It was fitting last weekend’s North American League of Legends Championship Series spring finals took place in Las Vegas, a city built upon casinos and flashy resorts, a city filled with failures and dreams. Counter Logic Gaming fans’ dreams came true yet again, taking home the win against long time rival, Team SoloMid. Every win comes with risk, and each of the top teams took a gamble this season.
It was a classic game of AD Carry roulette with three teams: CLG, TSM, and Immortals. Each team placed a bet on a different player. TSM took a conservative approach by acquiring veteran Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. It was an easy bet; Doublelift was coming off the 2015 season as the NA LCS champion — with CLG. When someone asks who the best North American ADC is, most look to Doublelift. It’s been like this for a long time. He has played since the early days of the game and has always been a top player, despite the crazy ups and downs with CLG, his longtime team. The faithful CLG fans were finally rewarded with last summer’s North American championship, though Doublelift’s quick departure (and subsequent jersey trash throw) soured many memories.
CLG needed to change things behind the scenes and wanted to look for a new ADC. TSM signing Doublelift meant TSM’s AD Carry, Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, was available. Trading ADCs seemed the logical step, but CLG wasn’t interested in TSM’s players.
That’s where Immortals, the new guys on the block, came in. Its strategy seemed simple and quite obvious: Build a brand around established players with pro level experience. WildTurtle became one of a group of veterans to join Immortals and create a team with high in-house expectations. Early In his career, WildTurtle was praised as a highly mechanically skilled player who wasn’t afraid to play hyper aggressive. Filling huge gaps for teams wasn’t out of his character, either. His LCS debut was on TSM, when he replaced Shan “Chaox” Huang, who was at the time one of the top ADCs and most influential players in the game.
With Adrian “Adrian” Ma as WildTurtle’s new support, the fit was perfect. As WildTurtle applies pressure with his insane aggression and high mechanical skill, Adrian will be there on his supportive “buffing” champions like Janna and Soraka. Pair that with a mid laner who gets his job done, a super carry top laner, and the best jungler NA could get, Immortals looked to have this bet as a lock.
“It was a pretty easy process,” WildTurtle said of Immortals’ synergy. “We just all came together because we’re all veterans, and we all knew how to play the game already. We all had went to worlds, except Adrian, I guess. I think it was really easy for us to mesh well together. We’re all talented players, so it should have been easy.”
With TSM and Immortals going after established AD Carries, CLG put its money on the opposite: Rookie Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes. The odds seemed to be against CLG, but the payoff was great. Maybe CLG saw something the rest didn’t. With little big stage experience, CLG had mixed results to begin the spring split. Then came IEM Katowice.
CLG has had a grim past with international competition. Last year at the World Championship, CLG was expected to go far in the bracket but didn’t even make it out of the pool stage. IEM Katowice was met with meager results as well. The big question mark for CLG coming off of Katowice, and something that would be constant throughout the entire split, would be how rookies Stixxay and Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun would perform. While the CLG veterans tried to carry the burden for the new players, Stixxay said that the pressure was always on, especially being new to the stage.
“This split was my first time playing on stage,” Stixxay said. “You never know how you’re gonna do under pressure, and it even changes when you go to semifinals.”
The semifinals, and later the finals, is where CLG would end up. After stabilizing in the middle of the season, CLG finished second in the split and was even the first team to knock off Immortals, which went 17-1 in the regular season. Despite the constant criticism the rookies would take, CLG always stayed in the mix. TSM, which had perhaps the highest expectations going into the season, would finish in sixth to earn the final playoff berth.
TSM’s bets seemed to pay off during the playoffs, though, and with a squad packing a crazy amount of experience, would go to upset the first place Immortals in the semifinals. The finals were now CLG vs TSM. Doublelift vs Stixxay.
But Stixxay wasn’t alone in bot lane. Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black is CLG’s oldest remaining alongside being the veteran and taking on the the captain role, Aphromoo has played a vital role in Stixxay’s development.
“For me, at the beginning of the split, it was a lot of small things that I hadn’t even thought of before that mainly Aphro showed me,” Stixxay said Sunday about his bot lane duo partner. “The rest is like laning. I used to be really nervous in lane during the split, and I slowly got comfortable with it.”
Jumping forward to game 5, comfortable was an understatement.
Ever since its win last year at Madison Square Garden in the summer finals, CLG has been hailed as possibly the best in macro and team-oriented play. Throughout their season, they showcased many whole map strategies, and have been very keen on switching up the laning phase, opting to lane swap quite often. But in Game 5 on Sunday, Stixxay’s performance out-did the rest. He finally got to showcase a new Tristana build, a champ that was specifically banned out against him in the semifinal match against Team Liquid. Jumping around in the final team fight, Stixxay would pick up a double kill that would essentially end the game and hand the championship to CLG.
All three teams had ADCs connected to one another through the North American LCS. It might be a coincidence they took first through third in the spring split, and it likely won’t be the last time they’re all heard from.
For now, though, Stixxay and CLG are the big winners. Who’s next?
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.