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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A Tale of Two Team Managements: Post NA LCS Finals Discussion

 

The longest running rivalry in NA LCS, possibly even the world, meet again in an unlikely NA LCS finals. Courtesy of loleventvods.

The longest running rivalry in NA LCS, possibly even the world, meet again in an unlikely NA LCS finals. Courtesy of loleventvods.

While a lot of the story lines being covered center around the games themselves and what laid up to them, it’s another thing to note the actual development philosophy of the two teams that actually made it to the finals: CLG and TSM. As we’ll get to in the article, these two teams took very different approaches to forming their squads in the post-Worlds off season, and it is definitely clear that neither approach could be said to be superior to the other currently. For CLG it was a more ‘Ember-esque’ approach, one that focused on the team, its environment, and fostering teamwork and cooperation in and off the rift. For TSM, not saying these previous factors weren’t involved, it was about the star power, about the raw, mechanical skill that makes a team do crazy good things. It was about getting the best in the West together and making the strongest team for raw star power that NA has ever seen. Both team styles showed to be viable in the finals, and it’ll be great to see if both are able to keep up their performances going forward.

I’d like it to be on record that I actually predicted the results from the right half of the bracket correct: I saw Liquid easily moving past NRG, falling to CLG in a tight five game series, with CLG moving onto the finals where they would win that in another close five game series. I just thought that’d be against Immortals or Cloud 9. It was an absolutely insane showing by fan favourite TSM, the 6th seed, to make it to the finals, and not because they got placed against ‘easy opponents.’ They overcame both Cloud 9 and Immortals, the two teams slated to possibly even meet in the finals. The left half of the bracket was a completely unpredictable beast that had all the TSM doubters quickly silenced.

In a lot of ways I think this is probably the greatest way for the finals to go: The new guard, the upstarts, the hyped Titan killers in Immortals and Liquid ultimately falling to the veteran organizations, the time trialed and well-worn path of the old guards in the two oldest teams in the league: TSM and CLG. I also think it should be a humbling experience for those new guard teams, and a need for the organization to make sure their infrastructure is properly in place for the teams to at once not take this too badly, but also to understand where things went wrong.

 

CLG: The Big Ember that Could

 

Wow. What an absolute roller coaster CLG has been in the past year. We saw the suffering Faith Age turn into the Golden Age, with an NA LCS title in the Summer, a strange showing at Worlds (hey, that’s an accomplishment for the team, being at Worlds that is,) and what seemed to be further sunny ways as rivals TSM, the fierce rival of the org, looked to have to rebuild their roster. Then the Dark Age came, CLG dropped both Doublelift and Pobelter, and the fans were torn apart. Doublelift, particularly, was seen as the team’s longest player, but also their strongest and the star power. He also was a main reason for fans of CLG to stick around. The Rush Hour lane was an absolute tyrant in lane and team fights, it’s hard to really see any reason to drop that. Pobelter, too, is a good mid laner, who eventually moved to the newly minted Immortals side to much success there in the Regular season. And then the absolutely unforeseeable happened to Doublelift: he turned in the Blue and Gray of CLG for the Gray and Black of TSM, CLG’s rivals.

The Dark Age seemed to only get worse: CLG brought secondary Mid laner in Huhi to the starting roster, and promoted Stixxay, a relatively unheard of ADC, from their Challenger squad to the starting roster. What an absolutely insane roster move, the fans decried. Most weren’t even calling it a roster move but a full on roster downgrade, purposefully shooting themselves in the foot after such a great showing from the team. It wasn’t a talent upgrade by any stretch of the imagination, that can’t be denied. While CLG went on to say that Stixxay, particularly Aphromoo his fellow bot laner and Support, was on par with Doublelift mechanically, it was a questionable statement to begin with. Was this new rookie really a contender against the fabled Doublelift?

Courtesy of CLGaming.net

Courtesy of CLGaming.net

Well, if he wasn’t the team was able to pick up the slack. They beat Korean side Jin Air Green Wings in a best of three at IEM San Jose, an impressive feat for any NA side, they went 13-5 in the Regular split, getting the oh so coveted semi-finals berth, and a tough road ahead of them to defend their NA LCS title as more than just a fluke in the system. Many doubted them along the whole way: they questioned whether the squad was talented enough, saying they were one dimensional in a split push style, their wins were too cheesy for a best of five series style, they’d crumble and choke once it came down to it, you name it, people probably said it about the team. Some slated the CLG Age to have turned to the Silver Age: a second place showing would be a win for the organization, and many fans shot for just that in their aspirations. Nobody really thought CLG could pull off another Title.

