How CLG Can Get Back On Top
Counter Logic Gaming had an overall good year in 2016. They won the spring split, finished second at MSI, fourth in the summer split, but at the 2016 World Championship, their flaws became very apparent. As much as it is a cliche, it really was their motivation, teamwork, and positive attitudes that seemed to power their successes. With that being said, what was their downfall?
The first thing most people look at are CLG's solo laners, particularly Choi "HuHi" Jae-hyun. While HuHi was statistically below average for mid laners (seventh in CS/minute, fifth in KDA, third highest deaths), he had some games where you wouldn't think it's the same player in the mid lane. HuHi tends to be okay on most meta picks, but I believe his biggest strength is setting up his team during team fights.
Obviously, his Aurelion Sol was quite feared, but I believe getting a second off-meta pick would actually be the best use of HuHi. It was already quite beneficial for CLG to deprive the enemy teams of one ban each time, but if HuHi is able to force a second ban on something that is not a meta pick, that will greatly strengthen his team contributions. Throughout 2016, HuHi was 2-1 on Twisted Fate, which is a champion that I think perfectly suits his roam heavy play style; the same play style that he excels with on Aurelion Sol. I think if they put more of an emphasis on getting HuHi on that champion, we'd see more of HuHi's good side.
Now let's take a look at Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaya. As far as his stats go, Darshan was eighth in KDA and last in CS/minute for the summer regular season. Again, this year was much more of Darshan contributing by setting up his team (primarily Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes with the occasional Jake "Xmithie" Puchero carry game). However, when Darshan was at his best, he was a split-pushing monster that was able to 1v1 anybody, and draw tons of pressure.
At Worlds, we saw Darshan's highlights being some excellent teleport flanks on Poppy. While it would be fine for Darshan to transfer to a more exclusive tank style, we've seen in the past that he still has tendencies to try and carry, even while on those champions. If Darshan isn't able to step up his 1v1 game, he's going to be in big trouble this split against some of the dominant forces that just showed up from Korea. I'd say if Darshan isn't able to perform on carries, then CLG needs to have him really commit to the tank style of play. If Darshan continues to stay in this limbo where he's just okay on tanks, and can very rarely carry, he will very likely face the same problems he has over the past year.
Something that may seem a bit surprising is that I believe CLG's drafts, while great, could actually improve significantly with some minor changes. Tony "Zikzlol" Gray has seemingly done an incredible job as the head coach of CLG, and while his drafts tend to be pretty solid, sometimes the picks just don't make sense for the players. The bans are always on point, and they tend to get, what would be on paper, a strong composition for the current meta, but they sometimes lose out on their core strengths to do so.
It's hard to say if maybe certain champions are just what the players have practiced and feel comfortable with, or if the team just truly believes that some of these picks will work. The main thing that comes to mind is putting Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black on the likes of Braum, Karma, and Soraka for eight of their 12 summer playoff games. CLG, at their best, heavily relies on Aphromoo being the primary playmaker, and while he certainly faces his fair share of bans, it's very disheartening to see him off of his signature picks: Morgana, Thresh, Alistar or Bard. Time and time again, Aphromoo has been there, making the play to get a game-changing pick with his excellent skilshot accuracy.
I feel Xmithie was a pretty big victim to the Rek'Sai/Gragas meta, because he's had some pretty hard carry performances on Kindred, Olaf and Nidalee. CLG, in the summer playoffs, didn't seem too interested in getting Xmithie on something he could really carry with, which is something else that was present in some of CLG's best victories.
Perhaps most important of all is that CLG holds onto what has made them strong in the first place. Stixxay has been only getting better, and is looking like a top-three NA ADC. Aphromoo had a couple fairly underwhelming performances as an individual at Worlds, but I'd say it's far too early to count him out as the top NA support. Putting underrated memes aside, Xmithie has certainly earned his spot in the top NA junglers discussion as well. These players doing so well is what has mostly covered up the weaknesses of CLG in the solo lanes.
The other important aspect of this iteration of CLG is that they've always had a certain style they excel at, and they've been able to commit to playing that style. Whether it be team-fighting, split-pushing, or just excellent rotations, the strategical system within CLG, coupled with Aphromoo's shot-calling, has brought them victories in games where they had no business competing. With this roster, it's just about impossible that we'll see CLG be a team that just snowballs off of the laning phase, so it's important that we see them stick to that cerebral style of play that has helped them get so far in the past.
Overall, I certainly think CLG will remain a competitive top tier NA LCS team this split. The question is, can they get back to that 2016 Spring/MSI level? I believe that with a bit more focused direction from their solo laners, minor tweaks to their drafting, and maintaining their current strengths, CLG can bring themselves back up to the top.
Photo credits: LoL Esports