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Counter Logic Gaming - The Fall Of The Laneswap Kings?
Team Liquid - Their Own Gatekeepers
For Counter Logic Gaming, the Summer NA LCS split has been one centered around recovery. That seems strange for the first North American team to reach the finals of a Riot organized international tournament, but the meta’s shifted away from CLG and the competition in NA has gotten a lot better. Still, over the course of the split CLG has shown the tenacity and ability to improve and are coming into playoffs as the dark horse gunning to sneak the trophy out from under everyone’s noses.
This is because individually the players have had very poor performances so far this split. Darshan has struggled in the top lane with his previous split trademark champions nerfed out of the meta. Without his Poppy or similar champions in the meta he’s struggled to find the balance between aggression and recklessness. Stixxay looked to be a budding star on CLG in playoffs last split, but it’s clear he wants to deal damage which hasn’t been supported in today’s CC heavy ADC meta. Without his Caitlyn or similar hyper carries available, he hasn't been able to take control of the game like he did at MSI. Huhi has always been a point of contention, and his playstyle hasn’t evolved. He reminds me most of Keane when he was on Gravity relying on pocket picks to take enemies by surprise or just sticking to safe comfort like Viktor.
Despite their laners problems, Aphromoo and Xmithie have retained their immaculate control of the map for the team. Every rotation is pre-planned and secured well in advance by excellent pathing by Xmithie and ward coverage from Aphromoo. Because of this CLG is able to push past otherwise poor early games to the point where they can use that same pressure to formulate an end game.
Laneswap Kings Meet Their Doom?
The biggest question for CLG entering the playoffs is how they will adapt to the lane swap changes. Their playstyle was designed to let them skip past that laning phase cleanly, but that isn’t as lucrative an option anymore. That said Stixxay, Aphromoo, and Darshan aren’t bad laners, so the team doesn’t have to fear so much as they have to adjust. Darshan especially will be a point of focus, and I expect Ekko to be an extremely high priority pick for him.
Still, I have confidence in CLG as outside of an upset loss to Apex the team has looked the cleanest of all the quarterfinalists. And with their proven coaching staff, you know they'll prepared for a tough best of five.
Of all the teams entering the NA LCS Playoffs, Team Liquid remains the hardest to figure out. When they're on point, they look like one of the best teams in the league, but when they don't quite click, they look completely lost. They built up a bit of momentum over the middle of the split, but a loss to CLG in the second last week saw them lose the plot. leading to them dropping from 3rd to 5th is the span of two weeks. With a hard match against CLG, it’s clear that Liquid will need to bring their A-game.
The Rookie Core
Team Liquid has quite a few things going for them. Despite most of their roster lacking experience, the team has looked really strong both individually and in a macro sense. Lourlo, especially, has been unlocked this split as he's been able to play his more natural playstyle with the bruiser champions in the meta. Even if he lags behind in CS, he'll somehow manage to pick up a solo kill to turn the tide of his lane. Fenix has also stepped up big time, leading the league in CS difference at 10.
Of course, the star of the show is Dardoch. He spent the first two weeks serving a team-issued suspension, but once he returned the team went from looking like a bottom tier team to looking like one of the best in the league. His first blood rates and kill participation are top tier, and he has the most damage per minute coming from the jungle which is even more impressive when you realize he isn’t lagging behind in CS.
Of course, there are numerous problems the team will need to overcome in order to make it to the semifinals. Fabbbyyy is a capable playmaking marksman but in team fights, he is quite meek and will not show the positioning proficiency of other top ADCs in the league leading to the worst DPM of any ADC in the league. Matt also has the tendency to leave him to fend for himself to peel for Dardoch which often results in Fabby being easy pickings for the enemy.
A Crumbling Mentality
However, the main thing that holds Liquid back is their mental fortitude. When they are startled their play takes a major dip in quality with Matt especially faltering when things don't go his way. Instead of reseting they make some baffling aggressive calls that leads to Matt flanking from an angle where his team simply can't follow up resulting in either his own death or the deaths of Fabby or Fenix as the enemy engages on them without the peel of their support. If they don’t come out with a good start against CLG, I don’t have much faith that they are capable of a reverse sweep.
Still Liquid should be proud of their accomplishments this split. It is extremely rare to see so much new talent be this successful and as they keep playing together their ability to handle pressure will improve. If they come in fresh and unencumbered from their late season slide, they might have the ability to challenge CLG with intelligent pathing from Dardoch. Regardless of the outcome Team Liquid has had a good rebuilding year and is well placed to challenge the top tier NA teams next year with their rookie core.