Replacing a player of Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s calibre is a daunting task that even the most seasoned professional players could struggle with. Not only was he one of the most popular players on one of North America's most popular teams, but the mechanically-gifted AD carry was highly regarded by the community as a world class player. So it's strange to consider that rookie AD carry Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes found himself in an oddly advantageous situation when he was tasked with holding down CLG's bottom lane — fail and the community would simply brush this off as CLG's demise, but succeed and nearly everyone would be singing his praise.
There was no greater stage for Stixxay and CLG to perform on than the 2016 North American League Championship Series Spring Finals. Not only was the game being played at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay, but it was against Doublelift's new squad, Team SoloMid.
Yet, when asked what it was like to face Doublelift in the finals, Stixxay simply shrugged and flashed a smile.
“My mentality going into this series was that I’m better than the other player,” Stixxay told theScore esports. “I feel that if you don’t think like that, you’re not going to perform better than them. I went into this series thinking ‘This guy’s no good.’ Not literally, but that’s how I feel you have to put your mindset.”
Coming off a semifinals series against Team Liquid that saw him heavily criticized for his poor positioning, Stixxay had a number of reasons to be nervous for the finals — the least of which had to do with taking on Doublelift.
“I usually don’t take community criticism too harshly,” he says. “I feel that I know better, for sure, so last week it was just a random problem that popped up," he said. "I feel like I never used to have that problem before — having bad positioning in teamfights. Randomly it just popped up last week and happened in an actual game so I was like, ‘Alright, I need to fix this.’ I focused on it really hard this week.”
To say that his practice paid off would be a gross understatement. Facilitated by initiation and crowd control from aphromoo, top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, and jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, Stixxay was often the highlight of CLG’s teamfights in their 3-2 finals win over TSM.
But his confidence, and CLG’s confidence in him, was made clear in Game 5 when they elected to have their young ADC play Tristana. Sure, after the game aphromoo told theScore esports that Tristana was his best champion, but with the risky intent to build Guinsoo’s Rageblade as the first item there was more than enough room for error.
“The Tristana is a pick that I’m really comfortable on personally. It was definitely one of my best champions in the past,” Stixxay says. “It’s funny because Zac (aphromoo) brought it up to me one day. He said ‘I think Tristana is broken.’ We played it in a scrim. The first thing I do is go to pro builds and I’m like ‘What is this? Oh my god, I’ll try it guys’ and we ended up dumpstering every team we played [in scrims] with Tristana.”
Rageblade has seen little success across all regions this season aside from a rare streak of Invictus Gaming Kog’Maw games in China’s LoL Pro League back in March. More recently, it has lost in Korea, Southeast Asia, and China on a variety of different AD carries.
“Basically, it negates her weak mid-game,” Stixxay said of Rageblade Tristana specifically. “And makes her relevant in teamfights in mid-game, but I think it’s pretty good.”
That, coupled with the fact that CLG elected to go with champions like the gun toting Yordle and Caitlyn instead of more meta AD carries like Sivir and Lucian make the pick that much more surprising.
“This series we didn’t practice Sivir at all because Doublelift will just pick Kalista every game and I don’t really feel like playing the counter-matchup even though I’d say that Sivir is the better champion at this time," he said. "But we also feel that long-range AD carries are coming back into the meta and are generally underrated right now so we just like to bring it back and play them before other teams did.”
Stixxay and CLG’s next task will be preparing for the Mid-Season Invitational in Shanghai, a tournament that the AD carry is unsurprisingly looking forward to. Even after an exhausting best-of-five series against TSM, his eyes light up when talking about a potential matchup against the ROX Tigers.
“The toughest opponent going into MSI is definitely going to be the ROX Tigers,” Stixxay says. “That’s the team I want to play against the most and practice against because we try to take what they do and put it in our own gameplay. Small things like buff invades, 1-3-1, we learned a lot about mid control from them. It will be really fun to play against them. I think they’re the best team in the world right now.”
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.