The rookie ADC made a name for himself in the finals, but was it enough to prove critics wrong? Courtesy of ESL youtube.

The rookie ADC made a name for himself in the finals, but was it enough to prove critics wrong? Courtesy of ESL youtube.

Many analysts rightly identified that CLG was an experiment of a very different breed of team management: the long-term, rebuilding mindset. Bring on new talent, rookies with prospective futures, ride out a few bad seasons until they’ve been polished enough to truly shine. It’s an age-old process in traditional sports: as your star talents start to falter, get old, demanding too much money or being emotionally disruptive, a team has to look to rebuild itself around new, young talent. Doublelift wasn’t old (I hope not, he’s only 22!) but his mentality has been hinted at multiple times by current CLG players as having a negative effect on the atmosphere. Talent only gets you so far before your team mates start not feeling comfortable beside you, and that seems to have been what happened in the CLG camp.

They also moved towards what could maybe be called an ‘Ember approach’ to team management, alluding to the current (past? Now defunct? Who really knows…) Challenger Series squad of Ember. Many NA fans will remember their desires to build ‘better humans’ to make better athletes, working on the emotional side of their players just as much as their in-game skills. Fostering talent, too, was a big feature, and what better way to do that then to promote from within the organizations ‘farm team’ and their back bench? Rather than looking abroad for international talent, the team made the conscientious decision to stick within themselves and work as a team. And my gods, what a beautiful team that was when it worked.

 

TSM: The Best of the Best

 

TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM. Sorry, sometimes Twitch chat comes out when I think of TSM. The easily NA fan favourite squad is none other than TSM. The team is just as storied and Legacy as Counter Logic Gaming, just with a lot more success until most recent times. TSM has been much like the European side of Fnatic: always showing up in the playoffs, making it to the finals and either claiming it for themselves or falling but still walking away with the glittering Silver. The team’s practically synonymous for most with NA League, and deservedly so, and they’ve been in a situation unlike CLG where they’ve been able to validate their fans time and time again. But the team’s showings last year, from their regular season shakiness back in Summer 2015, to their falling out of Worlds like much of NA, and mediocre international results, caused this old guard team to do a radical roster shake up: they dropped every player outside of star mid laner Bjergsen. I doubt any League fan will ever forget the Dyrus good bye speech, but outside of that much of the roster faded away without much ceremony. Wildturtle went to Immortals, Lustboy has all but disappeared like John Cena, and Santorin was shipped around to multiple Challenger Series teams trying to make an name for himself.

Spoiler: TSM's roster has some of the scariest talent available in NA. Courtesy of https://www.reddit.com/r/TeamSolomid/comments/3r3k8i/tsm_2016_roster_banner_so_far/ (TSM subreddit.)

Spoiler: TSM’s roster has some of the scariest talent available in NA. Courtesy of https://www.reddit.com/r/TeamSolomid/comments/3r3k8i/tsm_2016_roster_banner_so_far/ (TSM subreddit.)

But who would fill out the legendary squad that is TSM? Well, nothing below legendary players, it would seem. Hauntzer was recruited from NA side Gravity, easily the strongest player on the Gravity side and probably one of the top three NA top laners around. Svenskeren was brought over from the now defunct SK Gaming side to fill the Jungler position, replacing fellow Dane Santroin, which seemed to be another easy upgrade. Sven’s aggressive play style fits well with the TSM identity of heavy team fight focus. Doublelift, as we said above, was brought in from rivals CLG and was seen to be another clear upgrade. Doublelift was one of the few NA ADCs able to compete internationally, and so he seemed a clear pick. Yellowstar was tapped on the shoulder to replace Lustboy, probably the second biggest player to fill out the new TSM 2.0. Yellowstar’s tenure with Fnatic is legendary, and particularly his role as crucial Team captain in the rebuilding of Fnatic after the xPeke exit was arguably the reason Fnatic were able to do their perfect split. There wasn’t much to say about this roster but “wow.” It was the most star studded, international, NA team ever. And fans were hyped, until it just seemed to fail time and time again.

