Is It Time For Counter Logic Gaming To Make A Roster Change?
Counter Logic Gaming was eliminated from the 2017 Spring Split Playoffs after being reverse swept by FlyQuest in the first round. CLG currently has the longest continuous roster of any team in the LCS, with the same roster since the beginning of the 2016 season. While the expectations were not exceedingly high entering this split, their early exit from the playoffs was still a disappointing finish. With two consecutive splits placing fourth or below, is it time for a change to the CLG roster?
The last major change to the CLG roster occurred in the off-season of the 2015 Summer Split, when the face of the franchise at the time, star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, made the unthinkable move from CLG to bitter rivals Team SoloMid. With a large hole to fill on their roster, CLG promoted former substitute Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes to the starting position.
While the expectations were low for CLG’s new roster (replacing their “best” player with an unproven rookie), CLG were able to secure a decent seed in the playoffs and went on an incredible playoff run that saw them secure first place in the 2016 Spring Split playoffs, earning a trip to the Mid-Season Invitational as North America’s representative.
With NA generally considered to be a weaker region, many still believed CLG was not the strongest team in NA, let alone capable of challenging the best in the World. In one of the most shocking international results in recent memory, CLG fought their way to a second place finish and Stixxay would be named as part of the all-tournament team for his breakout performance at the tournament.
CLG would eventually ride the points earned from their first place finish in the spring to a position at the World Championships, where they would have a decent tournament en route to a 3-3 finish that included two victories over the EU LCS Champion G2 eSports. While not an overly impressive record, they still fared much better than expected in the tournament where many analysts had assessed them as one of the weakest teams on show.
Entering the 2017 season, North America saw a flood of talent arriving onto the scene. With many teams making big name acquisitions, CLG remained quiet in their approach as they maintained the same roster that had carried them to a split championship and a spot at Worlds. On paper, CLG are not the most talented team, but their excellent macro game and crisp shot-calling had proven that, more often than not, a good “team” would triumph over a group of talented individuals.
Expected to be a middle of the pack team, that is exactly where CLG finished at the end of the regular season with the fourth seed in the spring split playoffs. Up 2-0 against FlyQuest, CLG looked to be on their way to another spot in the semi-finals and a trip to Vancouver, when it all began to fall apart.
With three chances to close out FlyQuest, Counter Logic Gaming would fail with each attempt and lose the series 3-2. While nobody expected CLG to compete for the spring championship, a loss to the struggling FlyQuest roster is still considered a disappointment.
With their early exit from the playoffs, the question of whether CLG needs to make changes to their roster has risen to the forefront once again. Much of the blame for the final three losses was placed on the shoulders of mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun, a player that has traditionally been looked at as one of the weaker members of CLG.
As the only import on CLG, HuHi may be held to a higher standard of play that is usually associated with any player granted an import slot. Still, HuHi is not the only player to receive criticism for their play, with top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero having underwhelming split performances as well.
If there is a strength for this roster, it is the bot lane combination of Stixxay and team captain and support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black. Regardless of any changes that might be made to the rest of the roster, these two positions should be secure and serve as a base for CLG to build a roster around. Stixxay has risen to one of NA’s best ADCs, and Aphromoo’s value as a teammate and leader goes far beyond his mechanical skill.
To assess whether changes are needed to CLG’s roster, there are a number of important questions to answer. The first of which is: ‘would this be discussed if CLG had not been reverse swept, and instead finished third or fourth?’ In all likelihood, the answer is no. A third or fourth place finish would have been at or above the expectations for this roster coming into the season, and if they had provided a decent showing against TSM there would have been hope to build on looking forward into the next split.
While this may be, perhaps the more important question to be asked is: ‘is a third or fourth place finish good enough for CLG?’. For an organization with a deep history of being at or near the top of the NA LCS, the answer should be no. Here is where the real motivation to make a roster change lies, the refusal to accept merely being a good team and the desire to be great. While the current roster may function well as a team, they simply are not talented enough to compete with the rosters of other top teams in NA, such as TSM and Cloud9.
For CLG to reach a level where they will be able to consistently compete for a championship, multiple roster changes may need to be made. The top lane talent level has skyrocketed with recent Korean additions (Ssumday) and greatly improved play from multiple NA natives (Hauntzer, Lourlo, Zig), and a change may be necessary for CLG to once again create an advantageous lane. Xmithie is often forgotten in what is arguably NA’s strongest position as a whole and HuHi is too often spotlighted when troubles begin for CLG.
With an import slot to spare (and possibly another if HuHi is replaced), CLG has significant flexibility to make changes to their roster. With limited NA talent left unsigned, they may choose to look outward to fill their roster if they decide changes are needed. Still, do not be surprised to see them once again stick to their current roster, the roster that has continued to prove critics wrong as they have stubbornly refuse to bow to pressure in the past.