The Elusive 1st Place: Can CLG Beat the KOO Tigers?
Fans around the world were rewarded for their years of undying faith when CLG finally won a LAN event, where they systematically picked TSM apart in a 3-0 sweep at Madison Square Garden in the NA LCS Summer Finals. With this win, CLG locked in North America's #1 seed for the 2015 World Championships, and with that, a much higher chance for an easier group at Worlds. The faithful continued to be rewarded as CLG was drawn into a group with the Flash Wolves from the LMS, paiN Gaming from Brazil, and the KOO Tigers from Korea. Compared to the other group drawings, CLG had been given the easiest group stage by far, and many fans have already pegged them to make it to the quarterfinals. The real question is, can they can manage to win the group over the KOO Tigers?
Before we talk about the playstyles of both teams, let's go role-by-role and compare the players from CLG and KOO.
Top Lane: ZionSpartan vs. Smeb
Arguably the most important matchup of the game, both of these players are very diverse in their playstyles and what they offer to the team. They are both well-versed in the carry top lane meta, with Smeb utilizing picks like Rumble, Riven, and Fizz to great effect, while Zion has shown to play Gnar, Olaf, and Fizz to help lead CLG to victory. Smeb is the key to KOO's early game, which is notorious for being one of the worse in Korea. He relies on getting ahead in the top lane and then forcing fights with teleport so he can carry KOO to the late-game, a stage in which they are in contention for best in the world. Zion prefers the split push and simply being a nuisance to the enemy team while CLG waits to pick the fight that they want so Zion can either roam down or teleport in. In terms of style, Zion and Smeb play very similarly, but Smeb has practiced his playstyle against the best top-laners in the world, while Zion's region has historically always had the weakest top laners. Now with Patch 5.18, Zion and Smeb have both been given the tools to carry even harder with potential picks such as Darius or Fiora, and these two are the key to each of their respective teams victory over the other.
So can Zion overcome Smeb? It will be very difficult for him to defeat him in a 1v1 matchup. HoJin prefers to stay around the top-side of the map to give Smeb as much room to work with as possible, and only the best top laners in the world have found a way to work around Smeb and the massive amount of pressure he applies for KOO. As KOO is best in the late game, Zion's best bet is to try and grab a counterpick to Smeb such as he did with Yasuo against Dyrus's Gnar. The problem remains that Smeb is much more skilled than Dyrus is, and KOO will be looking for any way possible to snowball their star top-laner. However, Zion is able to win his lane, it will mean that Smeb will not have the room to roam and teleport to help KOO scale as he has done time and time again. If Zion cannot get a favorable matchup, then it wouldn't be surprising to see CLG change up their strategy and lane-swap to keep Smeb as starved as possible, and instead switch their focus to stopping Gorilla in the early game. This is the key matchup for both teams, but Smeb comes out ahead in almost every aspect of a top laner.
Overall: Smeb > Zionspartan
Jungle: Xmithie vs. HoJin/Lee
Although CLG fans around the world were once again blessed with the VISA issues for Xmithie being sorted out, these two are arguably the two weakest roles for both teams in this matchup. Xmithie received a great amount of criticism from fans for missing gamechanging skillshots, or applying little to no pressure throughout the game, as if he was a constant Evelynn whose passive never wore off. HoJin, formerly known as Lee, had a very similar problem as well. He could not adapt to the Cinderhulk/tank meta and it made his team suffer greatly from it. After a 7-0 Bo3 match win streak, the IEM Katowice loss and meta shift made HoJin and the Tigers lose more frequently as the Spring split ended. Both of these junglers have received mass criticism in Season 5, but what are their strengths?
Xmithie began to show promise as he led CLG through the NA LCS playoffs in an amazing display of early game pressure and teamfighting with both Ekko and Gragas. His Ekko initiations and target selection in fights was on point, while his early game Gragas ganks and Explosive Casks turned skirmishes and teamfights in CLG's favor while being the unkillable nuisance that both Ekko and Gragas are. HoJin on the other hand is great at noticing which lanes need pressure and who he needs to snowball in order for KOO to scale and reach the powerspikes that they desire. Teams in Korea have focused on HoJin's jungling as a weak point to KOO, and have worked around his jungle pathing in order to keep him from applying any pressure. This is the bright spot for CLG in their matchup against KOO, where they keep HoJin down as much as possible to where he is not a factor by doing the same things that teams like KT Rolster and SK Telecom do to them. This is Xmithie's first Eastern opponent since he played against DanDy back at Season 3 Worlds, and in order for CLG to win, Xmithie must apply the same pressure he did against Team Impulse and TSM if CLG wants to stand a chance at winning these games. Based on recent performances, it is difficult to say which jungler is better at the moment, but HoJin has been better all year, while Xmithie has had his stellar performances in only the last two weeks of playoffs.