The TSM Dream Super Team of Lots of Talent looked shakey in the regular split, but showed up when it mattered most: Playoffs. Courtesy of TSM Store.

The TSM Dream Super Team of Lots of Talent looked shakey in the regular split, but showed up when it mattered most: Playoffs. Courtesy of TSM Store.

TSM came into the playoffs as the 6th seed after a pretty atrocious regular season that had many TSM fans bemoaning a decline that just didn’t make sense. But there was a silent murmur in the NA LCS fandom and abroad even, whispers muttered in the dark of the time-tested truth: TSM shows up in Playoffs. Worry mounted as Cloud 9 easily dismantled TSM in the first game of the best of 5, but the next three games were absolutely dominated by the fan favourite in TSM. An upset of note, yes, but Cloud 9 was another team that seemed to be all over the place at times. It was an understandable possibility. But surely TSM would fall in their next endeavour: a best of five against the only other team other than Fnatic to almost make it to a perfect split in Immortals. Immortals looked absolutely disgusting throughout the regular split, but again murmurs were heard, as the Immortal side looked very, very, weak against Renegades and Dignitas, being bullied outright by the former. The side wasn’t the same as it had been earlier.

TSM breezed past the faltering Immortals to blaze their way to the finals against long-time rivals CLG and a repeat of last year’s Summer Split finals. Many had said it would be an easy victory for the TSM boys, and what looked to be the most unlikely story line to ever unfold almost seemed to be within grasp. But the games were back and forth evenly, CLG claiming the first, TSM the second, etc. It came down to a 2-2 record with the last game being the decider. And it was only befitting that the came was a nail biter of tension that was palpable, with teams making great plays (CLG’s grabbing baron) that were only meet with setbacks (TSM all but wiping CLG afterwards.) CLG eventually came out on top, after a crazy close teamfight that eventually saw the team pushing into TSM’s base to claim the second NA LCS trophy for the CLG side.

 

The Take Away

I highly doubt anyone expected this to be the final brackets. Courtesy of lolesports.

I highly doubt anyone expected this to be the final brackets. Courtesy of lolesports.

I do not think in any way shape or form TSM fans should be too deeply saddened by their team’s performance. From 6th seed to second place is one helleva trip, and the team looked better than ever. If this is the TSM of Summer split, then the TSM of old may very well be back. That can only mean great things for NA overall. TSM need to make sure they keep up whatever they did during the playoffs, which’ll be aided by the move to Bo3’s for the Summer split. I think TSM have a good chance moving ahead, and I highly doubt any roster changes will happen for the team now. They’ll need to look within, work on their own form, clear up some of their internal infrastructure, and try to keep whatever spirit possessed them to bring them to where they were just a few short days ago: the Finals of the NA LCS.

CLG, too, doesn’t look like they’ll be resting on their laurels anytime soon. The squad, who almost unanimously everyone doubted and trash talked, shut up doubters (well, the ones who aren’t stubborn,) who doubted whether they were even a top-tier NA team, let alone the ‘best.’ Nobody will ever agree on who is really the best, but winning two LCS finals sure does help. The team looks to be moving in the right direction with their rookies, and fans can only hope that they’ve yet to reach their skill ceiling, and with further nourishing they’ll grow even stronger. CLG’s staff will need to make sure to patch up the holes and problems the squad experienced, and maybe attempt to deepen those champion pools and drafting process for the squad. But CLG looks strong, very strong, coming into the Summer split. They’ve shown that they’re not a one trick pony either, and as much as fans of the other teams will still use it against them, it does make a statement that they won their final game off a decisive team fight and not just a split pushing Darshan.

NA LCS Finals Analysis

2016

The unexpected appearance of TSM in the finals after taking down the heavy favorites of Immortals, coupled with the CLG victory in the other semifinal points towards that this could be the best final of any NA LCS split ever.
There are many story-lines converging in one single event . TSM makes the final once again as an underdog. This is the seventh LCS split and the seventh final that TSM plays, meaning that they have made top-2 in every LCS split. There have been splits were TSM was heavily underrated and for good reasons, yet they always perform in playoffs. It is not the first time that TSM was expected to lose in the quarterfinals or the semifinals, and this is the reason why for many people TSM is the best team in the world preparing for a tournament, because they always perform better than expected in playoffs or international competition.

