This has been a highly unpredictable year for Clutch Gaming. Back in January, we pegged them to be outside of the playoffs because we were unsure how good former head coach David Lim would be.
Lim led the team to a surprise semifinal appearance following the Spring Split, but just when we thought Clutch had arrived, they went the other direction, crashing to the bottom of the table. That caused a lot of soul searching for the team, and Lim did not survive that process.
“It was a mutual,” Clutch Esports VP Sebastian Park told Dot Esports about the separation between team and coach. “David wanted to pursue other opportunities and we wish him the best. When that happens, you go to the next man up.”
That next man is Anand “Curry” Agarwal. And Park was perfectly fine with him handling the turmoil of taking over in the middle of the season and handling a roster shakeup to boot.
“All teams now have larger coaching staffs,” Park said. “It’s not like the old days where the head coach was the be-all-end-all. Now, he or she sets the culture and there’s a larger support staff. Curry has all the tools to be very good. I have high expectations for him.”
Things did not come out Aces for Curry and the team initially. The roster swap that brought former World Champion bot laner Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin back into the lineup did not pan out with victories.
But Park isn’t concerned. He believes the team needed to change things up to get a fresh perspective, while giving newer players—especially support Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme—some stage time. Park thinks Vulcan could be an above-average starter in the region if given some experience.
“We wanted them to let them have a shot on stage, especially Vulcan,” Park said. “He did not have the breakout he was hoping for on stage. We don’t begrudge them one way or the other for the wins and losses. The losses actually don’t affect our win rate or playoff rate that much.”
The team didn’t pick up many wins with Curry, even when the old starting roster returned. But that’s not the point: the team’s models showed that, even on the outside of the playoffs, Clutch had a good shot at the regional qualifier for Worlds. And when FlyQuest lost to 100 Thieves last weekend, that meant that Clutch were officially into the gauntlet.
“The real thing we were prepping for is gauntlet,” Park said. “All of our changes are done with the idea of, ‘Are there iterations, or things we can do for everyone to give them a break or prep properly for the gauntlet.'”
Park believes there are good takeaways from the second half of the split that the team can build on towards the gauntlet. He pointed out strong drafting and better early pathing from jungler Nam “LirA” Tae-yoo, who can be one of the best at his position in the region. But there’s still a lot of work to do, as you’d expect for a team that was one win from last place in the Summer Split.
“I want us to speed up our game,” Park said. “I want us to play our style and embrace what we do so that when it comes to a best-of series, we’re able to turn around the season and close out with a shot into Worlds.”
That would be the biggest shocker of all: for Clutch to come back from near-dead to qualify for Worlds. But if there’s anything we’ve come to learn about their 2018 season, it’s to expect the unexpected.