Q&A: Darshan on CLG’s summer split, tuning out Reddit and the evolution of top lane

Coming off consecutive League Championship Series titles and a runner-up finish at the Mid-Season Invitational, Counter Logic Gaming seemed poised to continue its stretch of dominance of North American League of Legends. And yet, it’s been a struggle for CLG, which sits in the middle of the pack after five weeks of the summer split.

At 4-6, CLG has spent the summer split trying to figure itself out while watching rival Team SoloMid and the upstart Immortals claim the top two spots at the halfway mark. Slingshot’s Vince Nairn had the chance to talk to CLG top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha during Week 4 about the team’s path back to the top, tuning out Reddit and the evolution of his position.

So you’re the two-time defending champs, coming off a great MSI performance, and it’s kind of been a struggle the last couple weeks and everyone wants to ask what’s going on. Is there a sense of not trying to overthink it and just get to back to the point of where you guys were last split?

I think we were kind of caught off guard with the meta shift at the beginning of this split and the other teams definitely got better, but there was just a lot of ways as a team we weren’t jelling as we did at MSI and so it’s kind of building that back up and working on areas we need to work on. For example, mid control is very important and that is something we are striving on improving before the playoffs start.

Likewise, what things have you guys done well up to this point that you think you need to keep doing?

So after we have played in a meta for a while he understand really well, not only champion pools, but also how to play the game the best. We are trying to build that back up, and once we are on top of that we are really, really good. At the same time, it is also our downfall. We need to master champion pools, how to play the mid game, the early game, every team comp, every champion really well before we get it down as a team and that is where we are at. We need to find out what style we like to play best in this meta, how do we bring together every champion and what to play against every opponent. With the new teams coming in and the rosters being shuffled up a little bit, we didn’t know exactly what to play as well as we did last split. I think it just comes down to better preparation and extra effort in improving our understanding of the meta.

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What do you think of standings right now, with TSM being so strong as well as teams like Immortals and Cloud 9 looking strong? Do you guys look at the standings or is it more of only looking at what you need to do to improve?

I definitely expected Immortals and C9 to be a top team, but I never really pay too much attention to the standings or what other teams are doing unless it’s something I can learn from. I think the most important thing is to focus on yourself and try to improve yourself. Obviously we were at the top of the standings and now we are at the bottom and people are going to say, “Wow you’re bad, you guys need to replace someone or do something dramatic,” when in truth it’s not like we are that much worse as a team. It is just looking that way. I think we are improving and improving at a really good rate and we understand where we need to go. All we need to focus on is ourselves and our critique of each other and push each other to be the best we can be. Because nobody understands our situation. Nobody is in the practice room 12 hours a day, trying to get better, spending every day so that we can do better in the LCS, make it to the playoffs and win. We understand our situation the best so that’s what we are focusing on.

Whenever something is going on, a lot of the outside people what to look for a scapegoat. For a while it might have been Stixxay, now for whatever reason it seems to be Huhi. How do you guys make sure outside noise doesn’t bother you?

I think it is very natural when you are doing well for the fans to pick out one person and say that person is doing really well. Then when you start losing they say, this person is just awful. Find a reason, find a person to bench and find something just to talk about, that’s what fans are going to do. I think that, especially with the way that esports is, it’s a lot easier to have access to that, a lot of people go on Reddit, and a lot of people are looking at “oh what are they saying about me?” At this point I realized I just need to cut that out, just cut out Reddit completely and cut out twitter a little bit. I try not to listen to that because they’re just seeing the score lines mostly, they’re just seeing that this person just missed a major skill shot. Yeah they made bad plays, I made bad plays too, but I’ve had a lot of good plays, and it’s a lot easier to focus on what you see on the surface, like “Wow, this person is messing up really poorly.” But there is a lot more that goes into team dynamic and a lot more that goes into communication that makes people look a lot better or a lot worse. I think a lot of the reasons in the past when I have good games is because of my communication with my team and how I work with them to get ahead. I think that is the same with other strong players on strong teams. For example, a big part of the reason I think that Bjergsen is a good mid laner, is not because of his mechanics, but because of his understanding of how to get himself ahead with his team’s help. I think that’s what a lot of fans don’t realize, but it’s kind of hard to talk about it, so of course we aren’t going to talk about it. But a lot of it comes down to how well you work with your team to get ahead. That’s what we are working on with our mid control and our mid lane right now and I think we’re going to have that down by playoffs. We’re just focused on ourselves and not really too worried about the negativity from the fans. I didn’t really think CLG had that many fans but seeing the fans and the  support we do get really is heart warming because it’s nice to know that even though we are (4-6) we still have fans. After MSI everyone was really proud of us, they’re like “Hey you’re doing well,” but it’s the kind of people that are on and off. If you are doing poorly, it’s the fans who are still sticking around and truly care about you or truly care about who you are. It’s pretty heartwarming to have those fans.

