“Their main priority was going to Worlds and winning Worlds. And that completely aligned with what I wanted. I wanted to dominate North America. I wanted to go to Worlds. I wanted to win playoffs. I wanted to dethrone TSM, all of ,that stuff. So, CLG was a pretty perfect fit for me.”
-Counter Logic Gaming jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett to Yahoo Esports
It’s fitting that the first words out of CLG support Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black’s mouth following their 2-1 loss to Team SoloMid are, “I think it’s going to be pretty easy for us to finish first this split, get the bye, make sure we have a good seed for playoffs, and once playoffs come around all we need to is get first place for Worlds and that’s all.”
Counter Logic Gaming have always set their sights outside of North America, even when it meant taking risks that backfired magnificently, nearly sending their team to relegations. Their decisions, especially in hindsight, have been heavily criticized, but one aspect of the team that hasn’t changed since Season 1 is that they’ve always reached for a place well beyond expectations.
Since the creation of the League of Legends Championship Series in North America, the region has been first and foremost Team SoloMid and Cloud9 in community discussion and fandom. All other teams, including Season 1 and Season 2 powerhouse Counter Logic Gaming, fell to these two both in popularity and in-game.
When CLG managed to best a rising TSM in the 2016 NA LCS Spring Finals and qualify for the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational, the community thought very little of their upcoming appearance in Shanghai. CLG had visible flaws, and NA as a region was still behind their international counterparts.
They finished in second place overall, falling 3-0 in the 2016 MSI Finals to SK Telecom T1.
Unfortunately, CLG’s precedent of defying expectations goes both ways. At the 2016 World Championship, they failed to make it out of Group A, bested twice by CIS upstart Albus NoX Luna.
Following a disappointing loss to FlyQuest in the 2017 NA LCS Spring Playoffs, it was finally time to make changes to the CLG lineup that had, in many ways, restored hope to the region with their MSI performance. In western League of Legends, it’s rare for a team to stick with one roster so long. CLG stood by their lineup of top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, AD carry Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, and support aphromoo for nearly a year and a half, since their auspicious debut at IEM San Jose in December 2015.
That change was a trading of junglers with fellow North American organization Immortals: the veteran Xmithie, who had been playing competitively since Season 1’s APictureOfAGoose, and talented newcomer Dardoch, who burst onto the NA scene with Team Liquid in 2016 Spring.
“It will be easy for us to learn how to be a better team,” aphromoo said of integrating Dardoch onto the existing CLG lineup. “We have to teach the foundation of mid-game to Dardoch, because on his teams, they didn’t have mid-games on TL or IMT, I don’t know what was going on so he’s had to learn that. He was also a shotcaller on his old teams too so stuff that I see he might not see but it’s okay, it’s always a learning process.”
Dardoch’s arrival onto CLG was accompanied by a world of speculation and no small amount of doubt. The young jungler has a contentious history with his previous teams of which bits and pieces have been, somewhat strategically, released to the public for instant and extreme reactions.
Building a cohesive, successful unit is tricky. No other team knows this better than CLG.
“As long as the five players are open-minded and have the right personality, I feel like maintaining the team will be better because you do want to fix problems as soon as possible,” Huhi said during 2017 spring. “The only way to do that is to give direct criticism and point out every single mistake until that guy fixes it. Whenever we have a problem, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Last split, CLG prided themselves on their ability to communicate with each other and solve problems efficiently. Even if members of the team grew angry with each other over mistakes, it was an anger that passed quickly into working through the problem.
“It’s been going well,” aphromoo said of integrating Dardoch. “Obviously it’s still a difficult process since [Dardoch] was the top dog on his other teams and he was the shotcaller. Essentially, he’s aggressive in nature when it comes to problem-solving and then he might not know how to get to the answer.”
“We’ve learned to show him that it’s actually really simple to get to the answer if you just talk about it and tell others your problems, how you feel, listen to how they feel you can come to a conclusion. Our esports director talks to him, Tony’s been talking to him, and I’ve been talking to him. He has a lot of people to listen to so we need to make sure that we don’t overload him so he can grow into what he wants to be.”
Despite the unfortunate loss, aphromoo found many positives in how CLG played in their series against TSM, and Dardoch specifically. While this has been a staple of CLG’s gameplay for the past year, Dardoch’s prior experience focused more on snowballing his jungle advantages early. CLG’s goals are to help him become a more well-rounded player en route to representing North America once more at the League of Legends World Championship.
“It is difficult to to teach because it’s hard for a person to visualize something and you tell them that they can do that if they can’t see it for themselves,” aphromoo said. “That’s essentially true with anything in general even esports being a thing, your parents can’t visualize it so it’s like, ‘Whatever, what the hell are you doing?’ It’s the same thing for coming back in a game. We’ll be learning that this entire split. We’re already decent at it, even though we had blunders in Game 2 and Game 3 we were able to get in the right spots for picks, and also TSM did that really well. The next time we face them I think we’ll be a lot cleaner and come out on top.”
Although CLG and Dardoch will face many more challenges throughout the split, the key takeaway from their first two weeks of summer is that they’re already on the same page regarding where they want to be.
“Well, we’re the best,” aphromoo said. “We’re going to end first no matter what.”
Emily Rand’s love of the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter.