Coming off of a week in which it defeated the top two League of Legends teams in North America, Counter Logic Gaming heads to IEM Katowice with confidence. Will it be enough to overcome world-class opponents?
What needs to happen for CLG to beat SKT: The Overview
CLG’s first opponent Saturday morning is SK Telecom T1, the reigning world champions. Going down each lane match up, SKT comes out ahead, but not as far as one might think at first glance.
CLG’s biggest weaknesses have been its rookies: AD Carry Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes and mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun. The mismatch in the duo lane can be bolstered by world-class support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, who shouldn’t have a problem going toe to toe againstLee “Wolf” Jae-wan in the early phases of the game. Stixxay’s mistakes have not come from weak laning, but from getting over confident later and getting caught out. That can be ironed out.
Huhi, on the other hand, might have a bigger problem. He is going up against Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, the best player in the world. Simply put, Huhi is simply going to be out of his element, which is to be expected of a rookie going up against a two-time world champion.
The key will be the draft. If CLG can force Faker onto a supportive champ, such as Lulu or Gangplank, who has a slow early game, CLG might be able to overcome this issue with strong points on other parts of the map.
That’s where Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha and Jake “Xmithie” Puchero come in. Right now, Darshan is one of the best top laners in the world, and possibly the best split-pusher in the world. CLG’s split-pushing style is different than most teams. Instead of split pushing to gain gold advantages, Darshan does it to threaten to win the game straight up. CLG also uses champions such as Leblanc to trail the split pusher, an underutilized strategy it pulled off in beating Immortals in last week’s League of Legends Championship Series.
Xmithie compliments the split pushing strategy. His Udyr has had a lot of recent success and might be overlooked going into the tournament because SKT’s Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong’sUdyr has failed on two different occasions this season. The split push strategy is obviously CLG’s best plan, which SKT should know. But it’s not as easy to stop as it might seem. Darshan has shown that his champion pool is deep, and banning out Fiora or Jax isn’t a good enough strategy to combat it.
Lastly, SKT has not been at its top form this season. After an unstoppable run to last year’s world championship, it seems SKT is still having trouble adapting to the new metagame. Going into IEM Katowice, Bengi is being subbed in for Kang “Blank” Sun-gu, who hasn’t looked impressive in winning only one of the four games he’s played. At just 5-4, SKT is sixth in the 10-team League Champions Korea.
Setting up a split push
Split-pushing might be the best strategy in League of Legends, and CLG’s style when doing it is the best in the world.
When pulling off the split push, the team dictates what is going on in the game, the objectives needed to be contested, and when they need to happen. Split-pushing spreads out the team, forcing the opponent to make fast decisions that can potentially be costly.
First, the dedicated split-pusher needs to be ahead of the opponent in lane. Looking at CLG’s wins against Cloud9 and Immortals last week, Xmithie was able to focus hard on Darshan’s lane, garnering him a huge advantage. The question is, though, will SKT let this happen?
Of course it won’t, but if Darshan is able to get on a superior late game scaling champion like Fiora or Jax, it might not matter.
Top laners have two options when it comes to champion picks: tank or carry. Tank top laners have been gaining a lot of popularity recently because they can effectively split push just as effectively as a carry can with Zz’rot Portal and Banner of Command. But tanks have a gigantic flaw in not being able handle a carry whatsoever in a 1-v-1 situation.
If SKT wants to pick a carry to counter Darshan’s inevitable carry pick, though, it can even bring about more risk. The carry vs. carry matchup is always super snowbally. Once a player gets ahead, it can push the advantage much harder, essentially making the other laner exponentially more useless than any tank can be.
For things to go CLG’s way, it needs to understand what it needs. Look back at the C9 and Immortals games, and CLG banned out the same champions: Nidalee, who potentially can have heavy map pressure due to unmatched counter jungling ability; Twisted Fate, due to his ultimate screwing up any plans CLG has to create a good situation for it’s solo laner; and Kog’Maw, a champ that can single-handedly win team fights even when outnumbered.
Hard-forcing team fights is a great answer to split pushing, and getting rid of Kog’maw helps alleviate that possibility.
What CLG does differently
It all goes back to the draft. CLG drafts winning lanes, even when a laner needs to pick blindly. For example, against Immortals, Huhi picked Leblanc blind, utilizing Leblanc’s early-game superiority and securing a counter pick for Darshan as the last pick. CLG also picked both of its bot laners only after the opposing team showed who its bot laners were, ensuring an advantage in at least one of the picks.
Picking winning lanes isn’t specific to CLG, though. So what is? A trailing mid laner.
Take a look at this screenshot from the Immortals game. Look at how Huhi (far right of the screen) goes bot to try and get a pick on Heo “Huni” Seong-Hoon (Quinn, far left). CLG knows the opponent has no vision in the bottom river, so it sends Huhi to the bot lane to trail Darshan (top of the screen). Huni plays it safe, but if CLG happens to get a pick in that situation, the advantage would have been pushed extremely hard.
After a team fight almost breaks out in mid, you can see Huhi doesn’t follow up by pressuring mid with his other teammates. He instead trails Darshan in bot lane, searching for a pick and ensuring Darshan can pressure the tower. Here CLG gets a pick on Huni.
The other thing that CLG does differently is how it sends Darshan to pressure the nexus turrets rather than another inhibitor.
In this screenshot, instead of letting Darshan split push by himself (bottom left corner), he goes to Immortals’ weak lane, threatening the nexus. Usually teams will send the split pusher to another inhibitor, gaining even more pressure and/or gold advantage.
Here, CLG sends Huhi and Darshan to take the Nexus. This is why split pushing is so good. Immortals is put into a lose-lose situation, where any decision made is going to go into CLG’s favor. If Immortals stays for Baron, it loses Nexus. If it attempts to go back to base, it would be too late. Immortals does decide to call off the Baron but in the meantime Huhi and Darshan take both Nexus towers.
Here, CLG got lucky with Xmithie winning a 50/50 smite. But that’s not something Immortals can prevent, and it is overall a bad situation for to be in. Xmithie actually getting the steal is irrelevant, as CLG would be able to delay Immortals going back to defend the Nexus anyway. Darshan doesn’t teleport to the rest of his team to try and win a team fight and instead boldly goes into the enemy base to kill the Nexus.
The match with SKT should be incredibly exciting to watch. SKT is the definite favorite, but if CLG prepares well enough and wins the draft, it might be able to surprise everyone. The execution of the split push strategy is the best of its kind, and CLG might just have a chance to tip the tables in its favor against the defending world champions.
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.