Three years is a long time to wait for success as a fan. This is even moreso the case in eSports where there are no city affiliations and rosters can switch around monthly. In the past three years, we've seen multiple teams come together and disband, and watched as fans moved over to a new team, based on how well a squad is doing or if their favorite player is doing well. The sad truth is that in eSports there are a minority of true fans of teams — people who will stick with the team they chose for whatever reason to the bitter end, good results or not.
Being a true Counter Logic Gaming fan from the start of the LCS to now has been nothing but elongated despair. Coming off a World Championships appearance in 2012, that was the last true high point in the CLG franchise, with the past five LCS splits ending in either heartbreak or disgust at their performance. They never finished top two in the regular season before this summer, constantly ending up in the first round of the playoffs and blowing up in a spectacular fashion. Before this split, CLG had only made it to the semifinal once before, that being last spring where they were beat in a 2-1 series against their rivals TSM in possibly their worst loss in LCS history.
It didn't seem to matter what they did. They changed the roster, added knowledgeable coaches and staff, and even tried to bring in Korean imports like the rest of the Western scene. The games would go well at the beginning to get their fans hyped and confident in their abilities, but the story always ended the same: CLG knocked out early, embarrassed in the playoffs, with management proclaiming they would do everything in their power to make sure it'd never happen again.
It wasn't fun to be a CLG fan. A lot of them stopped caring after awhile, transitioning to shinier and better performing teams like Cloud9, giving up that Counter Logic Gaming would be anything other than a massive disappointment by the time the postseason came around. This season proceeded on the same course as the last few — they make a few changes to the roster and coaching side, the team gets off to a good start, and then like clockwork, CLG starts to fall into a slump and drop like a rock down the standings.
Even by the end of the season when they righted the ship and slipped into a first round bye due to Gravity collapsing back to earth, it still felt like it was merely a matter of time before everything fell apart once again. The semifinal wasn't against rivals TSM or the league winners Liquid, but Team Impulse, a team that revels in anarchy and pressure. They were the perfect candidate to be the next team to break CLG's fragile confidence. With TiP's aggressive tower dives and ability to tilt teams with their offense, it felt like it could be another season where CLG got pushed early, crumbled under the pressure, and got blown out to the dismay of their loyal believers.
Today, after three years of failure, promises of change, and blind belief, Counter Logic Gaming ultimately rewarded the faith their fans put in them. It wasn't a close 3-2 series where they barely pulled it out after losing a few games, or a match where Impulse choked in the middle to give it to them. CLG won the game in a clean 3-0 sweep, pulling away in the final game of the series to stamp their ticket to the finals in a fashion they knew all too well — but this time on the side of the victor instead of the eliminated.
Impulse were the team that were pushed against the wall early, their reliance on Apollo's hyper carrying neutralized due to Doublelift's ability to keep up and surpass Impulse's AD carry. This was the series that CLG fans dreamed about for years involving Doublelift, the team's ace carry finally delivering on the big stage to lead them to a championship final. Impulse were able to get a few picks with Rush's technical skill and kept the gold close through the first two games, but they didn't have the damage needed from Gate in the mid lane or Impact on the top side to combat the team-fighting power of Pobelter and Doublelift.
Instead of CLG being the team that weren't able to adapt in a series, it was Impulse who couldn't keep up or change their ways. Impact, a player who terrorized earlier in the season on carry champions like Yasuo, was put into a background role for the entire series, first starting off with the Shen before moving to Maokai in the final two games. The brunt of the carrying for Impulse was thrown onto the shoulders of Apollo for all three games, and then trying to shift Gate into a more influential carry role on the final map with Viktor. None of their minimal changes made any difference, the last game being the worst of the semifinal for Impulse, with Gate's Viktor doing too little damage over the course of the game.