The off-season was plagued by trash-talk between the CLG and TSM organizations. It all started with the Doublelift transfer from CLG to rival TSM, followed by a few less than ideal PR statements, the arguments got heated between both sides igniting the oldest rivalry in League of Legends more than ever before. CLG seemed dismantled with the loss of Doublelift and Pobelter, whereas TSM looked like one of the strongest teams in the league before the split started. As the season developed, CLG showed that they were the team that had a better grasp of the meta and could work between the different personalities on the team. On the other side, TSM struggled to understand the meta, to establish and follow a leader and to win games. When the regular split came to an end, to the surprise of many, CLG was stronger team than many people had expected.

TSM can accomplish something that has never happened before and that it is unlikely to happen very often. They beat C9, the third seed in the quarterfinals. Then they beat Immortals, the number one seed. And they will play against the number two seed from the regular split in the finals (CLG). Meaning, if they are the North American representative heading into MSI, they have to have beaten the top three teams from North America in a bo5. TSM has proven that they are a team worthy of the title, and many could argue that they already beat the final boss, but the stage of Las Vegas awaits and the monster of CLG is waiting for the best revenge in League of Legends history.

Why TSM will win:

They have more talented individuals. Before the split started, many people credited TSM because they were the superior team in terms of talent. However, the regular split showed that talent alone does not win games. It is a fair point that CLG has shown for a longer period of time that they play as a cohesive unit with little internal disagreement on the shotcalling. On the other side TSM seems to have gotten past the point where the internal issues should be worrisome any longer. They beat C9 and Immortals, if there are any doubts that these is a different team than the one that played in the regular split, those should be deleted. TSM is a more talented team that seems to have finally understood the meta and be able to execute strategies that are optimal. TSM improved tremendously in playoffs, something that can play to their advantage is that no one really knows what to expect. Although they will surely play good League of Legends, it is uncertain as to whether they have more strategies that did not need to showcase because of the standard way they needed to play to beat the multiple ADC comps that Immortals tried to play . TSM seems to have an advantage in Tank metas and this is surely a final where tanks will be played. TSM has the unpredictability factor, which will probably not win them the series, but it can tilt the tie in the crucial first game which they have historically been terrible at.

Why CLG will win?

They want to win more than TSM does. Despite having won the last split at MSI, neither Stixxay nor Huhi played there, and before that CLG had not been a successful organization since season 2. They failed to qualify to worlds multiple times with very unsuccessful playoffs runs. At one point they almost got relegated. CLG not only has accomplished less than TSM has, but it was basically insulted by Doublelift with all the statements he made about the organization, and how they mistreat their players, etc. From the management to the players it seems very evident that CLG cannot afford the embarrassment of losing to TSM one more time in such a big stage. CLG also has been a solid team for a longer period of time. They played very well during the regular season and even though they did not improve tremendously heading into playoffs, they are a team that knows how to play the map and does not get impatient even in close situations, an asset very important heading into Las Vegas.

maokai

My prediction:

I think Maokai will be the deciding factor in this series. The jungler position is at one of the strongest points it has been in a while shifting the power away from top lane. CLG was successful in summer of 2015 because Darshan was the best top laner from NA on carry champions. With the meta shifting towards tanks, CLG has lost too much of an advantage because Hauntzer showed proficiency on Maokai against Immortals. Whereas CLG has never looked great when Darshan is not carrying in some way. Therefore, the mismatch in the top lane that could give CLG the advantage has been reduced enough so that TSM carries can outshine their counterparts. I predict that TSM will comfortably win the series

 

 

courtesy of youtube.com and gameinfo.na.leagueoflegends.com

 

NA LCS semifinals analysis

vegas

(Courtesy of lolesports.com)

TSM advanced to the semifinals in the most TSM fashion possible, losing the first game, adapting, and changing their strategy, won them the next three games and their ticket to Vegas.
TL managed to beat a NRG team that did not look like a playoff team. Piglet and Matt dominated the series as if Trick2g was playing normal games versus viewers. Dardoch put a clinic on how to jungle and demonstrated that his Rookie season award was no mistake.

