Can FlyQuest stop CLG's momentum in the NA LCS playoffs?
It happens every split: CLG starts slow.
They make us wonder if they're over-the-hill, if their mechanics are gone, if their style can keep working against newer and better teams. They lose series that they shouldn't and fly under the radar for weeks.
Then, magically, they turn it around. CLG simply dominates the second half of splits. Since 2015, CLG averaged a 52 percent win rate in the first four weeks of each split, jumping to 65 percent in the last four weeks. The results since 2016 are even more stark: 43 percent in the first half, 64 percent in the last. And this isn't a schedule fluke, either. In the spring of 2016, they were the only team to beat Immortals in—you guessed it—the second half of the split.
What is going on?
The best coached team in the league
Two things happen as the regular season rolls on. First, teams build a trove of data on their opponents via VODs of competitive games. The offseason roster churn endemic in esports makes scouting on last split's results impossible. Teams like TSM and Cloud9 made changes at just one position and now play completely differently. It takes a few weeks of film to figure them out.
The other factor is the shifting meta that forces teams and players to adapt. This adaptation requires the proper use of scrimmages. Teams have to be willing to throw their pre-split concepts out the window—or even their coaching staff altogether—and make sure their players are prepared for whatever comes their way.
Nobody is better at taking advantage of both of these factors than CLG. Their coach, Tony "Zikz" Gray is one of, if not the, best in the business. Split after split, Zikz helps his team devise strategies that take advantage of opponent tendencies. Nowhere is that more apparent than the pathing of jungler Jake "Xmithie" Puchero.
This was from CLG's week eight win over FlyQuest. Xmithie moved into the FlyQuest jungle to use the blast cone. He knew that the river bush was warded, but by taking the circuitous route, he ensured that he was seen as late as possible. Removing the plant also prevented FlyQuest jungler Galen "Moon" Holgate from using it to get in on the play.
Xmithie was able to get first blood in game two on a similar wraparound trick, this time on mid laner Hai Lam. Xmithie is not known for strong mechanical play or a carry mentality. But plays like this help him get ahead and snowball his lanes.
Zikz also helps his team understand how to scrim. Aphromoo noted how, last summer, the team would purposefully throw the early part of scrims. They did this not to troll, but to learn how to play from behind. It's that type of attitude—that scrims are not meant to recreate games but are for specific practice in controlled scenarios—that makes CLG so successful.
They also analyze the results of scrims better than nearly anyone, with the effect being seen in their drafts. They know that top laner Darshan Upadhyaya and mid laner Choi "HuHi" Jae-hyun are inconsistent players with limited champion pools. But they are able to craft comps that work within that framework, giving both players the split pushers that they prefer.
Their success this year came as they went back to that 1-3-1 style that has been so successful in the past. Zikz has taken the team to great heights, and he keeps reminding us of how good he really is.
Flyquest up against the wall
FlyQuest barely made the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. But after getting in, they drew an extremely tough assignment against CLG. Sure, teams like Phoenix1 and Dignitas are playing well, but CLG can counter FlyQuest where it hurts: coaching.
If CLG is the best-coached team in the league, FlyQuest is one of the worst. Don't take our word for it: Both FlyQuest playesr like Moon and An "Balls" Le and opponents like Josh "Dardoch" Hartnett have made it abundantly clear that the team's scrims aren't very effective. And while picks like bot lane Mordekaiser have been somewhat successful, good teams have shown that those aren't sustainable strategies in a playoff setting.
To be fair, FlyQuest is still extremely strong in the early game. That is almost entirely due to the much-memed Hai-Moon duo. There's no reason FlyQuest should be winning lane phases. They have some of the worst lane stats in the league across all three lanes. But they continue to boast high first turret and first dragon figures. Hai and Moon are extremely aggressive roaming as a duo for side lane control that translates into these objectives.
The problems come after the lane phase ends. Their overall control of dragon is in the middle of the pack, indicating that after their early spike, things start falling apart. Hai and company frequently try cavalier plays without vision, and when those things go poorly, FlyQuest falls hard.
After the early Xmithie gank in their week eight match, FlyQuest actually fought back to take a kill lead. But they should little understanding of how CLG wanted to play the map. CLG don't care about kills, they just need the map wide open for them to split push. When FlyQuest focused more members mid, CLG took one look at their huge side lane waves and eagerly took the trade.
Never mind that Moon missed the play on the CLG duo lane. FlyQuest never should have been there in the first place. Without HuHi and Xmithie missing, FlyQuest should assume that CLG's duo lane are smart enough to not get caught alone. Then, when they fail to make the play, they overstay for a tier two turret, losing two inhibitor turrets in the process. It was an aggressive call on limited information that needed multiple variables to fall in their favor. It was a house of cards, felled by the the tiniest breeze.
How can FlyQuest win?
Hai needs to dominate in the mid lane for FlyQuest to have any hope. HuHi is a good roamer as well, but mages and assassins aren't his strenght. Hai needs to take advantage of that. They need to be proactive moving the duo lane around to match CLG's tricks in that area.
Speaking of the duo lane: CLG ADC Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes was hospitalized for mononucleosis and tonsillitis before the team's week nine match against Immortals. Hopefully Stixxay is feeling better and can compete at his usual level, but if there's any weakness at that position, FlyQuest will take advantage.
Beyond that, there's not much. FlyQuest will be hard pressed to find a clear winning lane and match CLG's control of the map. CLG can be baited into some bad objective and team fights, but FlyQuest can too. They may just need to hope that the coin flip situations come up heads. Luck aside, CLG should continue their second-half surge and move onto the semifinals.
Photos via Riot Games, statistics via EsportsWikis and Oracle's Elixir