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Long Road to Ruin

Counter Logic Gaming is tied for first after snapping their 1,176 day losing drought to TSM, but they’ll need to do more than that to win the LCS again.

IT’S 2016 and on a shuttle from the Shanghai Pudong International Airport to their hotel, Counter Logic Gaming doesn’t know yet that they’re about to make history. They don’t know they’re going to finish 2nd in the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational’s Group Stage and then make it to the Finals where they will lose to SK telecom T1. They don’t know that Stixxay will earn a euphemistic nickname for his daring play. They don’t know this will be the height of their run, and they don’t know that Counter Logic Gaming will slowly fall apart over the next three years. They don’t even know the song that starts to play.

It is a brand new single by Charlie Puth (Ft. Selena Gomez) called “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” and it will come to accumulate over two billion views on YouTube. It is, according to Stixxay, the first time they’d heard that song. At the time, he is the newest addition to the CLG lineup, having replaced the departed face of the franchise, Doublelift. He doesn’t know that three years later, he’ll be the oldest member of the team.

But the team starts to sing the song together, which they will continue to sing and hum for the coming weeks at MSI and for the months after. It will become a sort of anthem for Counter Logic Gaming. So then and there — in a transport shuttle on the other side of the world — they sing for the first time, “We don’t talk anymore, we don’t talk anymore. We don’t talk anymore like we used to do. We don’t love anymore. What was all of it for?” 

THE TUESDAY BEFORE Rift Rivals, CLG is enjoying the second of their first two days off this split. I sit down with Ruin and Stixxay for lunch and ask how they’ve been using that time.

“I did nothing special. I just played Solo Queue,” says Ruin. “I played Singed only so I lost many games…”

“I saw 2-11… 0-13,” says Stixxay. 

Ruin continues, “It’s just fun, you know.” He cuts the wave at level 1 like a proper Singed player. “I just realized that NA Solo Queue — I just need to enjoy it. If I try hard and lose, then I get tilted. So I just change my mindset to just having fun so even if I lose it’s okay.”

I ask him if he likes NA Solo Queue, and Stixxay says, “Give him the real answer.”

“I mean…” Ruin says and laughs. “If you want to focus on improving, NA Solo Queue is shit. But if you want to have fun, it’s actually really fun.”

Fun isn’t a word that’s been in the CLG lexicon for years now. Since their incredible 2016 Spring Split — the height of the so-called Faith Age — CLG hasn’t even returned to an LCS Final. The two consecutive championships marking that era keep them tied with C9 behind TSM and TL in terms of banners, and no other team in the LCS has even one. This is an organization steeped in a rich history and was at one point the primary rival to TSM as the most popular team in North America. You couldn’t mention TSM without CLG following shortly thereafter. 

At the start of the 2016 season, after CLG had finally won an LCS title and returned to Worlds, they parted ways with their longtime star, Doublelift. At the time, he was an even more controversial figure than he is now, only he didn’t have the same accolades to back him up. You can still dig up old videos of the original CLG squad having meetings, which were really just shouting matches. Someone once asked me if I had to put together the most contentious roster possible when it comes to personalities, what would it be? And, well, my answer is the old CLG squad featuring HotshotGG, Saintvicious, bigfatlp, Doublelift, and Chauster. 

The 2015 Summer Final, then, where Doublelift was the only remaining player from that first squad, was a testament both to his own growth as a player (and person) and to the massive amount of change CLG had undertaken since their formation. It came after years of heartbreak and futility. There were roster changes seemingly every single split. There were role swaps. They would get close, and then they would be far. But in that moment — when they finally won — anyone watching at the time would say that CLG was Doublelift, and Doublelift was CLG.

Which is all to say that he was never supposed to join TSM, and he wasn’t supposed to face off with them again in the Spring Finals in 2016. CLG wasn’t supposed to make it that far at all without their longtime captain, and certainly an upstart carry named Stixxay wasn’t supposed to become one of the biggest names in the world that spring. Everything for CLG as an organization careened perfectly towards that moment — it had all the markings of a great Hollywood movie right down to the surprise twist at the climax. 

I think very few people would have predicted what type of course would follow for CLG after that. They were a championship team with up-and-coming stars, and then they had a very strong showing at MSI (arguably the best international performance ever from an NA team). There was no reason to suspect that they’d spiral downwards after this moment. There was no reason to suspect that it would take them another 1,176 days before they would once again beat TSM on stage.

There was no reason to think that, like Doublelift before him, Stixxay would be the only remaining member. He tells me, “[With Darshan gone] it feels a little weird. I’m like… I don’t know where all my friends went. It’s just me now.”

