"Who is the Faker — Pobelter, right?"
"That means Huhi is the Easyhoon!"
With the announcement that former starting mid Link would be stepping down for the 2015 Summer NA LCS season, Counter Logic Gaming decided to replace him with not one, but two players for their upcoming campaign.
Eugene "Pobelter" Park is the epitome of CLG's identity. Once an up-and-coming player with fantastic online results, he joined the Evil Geniuses organization before the 2014 season. While his tenure on EG (they were later renamed Winterfox) didn't produce any results in the win column — they played in the relegation rounds for three straight seasons — the excitement around Pobelter stayed the same. The losses kept mounting for EG/WFX, but Pobelter still produced solid individual results. The innate skill and potential were always present, but it never transitioned into team success, as his Winterfox squad finally succumbed to relegation against Team Dragon Knights in a 1-3 loss.
Although he never made it into the NA LCS with his former team Fusion, Choi "HuHi" Jae-hyun, the less publicized half of this new mid lane duo, has been a starter in Korea's Champions. Huhi was a part of Bigfile Miracle, a semi-amateur team that played a single season in Champions without taking a game. The team's ace and most sought out prospect was AD Carry CoreJJ, who, along with Samsung practice partner Gamsu, was picked up by Dignitas before the 2015 Spring Split. Another member on the team, Beast, took the route that a lot of Koreans did during the end of the 2014 season, moving to China and joining Snake. Since the change of scenery, Beast has become one of the LPL's better Korean imports, as his Snake squad took second place in the LPL Spring's regular season while finishing fourth in the playoffs.
When any team goes with a tandem of mid laners on their roster, they will instantly be compared to SKT's strategy of running with both Faker and Easyhoon. The Korean champions deployed this strategy throughout the Spring season, usually having Easyhoon play the team's first game with Faker replacing him if SKT lost one of their first two maps. The rationale behind this decision is that Faker and Easyhoon excel at two different styles of play: Faker uses more aggressive, playmaking champions to carry SKT to victory whereas Easyhoon plays a more relaxed, composed manner, with a heavy farming champion that allows him to play safe and fill more of a secondary carry role behind Bang or MaRin.
While the strategy has its fair share of naysayers who argue that Faker is the overall better player and SKT would do better by playing him in every single game, the long-running kings of Korean eSports won the initial 2015 Champions Korea season. Their back and forth strategy didn't hold up at the Mid-Season Invitational, Easyhoon lost two games and Faker was not able to win two in a row to take the series, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Throughout the Spring split, SKT had the luxury of subbing in Tom to play alongside Easyhoon, seeing as how the two players played off of each other better than Easyhoon did with Bengi. Faker, who has played with Bengi since his amateur days, is more comfortable with his long-time teammate, and the two share a chemistry that can match any in League of Legends.
The big problem with the constant SKT and CLG comparisons is that unlike Faker and Easyhoon, both Pobelter and Huhi have similar playstyles. Both of them can play slow rolling champions and have pocket picks that they can use to surprise a team, but they're players that enjoy a steady set of assassins and carry champions.
One huge difference between SKT and CLG, outside of the transparent fact that SKT is a better team, is that the North American and Korean premiere leagues don't have the same set-up. Korean teams play a best-of-three series which allows SKT to throw a changeup in the middle of the set if they wish to do so. If their opponents are able to beat Easyhoon on his Xerath in game one when they try to play a more controlled, late-game composition, they can throw in Faker and change the pace of the series. The NA LCS is built around best-of-one matches, where teams square off against one another one day and might not see them again for five weeks.
Riot have changed up their ruling with subs and are now allowing teams to switch players during the weekend of play, meaning that CLG can now play Pobelter on Saturday and flip over to Huhi on Sunday. The mind games that are going on in Korea won't be coming to the LCS until their format changes from single games into fleshed out best-of-two (like in China) or best-of-three (like in Korea) series.
The players themselves don't really parallel the two SKT mids, and the format itself doesn't allow them to emulate SKT's strategy even if they wanted to. So, what was the point of adding two mid laners to the roster who share similar champion pools and style of play?
Neither Pobelter or Huhi, albeit both appearing to have the talent to be an above average starter on a playoff team, have shown that they deserve to be starters in the NA LCS. While Dignitas and Team Dragon Knights punched their tickets to the Summer season of the NA LCS, Pobelter and Huhi were the two mid laners who got relegated in those two do-or-die matches. People can talk all day about Pobelter's success on the Korean ladder or Huhi showing promise in those games he lost on Bigfile Miracle or in the NACS, but the fact remains the same: these two players need to show CLG that they can win in the LCS.
CLG have mixed up their top, jungle, support, and now mid lane positions over the last two years, and this is the last domino to fall before CLG are left with only one staple on the squad left: Doublelift. The main carry on the team, Doublelift is mechanically one of the best players in the West, being able to win games through his constant split pushing and individual performances. Sadly for CLG, for every game where Doublelift looks like the best player in the NA LCS, there are two or three games where they try the same strategy and get run over by a team that knows how to neutralize and frustrate CLG's star player.
And although it's easy to point at Doublelift and blame him for every problem that has caused CLG to nosedive season after season in the playoffs, not everything can be thrown on him. There have been game where he does play a more background style, supporting on a more utility-focused AD to push turrets or help in team fights, and CLG haven't been able to capitalize or do anything when giving the responsibility to Link or, on the rare occasion, ZionSpartan. If CLG do fail this season and they don't find their way into the Top 4 or have a strong showing during the Worlds qualifiers, it will be time to assess Doublelift and see if it's time to go another direction with the squad and truly usher in a new CLG era.
For the mid laner decision, it's a smart one. If the rumors of Forgiven rejecting CLG's offer to split time with Doublelift are true, it does prove that the management is trying to bring competition to the roster. Link and Doublelift were the two main carries of the team last season, and they wanted to force their players into earning that spot. Pobelter and Huhi aren't guarantees to perform well or even be better than Link by the end of the season, but it shows that they're willing to be flexible and make either of their new players show them why they deserve to be a starter.
Stop talking about Faker. No more Easyhoon. Those two players have won championships, MVP awards in Grand Finals, and while Faker is considered the best to ever play the game, the 'lesser' of the two, Easyhoon, is the reigning Champions Playoffs MVP and one of the meticulous players to ever pick up the game.
CLG's duo is not about complimenting each other and metagaming opponents by throwing out one when a team expects another. Pobelter and Huhi are two players with over a year of professional experience under their belts, and this chance is for one of them to prove that they can be the man, play consistently, and push CLG to the next level while not tilting under the pressure of marquee match-ups or the postseason.
Pobelter and Huhi are good players, but neither have proven they can be a starter on a winning team. Hopefully for CLG, by season's end there is no talk of tandems, duos, and pairs — only one true Counter Logic Gaming starting mid laner to lead them into the fight for Worlds.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions.