At The Heart
It was different this time. The expectations were the same, but this time it just felt right. Counter Logic Gaming had it's third coach in three splits and it's first new mid-laner since the start of the LCS. The new Head Coach, Chris Ehrenreich, came from a traditional sports coaching background and the team was hoping that he could provide the stability the team needed. When things take a turn for the worst, a voice of reason and guidance is one of the most valuable things a team could have -- and it looked like Ehrenreich could finally provide that. Eugene "Pobelter" Park, one of the veterans in competitive League of Legends despite his age, was tested time and again, but could never seem to show his strengths on losing teams.
"I had played in relegations in every split I was in LCS and actually got relegated in my last split with EG/WFX," Pobelter said. "So I figured things could only be better on CLG." Things could only be better on CLG. For Pobelter, the past five splits held no relevance to him. He joined CLG, but did not immediately shoulder the burden of the weighing expectations of its fans. It didn't matter what other people thought, he knew he could play better and show it. He had the support of his new teammates who believed in him and believed in the season, Doublelift praised his new teammate saying, "I was excited to play with Pobelter, because I knew he was a top mid laner despite the lack of success that Winterfox had. He also has an aggressive carry-style that complements mine."
The Change with Coach Chris Ehrenreich
Despite the Spring Split collapse and lowered expectations for the team, CLG once again came off with a strong start and boasted a 7-1 record. Various teams were stating that CLG was the team to watch based off of their LCS record and scrim results. It looked like CLG finally had the right people in the right places, and that could only be tested by another mid-season collapse.
In weeks five and six, CLG could not overcome the difficulty in their schedule and lost four straight games. Everyone was thinking it, even the players were. Coach Ehrenreich would have none of it. Teams have slumps all the time in traditional sports, and in the end all that matters is how you finish a season. Aphromoo and Doublelift, veterans of the team, knew that they finally had the coach that could provide the feedback they needed to pull through. "Instead of shutting down and building resentment, we worked through our problems and came out stronger with each loss," Doublelift said. "That's when I knew CLG became a real team."
Aphromoo agreed and gave Coach Ehrenreich credit for the change, "One thing that changed for the better would definitely be team mentality and I attribute that turnover largely due to Chris becoming a part of the team. He doesn't take shit from anyone and has shown us how to represent team values over individuality within the team."
It showed. The team bounced back and won their last six games of the split, losing only one game in a very close tie-breaker match versus Team Liquid. The loss didn't stop the team and they proceeded to 3-0 Team Impulse two weeks later, defying expectations once again. The past didn't matter. The team was winning here and now.
The Rivalry at Madison Square Garden
There was a period of time where CLG vs TSM finals were to be expected, not only because they were the two strongest North American teams at the time. It was part of the culture, like the old NBA rivalry between the Celtics and the Lakers. The two giants of League of Legends, fans and viewers could not imagine anything other than the two teams in the finals.
Then the first LCS split started and it was not CLG, but the underdogs Team Coast that would meet TSM in the finals. Team Coast, with ZionSpartan at the helm, would take TSM to a 2-3 series. Team Vulcun, with Xmithie as their jungler, would move on to Worlds without CLG as the most explosive early game team in North America. The next season, CLG looked stronger than ever only to lose out on a single hook by Xpecial against TSM in the semi-finals of the 2013 Spring Split. This year it was almost TSM that didn't make it out, with a late season slump and internal turmoil.
Both teams are the two oldest League of Legends organizations and deeply embedded in competitive League history. It took three years for CLG and TSM to meet in the finals once again, but it's finally happening on one of the biggest stages in the world and at the heart of The Garden.
Photo Credit: Getty Images, LoLeSports