The CLG Autopsy Report: New Peaks, Old Valleys

Graphic by @Nole_Body.

Group A has wrapped up at the 2015 World Championships, and Counter Logic Gaming finds themselves on the outside looking in, ending the tournament with a 2-4 record and failing to reach the Quarterfinals. CLG’s 2015 season is officially over, and it’s time for the dissections to begin. This is the 2015 CLG Autopsy Report.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Throughout 2015, Counter Logic Gaming lived and died by their early game. Through strong macro play and objective control in the first 15 minutes, CLG often found ways to amass substantial leads. And they needed those leads, because their mid/late-game play, and especially their team fighting, was a sore point. When they had enough of a lead, they could bully their way through team fights by sheer mathematical superiority, using their items and champion levels to smooth out any weaknesses in decision-making. But when games were relatively even, or CLG fell behind, they tended to suffer.

As the Summer split progressed, it appeared that CLG had solved some of their mid/late-game issues. They weren’t throwing away early leads, and they even found a way to mount a few comebacks. When they plowed through the Summer playoffs undefeated, it seemed their demons were behind them.

Apparently not.

Cause of Death: Exposure

On the world stage, facing stronger competition than they’d been used to domestically, CLG had their same old weaknesses freshly exposed. Up against teams like Korea’s KOO Tigers and Taiwan’s Flash Wolves, CLG suddenly found that their dominant early game maybe wasn’t quite so dominant, and under those circumstances their mid/late-game couldn’t deliver.

Have a look at their early-game performances over the course of Summer and Worlds.

CLG Early GameLearn more about EGR

CLG had one of North America’s best early games: their 61.8 EGR in the regular season was second only to Team Liquid. But at Worlds, as of the end of Week 2 Day 1, CLG’s EGR was only ranked 11th of 16. They couldn’t find a single First Blood in six games, and they weren’t consistently controlling Towers and Dragons. Their early games weren’t terrible—a 45.0 EGR is only a little below average—but they weren’t good, either.

Early-game adversity was somewhat unfamiliar to CLG this Summer. In twenty-five games across the Summer regular season and playoffs, CLG only fell behind at 15 minutes eight times. They won four of those games, making comebacks against Team Dragon Knights in Week 4, Cloud9 in Week 8, and Team Impulse in Week 1 and the Semifinals. The four games they lost were against Team SoloMid and Team Liquid, twice each. A 50% comeback rate looks reasonable, but it’s not quite so impressive when you notice that all four of CLG’s comebacks came against teams with (at the time) notoriously weak late games. (Bear in mind that the Week 8 Cloud9 was performing much worse than what we’ve seen at the North American Regionals and Worlds.)

At the World Championships, there were no Dragon Knights or Impulses, so when CLG’s early game faltered, and they didn’t build a large enough early-game lead, their mid and late game were tested more heavily than they had been most of the Summer. The results were unflattering: CLG lost every Worlds game where they didn’t have a 15-minute lead, and allowed a comeback in one of the games where they were ahead, because both of their leads over their Flash Wolves were modest ones.

This was the year we thought everything had changed. CLG had turned the corner, with new coaching staff, new solo laners, and a new attitude. Their Summer split adjustments were working, and they had fixed the problems that had been plaguing them for so long.

Unfortunately, it seems the largest problems were never actually solved: CLG had just been hiding their mid/late-game woes behind a colorfully painted early-game mask. At Worlds, that mask was stripped away, and we found the same old CLG lurking underneath.

What’s Next?

Where can CLG go from here? November is fast approaching, the season of contract renewals, roster changes, and, for CLG and some other invitees, the IEM San Jose tournament. CLG management will already be thinking about their IEM roster, pondering whether to make any changes, even just experimenting with substitute players like Huhi in Mid or Jungle or Stixxay at AD Carry. Is there something inherently wrong with how CLG’s roster is structured? Will any of their five starters leave the team voluntarily? Might Doublelift retire?

There are no clear answers to any of these questions, and no obvious scapegoats for the team’s failure to adapt and perform at the international level. There’s plenty of blame to spread around. Xmithie will always be an easy target as long as Sejuani exists, but his vision contributions were impressive, nearly matching Aphromoo’s ward output. For his part, Aphromoo‘s WPM was second-lowest of all Supports at the tournament (as of the end of Week 2 Day 1), and is something he’s struggled with all year. His low warding may have contributed to CLG’s late-game issues, while his oft-hyped playmaking had as many misses as hits. Doublelift is always a lightning rod for criticism, and given that AD Carry is the role that benefits most from gold advantages, and suffers most without them, it’s reasonable to argue that his strong Summer was just a symptom of being fed most of the time.

No one on CLG is safe from criticism, but no one deserves to be kicked to the curb, either. This is still the team that took the North American title, and still the team with possibly the most comprehensive support staff in either North America or Europe. Their fans’ faith has taken a hit, but there’s no reason to break it all apart. We could see several brand new faces in CLG uniforms a month from now, but we could also see no changes at all, and neither approach is the clear best choice.

The CLG Golden Age didn’t pan out, and the Faith Age ultimately fizzled, but let’s not forget that this was, on the whole, a very successful year for CLG, with plenty of reason for optimism going forward.

Bonus Stats: CLG’s Vision Game

Warding stats are some of my favorite numbers, especially when they tell a story as extreme as they do for CLG. As a bit of bonus content, let’s have a look at their vision game.

CLG Vision

CLG had the lowest team WPM in North America during the Summer regular season and playoffs, mostly because Aphromoo’s ward output was second-lowest among NA Supports in regular season (ahead of Dignitas’s KiWiKiD). Xmithie’s middle-of-the-pack warding among Junglers wasn’t enough to make up for it, either. The difference, though, is that Xmithie stepped up at Worlds, and currently has the fourth best WPM among Junglers at Worlds, while Aphromoo’s ward output barely increased.

As a whole, though, the team did improve their warding over time, averaging 14% more wards per minute during Worlds than they did during the regular season. But their opponents’ warding increased along the way, as well, and at a faster pace. In the regular season, CLG averaged 6.6 fewer wards than their opponent. In the playoffs, the gap grew to 9.3. At Worlds, CLG was out-warded by 14.0 wards per game.

Meanwhile, CLG’s ward clearing wasn’t keeping pace, either. Their average wards cleared per minute went up slightly at Worlds compared to their domestic play, but that represented a much lower percentage of enemy wards cleared, shrinking from a very good 37% ward clear rate in the regular season to a more pedestrian 32% at Worlds.

It’s hard to make effective decisions in the mid and late game when your opponent constantly has more vision than you, and CLG weren’t doing themselves any favors in that area.

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