Xmithie, CLG's jungler who was criticized harshly last season for under-performing and missing key engages. Although he'll still need to prove himself in the finals if he wants to clear any doubt of his stature, today he stepped up after his playoff disaster split against Team Liquid. Impulse's fear of Pobelter's Twisted Fate and Doublelift's Kalista gave Xmithie the opportunity to play Ekko in all three games, and he succeeded on the time traveling champion, zoning well and being the tank they needed on the front lines.
Unlike Rush with Impulse, Xmithie doesn't need to carry. He already has three capable players on his squad that can carry if needed. His plays most likely won't gain tons of YouTube hits or people screaming over his Ekko play like Rush's flashy Lee Sin kills, but that's not the player Xmithie is on CLG. If he can engage well, tank for his squad, and not lose contested objectives in the Drake or Baron pit, then he's the perfect player for a team that funnels a massive amount of gold to their AD carry.
The only downside to CLG's victory today is that they weren't really tested or forced to face the same adversity that made them break down in the past. Impulse tried to force the same strategy down CLG's throat three games in a row, but the unwavering plan didn't work at all, and got worse as the series went along. Impact did his best to zone and set-up plays for his team on Shen and Maokai, but Gate simply couldn't do enough damage in the series when he was put into the position, and Apollo was outmatched against Doublelift with Aphromoo and Pobelter backing him up.
Going into the finals versus either Team SoloMid or Team Liquid, they'll need to vary up their play and maybe have to play from a deficit in a series. Xmithie's champion pool wasn't threatened in this series by allowing him to play Ekko three games in a row, and he'll need to make sure he has something else up his sleeve by the time they take the Rift at Madison Square Garden next Sunday night.
The player who can sleep soundest tonight is Doublelift. Criticized, attacked, and called out for the past three years for falling in the postseason, this is the match that he can point to years from now to show he can come play at an elite level in the clutch. He was pitted against Apollo on hyper carries in all three games, and Doublelift did what he was supposed to do as the ace, and beat him in farm, outplayed Impulse in team-fights, and did everything he could to get the three wins to qualify for his first finals.
Impulse constantly attacked him under tower and killed him in the early-game, and on the former CLG teams, that could have killed his confidence or forced him to try even harder to make plays. The opposite happened — Doublelift kept his cool, continued to rotate and communicate well with his time, and reaffirmed his foot hold in the game through Aphromoo picks and nicely timed team-fights around objectives. It wasn't a solo 1v9 performance or a ton of fabulous outplays, it was even better for Counter Logic fans. They got to see Doublelift trust in his team, stay collected, and be a leading factor in their dominating 3-0 sweep of an Impulse team that blew by Dignitas last weekend.
There will be people following this semifinal that will still yell: "Yeah, but if they get destroyed in the final, this means nothing!" Yes, that is a possibility, and Team Liquid, the regular season champions, have swept CLG in the past two years when they've faced in the playoffs. That still doesn't take away from what Counter Logic Gaming has accomplished this season. In the six season history of the LCS, they're now only the fourth team to ever make a final alongside Good Game University (the opening season), Cloud9, and Team SoloMid. Liquid could be the fifth if they eliminate the three-time champions SoloMid tomorrow in the second semifinal.
Being a fan, in either traditional sports or eSports, isn't always about your team winning. Counter Logic Gaming or any team, even SK Telecom T1 in Korea, can't win every season. The belief you put in your favorite team and why you follow them is for those moments when they make the next step in their evolution or finally succeed after failing at the same spot over and over again. For CLG fans, this is that moment. Their team did what many people thought they would never do: make the NA LCS grand finals with Doublelift as their ace, and largely the same squad that got decimated by Liquid last season.
So next week when Counter Logic Gaming take the next step in their franchise's history in the grandest NA LCS match of all-time, the fans that stayed with them through all the drama and turmoil will watch with baited breath to see if they can become champions. No matter if they win or lose that final, the faith they put into their team will have finally paid off — watching them play the climactic match of the season for North America's most prized championship in a series they'll never forget.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.