CLG as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts in 2016; it is not reliant on a single superstar, now that top North American carry Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng has departed. The team might not be as showy as the group that brought home the organization's first League Championship Series trophy last summer, but it is built to last, grinding out victories through well-guided leadership and the idea of five men working as one.
The reigning champion is 10-4, holding down second place in the NA LCS heading into the Intel Extreme Masters World Championships in Poland, fresh off ending first-place Immortals' perfect spring split.
At the center of the rebuilt CLG is someone simultaneously new and old to this team. Choi "Huhi" Jae-hyun sat on the bench for the entire summer season behind now-Immortals mid laner Eugene "Pobelter" Park. After dealing with visa issues at the beginning of his CLG tenure, he was never able to crack the starting lineup as his team performed so well throughout their championship split. Pobelter's departure during the offseason, following the team's disappointing exit at the world championships, allowed Huhi to have free rein over CLG's mid lane position.
While the team has played together for only a few months, this split's CLG already has an IEM under its belt. It made a surprising run to the finals of IEM San Jose, with a victory over South Korea's Jin Air Green Wings in the semifinals before falling to the much more experienced and synergized Origen in the final.
A lot of that is thanks to the play of Huhi -- and his ability to mesh so well with his teammates.
"The biggest difference is definitely the atmosphere," Huhi said about the changes he has experienced after going from playing on a Korean team early in his career to playing on a North American squad this year. "In Korea, the team treated [a] player as part of a machine. They can replace [players] at any time. Players are very serious, so they only sleep seven hours and rest of the day is solo queue, scrims, solo queue, scrims, and don't really take breaks. That's how [Korea] got better, I guess, but it's why they get burned out earlier than NA players.
"In NA, [though], they're really friendly -- like coaches and players are really friendly. There is a lot of communication going on. Sometimes it can be bad because it gives a bad atmosphere on the team [with] the team arguing too much. But the other way, if you're open to criticism on how to get better, then I think it's the perfect atmosphere."
CLG's mid laner believes the reason for his team's success this season comes from that positive, flexible atmosphere. Everyone on the team is open to talking to one another about issues, and the entire team gets along inside and outside of the game. While some teams preach that their team is unified, CLG players treat each other like family. When they have time off, they still choose to hang out with one another because of how much fun they have together as friends.
"When I was in NA for Thanksgiving, every teammate invited me to their house," Huhi said. "We're not close [just] because it's our job."
Huhi's current form is representative of how CLG is chugging along as a unit. Although he's known for possessing a fair bit of technical skill, the South Korean talent hasn't had the greatest season, with only two weeks left to play. His damage output has been good, but his mispositioning at times -- and knack for getting caught -- has hamstrung his teammates on occasion. Even though it might not be the individual season he had hoped for, his team play along with the rest of CLG on a macro level has taken CLG to greater heights than people believed possible.
CLG doesn't mind being the underdog -- in fact, it enjoys it. Talk about the other teams and hype them up. Huhi and the rest of Counter Logic are happy to have a chip on their shoulders as they roll along. Going into IEM Katowice -- and a date with world champion SK Telecom T1 in the first round -- it'll be another chance to prove critics wrong.
"If possible, I'll try to be selfish as possible," Huhi replied with a laugh, when asked what he thought about going up against the game's greatest player, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, in Round 1. "Until now, I was trying to give all the resources to my team. But it's Faker, so I want to try and solo kill him . . . I'll try to play more aggressive."
Another mid laner who interests Huhi at Katowice will be the Qiao Gu Reapers' Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang. The two players came up through the amateur ranks together, constantly facing each other in solo queue as they searched for a reliable, longstanding team to call home.
Interestingly enough, it could have been Huhi wearing the Reapers uniform if a few things had gone differently.
"Before I came to CLG, I had some conversations about me joining QG," he said. "So I talked to Doinb because we were both mid laners, and then I decided to come to CLG. It'll be pretty interesting because I used to verse him a lot in solo queue when we were both amateurs. So it'll be really different -- he'll have a different playstyle now in the LPL."
While winning IEM is the goal of every team embarking for Poland, Huhi wants to use the unique opportunity to play against international competition to sharpen his team's condition.
"I, personally, want to learn as much [as possible] from the other regions," he said. "Obviously, Korean teams have better micromanagement and map movement than other regions, so that's definitely one thing I want to improve on."
Always open to improvement. Always maturing as a team. They might not have the pound-for-pound talent of some of the other teams heading to Poland, but that's OK -- CLG's players don't care if they're the so-called best at their roles.
They care only about being the best team.