August 11, 2021, 8:54 PM

Fall from grace: the CLG story

Fall from grace: the CLG story
CLG on stage at the end of the LCS season. Photo credit: Oshin Tudayan/Riot Games via ESPAT.
By TrackLoL Freelancer
Filed Under
How, you ask, does a superteam composed of five players that have all made individual appearances at the World Championship finish the LCS split in last place? Mismanagement, misfortune, and a completely miserable 2021 has led North America’s Counter Logic Gaming to be seen as more of a joke than a serious competitor.
Even so, the team has some of the most loyal and diehard fans of any team in the world - and not just those that followed former TSM, Immortals, and FlyQuest superstar Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, but genuine supporters of the CLG franchise. How did this organization, bereft of success in any way shape or form as of recent (placing 10th in LCS Summer, 9th in LCS Spring, and 10th in Academy) carve a name for itself in the League of Legends history books? And why are they one of only four organizations to have a champions’ flag displayed in the LCS Arena?

Early days of CLG

Back in the early days of League of Legends, streaming and content creation were a wild, wild west. The most popular streamer in all of LoL was one George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis, a famous Nidalee one-trick who would teach audiences about the game as much as he would decimate his lane opponents with stylish gameplay and witty trash talk.
Streaming and content creation weren’t the only things that were still in their early days, as tournaments and events were still being formulated throughout League’s preseason. Eventually, however, HotshotGG would go on to form a roster comprised of some of the most elite players on the North American server.
This would become Counter Logic Gaming, a team and organization made exclusively for League of Legends by players at the very top of the ranked ladder. CLG would go on to win multiple tournaments throughout 2010, including October’s World Cyber Games - the closest thing to a World Championship “Season 0” had.
Season 1 would see the team find limited, yet notable, success — a fifth-place finish at the World Championship would cap off a season featuring multiple domestic gold medals. Following this World Championship, and due to contracts not really being a thing at the time, massive roster shuffles swept every team in the world - including CLG. Founding member Steve “Chauster” Chau would pair up with a young upstart by the name of Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, and together the duo became the terror of many a botlane internationally.
Podium finishes at the likes of the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship 2012 event meant that CLG were certainly a force to be reckoned with. The team quickly realized that they were a big fish in a small pond, and as such after a fair few more rude awakenings in international competitions, they decided to relocate to South Korea. CLG would bootcamp in Seoul around this time — a first in League history — in order to compete against the best of the best, entering what would now come to be known as the LCK.
A quarterfinals exit in playoffs there reaffirmed the notion that North America still had a long way to go internationally, and teams truly hoping to compete would need to scrim better opponents 24/7. CLG’s decision to enter this event and bootcamp in Korea would, unfortunately, have other lasting effects — prior to leaving for Korea, all members of CLG would regularly top the board in terms of streaming numbers. Shifting to a different timezone and playing scrims more than solo queue isolated their regular audience, and CLG’s dominance of NA’s fanbase quickly gave way to rivals TSM.
To this day, TSM and CLG are still considered to be rivals, despite the latter finding almost no success in comparison to the former. However, once upon a time, CLG was on top — and gave that away for a chance to make NA proud internationally.
Given that their sololaners had gradually started to fall off — and their jungle position had been a rotating door since Sam “Kobe” Hartman-Kenzler decided to cast the game for a living instead of play — CLG’s playstyle quickly became stagnant. Yes, they had a world-class bottom lane who were constantly evolving and growing together, but playing around one lane can only get you so far.
Perhaps the most notable parts of CLG’s Season 2 were the additions of two very different teams to the organization. One was CLG Black, effectively an Academy team before Academy teams were popularized in the West, and one was CLG EU, a team that dominated Europe and stole the hearts of many before changing organizations to Evil Geniuses within a year.
Season 3, when the LCS began, was a time at which CLG fans were at their most hopeful again. The team had dominated pre-season, with Chauster swapping to jungle after being dissatisfied with every player that the team brought into the position (HotshotGG himself moving to the role for a brief period of time).
Doublelift would be paired with Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black for the debut season of what would become an iconic botlane — Rush Hour — and hot commodity Austin “Link” Shin would be brought on as a solo queue prodigy in the midlane.
A decent showing throughout the regular season saw CLG make it into playoffs, though given the caliber of their players their performance left a lot to be desired and the team quickly bowed out in 5th-6th place. Due to relegation featuring 4 LCS teams back then, the team would have to play a Best-of-5 against an Azure Cats team spearheaded by their former midlaner Michael “Bigfatlp” Tang.
HotshotGG would go on record midway through this series stating that, if they were to be relegated, then CLG as an organization would be finished.
Naturally, the team requalified, and Season 3 was forgotten - perhaps the most memorable aspect of it (besides Rush Hour becoming a thing) being that Cloud9 had already risen to take CLG’s place as TSM’s primary rivals.
Season 4 would prove especially disappointing for CLG fans, as - even with HotshotGG stepping away to allow for new blood in the toplane - the team failed to make an international appearance. Zachary “Nien” Malhas would join the squad in Spring, but step down in Summer to be replaced by Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong.
After qualifying for Summer Playoffs, CLG’s main roster would leave for Korea for a week-long bootcamp, using a memorable but unsuccessful substitute roster comprised of former greats and solo queue stars. The team would return from their bootcamp ready to go on a tear through the standings but ultimately fell flat in their first match back with a quick 0-3 finish against Curse.
Curse Academy would then take CLG to 5 games in yet another Promotion Tournament for the veteran organization, and the team’s topside would again crumble with more roster changes in the off-season.
After an abysmal Season 3 and an embarrassing Season 4, CLG fans tempered their expectations. What nobody could have expected, however, was what would come next.

