Far from the glittering novelty of Las Vegas and the proud city of Rotterdam, the Mid-Season Invitational awaits in Shanghai. The six strongest teams from their respective regions around the world get ready for their chance to demonstrate their strength on the world stage in a battle for glory and fame. Of all the story lines going in to the Mid-Season Invitational, few are as prolific and fanatic as that of North America versus Europe, with this iteration of the rivalry being old dogs Counter Logic Gaming up against the young upstarts of G2 Esports.
For G2 Esports this matchup – and tournament as a whole – is about justification; justifying that they are, undoubtedly, EU’s strongest representative, justifying the notion that EU is the strongest non-Korean region, and justifying, for another season, that EU is better than NA. For CLG this tournament is all about redemption; redeeming NA from Season 5 Worlds, redeeming CLG from IEM Katowice and redeeming the entirety of NA as an apparent ‘joke’ region.
Despite CLG being one of North America’s most established organisations and being backed by the veteran talent and experience of Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, Jake “Xmithie” Puchero and Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black, it would be untrue to say that G2 are not the favourites in this matchup. Whether that is due to G2’s inarguable crushing of the European LCS or simply because of EU’s historical dominance over NA, it is hard to say. But the question remains, can CLG overcome their international disappointment or do fans of North America only have more disappointment in store for them?
Top Lane: Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha versus Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek
To take a glance at this pairing, the immediate assumption would be to say that Darshan has it won, rather handedly, and it’s probably not incorrect to make that assumption. Historically one of NA’s strongest carry top laners against Kikis, a previous Jungle main only recently transferring to the top lane, who plays tanks and carries to a fairly average level. Not only is this a mismatch in experience and skill, however, it is also a complete mismatch in styles. Darshan receives 21.8% of his team’s gold, putting him second place in the NA LCS for top laner’s gold share as opposed to Kikis’ meagre 19.6% gold share, putting him dead last in the EU LCS.
In the regular season and the playoffs, Darshan played twelve champions, eight of which would be considered ‘carries’ (Ekko, Fiora, Gangplank, Graves, Jax, Pantheon, Ryze and Yasuo) and four of which would be considered ‘tanks’ (Gnar, Maokai, Poppy and Trundle). Even the tanks played by Darshan are the more carry-oriented champions with Gnar being more of a bruiser, Trundle more of a splitpusher and Poppy a definite backline threat – essentially Darshan played one pure tank game the entire split, a game which he lost. Indeed, Darshan’s focus – and by proxy CLG’s – for the vast majority of the split has been to get a lead over his opposing laner and then bully them and put pressure on the map by split-pushing – not a role most suited to that of a tank. To get this lead, Darshan is generally the focus of Xmithie and is often further aided through CLG’s use of globals in double teleport amongst other strategies.
On the other hand, Kikis is generally not the focus of his team, or even a main carry. Trick rarely paths for top lane and top lane is almost never a priority for G2. In the regular season and playoffs, Kikis played eleven champions, eight tanks (Malphite, Maokai, Nautilus, Poppy, Rammus, Shen, Tahm Kench and Trundle), two carries (Ekko and Fiora) and one supportive mage (Lulu). It is clear to see that Kikis is a supportive top laner whose main aim is to provide a frontline for his solid three carries and to engage when he sees fit as shotcaller.
Despite all evidence seemingly pointing towards Darshan taking this matchup with ease, it cannot be denied that Kikis had an excellent playoffs series, solokilling his lane opponent on one occasion and generally providing a very strong performance, showing a large preference for Trundle. He even upped his damage share from 19.1% in the regular season to a respectable 22.3% in the playoffs. The meta of tank top laners certainly does seem to favour Kikis even though Darshan has shown a proficiency for some of them but overall, the upper-hand has to go to Darshan.
Jungle: Jake “Xmithie” Puchero versus Kim “Trick” Kang Yoon
Trick, along with Perkz, has been a shining star for G2 and the European LCS, showcasing his incredible proficiency with carry junglers and being the main carry of his team on more than one occasion, all of which led to him receiving, most deservedly, the EU LCS MVP award. His synergy with Perkz is the best example of mid/jungle synergy in the West and he uses Perkz’ lane dominance to ensure his own safety in invading and taking control of the enemy jungle. This is a strategy employed by G2 almost every game and they are near flawless in its execution. He places a huge priority in the duelling jungler trio of Nidalee, Graves and Kindred but is by no means limited to these three picks. His general priority is mid lane but oftentimes his main focus is securing his own lead, an extremely viable strategy when you consider how he can carry G2.
Xmithie, on the contrary, has been CLG’s hidden gem for the entirety of the Spring Split and while he has not received much praise from the community and critics alike, he has easily been the best performing member of CLG behind aphromoo. It is hard to think of a ‘bad’ game Xmithie has had all split and to put him at number two behind Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin would not be unrealistic. Xmithie has played a huge variety of styles for CLG this split, games where he has taken minimal resources and focused on his laners, games where he has picked Nidalee and ‘gone off’, taking a huge gold share and becoming a main carry for his team. As previously said Xmithie’s main priority is getting Darshan a lead but he showed in the Finals versus TSM that he can put a large amount of pressure on bot lane as well. Xmithie is also not afraid to sacrifice his own farm to get his team ahead (see game 5 of TSM vs CLG) spending huge amounts of time warding (one of the few junglers to still get sightstone before jungle item) and securing as opposed to the common farm heavy style that is common in Season 6.
