Of all Counter Logic Gaming League of Legends players, Darshan Upadhyaha is often the most composed.
The rest of his team wears their emotions on their faces: determined but cheerful after losses, beaming smiles following a victory. Darshan Upadhyaha is more stoic in comparison. He’s not distant or detached, but well-spoken, sharp and focused.
“Even though we won I wasn’t that happy with the win,” he says following CLG’s Week 4 victory over Team EnVyUs. His demeanor is more representative of a loss rather than a win.
CLG has dropped two series this summer: one to first-place Immortals and a close 2-1 series against Team SoloMid. Yet its games have often been messy, ceding large leads to opponents after crucial mistakes. Tied in record at 6-2 with TSM and currently in third place overall, CLG have a worse overall win rate (59 percent) than fourth-place Cloud9, which is right on CLG’s heels with only one less series win.
Its 2-1 win over Envy is a microcosm of the season thus far: sloppy with moments of brilliance and strong coordination. Darshan Upadhyaha isn’t satisfied with this.
“If we want to be a contender for the split and if we want to do well at Worlds we have to play a lot better than that,” he laments. “We have to hold ourselves more accountable for being more consistent. We’re getting away with a lot of the mistakes that we’re making. I basically just want our games to be a lot more cleaner and I want there to be a lot less mistakes.”
In another timeline, if such a thing is possible, there is a different perception of CLG. There, it’s CLG, the oldest League of Legends organization, that captures the majority of North American fans’ hearts over TSM. CLG win more titles than it loses. It is indubitably the best.
In this one, CLG’s success is more often categorized by the community as in potentia rather than in titles.
“When people think of CLG right now, they think of ‘potential,’ they think of a lot of memes,” Darshan Upadhyaha says. “People’s interpretation of CLG is that we’re a good team but we’re not the best and we’re not consistent.”
Yet, hidden among the waves of criticism that crashed over Team SoloMid following its failure to qualify for the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational bracket stage was a small whisper.
Maybe Counter Logic Gaming would have made it.
This is its opening, the first step in shattering community perception. Confidence in CLG has steadily declined since its 2016 Mid-Season Invitational appearance where the team made it to the finals, earning second place after a 3-0 SK Telecom T1 sweep.
“They think of our one memorable moment of, ‘Oh, they did well at MSI but they’re not that good anymore,'” Darshan Upadhyaha says. “We have not set CLG as a brand. ‘We’re here to compete, we’re here to be the best, and that is all we’re here to do.’ That is what I want to change but we still have a long way to go in terms of our play and our results to do that.”
All members of CLG have been direct regarding their team goals. They want to represent North America at another international event. They want to win. They want to set a new standard for success.
Darshan Upadhyaha cites SKT, and North America’s own Team SoloMid as examples of the mindset and outlook he wants for CLG.
“The pressure that SKT players have to not only live up to expectations for themselves but the expectations of the organization SKT doesn’t allow for failure,” he says. “When you set yourself up for a mindset and a team mentality like that, that is where you reach success. That is the same thing that TSM feels, for example, and part of the reason why I think they’re usually good. Reginald and their entire team mentality holds them to that idea: ‘We’ve won more titles than any other team, we should be the best in NA.’ [CLG] has similar goals and that allows us to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Reworking the image of CLG now begins with winning the 2017 North American League Championship Series Summer.
“Our overarching goal was actually to go 18-0,” Darshan Upadhyaha says. “Obviously, we had to reframe as we lost.”
We set our goal to go 18-0, win the whole split, get a bye, and every single time say, we lose a game we have to change our goal, but every single time, we’re still thinking that this is our goal, this is what we want to accomplish. This is why we’re doing this, this is why we’re together.”
Last year, CLG was dubbed the friendship team. Half-term of endearment and half-insult, the moniker alluded to the fact that the sum was greater than the parts. Following its spring championship and surprising run at MSI, this nickname transformed into an example of how a team with superior coordination and communication could overcome individual weaknesses. It turned back into a half-insult when CLG failed to make it out of their 2016 World Championship group and later finished fifth/sixth in the 2017 NA LCS spring split.
Only one part on CLG has changed — jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero left for Immortals while CLG acquired former Team Liquid and Immortals jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett — but the swap still comes with its own challenges for CLG, especially with such an experienced and close-knit core.
“Josh is the youngest member on our team, both in how long he’s been on a pro team and his age so he definitely has more issues in being able to gel with the team,” Darshan Upadhyaha says. “He has a lot of skill and above everything he’s so motivated, not only in improving his play but improving his mindset. Even though it can be difficult sometimes we’re always headed in the right direction.”
Their path is aided by CLG’s focus on its goals for this season. Although these results haven’t fully translated into convincing wins on the Rift, there’s a slight shift in CLG this split: an added appetite and drive.
No one can deny their ambition.