three weeks, Trashy is averaging the lowest Kill Participation of all EU junglers. He also occupies a high share of his team’s deaths–25.2% (6th highest of all players). This is below expectations for Trashy. Splyce depends on him to work the jungle efficiently and enable their superior macro-play. Thus far, Splyce has a 56% win-rate in Group B. They only secure first dragon in 33% of games (2nd lowest of all teams), and first baron in 22% of games (lowest of all teams). Trashy will need to pull this team together to stand a chance in the long run.

Eugene “Pobelter” Park

 KDA: 1.4 (Lowest Overall)

Immortals mid lane, Pobelter

courtesy of Riot esports

Immortals, Mid Laner

D%: 27.2% (Highest Overall)

Immortals replaced every player except Pobelter in the offseason. He is supposed to be the solid foundation for bringing on imported players and rookies. So far his performances have been below expectations. Pobelter has the most deaths in the NA LCS, averaging 4.6 per game. He also averages 6.1 CS behind his opponents at 10 minutes. In a league with strong mid laners, Pobelter will need to step up if Immortals want to make playoffs. 

Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin

 KDA: 2.6 (8th ADC)

Team Liquid AD carry, Piglet

courtesy of Riot esports

Team Liquid, AD Carry

D%: 23.4% (8th Overall)

The utility marksman meta has not been kind to Piglet. The world champion has looked below expectations. Unlike years past, he has only averaged 0.3 CS ahead at 10 minutes. Piglet is also averaging only 2.3 kills per game. While there are others on Team Liquid who are underperforming, Piglet has no excuse. He was benched last Split and needs to prove himself worthy of the starting slot. For Team Liquid to get wins and make it into playoffs, Piglet will need to reinvigorate himself. 

Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black

 KDA: 2.6 (5th Support)

CLG support, Aphromoo

courtesy of Riot esports

Counter Logic Gaming, Support

D%: 22.4% (14th Highest Overall)

He has the highest death share on CLG, averaging 3.8 per game. Aphromoo may still be adjusting to playing squishier, damage-oriented support champions, but, as a veteran, it is below expectations. CLG retained their entire roster coming into 2017, but they currently sit in a four-way tie for fifth place. Since Aphromoo is their shot-caller team captain, he deserves most of the blame. To be fair, three of their losses came from the top teams of the league. If CLG want to make it into playoffs though, Aphromoo will need to play more safe and coordinated.

(DIS)Honorable Mention

Ha “Hachani” Seung-chan

 KDA: 1.4 (Tied 2nd lowest)

Team Vitality's support, Hachani

courtesy of Riot esports

Team Vitality, Support

D%: 34.1% (Lowest Overall)

Although Hachani did not have exceptionally high expectations coming onto Vitality this Split, his performance has been unacceptable. His death rate is a joke in the league (4.8 deaths per game). Hachani’s aggression and over-extensions are a liability for this team. Vitality will not be able to move up the standings until his leash is shortened. These free kills have to stop.

Each of these players will need to reflect on these first few weeks and improve. We are only three weeks in, and a lot can change before playoffs. Most LCS teams thrive on momentum. A single win can turn into a won series or a winstreak. On the other hand, a loss can tilt teams into giving away a series. All of the players mentioned are veterans who need to re-center themselves for the sake of their teams. Their next few matches will most likely define the rest of the Split.

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