-- What goes through the mind of a man as he proves Immortals can bleed?
"I was just overcome by emotion," said Counter Logic Gaming's top laner, Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaha, to ESPN following CLG's win over the previously undefeated Immortals (12-1). "There was a [moment in the game] when I went unfocused for a second, and then I quickly refocused myself and stayed [that way] for the rest of the game. As soon as [we] won, the thoughts went out of my head and I was just happy."
CLG (9-4), the reigning champion of North America, has been overlooked for most of the season up to this point. With the loss of starters Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng and Eugene "Pobelter" Park, the kings of the NA LCS appeared more like challengers than defenders of the crown. The squad has improved each week it has come to the LCS studios, rising higher in the rankings as its begins to resemble the organization that hoisted the trophy last split in New York City.
"We just have a really good method of constantly analyzing what our weaknesses are," Upadhyaha said, reflecting on his team's steady improvement from week to week. "Not just game-related, but relationship-wise -- what are we doing to get up and have a productive day. How are we starting our days? Are we going to the gym? Are we eating right? Everything is important. We look at all those factors and constantly try to improve them...I think we have that edge on a lot of competitors."
2016 has been a breakout season for CLG's top laner. Always hyped up, and seen as one of the future stars of North America, the now-21-year-old ace has become one of the premier faces of the league. His constant split pushing and pressure around Summoner's Rift has made him an extremely dangerous player at all times. Even when he's down in kills to his lane opponent, and struggling for gold, he has the ability to open up the map with his sustained harassment.
Darshan, however, doesn't focus on his own efforts; he credits his team for the opportunities he's given on the map.
"I think a lot of my split pushing and pressure is thanks to what my teammates do," he said. "People will look at players like [Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon] and say this guy is a monster, but what [they] don't realize is how much pressure [Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin] puts up for Huni in the top lane. When I do well in games, it's not like I [did it] solo...If you look at our game against Immortals, [Jake "Xmithie" Puchero] got me ahead, our four-man [grouping] played really well and stopped recalls, and then Xmithie stole a Baron. All these things happened that helped me do really well in the game.
"This split, the team has gotten better at working around me than anything, and it's really allowed me to shine."
One of the main reasons why CLG has done so well in this rebuilding split is its jungler, Xmithie. Darshan remarked on how his growth has helped the team this season, as communication and synergy have become one of the biggest strengths of Counter Logic. Whenever Darshan needs help, his partner in the jungle is there to support him, and vice versa. In 2016, when a lot of games are won and lost by how well the top laner and jungler play together as a duo, CLG believes it has one of the best pairings in the entire league.
"I think everyone is willing to adapt," Darshan answered when asked for one advantage that the current CLG has over the championship squad of 2015. "I feel like people aren't stuck on 'there's one way to play the game.' People aren't stuck on, 'There's one champion I have to play.' ... People are open-minded, willing to adapt, and I think that helps a lot."
CLG's next stop, after its game Sunday against Cloud9 (9-4) -- the team it's battling for the second place and a bye in the playoffs -- will be the IEM World Championships in Katowice, Poland. Their first match will be against the defending Summoner's Cup winners and the team Darshan is excited to play the most -- SK Telecom T1.
"I've never had an opportunity to play against them," he said about the two-time world champions. "They've always been heralded as the best team, with [Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok], who's seen as the best player in the world. And while they're not doing so well right now, it's just playing against Faker and [the rest of T1] would just be awesome."
So how far does CLG's split-pushing star see his team going this year at IEM, and possibly the world championships this fall?
"Well, I always want to be improving," he said. "Every scrim matchup. Every LCS game. Even if we lose, I want to be learning and improving from that. But my goal has always been to be the best player, to be the best team. It doesn't matter if it's IEM next week or the world championship -- I'm aiming for nothing less than first."