Counter Logic Gaming Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha was all smiles on the North American League of Legends Championship Series analyst desk following their victory over the previously undefeated Immortals. Beside him was teammate Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, who still looked bewildered by the win.
Previously in the NA LCS, Cloud9 had seemingly set a template for how to beat Immortals: make proactive movements that match Immortals’ aggressive early play style. Immortals have dominated the 2016 Spring Split due to their decisiveness and overwhelming team dynamic. They move early and often with purpose as a unit. In Week 5, Cloud9 bruised Immortals in an awkward back-and-forth brawl that ultimately went in Immortals favor, but offered a blueprint for other teams to follow. Not so coincidentally, Cloud9 is the bloodiest team in NA with 0.81 combined kills per minute. Just behind them in the standings is Immortals at 0.79.
In the middle of the pack is Counter Logic Gaming, with 0.66 combined kills per minute. CLG far prefers a calculated and methodical style of play akin to crossing items off of a checklist rather than immediately pressing their advantages. Overwhelmingly, CLG err on the cautious side, eschewing perfectly safe opportunities to be aggressive in favor of a measured approach that often wipes all possible chances of an opponent’s comeback from the map. This is particularly apparent in their dragon control. Of all teams in North America, CLG have the strongest dragon control rate at 74 percent. They additionally are tied with Cloud9 for the highest first dragon rate at 85 percent.
As a team that runs on the decisiveness of their shotcaller support Hai “Hai” Du Lam, Cloud9 exploited CLG’s passivity in their Week 2 win against the team. Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae pressured the map early on Graves while mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen also played a particularly proactive Viktor that won C9 early teamfights around objectives. C9’s conclusive calls and willingness to get their hands dirty overwhelmed the more fastidious CLG.
In contrast, proactivity – most specifically against Immortals – hasn’t always been kind to CLG, which is possibly a reason behind their lack of aggression.
"Last time we played Immortals actually, the main reason why we lost was that I actually threw. I dove tier two and got us all killed,” Darshan said.
"This time, even though I got a little hyphy I kind of just kept it down until the end of the game so that we could focus up. We still made a couple of mistakes that we wouldn't have normally made because the pressure was high but we dialed that down towards the end of the game and that allowed us to keep our composure."
For all of their passive foibles, CLG know how to play the map well, and are one of NA’s top teams due to their knowledge of objective trading. While this may lead to a meticulous Summoner’s Rift objectives checklist, it also means that if a team takes something from CLG, they are the first team to recognize where and how to return the favor. Their default is splitting Darshan off from the team on Fiora or Jax and setting up an unstoppable split push that slowly presses in on their adversaries.
In their win over Immortals, CLG pressed their advantages whenever they could. Their methodical 4-1 split push with Darshan as the solo and the rest of the team grouped turned into a 1-3-1 split push on the back of a surprising Udyr pick from jungler Xmithie.
Last year Xmithie was considered CLG’s weakest link, in spite of improved performances on the tail end of 2015 Summer, especially in CLG’s 3-0 sweep of Team SoloMid in the 2015 Summer Final. Never known for his early pressure, Xmithie’s lack of any sort of early game presence forced CLG into a slower-pace style of play. However, he found his stride on Gragas in particular, never quite able to provide overwhelming early pressure but farming steadily, warding, and grouping up for objectives when his team needed him. Additionally, Xmithie was in tune with Gragas’ displacement tools, finally able to positively contribute to teamfights, allowing AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park, or Darshan to clean up.
This year, Xmithie picked up right where he left off, heavily favoring Rek’Sai as his go-to champion in light of Gragas nerfs. Rather than using Rek’Sai or Elise to stalk opponents in their jungle or provide stifling global pressure, Xmithie resolutely stuck to farming and placing vision, grouping up in the mid game for objectives when his team needed him. While Xmithie was never flashy, he was also never a liability. He contributes the least to his team’s total deaths at 15.7 percent and has the second-lowest death contribution rate of any North American jungler. In Week 6, Xmithie showcased a newfound aggression on Nidalee in an impressive 5/0/8 victory over TiP. This was followed by a return to his 2015 preference, Gragas, in a 2/1/13 win against Renegades. Both TiP and Renegades are bottom-tier teams, so the strength of CLG’s opponents somewhat overshadowed these performances. For Xmithie to truly shed his passive image, it would take a strong showing against a top-tier team and Immortals provided the perfect opportunity.
Immortals run on jungler Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin and his ability to get top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon ahead early. However, Gragas hinders this somewhat, even with his recent reentry into the jungle champion pool, due to the necessary farm required for him to ramp up. Udyr also wants to farm the jungle, and with standard lanes, Immortals likely thought they could pressure their winning matchups with AD carry Jason “WildTurtle” Tran on Lucian and Huni on Quinn against Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes’ Ezreal and Darshan’s Fiora. Standard lanes also pits Reignover and Xmithie against each other in a fairly passive 1v1 with Gragas and Udyr both wanting farm and levels.
Immortals’ early plan was stymied by CLG support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, along with a late decision by the Immortals duo lane to take their own gromp, presumably to keep up or surpass the experience gained from Stixxay and Aphromoo’s Krug start. Aphromoo made himself as much of a nuisance as possible, bothering WildTurtle and support Adrian “Adrian” Ma at their gromp before returning to the Immortals’ jungle moments later to pressure Reignover at his own blue buff. This not only delayed Reignover significantly – while Xmithie had already completed his first clear, backed, and was headed to the bottom lane – but pulled Adrian out of lane, relieving some of the early laning pressure that Immortals had on Stixxay’s Ezreal. Aphromoo’s harassment put Xmithie ahead, an advantage he used to gank bottom lane, and Huni, repeatedly.
This laid the groundwork for what would later become a calculated 1-3-1 split push, using Darshan, Xmithie’s now unkillable Udyr, and the aid of a Zz’rot Portal. Xmithie additionally owned the highlight reels usually reserved for the likes of Darshan, including a wild finish with a Baron Smite steal that allowed Darshan to Teleport into Immortals’ base and finish off their nexus.
For their part, Immortals were initially caught off-guard by CLG’s surprising amount of aggression. More importantly, CLG combined this with their natural, methodical play style which left Immortals fewer opportunities to turn in their favor, unlike their messier match against Cloud9. Immortals have been overwhelming their opponents with the Reignover and Huni combination, while WildTurtle and Adrian hold their own and Pobelter is used to keep waves pushing. Pobelter’s Lux did a surprisingly low amount of damage to champions in this game, as he was assigned to waveclear duty while WildTurtle and Huni attempted to keep Xmithie and Darshan respectively at bay. Xmithie and Aphromoo eliminated Reignover’s early pressure, which in turn cancelled out Huni’s presence, and led CLG to victory.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore eSports. Her love for the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets will never die. You can follow her on Twitter.