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Counter Logic Gaming's Slow Summer Start

Just a month ago, Counter Logic Gaming carried the hope of North America at the Mid Season Invitational, where they shocked everyone as a legitimate international threat. CLG was able to best even the likes of SK Telecom T1, after being predicted to blow out in groups due to susceptible player positions. After the tournament, there was hope for North America and hope for CLG, as they showed they have what it takes to bring some good games; but so far, none of that has shown in the LCS Summer split.

At first glance, CLG is in a much stronger playfield compared to last year — Team SoloMid has got it together, Immortals is still strong, Cloud9 is seemingly revamped with their new top lane and jungle duo and Team nV has made plenty of waves with their ex-Renegades based lineup. Even last year, CLG was considered to be one of the weaker teams at the individual level, with rookies like Huhi and Stixxay being the main points of criticism. Sitting at seventh place with a 1–5 record, barely high enough to avoid relegation, the problem has been exacerbated by both the new LCS atmosphere and the players themselves.

CLG’s solo laners, while not necessarily performing poorly, are at the heel of CLG’s early game and generally poor transitions into the mid game. In lane, both Darshan and Huhi are holding up as expected, with Darshan having solid early laning phases and Huhi often sacrificing individual lane pressure for the river and side lanes. However, both players are having a bit of trouble properly fulfilling their role after this stage of the game.

Unintended consequences

The rise of a top lane meta full of duelists and split-pushers is a meta that most would think to favor CLG, given Darshan’s track record of focusing on side lane pressure and backdooring nexuses. CLG, as a team, was likely the best North American team at executing such a strategy en route to their second straight LCS title. However, both Darshan and CLG have failed to effectively play around the new meta. Darshan has been caught out more than a few times split-pushing this split and has been less effective, failing to play the style safely. CLG is also at fault, not splitting at the proper windows of opportunity and failing to coordinate the appropriate vision for a 4–1 split to succeed.

On top of this, CLG has also failed to operate properly from the mid lane. Huhi is well known for not being as mechanically skilled as his peers, but often makes up for it with the proper wave and river control, in addition to roaming. Similar to ahq e-Sports Club’s Westdoor, he plays mid lane as a facilitator for the rest of his team’s success. However, in a meta where Azir and Viktor are increasingly important, it becomes harder for players weaker in the laning phase and thus harder to actually execute such a style.

As a result of weaker split-push presence from Counter Logic Gaming, as a team, and lesser mid pressure from Huhi — CLG has its weaknesses being exposed more than they would like. Individual mechanics have been exposed more in teamfights, with split-pushing becoming a less reliable option in the mid game and with Huhi doing less earlier on, has his weaker team fighting exacerbated as well.

Stixxay received a ton of praise at the Mid Season Invitational for his good play in teamfights, but with Huhi and Darshan being less impactful, has seen his production drop slightly. No doubt, he is still performing well — it’s just that the CLG team fighting formula for his success has seemingly been compromised so far this split. Considering the strength of other rosters and the ever-increasing macro understanding in North America, this type of thing isn’t going to slide anymore.

It’s worth noting though that there are still several pieces of CLG’s formula intact and with a little tinkering, the team should be able to get back on track. Xmithie is playing some of the best League of Legends of his career, not only proving to be an excellent early-game, vision based jungler, but also continuing the same carry performances he flaunted at MSI. Considering CLG’s current lack of success, it’s scary to think just where they would be without Xmithie’s stellar play.

That being said — It still has been just a few weeks and CLG still has plenty of time to put it all together. Xmithie and Aphromoo continue to be a solid foundation, with Stixxay being the complementary carry on the side. As the meta continues to focus on split-pushing, Darshan will have to bring himself back to speed on the various popular champions and his own tower killing art. Huhi will need to deepen his champion pool a tad -- He has proven that he can be excellent at Ryze, but needs to perform the same on Azir, Viktor, and even Varus in the future.

At the very least, CLG still has the same brains at it this split, with the same players who boasted a victory over SKT at MSI. Being able to adapt to negative situations has been a CLG special the last year or so, with Zikz being an excellent coach in this regard. Their map play will improve with time and their read on the meta will continue to improve, as they get used to the new stable of solo lane champions. Considering how often CLG comes back from bad situations, even when they look dead in the water -- It would be silly to count them out. Counter Logic Gaming may be starting this split slow, but it would hardly be surprising if they finished it strong.

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