The semifinals match-ups put Immortals against TSM, and CLG versus Team Liquid. It could have been better if TSM and CLG would have faced each other only to attempt to defeat the final boss of Immortals. Unfortunately that is not the case and puts TSM in the toughest position to make the finals of an LCS split ever.
TSM has made all six finals of the six NA LCS splits, the toughest one was in the summer of 2014 when they had to beat LMQ. If one goes back and remembers that LMQ had dominated the season but started to fall towards the end, one remembers how big of an underdog TSM was coming into that semifinal. The first four games of the semifinal were won by blue side, and it was extremely likely that LMQ would win the fifth game on that side, and against all odds TSM managed to advance to the final of that season.
Season 6 has unprecedented challenges for TSM, one of their worst regular season splits against the best regular season split of any NA LCS team, a 17-1 Immortals. TSM is not used to being heavy underdogs in the NA region, but if they managed to advance one more time to the finals it would prove have invaluable of an asset Reginald really is.

On the other side of the equation CLG has remained a top team in NA since the start of the competitive scene. CLG has struggled in the last couple of years to fight for a split title. At one point they almost got relegated. They finally won a title in the last summer split, but as things looked to have gotten better, star ADC Doublelift left the team. In a renewal of the team’s pieces it seemed unlikely that the team would compete for the title this season. Nonetheless, they finished second in the regular season and were the only team to beat Immortals. The oldest rivalry in League of Legends does not face each other this time, but if they do in the finals, it would put into perspective how superior their management is in terms of experience and organization.

(Courtesy of pentakill.tv)

(Courtesy of pentakill.tv)

TSM vs Immortals

Immortals come in as the heavy favorites, there is no doubt about it. An extremely dominant season ending with an almost undefeated record should be enough reasons to explain why they will win the match-up. However, there is one disadvantage that history has shown to teams that are so superior to others. When teams have been extremely dominant because of mechanical skill and raw talent like LMQ and LGD, once other teams catch-up in raw talent, and they manage to make it out the laning face with minimal losses, history has shown that these teams become vulnerable to transition small leads into winning games. Teams that in the past have relied heavily on outplaying opponents have not shown to be invulnerable. The only exception could be Samsung White in season 4 that almost always won games in the early games. However, they also proved to be an incredible advanced strategic team.

Why TSM Will win?
Immortals has been unchallenged so far. When Fnatic went undefeated last summer they displayed their strategic prowess by not winning games in the early game. In fact in multiple occasions they came back from incredible gold deficits. Immortals has not shown that their macro-level strategies are polished because they have not been able to. If TSM can make it out of the early game, they can exploit the fact that Immortals likes to use Wildturtle as front-line because in previous instances it has not made a difference. Immortals is a great team, but they have not shown what they are capable of and that is scary.

Why Immortals will win?
Not much needs to be said here.

(Courtesy of pentakill.tv)

(Courtesy of pentakill.tv)

CLG VS TL

Had this been the quarterfinals match-up and CLG would have undoubtedly been the favorites. However, TL made NRG looked like a Challenger series team. Not only did they 3-0 NRG, they did so in an extremely convincing fashion.

Why CLG will win?
They have looked strong the entire season. They do not have the best individual players, but in an era where macro-level gameplay is more important, CLG performed better in the regular season and should look to advance to the finals. CLG can lane swap against TL’s strong laners and can reduce the impact that Dardoch can have on the game by doing so. TL strength lies in the early game, and a team with solid macro-level game play like CLG should take the series by lane swapping when advantageous or picking stronger lanes.

Why TL will win?
They put on a clinic against NRG and their early level strategy and mechanical talent secured games from the early stage of the games. If they manage to get standard lanes or standard 2v1  lane swaps, it should be to TL advantage. However, if they get lane swaps were turrets are traded and both teams safely make it out of the early game, it should play to CLG’s advantage.

 

 

A Summary of the 2016 NA Spring Split

The recent split for the North American LCS was a split of extremes for the most part. There was an undefeated team for the first seven weeks, and there were a few teams with only one or two wins for the first five weeks.

Immortals, a new team in the LCS, was formed right after the Season 5 World Championships. They were formed from a lot of players from other teams. Reignover and Huni were signed from European powerhouse team Fnatic. WildTurtle was signed from Team SoloMid. Pobelter from Counter Logic Gaming and Adrian from Team Impulse. This team finished the split with a 17-1 record. This included winning the first 12 games of the split and a perfect game against Team Impulse. They won the fastest game in LCS history in 18 minutes 16 seconds, and generally destroyed people. They were the Golden State Warriors of the Rift.

