Counter Logic Gaming
Despite being the defending champions of the NA LCS, many considered Counter Logic Gaming to be a middle of the pack team coming into the 2016 Spring Split. This is in part due to the hype surrounding the stacked rosters of their peers and rivals, notably TSM, Immortals and Cloud 9, and partly due to the loss of their key player, and longest standing member, Doublelift, as well as midlaner Pobelter. However, this didn’t stand in the way of CLG, as they secured an impressive 13-5 record over the regular season, including being the only team so far to have defeated the dominant Immortals. Ask any player about CLG, and they will tell you that playing against CLG is unlike playing against any other team. This is because of CLG’s unique style. They rarely opt for teamfights, instead opting to outplay their opponents on the map, and exert pressure through splitpushing and laneswap tactics. CLG are known as the premier laneswap team of North America, and they often use this to gain an advantage in the early game. They also have the best dragon control on all NA teams, as a result of being in control of the tempo in their games, often being able to take the objective for free when their opponents are catching up. When it comes to their players, Darshan is the main focus of the team’s strategy. The CLG toplaner has been around for a long time, and has been known for his splitpushing and 1v1 abilities ever since his days as a Jax 1 trick on team Coast. From there, he has grown into a player with a diverse pool of carry oriented champions, showing particular prowess on champions such as Fiora, Graves and Gangplank. CLG’s success often directly correlates with Darshan’s success, which speaks volumes for his performance this split. Despite CLG not usually opting for teamfights, and having generally low killl games, Darshan ranks 2nd on Damage Per Minute (404 DPM), and in number of kills (49) amongst toplaners. However, one stepping stone CLG will have to overcome is the shift in meta towards tanks in the toplane. Last season, CLG were at their worst when Darshan (Then ZionSpartan) was forced to play tanks such as Maokai and their best when the meta shifted towards carry toplaners, as it has been for most of this split. Darshan has shown some diversity as an accomplished Gnar player, but it will be interesting to see whether he adapts his play style and champion pool towards the meta, or if he sticks with the picks he is comfortable with. For better or for worse, Darshan’s champion picks will be a deciding factor for CLG in this series. It’s impossible to talk about CLG without mentioning Aphromoo. The support CLG’s longest standing member, and a beloved and respected figure in the League of Legends community. Aphromoo initially came into prominence with former AD Carry, Doublelift as a lane dominant support, respected internationally as one of the best botlanes in the Western League of Legends scene. However, as DoibleLift has departed, he has taken on the role as main shot-caller, and is a key factor in CLG’s excellent macro play. He is very proficient on skillshot champions such as Thresh and Morgana, but can play almost any style of support to a high level, be that engage supports such as Alistar or peeling supports like Braum and Janna. He has recently become a very prolific Bard player, and is regarded by some as the best Bard player in the West, for good reason – CLG is 5-1 when Aphromoo has been on Bard this slplit, and he has been very vocal about how much time he has put in to perfecting the champion. This will likely be a big pick in the series, as Matt is also a Bard player. Joining Aphromoo in the botlane we have rookie AD carry Stixxay. Stixxay is a quietly solid performer for the team, and after a shaky first few weeks, he has settled on to the big stage and become a well-rounded AD carry. Filling the shoes of one of League’s most outspoken personalities was never going to be easy, but instead of doing this, Stixxay has brought his own shoes to the table. He has small percentage of his team’s damage due to CLG’s low amount of teamfights, but has the highest gold lead at 10 minutes, despite being middle of the pack for CS differential at 10 minutes. His biggest champion this split has been, like most AD carrys, Lucian, but his most successful has been his undefeated Ezreal, which is the champion he is most known for. In the midlane, we have Huhi. The Korean mid has actually been on CLG for almost a year now, but due to visa issues didn’t play a single game last split, instead filling the role of substitute. This split, stats wise, Huhi is mid table, sporting a respectable 4.2 KDA over 18 games. He is mainly an assassin player, favouring mobile burst champions such as Zed, and LeBlanc. This is a key to CLG’s 1-3-1 splitpushing strategy, as Huhi uses these champions to a role of secondary splitpush threat. When he isn’t on an assassin, he’s found success on champions with good map presence, like Twisted Fate and Corki, helping CLG gain a numbers advantage in the sidelanes when fights break out. Rounding out the lineup, there is Xsmithie. The veteran jungler has often come under fire as the weak link in CLG, and he himself has admitted that he is mechanically one of, if not the weakest jungler in NA. His stats are also very mediocre, ranking 8th amongst junglers in team damage (15.1%) and has one of the lowest kill participation for junglers at only 69.4%. However, these stats can be largely explained by how CLF use Xsmithie. He has the highest CS per minute of all NA junglers at 4.5, meaning that CLG use him to manage waves, and splitpush alongside Darshan. His main champions this split have been Rek Sai and Gragas, but has also been one of the few players to bring out Udyr, and in general has a fairly wide pool of champions. Because they came in second place in the regular season, CLG got to bypass the quarter finals, and have had the chance to watch their opponents’ playoff games so far and identify areas of strength and of weakness. These are the areas in which CLG need to focus in order to come out on top.
Keys to Victory
Toplane As I have already mentioned, the current toplane meta does not favour Darshan, and greatly plays into Lourlo’s hands. In order to gain an advantage in the toplane, CLG will have to ensure a good matchup for their toplaner. This will mean their redside games will be their most important, in order to ensure Darshan gets a counterpick. Of course, putting Darshan on Gnar is an option, as Gran can fill the role of splitpusher and of tank, but if that isn’t an option Darshan will have to dig deep to find a counterpick, which given his wide champion pool and high mechanical skill, is a very real possibility. Vision Where Dardoch excels in the pressure game, he wards less than any other jungler in NA, adopting a “battle ward” playstyle as coined by the Rox Tiger’s Peanut. This is made up for by Matt and the other members of TL, to the point where TL actually place slightly more wards per game than CLG do. This is a weakness that I feel CLG can exploit, as they are very good at clearing out their opponent’s vision, clearing an average of 24.7% of their opponents wards, to only 18.8% for Liquid. This results in the map being overall more lit up for CLG. Dardoch is a jungler who plays amazingly with a lead, but has been outmatched and shut down in the past by players such as Reignover. If CLG can work together to catch Dardoch out in rotation, using their superior vision control, then CLG have a chance of stopping Liquid’s early game momentum. Laneswap The patented CLG laneswap in order to secure a lead for Darshan could prove key for CLG. This could also help Stixxay and Aphromoo dodge away from a potentially aggressive Lucian lane, if Piglet wants to opt for that champion. This would then allow Stixxay to play his favourite Ezreal, which as mentioned already, CLG excel playing around, as laneswaps give these slower scaling champions more time to grow. Late Game Whilst Dardoch may be able to dictate the pace of games in the early to mid game, between him and support Matt, struggle with late game shot calling, due to them both being rookies. CLG thrive in the late game, forcing their opponents to make tough decisions involving a number of factors, including objectives, splitpush pressure. This is the strategy they employed when they beat Immortals, with Darshan on Fiora and Xsmithie on Udyr, providing pressure all over the map which even the most experienced of teams have struggled to deal with. The longer the games go, the more chance for CLG to expose Team Liquid’s weakness, and show their own strengths in decisive late game shotcalling.
Overall this series will be a close one to call, but I predict that CLG will take the series 3-2, going to face the winner of IMT vs TSM in the finals.