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Emily Rand: Breaking down the NA LCS gauntlet and what went wrong for Dignitas, FlyQuest, and CLG

The NA LCS gauntlet ended with cloud9 winning, but what went wrong with CLG, FLyQuest and Dignitas?
CLG fell one game short of qualifying for the League of Legends World Championship. Photo courtesy of Riot Games.

The regional qualifying gauntlet for North America was supposedly one of the toughest yet, even more than last year’s slugfest between Immortals and Cloud9. Team Dignitas, despite a disappointing finish, was still a team that had hit its stride in the summer split and looked to be a formidable opponent. FlyQuest, the weakest team in the group, still had NA’s legacy shot-caller, Hai “Hai” Du Lam. Despite some inconsistency, Counter Logic Gaming seemed capable of great performances. Cloud9 had never lost in a gauntlet, and had never failed to attend the League of Legends World Championship since arriving in the NA LCS.

With Cloud9’s 3-1 win against CLG in the regional finals, another competitive year has come to a close in North America. It’s now time to remember those teams that came close to representing the region at worlds but ultimately fell short.

Team Dignitas: An ill-timed mismatch

The story of Team Dignitas’ loss begins not in the gauntlet itself, but at the TD Garden in Boston, where the team found itself at the mercy of CLG in a 3-0 drubbing. Top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho’s Duskblade of Draktharr pickup on Jarvan IV became a harbinger of what was to come for Dignitas in the regional gauntlet.

Dignitas has spent the better part of the summer split trying to disassociate itself from being a solely top-focused team.

Through ups, downs, and even an unfortunate 3-0 loss to Phoenix1 in the spring quarterfinals, Dignitas relied on and funneled resources to Ssumday comparatively more than any other top in the league, including Team SoloMid’s resurgent Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell. Despite Dignitas’ frequent mistakes, Ssumday could often carry the team to a game victory, especially on meta tanks like Nautilus, Gragas, and his signature Maokai. Unfortunately for Dignitas, that play style was too one-dimensional, and Dignitas was effectively capped in the standings without another source of pressure.

The answer came in the form of Dignitas’ new bot lane: Johnny “Altec” Ru and Adrian “Adrian” Ma. Combined with smart meta drafting and a strong understanding of patches in the latter half of the summer, Altec and Adrian quickly made their way up the ranks of NA bottom lanes. The added point of pressure allowed Dignitas more flexibility and more ways to win the game, complementing strong pieces the team already had, like Ssumday, or covered up areas opponents could have exploited, like jungler Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon’s penchant for farming. Most importantly, Altec and Adrian took pressure off of Ssumday, despite the fact that the top laner was still receiving large amounts of the team’s resources.

With that odd Duskblade purchase in the third place match, Ssumday sent a signal as to how Dignitas would play going forward. The team returned to its spring roots in the opening gauntlet match, with the bottom lane much at the mercy of FlyQuest’s Jason “WildTurtle” Tran and Daerek “LemonNation” Hart. It was an odd choice, given that Dignitas had succeeded because it previously played a smoke and mirrors game, funneling resources to Ssumday, who would Teleport in as a primary initiator while the bot lane drew pressure.

FlyQuest: Any night’s alright for fighting

Team Dignitas’ return to a top lane focus around Ssumday was also the worst possible game plan against FlyQuest, which came into the gauntlet with a bot-centric style and draft that complemented WildTurtle.

Typically, FlyQuest has carried on much like it did as Cloud9 Challenger. Then it was now-Cloud9 jungler Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia partnering with Hai to create a 1-2 punch that focused almost exclusively around mid lane and jungle, proactively diving turrets while their two side lanes went even or slightly below. The last thing C9C or FlyQuest cared about was An “Balls” Le in the top lane, upon whom the team depended to hold his own.

That is why Dignitas’ top-first strategy in the gauntlet was doomed to fail. FlyQuest simply don’t care if Balls falls woefully behind early. As long as he’s on a champion with which he’s comfortable, he’ll be able to contribute to team fights later, especially on scaling tanks like Maokai and Cho’Gath. It didn’t matter that Dignitas camped top and snowballed Ssumday, especially since FlyQuest shifted focus from mid to bot, puttingLemonNation on the powerful initiator Rakan, and giving WildTurtle strong meta carries like Kog’Maw and Xayah.

WildTurtle has garnered a fair amount of criticism over the years — much of it justified, some of it not — for his inability to play safe. He’s a ball of nervous energy on the Rift, where the equivalent of tapping one’s foot or chewing gum is aggressively forward positioning and jumping into opponents without care. FlyQuest’s loss against CLG showcased the best and worst of WildTurtle, but far more of the former than the latter.

The Turtle-centric strategy worked surprisingly well, even in FlyQuest’s losses in the series, until Game 4 when Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes and Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black demolished WildTurtle and LemonNation in lane with Caitlyn and Thresh. Simply put, FlyQuest just wasn’t good enough to win. Even in Game 2, where FlyQuest stopped Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun’s Aurelion Sol early and looked on track for another victory, it didn’t have as strong of a grip on map pressure, especially when it came to pushing waves in the side lanes.

That being said, WildTurtle’s over-aggression embodied FlyQuest as a whole. This is a team that likes, and chooses, to fight, even when contrary to its own interests, further digging its own grave. If Hai cannot get the mid push on his opponent, it dismantles FlyQuest’s game plan, which still revolves around diving turrets, even if mid lane isn’t the focal point for ganks or fights. Although WildTurtle and LemonNation often drew opponents’ attention, CLG did well to focus on keeping up a push on Hai in later games of the series, shutting down Hai and to some extent Galen “Moon” Holgate in the jungle. FlyQuest prepared well for the first series, and stylistically matched up against Dignitas well. Against a more flexible team in CLG, Omar “OmarGod” Amin’s inexperience aside, FlyQuest stumbled.

Counter Logic Gaming: True to its name

Sometimes CLG tries to be clever and ends up outsmarting itself. Its Game 1 draft against FlyQuest was one of these times. At other times, various CLG members will seemingly become overconfident, diving opponents in areas with little vision, or aggressively chasing for kills when there are objectives to be taken elsewhere. It’s a problem CLG has had throughout the year, even in spring when jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero was on the team.

Yet, with OmarGod, this recklessness is magnified and spells CLG’s downfall much quicker. OmarGod lacks the experience Xmithie had to recover and react to what his opponents are doing at any given point in time. Members of CLG have praised OmarGod for his cool head under pressure, but that cannot make up entirely for an absence of in-game experience, especially in the jungle position. Although it’s not as noticeable as it was when OmarGod debuted, Huhi continues plays a different, more enabling style with OmarGod than he did with Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett or Xmithie before him. That limited CLG’s options.

Make no mistake, the majority of CLG’s series against Cloud9 series was bad. Both teams seemed content to bash heads regardless of objectives, vision, item inventory, or wave pressure. Contractz insisted on invading without pressure or proper vision. Mid games often consisted of individual players seemingly trying to one-up each other in skirmishes. When the dust settled, Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, Jeong “Impact” Eon-yeong, and Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen came out on top, with individual outplays worthy of highlight reels.

The unfortunate truth for CLG is that it often didn’t have to fight. If CLG had held back and played a bit more measured, especially in Games 2 and 4, it could have come out on top. More than OmarGod’s inexperience, the desire to continuously push fights and skirmishes did in CLG.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games

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