Overall: HoJin > Xmithie
Mid Lane: Pobelter vs. KurO
The mid lane in Group A is the only group in which the mid lane talent is not unbelievably stacked. With that being said, this is Pobelter's real chance to turn heads at Worlds, and it is not because KurO is a fantastic mid laner. This is a lane where CLG can create a massive advantage by abusing KurO's weak laning and allow Pobelter to become a massive threat through pressure or the use of a counterpick, which KurO has shown problems with. With Pobelter not having to show any sort of proficiency on a champion outside of Viktor and Orianna during the NA LCS Playoffs, he was lucky enough to be able to hide any sort of picks that could be scouted down by the KOO Tigers to make KurO's laning phase any easier. Pobelter has never been a competitive player that relies on the laning phase to be won for him, he simply wants to be useful to the team in the mid/late game area. In order for CLG to win against KOO, this must change. KurO's champion pool is large, favoring champions such as Viktor, Varus, and potentially LeBlanc since she was recently buffed. He is susceptible to being counterpicked, and KOO normally does not wait to pick their mid laners deep into the drafting phase unless they have a specific strategy in mind.
In the spring split, KurO was seen as a "brick wall" of a mid-laner, meaning that he would always be useful no matter how the game went on. As KOO began to lose, teams started to notice that KurO was an exploitable point in KOO's lineup. Teams would pressure mid lane heavily, eventually take the tier one tower, and then roam the map, keeping KOO from reaching their infamous late game. KurO is still able to live up to the reputation he was given in the spring split, but this required pressure from HoJin or Gorilla, or a change in KOO's drafting phase. CLG's overall key to victory is through immense early game snowballing, and having Pobelter defeat KurO in lane is necessary. Pobelter may be happy with going even and being a teamfighting mid laner, but that was in NA, a region known for weak macro-level gameplay. When CLG plays against KOO, a world-class team, their early game playstyle that won the NA split is going to be absolutely necessary, and Pobelter winning the mid lane 1v1 is the very core of the snowball that CLG is looking for. When comparing the two players, many players will favor the Eastern mid-laner of KurO, but after the stellar performance that Pobelter put on during the playoffs where he rendered NA's superstar mid laner Bjergsen worthless three games in a row, Pobelter can very much come out on top.
Overall: Pobelter > KurO
Bottom Lane: Doublelift/Aphromoo vs. PraY/Gorilla
The bottom lane matchup is very interesting because it holds CLG's ever so slight chance at victory if the games go post 30/35 minutes. Doublelift historically has always been a player that could carry his team to victory in games that CLG had no business winning simply by farming out to the late game and carrying fights through sheer mechanical skill. However even with that ability, he is playing against PraY, the main late-game threat of the KOO Tigers. Aphromoo and Gorilla play a very similar play-making style that can revolve around many different strategies such as early game roaming, teamfight initiation, or peeling for their carries in fights. Aphro showed fantastic growth during the NA LCS Playoffs where he did not choke in-game and helped to dictate fights to lead to CLG's victory, however; Gorilla is essentially a better Aphromoo that dictates the team's pressure more consistently and with a better plan of action than Aphromoo does. In the 2v2, CLG has a chance to come out on top if they play confidently and utilize powerspikes well, but PraY does not care about losing his lane, for his strength stems from his positional prowess in teamfights. PraY has shown to pick champions like Kog'Maw, Vayne, or Kalista recently and utilize utility supports and mid-laners such as Lulu (as KOO are the pioneers of Juggermaw) and allow PraY to carry them in the late game.