CLG in Season 5 and later...

Jake “Xmithie” Puchero was a prominent player in Vulcan’s Season 3 success, but he was mechanically average and did not take over games the way C9’s Will “Meteos” Hartman did. Additionally, while Darshan “ZionSpartan” Upadhyaya was a standout for Dignitas’ 2014 season, Jeong “Impact” Eon-young was the hottest acquisition of the off-season and CLG surely couldn’t match the star power other teams presented.
Spring would be decidedly average for the organization, a good start marred by a disappointing playoffs performance, the only improvement being that they were not relegated to the Promotion Tournament this time around. With the departure of Link in favor of Eugene “Pobelter” Park, however, CLG quickly turned into one cohesive, communicative unit, with both a dominant bottom lane and a topside that would run rampant if given the opportunity.
Pobelter’s aggressive gameplay was a counter to Link’s safe and reliable scaling options, and this X-factor allowed CLG to completely shut out the competition throughout Summer. The crowning achievement of this season would be a 3-0 victory over TSM in Madison Square Garden (the parent company of which would purchase CLG ahead of franchising) to secure a first-place finish for the first time since 2011.
A disappointing World Championship would be followed by CLG kicking their savior of Summer - Pobelter - and the man that defined CLG for 4 years: Doublelift. Replacing these two major components with utility midlaner Choi “huhi” Jae-hyun (yes, the best support in North America) and Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, the team would go on a tear throughout Spring, replicating their Summer record and once again triumphing over TSM in the finals.
At MSI 2016, CLG shocked the world, making it all the way to the Grand Finals of the event through a stellar performance from rookie AD Stixxay.
CLG’s Worlds 2016 was, again, disappointing - wildcard Albus NoX Luna would make it out of their group instead of them.
This would, at present, be the last time CLG played at Worlds, as the team gradually fell off. Trading away Xmithie in 2017 to induce some sort of honeymoon period was a desperation play that did not fall off, and Aphromoo’s departure to 100 Thieves was only slightly numbed with the addition of Vincent “Biofrost” Wang.
2019 was another average year for CLG, narrowly falling short of Worlds qualification again - the team would then decline dramatically, placing 10th in Spring 2020, 9th in Summer, 10th in Lock-In 2021, 9th in Spring 2021, and 10th in Summer now.
While the organization certainly seemed to be on a downward trend over the past few years, the roster that they assembled this off-season should have been a shoo-in for at least a middle-of-the-pack finish.
Both Finn “Finn” Wiestål and Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen attended Worlds 2020 and showed solid performances, and WildTurtle’s independent playstyle was a major contributor to FlyQuest’s similar success that year. Andy “Smoothie” Ta has been on a decline since his C9 days, but it has never been quite as painfully apparent when comparing his impact to that of WildTurtle’s 2020 duo Lee “IgNar” Dong-geun.
CLG had all the components for a successful split, but - uncharacteristically of the organization, which has almost always assembled teams that prove to be larger than the sum of their parts — could never find that winning formula. A single strong finish in Week 3 was one last move to give fans false hope, and CLG found themselves relegated to meme status again.
2022 is expected to be a near-complete rebuild for the organization, as even a commitment to notable free agent Tanner “Damonte” Damonte wasn’t enough to steady the boat this Summer. Finn and Broxah were by far and away CLG’s best players, but with the latter’s contract expiring this November, perhaps it is simply their star toplaner that the team will be building around. They did it in pre-season 1, so maybe they can do it again now.

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