Ever since a surprisingly strong showing at the Midseason Invitational 2016, Counter Logic Gaming simply has looked like a shadow of its former self. Entering Week 7 of the NA LCS at a mediocre 6-6, CLG’s match against Cloud9 was predicted to be the end of a 0-2 weekend. The surging squad, led by the mechanical prowess of Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen had yet to drop a game this split to any team other than Team SoloMid and Immortals, who sit atop the NA LCS standings. Counter Logic Gaming took the series 2-1, but more importantly for them, it seems as if their style is coming back into form.
Counter Logic began game 1 with a creative invade, led by Jake “Xmithie” Puchero on Gragas who was able to catch Jensen with his pants down in the jungle, followed by a flash hook by Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black’s Thresh. They had already displayed a similarly inspired strategy in their previous matches; however, just the slight alteration to a delicate jungle invade pathing led to a successful first blood.
Perhaps the most integral play giving rise to CLG’s confidence and eventual victory came from Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha in the top lane, who was able to massively outplay a gank from William “Meteos” Hartman who was trying to bail out his top laner. As Elise came up from the Jungle, Darshan’s Gnar was able to get the killing blow onto Trundle. Adding insult to injury, Impact ended up also expending his Flash while Darshan retained his.
Following this was an even greater surprise, catching fans, casters, and most importantly, Jensen off-guard. Huhi, often regarded as the ‘Achilles’ Heel’ of CLG, was able to get a solo kill. His Cassiopeia that had been pushed in all game found the smallest opportunity to Flash-Ultimate; before he could even react, Jensen’s Taliyah was completely deleted.
CLG would finish the game with its classic 4-1 split-push, finding pick after pick to break Cloud9’s base. Their map movement throughout the first game was consistently steps ahead, reminiscent of their midseason dominance.
After another relatively stable pick-ban, the teams re-entered the rift. One caveat – a disturbing one for Counter Logic Gaming – was the Azir pick for Huhi. Despite countless displays of mechanical weakness on the champion, CLG opted for it.
From the get-go, Huhi looked uncomfortable. He quickly fell into a massive creep score deficit to Jensen, being pressured at every point. Meteos took extra care to ensure his midlaner’s safety, giving full playmaking potential to the carry. As Huhi stuttered in for a cannon minion, the opposing Cassiopeia was ready. Jensen immediately landed one skill into a combo of poison and Twin Fangs, decimating Huhi’s Azir before either of them used any meaningful cooldowns.
In essence, the game had already ended. Cloud9’s unrelenting pressure on the midlane advantage was too much to overcome, and they were able to make short work of CLG.
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Resilience prevailed for Counter Logic Gaming, and this could possibly be the turning point in CLG’s summer championship outlook. Coming off of a deflating defeat, a similar pick ban occurred once again. The theme of this game, however, would be stability.
The two teams traded kills in the midlane early in the game, flashes being expended. As a result of this and a slight over-extension by Huhi shortly after, C9 would capture another kill. But unlike in the preceding match, he stayed relevant. Huhi was able to finish the game with 303 CS and 19.1k damage done to champions, leading his team in both categories while finishing the game 5/1/3.
Xmithie was able to stay consistently ahead of Meteos in the farming game, controlling the jungle pace for the majority of the game. As the midgame approached, Counter Logic Gaming rallied behind the veteran playmaking of Aphromoo and Darshan, methodically siphoning the gold from Cloud9’s grasp.
But where other teams may have stalled out with a minuscule lead, CLG showed their maturity with some extremely disciplined Baron control. On multiple occasions they started the objective, before turning to kill a single overextended member of C9. Eventually the small advantages turned into a taken baron and a pick on both solo lanes, ending the game entirely.
Momentum for CLG
CLG’s schedule definitely looks easier in the next two weeks. Aside from Team Liquid (8-6), the team will be matched up against the NA LCS bottom feeders in Echo Fox (1-13), NRG Esports (4-10), and Apex (5-9). They’ll have a chance to bolster their record and confidence sufficiently in time for playoffs.
Regardless, a victory against a top 4 team was exactly what they needed to truly gain some traction again. Their macro play continues to be strides ahead of other teams in North America. The team’s weakness still remains visible in the midlane. The one loss appeared to be so dominating, and a possible matchup with TSM’s Bjergsen in the future may prove to be even more difficult for the inconsistent Huhi. If he is able to gather more confidence and poise, Counter Logic may be able to claim the NA LCS throne once again.
For North American League of Legends, this is bright news; this team has been consistently pushing the region ahead. Rather than relying solely on the skill of one superstar, it is evident that they truly rely on their team-oriented play style. Hopefully they can strengthen their weakest link and lift the West back into international relevance just in time for Worlds.