So how exactly can CLG's famous Rush Hour defeat PraY and Gorilla? PraY has been known as a diverse ADC that can carry the mid game with Corki, or have his team run compositions around him such as Juggermaw. With Corki having fallen out of style, most ADCs around the world have shown to favor either a utility pick such as Ashe, or potentially Sivir with the juggernauts having been released in Patch 5.18, or a late-game carry such as Vayne, Kog'Maw, or Kalista. CLG's best bet is to take away a utility ADC from PraY so he cannot have anyway to be useful in the mid game, and then try and beat them in lane hard enough with a 2v2 with a good lane matchup that they are able to take early dragons and turrets. Aphromoo is absolutely vital here because CLG has had problems closing out games and Aphromoo's shotcalling must be decisive if CLG manages to get ahead so they can keep PraY from getting back into the game at all. Doublelift and Aphromoo have the responsibility of keeping Gorilla in lane so he cannot roam, and to maintain an advantage over PraY so he cannot scale into the late game. Even with all of this in mind, KOO still has the opportunity to lane swap, where Gorilla will have free reign to roam and Aphro must make a decision between fast pushing turrets, or trying to follow Gorilla to countergank, or make plays of his own. The late game might end up being an uphill battle for Doublelift against PraY, but the early game will be a true test of Aphromoo's wits against one of the most intelligent and skilled supports in the entire world. Zion may have the toughest matchup against Smeb, but Doublelift and Aphromoo have the most difficult job, and that is keeping one of Korea's greatest supports from making plays, and keeping one of the oldest veterans from staying relevant in the game. It is possible, but PraY/Gorilla are still a better overall version of Doublelift/Aphromoo that have consistently played against much tougher competition. Rush Hour proved themselves to NA when they finally won a major event, this is their chance to prove themselves to the entire world.
Overall: PraY/Gorilla > Doublelift/Aphromoo
How Does CLG's Playstyle Matchup Against KOO's?
CLG has a very aggressive and consistent playstyle that stems from winning the lanes, picking smart early fights, and then snowballing the gold lead they have acquired to nearly insurmountable amounts. Theoretically, CLG's matchup against KOO is the best one they could possibly have against a world-class team, that is until the in-game clock ticks to 30 minutes, where it will become one of the worst. KOO's early game is not very strong, and they prefer to pick strong late-game compositions because they know that their champions won't only be stronger, but they know they are smarter in the late game as well. Post-30 minutes, KOO seemingly molds together into one cohesive unit and picks fights taking into account every possible circumstance until they are certain that they can win it. Gorilla and Smeb act as the main late game teamfight initiators, while PraY acquires the perfect position and takes the role of a sniper, where he takes down targets one-by-one.
Drafting phase for CLG means one thing: Do not ever let Lulu pass into KOO's hands. If CLG does not ban Lulu and for some reason she is able to get through, it is much too important of a pick to give up. It is the heart and soul of KOO's gameplan of late-game dominance, and Lulu is a champion that is always relevant, which is what KurO wants. CLG needs their lanes to win, and that job will be on Xmithie to pick a jungler with good early pressure so he can become a nuisance to Smeb and allow Zion to play on his own rules and not Smeb's. For the bottom lane, Doublelift and Aphromoo should look for the 2v2 because it will become more difficult for Gorilla to roam without a lane swap, and Doublelift and Aphromoo have shown greatest strength in 2v2s and that should not change just because their opponents are much more skilled this time around. Changing a strategy that worked wonders for you because of a lack of confidence is a sure fire way to lose the game and give KOO what they want. Many things have to go right in the draft phase for CLG to come into the game with an advantage, but it's the first step in taking 1st place in their group.
CLG absolutely cannot allow the late game to happen in either of their games against the KOO Tigers, for it is almost certain defeat if their regular season is anything to go off of. The games against TSM at the NA LCS Summer Finals ended in a 3-0 for CLG, but the games became sloppier as time went on. CLG seemed to roam around doing nothing while Zion had teleport off cooldown and were not pressuring objectives well at all until they won a teamfight. This cannot happen against KOO because of KOO's ability to pick fights, which is much better than TSM's. KOO will not become impatient like TSM did, so CLG must dictate the game and the pressure that is applied if they acquire an early advantage. CLG must take all advantages they see, and constantly pressure KOO's objectives and force them to fight when they are not looking for one.
Can CLG Beat the KOO Tigers and Acquire First Place In Groups?
It is possible, but still unlikely. CLG has massive problems closing out games and that will be their downfall against the KOO Tigers. On top of that, they must focus and defeat both of the other teams in Group A, Flash Wolves and paiN Gaming, decisively since it is unlikely that KOO will drop a game to either team. For North America, CLG and the #1 spot in Group A is the absolute best chance that NA has in making it farther than ever before at Worlds, and their first test will be a world-class team with world-class macro strategy in the KOO Tigers. This is CLG's chance to prove that they are the Great Western Hope that can finally live up to the hype at Worlds where the western teams in the past have failed. This could be the year that CLG has been waiting for, and it starts with the KOO Tigers.