Counter Logic Gaming - A Foundation to Build Upon
Counter Logic Gaming has fallen on hard times. Across the board life is difficult. HotshotGG is under constant criticism for his management of the team, particularly for how the roster is being handled. The players sledge hammered yet again with the disappointment of a poor play-off performance are subsequently torn apart by the community and faced with the prospect of heavy speculation on roster moves that might affect their livelihoods. Whilst the fans watch yet again as their team performs extremely well in the regular season before falling apart when it counts. This is a narrative by now we are all familiar with, but it is not the whole truth.
What Went Right?
The Team Dynamic
First off, last year the terrible working relationships between certain players was exposed on one of the more extreme episodes of Chasing the Cup. Unable to get along and in some cases unable to fully communicate it was clear that this was a dysfunctional team whose members did not treat each other as team-mates should. This year all that seemed to change. Whether it was a result of the new coach or a new team dynamic it's impossible to fully deduce, but from the outside Scarra certainly seemed a positive influence in this regard. Moreover on commenting on why Zion was chosen for the team, atop his individual skill, Scarra emphasised the impeccable attitude that he brought to a team environment. From what we can see in front of the LCS cameras and the streams at home, the CLG house looks like a much more friendly place.
CLG was a team known for it's poor ability at incorporating a top laner to the overall team dynamic. The perception was that all the team wanted was to leave someone on an island, force them to play peeling tanks that supplement the strengths of their bot lane and hope they somehow fended for themselves until they were required. Some then were concerned for how Zion, a known carry orientated top laner would work with such a team.
On the whole I would say the acquisition of Zion was a success story. Whilst some of the old CLG flavour came through, with Zion playing less carry orientated champions on the whole - one has to also take into account that the meta shifted away from the classic Zion bruiser split pushers. Moreover, he looked effective and had solid impact on a variety of champions from more classic CLG style tops like Sion and Maokai, to more high impact top laners like Kennen, Hecarim, and Rumble. The team still had issues in terms of engaging and team fighting and so I can't say that everything was perfect. Though certainly the laning phase from CLG was very strong and in this case Zion was no exception. Whilst sometimes the beneficiary of the teams impressive lane swaps, Zion was often responsible for carving out his own leads by his strong play in two versus one scenarios. Even able to win one such lane as the slightly over powered Sion.
Zion is both mechanically strong and a strong positive influence on the team. His acquisition was perhaps the best thing to happen to Counter Logic Gaming this split and I hope he sticks around. If he can somehow work on becoming a reliable source of engage for his team, then he would truly become an invaluable player.
The Early Game
As mentioned, Counter Logic Gaming were far and away the best American team when it came to lane swaps. Doublelift frequently carved himself CS advantages in the early game whilst the team simultaneously got their top laner ahead, captured objectives and rotated across the map. Allowing their lacklustre team fighting to be hidden by the sheer advantage they could acquire as they entered the mid game. If the team can keep this core identity whilst somehow shoring up it's team fighting for the next split, then I see no reason besides choking, that this team cannot contend for a top three position. I do have to wonder however, was this strong early map play a remnant of former coach Montecristo - it very much fits the style that he emphasised.
Whilst clearly the team has many issues that it is going to have to overcome if it wants to be competitive even regionally, it is also true that CLG was for a time this split was truly the second best team in North America. Moreover, any other team that went from a narrow escape from relegations to finishing as the middle of the pack, would be considered a success story. For proof of this; look no further than the Copenhagen Wolves, a European team that started and finished in exactly the same position as their American counterpart. Why then is the narrative of these two teams so completely opposite?
The answer is ultimately expectation. Counter Logic Gaming is considered to be a top tier North American team both by itself and by a relatively large section of the community and it's fan base. Despite a lack of results, there are players on the team that are considered amongst the best in the region at their respective roles. Aphromoo, Doublelift and Zionspartan are all players that one could give strong arguments for being amongst the top three of their positions, or in the least, individually gifted players. Coupled with their regular split success it is little wonder that this team is often one touted for it's strong potential, a team that this time could deliver the goods. The problem is, Counter Logic Gaming is not a new team. It's a known quantity, there is a distinct and clear problem with showing up when it counts. The core team dynamic is faulty, the players are all perfectly fine as individuals, but there is no one on the team who rises to the occasion. Who leads with their play in game, the reliable clutch player. As such unfortunately I have to agree with the sentiment of the community at large, a roster swap is required. The only potential left is the potential for further disappointment.
Is Doublelift still the carry?
In addition I think it's also time the team decided on what Doublelift's role should be. Is he a hard carry in which to funnel resources and give scaling champions that can carry in the late game? His old play style. Or is he now a good ADC that plays for the team and acquires early leads to focus on taking objectives? So far neither has fully worked for the team, but he has shown a willingness to adapt to what the game requires from him. However, having seen what players like Forg1ven can do, even in the current state of the meta, I think it's time for Doublelift to step up. However to do so, the team needs a stronger identity, a stronger concept of how they fight together. He doesn't have to be the solo carry any more, but it should still be an option.
The Team Identity
Announcing that he was stepping down, Scarra took part in an interview with Travis in which he highlighted how he thought one of his largest failures was in forging a clear team concept. He felt the team had no core identity on which to rely on when it counted. They had played a variety of styles but what defined CLG. However as discussed I feel the team had an incredibly strong early game and were extremely consistent in carving out early advantages. However, as other teams caught up in how to play lane swaps, the leads the team could get were no longer large enough to cover their clear team fighting deficit. The team seemed confused, only looking truly top tier when Aphromoo was given play-making supports. Why then the team opted to ban Morgana in their play off game versus Team Liquid baffles me.
Clearly as the team is Aphromoo should be given the ability to engage with crowd control when at all possible. Zionspartan and Xmithie had much less success in finding strong engages. If the roster remains unchanged then one of these players must step up in this regard. Having the only reliable engage from the support player means less peel for Doublelift, so if another player could take the mantle of primary engage - it would allow Aphromoo to sometimes play the truer supportive champions and allow Doublelift a greater chance to impact team fights. Having a carry style top laner, frees the mid lane up to play a supportive style, as Link classically has, if the team so desires. As such the most important thing for the CLG mid lane should be consistency. If their mid lane is reliable, they need not carry given the ability to do so already exists in the other two lanes.
The jungler in this situation is spoilt for choice, given two lanes it can potentially snowball and a lot of early pressure they should focus on garnering early advantages. Be they kills, vision or a good concept of when to take dragons. Anything to exaggerate the already strong laning phase of the team. Having a flexible champion pool to fit the role required of them is an important trait.
The Need for Change
The recent backlash at HotshotGG when he allegedly denied Alex Ich the opportunity of trialling for the team highlights an important issue. Regardless of that particular circumstance, the fans want to see active change. The coach position has been used I feel as a scape goat for failures that were not necessarily fixable through coaching. Going forward the team will need a new coach, someone who can live in the house but commands respect as an authority figure. One can't help but feel ex-Coach Montecristo was the best fit all along, but given his commitments to casting the LCK, this is an impossibility.
As the core triad of Aphromoo, Doublelift and Link has remained constant, as has the teams performance. What they offer behind the scenes in terms of help and hindrance could only be speculation. Yet certainly one or more of these players has to change. Given Doublelift's history and loyalty to the team, it would be a shame for him to leave before tasting success but as things stand that may very well be the case. However, the bot lane is still a core strength of the team and given the right context could be an extremely strong basis for success.
If it were up to me I would make two roster moves; the same ones that have been frequently suggested by the community, mid lane and jungle. Despite both players performing decently in the regular split, they are in my eyes the best players to swap out to shore up the weaknesses that the current roster has. I would find myself a farm centric, team fight orientated mid laner - someone similar to Froggen or Easyhoon (in play style). Then in the jungle I would look for someone mechanically fairly strong and able to fulfil the role of engage. Be that Crumbz, especially if Alex were to be considered, the two seem to get along well. Or perhaps someone who slipped through the radar like Impaler, who is known for being a communicative and mechanically strong player.
Ultimately the only wrong decision at this point is no decision. To keep going as is without a change and to expect a different result, well, is it really worth taking the name Counter Logic so seriously?