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.
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.
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.
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.
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.