Immortals just barely missed actually living up to their name, only losing a single game (Image immortals.gg)

Immortals just barely missed actually living up to their name, only losing a single game (Courtesy of  immortals.gg)

On the other end of the spectrum, for most of the split, the role of the Philadelphia 76ers was played by Renegades. They qualified for the LCS through Challenger, and were known for having the first female player in LCS history. Remi, Maria Creveling, was their support and was known for her great Thresh play. She left the team early on in the season. After that, the team hit a very rough patch. At one point, the team was 1-11. Freeze also had issues and could not play early on in the split, and when he returned, Hakuho stepped in as support. It really took them a while to get their footing. Toward the end, they really stepped it up, however. They ended the split 4-2, and had a huge lead against Immortals before losing. They won the tiebreaker against Team Impulse finishing the split with a 6-13 record and a lot of momentum.

Team SoloMid was a team with a lot of interest coming into the split. They were the resident NA All-Star team, with Bjergsen already a star in the midlane. They went and signed Hauntzer, Svenskeren, Yellowstar, and NA’s greatest trash talker Doublelift. Practically anything other than an undefeated split would be underachieving with the hype they garnered. However, no one could have expected as low as a 9-9 split. While WildTurtle performed exceedingly well with Immortals, his replacement on TSM, Doublelift, never really got his footing. They still made the playoffs, however so they can still make up for the lackluster split.

Team SoloMid, all stars on their previous teams (Image http://lol.esportspedia.com/wiki/File:TSM_Roster_LCS_2016_Spring.jpg)

Team SoloMid is comprised of five players who were all the stars on their previous teams. (Image http://lol.esportspedia.com/wiki/File:TSM_Roster_LCS_2016_Spring.jpg)

Counter Logic Gaming, despite none of the hype of some of the other teams in the LCS,  quietly had a very impressive split. With a 13-5 record, they locked up the 2nd seed in the playoffs. They also were the only team to defeat Immortals. With no Doublelift or Pobelter, people were nervous to see how CLG could do. Stixxay, Doublelift’s replacement, did a fine job all split. Huhi, Pobelter’s replacement, also did very well. With Aphromoo, Darshan and Xmithee still there, they just did their job without any of the hype. While everyone was paying attention to Immortals and TSM, CLG just took care of business all split.

Echo Fox was another team that was new to the LCS. Formerly Gravity Gaming, the team was purchased by former NBA Champion Rick Fox. This was a team whose split was filled with runs. At full strength, they won their first game of the split and finished the week 1-1. After some Visa issues, they had to make forced roster changes. Their midlaner Froggen and their top laner kfo had to sit out for four weeks. In those four weeks, Echo Fox did not win a single game. Their stars came back week 5, and they immediately went on a 4 game win streak. This was the longest such streak in the split at that point for any team that wasn’t Immortals. They were right back in the fight with all of the best teams. They also had a 67-minute win against Team Dignitas in which Froggen broke the world wide Creep Score record for a single game. He killed 764 CS as Gangplank. In that same game, Echo Fox’s ADC Keith also broke the former record with 738 CS in that game.

This split also saw a very different pool of champions played than in splits past. Marksmen were everywhere. Graves, Kalista, Quinn, Varus, Corki, Lucian, Miss Fortune, the debuting Jihn, Kog’Maw, Ezreal, Caitlyn, Vayne and another new champion, Kindred, are all marksmen who saw time in an LCS game. Many of these were played in roles other than ADC. Corki, Quinn and Varus were all played, mostly in midlane. Graves and Quinn were both played top. Graves and Kindred were both played as junglers. The meta saw little tank play outside of top lane. The top lane, however, saw some serious tank play. With the preferred Malphite build being Zz’Rot Portal and Banner of Command for several weeks, the top lane became almost exclusively tank v. tank matches.

Nerfed, but not forgotten. Zz'rot Portal became the premier tank item for a lot of the split. (Image http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Zz'Rot_Portal)

Nerfed, but not forgotten. Zz’rot Portal became the premier tank item for a lot of the split. (Image http://leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Zz’Rot_Portal)

It was a very unique split. Teams rose to the top that were unexpected, and different teams underwhelmed. The meta was full of damage whereas before this split it was a tank heavy game. It is still unseen how the playoffs will end, and how this meta will shift going forward. But I, as do most fans, look forward to how the game will evolve going forward.

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