How can CLG climb back into the playoffs?

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After arguably the worst split in Counter Logic Gaming’s history, is there any hope for CLG to climb back into the playoffs in Summer 2020?

Hidden behind the lens flare of Team Liquid’s catastrophic Spring 2020 meltdown, CLG were nearly as disappointing. Their 10th-place finish was only less dramatic because their expectations weren’t quite so high: Liquid had been championship favourites, while CLG were “only” an upper-half team, 4th in my personal preseason power rankings. Still, after finishing 3rd in the 2019 Summer Playoffs, narrowly missing the World Championships, and seeming like strong favourites to at least make a playoff appearance in Spring, CLG and their fans were left with a bitter taste in their mouths, and an urgent imperative to turn things around for Summer.

Everything should be on the table, from roster changes to coaching adjustments. But before we settle into our armchairs and start charting the team’s path forward, let’s take stock of CLG’s recent trajectory and understand their current position as fully as possible.

CLG’s climb starts by establishing base camp

In our role as CLG’s armchair General Managers, it’s clear that we have quite a significant climb in front of us, but we should tailor our preparations appropriately. There’s a big difference between being a 10th-place team that barely won a game compared to a 10th-place team that was only a couple of “lucky bounces” away from making the playoffs. So which scenario best describes CLG?

CLG Team Stats

Stat Value Rank
Record 3-15 10
GPR -0.80 10
GSPD -5.2% 10
K:D 0.69 10
JNG 48.6% 6
LNE 49.8% 8

LCS 2020 Spring Regular Season

The most comprehensive metrics rank CLG 10th, suggesting that they finished where their performance deserved. They were last in kill-to-death ratio, gold percent rating, and gold spent percentage difference.

It’s worth pointing out that CLG’s actual values in the advanced gold metrics were not that awful, though, implying that they might not have to climb up so far as it seems. Compare their -0.80 GPR to the -0.95 and -0.96 of Vitality and SK Gaming in the LEC, for example, and put their -5.2% GSPD up against Vitality’s -7.4%.

Jungle and lane control metrics give some idea of the areas where CLG held their own relatively well: they were efficient on the map, despite almost always playing from behind. Finishing 6th in jungle control is actually quite impressive, given CLG’s place in the standings. Credit goes to Wiggily for his generally strong pathing, which produced the second-highest GXD10 among LCS Junglers, and it’s fair to assume that Smoothie’s shotcalling was a contributing factor as well.

Let’s not overstress the positives–CLG performed very poorly overall. But it’s useful to be aware of any relative positives.

How much did CLG’s midseason roster change help?

The biggest positive from CLG’s season was the small boost they received when they signed Pobelter.

When CLG replaced Crown, it was a sign that they recognized their slow start was more than just a slump. They never could have anticipated being in that position: Crown had just come off a strong 2019, and no one would have argued that Pobelter was a stronger player on paper. But something was clearly wrong with Crown, and if CLG wanted to climb anywhere near to the playoff chase, they needed some fundamental improvement, particularly a better communicator and team player.

There’s no need to argue about whether Pobelter individually played better than Crown on CLG. Pobelter’s 2.7 KDA led Crown’s 1.7, his modest +29 GXD10 was a drastic improvement on Crown’s horrible -221, and his 505 DPM and 28.4% damage share outpaced Crown’s 365 / 25.3%. But individual performance is only part of the story: what really matters is how it affected the team.

After bringing in Pobelter, CLG’s numbers did climb, though they didn’t skyrocket.

CLG with Pobelter vs. Crown

Stat With Crown With Pobelter
Record 1-7 2-8
GPR -0.94 -0.68
GSPD -6.3% -4.3%
K:D 0.62 0.75
JNG 49.0% 48.3%
LNE 49.9% 49.7%

LCS 2020 Spring Regular Season

The most noteworthy numbers here are the stronger GPR and GSPD, while it’s interesting that the team’s jungle and lane control dipped slightly with Pobelter, perhaps because Crown spent so much time farming side lanes and creating map pressure (and then, frequently, dying after he pushed).

While the numbers did get higher, it wasn’t nearly enough improvement to set CLG up for a playoff run, given the hole they were in. But if they had played at that level all season long, would it have been a different story?

Will CLG climb back into the playoffs in Summer 2020?

The reality is that even CLG’s modestly improved numbers with Pobelter probably would not have been enough to climb them into the playoffs. Their -4.3% GSPD would still have ranked them 9th, and their -0.68 GPR would still have been 10th, though by a smaller margin. But the team they would have jumped in GSPD was FlyQuest, and FLY managed to reach the Spring Finals!

There was quite a logjam in the middle and bottom of the LCS standings, with only a few percentage points of GSPD separating CLG from the playoff pack. In other words, it only would have required slight improvements to dramatically change the narrative of CLG’s split.

The main place CLG should look for those improvements is their bottom lane. They can’t survive another split of -272 GXD10 from their Bot laner. Ruin’s -260 GXD10 was almost as bad, but it’s more reasonable for CLG to address that through Wiggily’s pathing, since Ruin’s strengths lie in carry champions and aggression.

The best way for CLG to start their climb back is to stabilize their bot lane with a “weak side” player who can allow Smoothie to roam with Wiggily, and give up the minimum while Wiggily is helping Ruin create and snowball advantages. Luckily for CLG, Kobbe is newly on the market, and the match between them could really be perfect.

There are many reasons why Kobbe might not join CLG, whether other offers come in or CLG doesn’t have the budget or business flexibility. If they stick with Stixxay, CLG might climb into 8th or 7th in Summer, but they need another subtle shift forward if they want the playoffs to be in reach.