You mentioned something about Reddit. Esports athletes are so much closer to to the community compared to anything you see anywhere else.  I know you said you are trying to tune it out, but what is that dynamic like? You guys are for the most part in there right with the people that are talking about you all the time. It’s really not like that in other pro sports or even any other profession, just how close you guys are with the fans.

Yeah, I think that 99 percent, basically every pro player in the LCS in NA, looks at Reddit. I just recently made the choice to consciously block it and not look at it. Because I thought, “What is the productivity of looking at what the people on Reddit think about a player or person?” What am I going to learn from spending my time on r/leagueoflegends? I could be reading, I could be watching a VOD, I could be exercising, I could be doing so many more productive things than going on Reddit. I realized it was just a waste of my time. The interesting thing about Reddit and the thing I don’t like about it is that a lot of pro players on previous teams I’ve been on, I’ve slowly seen their opinion on a person shift based on what Reddit says about them. When I was on Coast or previous teams, I’d see things like “Nintendude is just an awful player,” and I’d see people on my team just lose respect for him. That was really saddening to see that the opinions on Reddit are so strong to people that they kind of just believed it. They’d see it so much. It’s kind of what happens in any sport, so it’s not something that is going to be changed, that’s just the nature of it. It’s just that the narratives need to be made, people need something to talk about. So you’re going to see “this player is really good” or “this player is really bad.” “Oh you need to bench this player.” For something to be interesting, there has to be some drama in it. You aren’t going to have this fun loving happy community where everyone is super nice. That’s just not how the world works. I have no problem with how hard it is, but there is definitely some benefits that people can get out of it, but for me I don’t see any use for going on it so I completely cut it out.

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You’ve been around for a while, How have you seen the dynamic of top laners change over time in North America?

I would say as teams have gotten better, League has slowly become less and less of an individual skilled game. I feel there is less of an opportunity for my skill to shine in a 1-v-1 matchup, especially in a tank meta. Now it’s more of a carry meta so a little bit more of your individuality gets to shine. But it more comes down to your understanding of your opponents and your team’s plan is and if you can play around that well. I’m pretty good at understanding how to use my resources and my team’s resources to get myself ahead. A lot of it comes down to how I think about the game over my individual skill. So sometimes I can use my individual skill, but the majority of the time now I think about the game.

Who is one player that inspired you who you kind of looked up to or modeled your game after?

I’d say it was Flame, in Season 2 or 3. I remember seeing Flame just dismantle his opponent, which was amazing to see at that time. I wanted to do that and that’s why I loved top lane, since at the time, it was much more isolated at the time. He seemed like the best top laner in the world at the time.

Do you think that the reason why the game is much more team oriented and being less of a 1-v-1 game is due to players becoming better at the game over the years, or was it based on changes Riot made to the game, or both?

I think it was both. I think some of the changes that Riot made to League of Legends made it more of a team game. But the fact that the game was being played more and teams were getting better at the game and teams were getting more serious is going to mean that there is going to be less focus on solo plays and more focused on winning the game as a team. If you look at the game from an analytical standpoint, teams cannot count on the 1-v-1 outplay to win them the game. Take a mechanically skilled player, there’s not always going to be a chance for them to make the outplay 1-v-1. The one thing you can guarantee 100 percent is if your team does play together, and coordinating your plays together, it will give you a higher percent success rate. It just logically makes more sense to play as a team. As the game advances and as Riot made changes, I think it just became much more of a team game.

Photos courtesy of Riot Games.

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