“If you have no faith, why are you even here?”
HotshotGG said these iconic words that every Counter Logic Gaming fan has heard and uttered themselves since he said them. And after seasons of torment where CLG never quite made it, it was believed that the team had hit its ceiling. That was, until Season 6. With the departure of popular talent, CLG had a rocky start to their season but soon hit their stride, downing the new age titans, Immortals, in their strive for excellence. Playoffs took a turn for the difficult, but after two full best of 5 series, they were crowned victors of the NA LCS once again. This sent them off to the Mid Seasonal Invitational where they competed against the top teams in the other regions. Through unforeseen circumstances (G2 taking a vacation, SKT performing rather poorly in the groups) CLG made a large splash in the Group stages and were favorably placed against Flash Wolves whom they had already defeated twice in the group stages. Despite taking down the Flash Wolves, they were no match for a revitalized SKT roster, and they ended MSI with a second place finish.
Everyone hoped that this would translate well into the next split. Unfortunately, so far that has yet to be the case. There have been calls from the fans to replace members on the team, even though changing players in the middle of splits has proven detrimental to the team in the past. What really needs to be looked at is not that CLG has gotten worse. It may actually be more terrifying than that; they have started to fail. This may be where we see CLG plateau. Compare their numbers from the last split to this split and you’ll find them eerily similar. And that was okay, if not excellent last split, where the meta favored them and their playstyles.
The Weak Link
During the Spring split we saw stats for CLG that haven’t truly been seen since Season 1 and 2. Gold was healthily shared between Huhi, Darshan, and Stixxay, although damage output was a little higher on Huhi but he was playing more assassins that split, so it was to be given that his damage would be higher. Aphromoo and Xmithie both had over 70% kill participation (KP) and two more were very close to that 70% mark.
But now, with just over half of the Summer split gone, CLG has played twice as many games, and the stats are almost identical with the glaring exception of kill participation. Only one player (Xmithie) is above 70% kill participation, and Darshan has fallen from 62.5% KP in Spring to an abysmal 51.7% in the summer split. His KDA has also fallen from 3.5 to 2.1, placing him in the bottom 3 top laners in NA. However, those two stats are the only concerning changes for the team. Overall, CLG are playing the same as they were before, and unfortunately, this isn’t working as other teams in North America have adapted better to the current meta.
Too many people call out Stixxay and Huhi for being the weak links on CLG. But what if I told you that Darshan was one of the weak links in the team? The team is trying to help him out as much as possible, but Darshan is falling behind other top laners in terms of statistics. He went from the top three in spring split to the middle or bottom of the pack of top laners in the summer split. Overall, he’s handling lane swaps poorly and making mistakes that are costing his team whatever lead they may have carved out. This is despite the meta favoring his bruiser-oriented champion pool.
So if it’s not just the raw statistics and their playstyles, what else is holding them back?
With the drastic meta shift in both mid and bot lane (specifically in that the meta shifted to top and jungle-centric), both Huhi and Stixxay were put onto the back foot, and perhaps into uncomfortable waters. “But Pink, you should know how to play all styles of your role!” you tell me. Yes, you should know how. However, knowing how and being comfortable doing so are two vastly different things. A player used to playing hyper carries will falter and not do as well on a utility carry instead. Stixxay's contrasting performances on Caitlyn and Ashe are prime examples of this. His Caitlyn was starting to earn him fame, especially in China where his Caitlyn was targetted by many teams and his trap mechanics really shone. But his Ashe, on the other hand, didn’t inspire so much of a reaction from people. Not because he wasn’t trying, but because Ashe is not designed to be a hyper carry. She’s a utility carry, and there’s a different playstyle to her as well as other utility Marksmen (Sivir and Jhin also come to mind) that isn’t inherent in the hyper carry playstyle.
Control mages are the forerunner mid lane. However, this is not where Huhi excels at. Yes, CLG believes his Azir to be incredible, however, first picking it and allowing the enemy to counter pick him hasn't worked out for CLG. Huhi is a player who does exceedingly well on assassins (Ekko and Leblanc) or supportive mids to let Darshan and Stixxay carry, but his control mages haven't been up to snuff.
With Huhi excelling at roaming and snowballing other lanes, or shoring up breaches in their defenses, enemy teams have adapted to that and forced him to spend more time in lane. His now infamous early push and TP strategy has been neutered by many teams. In the Spring split, he'd shove in his opponent at level 3 before backing for a second Doran's ring. He would then return to lane and be able to bully his opponent, opening up the opportunity to roam. Now, however, team's have caught on and are ganking earlier to punish his tendency to push his opponent in with this not only affecting Huhi's ability to remain competitive in lane, but also Darshan who was the main benefactor of his roams in the Spring split.
The coaching staff aren't free from fault either. Zikzlol has proven time and again that he is good at drafting strategies as well as helping the team implement them. But recently it feels as though he’s been showing his hand much too early, or he’s left his notebook out where anyone can read it. Perhaps, these drafts have had more success in scrims, but in the LCS they just haven't been working out.
So we know what’s not working for them, but what is working, and something many people tend to overlook is that Xmithie has done nothing but improve since he joined CLG in the preseason of 2015. He has grown to be one of the strongest players of the team. Xmithie is leading his team in kill participation (71.3%), first blood participation (29%), and KDA (3.7). He’s doing everything within his power to help maintain his team’s leads and shore up where the team may be sinking.
And as always, aphromoo is the rock that keeps CLG together. He’s been babysitting a little bit more for Stixxay, but at the end of the day, he’s doing his best alongside Xmithie to keep CLG afloat.
Do not despair CLG fans, for there is still hope yet for one of the oldest esports organizations in North America. The next patches should see carry top laners, hyper carry marksmen and a better mid meta for the team. They should again flourish, winning the games needed to bring them to playoffs. CLG is far from down and out. Voltaire said it best: Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe, and CLG fans have been doing just that for half a decade.
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