I ASK RUIN what his first impression of being on CLG is and he says, “I love NA life — food and everything. My teammates and everyone are really nice. I was surprised the first time I met everyone because they were really nice. In EU… so many people are toxic, you know? So I got used to it. But I came here and was like, wow… so good.”

Ruin and PowerOfEvil form a core of solo laners that gives CLG the kind of 1-2 punch that I think can keep them at the top of the LCS standings. After IG’s win at Worlds and G2’s triumph at MSI, it’s become increasingly clear to teams that you need solo laners who are adept at playing in the side lanes and are not just capable but willing to take aggressive trades or all-ins. Here are two players that are very happy to do just that.

Stixxay says, “I actually never knew that a top laner can feed but be so useful. He actually never tilts.”

Ruin laughs and says, “Me and Darshan are actually kind of the same. We are feeding but…” 

“But he’s so useful. It’s just really different,” says Stixxay. 

“I sometimes tilt but I don’t let them know,” says a smiling Ruin. 

This new-look CLG is basically a foreign team to anyone who hasn’t followed the scene particularly closely in the last couple of years. For all of the talent and accolades he accumulated early on in his career, Stixxay has been somewhat inconsistent since. Even off the Rift, he’s extremely different from the whirlwind of a personality that is Doublelift. He lives in an apartment with his girlfriend, two cats, and a dog. They’ve started to cook more to save money, and he’s confident in his skills with breakfast foods — he says he’d be able to fry up a nice omelette for you. 

But at seven wins already this split in just ten games, CLG has already won as many games as they did in each of their last three splits — they’d have to lose every single game left on the schedule to eclipse that mark, and at this point they are looking like they could legitimately challenge the top of the table. A long-time CLG fan might scoff at this and say it’s entirely possible for them to lose out, but I really think it’s no fluke that this team has a share of first place right now. 

Stixxay says, “When we tied for first, there was a Reddit comment that was like: ‘New CLG fans: We’re tied for first! Old CLG fans: We’re tied for 6th!’ So our fans always expect the least from us, but they want us to do well at the same time. It’s a double-edged sword, because of course I like the fans, but they’re kind of mean to me sometimes. I think people are going to feel the way they want to feel. All you can really do is just win or do better.”

It’s a lesson that even Ruin has taken to already — he acknowledges that the average level of play in the LCS is much higher than in the TCL, where he last played, which means he can’t just bust out random champions for fun. But beyond that, Ruin doesn’t really know anything about the memes that tail CLG.

He doesn’t know what the wheel is. He doesn’t really know what CLG faith means. I have always said CLG fans are masochists in that they’ve conditioned themselves to expect the worst but still pray for the best. There is no other base in the LCS quite like them. 

But here — after the 1,176 days of not beating TSM has finally been snapped, maybe like the 2016 Spring Final, this could be a bookend to an era. It’s been a period of futility unlike the old pre-championship CLG, where the players acted and talked like champions even if they weren’t. What has instead passed was an era where the very identity of the team and what they stood for was put to question. Management has changed completely and even HotshotGG barely shows his face around anymore — it was one uncertainty after another.

What we have now is a great chance for CLG to build something new — the best chance they’ve had in years. Over the recent break for MSI, CLG traveled to Korea to practice for a bit. After a day where they went 0-6 in scrims to KT Rolster, they decided to take a mental break and head to a bar together. Stixxay says he talked to Wiggily there, who asked, “Is it all my fault? Or are we just bad as a team?”

These, I think, are questions extremely removed from how CLG started. Never in a million years could I imagine their first main roster asking these questions. Maybe you’d say CLG has lost that swagger. But maybe you’d say they’re simply no longer overconfident. Stixxay told Wiggily, “I’ve been on winning teams and when you’re on top, it’s not that hard. It’s not rocket science, everything just kind of gels together.”

And both Stixxay and Ruin say that the team — and Wiggily — has been a lot better since that night. There’s no good answer to whose fault it is. I can say, though, that this is not a bad team. I can’t say if they’re a good team, though, and I can’t say if they’re of championship caliber, and I can’t say CLG won’t go another 1,176 days before they beat TSM again. 

But I do know if that Charlie Puth song comes on again, Stixxay will have some memories flood into his head. I do know that he might hum, “What was all of it for?” I do know that Ruin doesn’t really know yet what it means to be a CLG player, and I know that a moment of clarity will come if he’s around for long enough. I know that many CLG fans will look at the standings and expect the worst, and I know they’ll continue to pray for the best. I know that it’s been over three years since CLG has won an LCS title, and I know it’s not the first drought they’ve endured. 

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