This is going to one of the closer matchups in G2 vs CLG even though Trick’s credentials seem to far outweight Xmithie’s. A theory posed by scarra was that “Xmithie plays to level of the enemy jungler”, a theory which actually makes sense all things considered. Xmithie has not been completely outmatched essentially all season against some extremely strong junglers (Reignover, Dardoch, Svenskeren). However, Xmithie has yet to play against someone as aggressive and bold as Trick and while he may not lose per se, he may struggle to pressure his lanes as he is accustomed to. And it is undeniable that Trick is on fire right now and will be ready to steamroll his way through another enemy jungle.
Mid Lane: Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun versus Luka “Perkz” Perkovic
If there was one area for CLG to be concerned about this is it. The young Croatian mid laner, Perkz, exploded onto the scene this split after being second best behind Sencux all last year in the Challenger Series and has not given anyone any reason to doubt his Rookie of the Split award and has even made some doubt Trick’s MVP award. In the conservative meta of Season 6, Perkz has been one of the few mid laners to still produce highlight clips on assassins like Leblanc, Zed and Ahri showing his prowess and dominance in the 1v1 and laning phase. His dominance extends to control mages as well as he has shown extremely strong control mage play in the likes of Azir, Gangplank and Viktor and has even proven he can play to enable other carries on Lulu. His CSD@10 is 6, second only to Felix “Betsy” Edling, only further highlighting the authority he has continued to show in the EU LCS this split and showing why many are now recognising him as the next EU mid lane talent, up there with Febiven, Froggen, Bjergsen etc.
To describe Huhi’s split, one word suffices: mediocre. Almost every statistic of his is middling to bottom (except from Wards per minute which he tops) and his style is neither high lane pressure or conservative lane control. He occupies a middle ground where he will not lose the game but neither will he solo win it. He has played a variety of styles throughout the split to varying degrees of success. Huhi seems a jack of all trades style of mid laner where one area of expertise cannot be pinned on him but he can play control mages, assassins and supportive mages, all within one series. And while his Spring Split left a lot to be desired, his playoffs were actually a pleasant surprise where he seemed to find his stride on Ryze and Ekko, even putting in decent lane performances against Bjergsen, who is famed for his 1v1.
While Huhi may have played a good playoff series against two good mid laners, he has yet to play against Perkz. Perkz should dominate this matchup no matter the picks and if Huhi simply survives lane against him he will have done an admirable job.
Edge: Perkz (By far)
Botlane: Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes and Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black versus Kim “Emperor” Jin-hyun and Glenn “Hybrid” Doornenbal
Neither of these lanes have been dominant, and neither do they play to be dominant. Despite aphromoo’s previous lane dominance, this split he has focused less on lane and more on roaming as has Hybrid and both ADCs are content to farm relatively passively to their powerspikes. Between the ADCs themselves, the difference in skill and ability is negligible (experience advantage to Emperor) and is unlikely to be the main factor in the outcome of their matches. They are similar in that they are rarely the focus of their team but when they are, they have proven themselves capable of stepping up.
The supports, however, are a far more interesting pairing. Both are virtually identical in Kill Participation (71.8% to 71.2%) again demonstrating their clear tendency to stray from lane and affect the map. aphromoo has had a combination of the NA support pool of ranged supports and the meta pool of tank initiators but has placed his priority on Bard, Morgana and Braum for the majority of the split. Hybrid, on the other hand, has stuck almost solely by his Braum and Thresh picks, both of which he proven time and time again he has mastered. A further interesting area to be examined is Wards Per Minute and Wards Cleared Per Minute. Hybrid has 1.23 WPM and 0.44 WCPM (highest WCPM in the EU LCS) where as aphromoo has 0.99 WPM and 0.32 WCPM. These statistics are skewed, however, as Trick and Xmithie play extremely different styles meaning that Hybrid often does almost all the warding for his team, but aphromoo shares that burden in great part with Xmithie. aphromoo definitely has an advantage over Hybrid in all areas and his shotcalling will be key in CLG’s games therefore the support matchup goes in favour of CLG
Edge: aphromoo over Hybrid. However, the botlanes as a whole are quite even and are likely to only be swung out of balance by jungle pressure.
If you have heard that this matchup is heavily weighted in either direction then you’ve been told wrong. Most matchups are surprisingly close (aside from mid lane) and these matches should be extremely interesting to watch, particularly to see how NA’s ranged mage support meta will fair outside of NA and how Xmithie will fair against Trick.
CLG’s primary advantages are excellent shotcalling, map movements and double TP plays along with Darshan’s supremacy over Kikis.
G2’s primary advantages are Perkz in the mid lane, Trick’s incredible jungling prowess and strong team-fighting and skirmishing.
Both teams have shown proficiency in the lane-swap so there should not be any sizable advantages there. Overall, this G2 vs CLG should be focused around two key players, Perkz and Darshan. Both have shown time and time again what they can do with a sizeable lead and expect them to take over if given the opportunity.
Predictions: They will split 1-1.
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All statistics are from oracleselixir.com.