Best available free agents from North America

With the offseason fully underway, many of the newer LCS teams will be looking to fill their rosters. While many will look towards imports to fill some slots, homegrown free agents will be very important in being contenders. With certain teams not making the cut for LCS franchising, there will definitely be some big names to choose from.

In this piece we’ll be taking a look at the best North American free agents available.

Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent (Support)

Photo by: Riot Esports

Hakuho is the former support of team EnVyus. EnVyus had their moments as a team but were never quite able to reach top-tier status. Hakuho was quietly one of the more underrated supports in the league. It’s his time to finally be surrounded by good teammates to show what he’s really capable of.

When he was paired with veteran ADC, Apollo “Apollo” Price, many analysts noted the improvement to Apollo’s play. Hakuho was substantial to his improvement as they were one of the better bot lane duos in the NALCS. On a team with a lower win rate Hakuho was able to maintain the 3rd highest KDA among supports which is rather impressive.

With Team EnVyus missing out on the NALCS, Hakuho will be a valuable support on the market. If surrounded by better talent, Hakuho can surely make a name for himself.

Jake “Xmithie” Puchero (jungler)

Xmithie was a standout player for Immortals in helping them qualify for their first ever World Championship. With Immortals rumored to be out of the NALCS, Xmithie brings loads of experience with three World Championship appearances.

Many people thought his career was on a decline after a struggling split with CLG. On Immortals he showed just how effective he could be if surrounded by the right teammates with smart pathing and aggression, helping turn Immortals from a seventh-place team to an LCS finals one.

Xmithie will be seen as a strong veteran presence on the market after a great Spring Split.

Adrian “Adrian” Ma and Johnny “Altec” Ru (Support and ADC)

Adrian and Altec both sat out for most of the Summer Split before becoming starters on Team Dignitas at the halfway point in the split. For a time it looked like the move was successful as Dignitas began to go on a tear through the NALCS.

Altec and Adrian looked to be one of the better bot lane duos shortly after coming into Dignitas. In a hyper carry ADC meta, Altec was 2nd in the league in DMG% for summer with 27.5%.

Adrian has long been known for his great play on healing/shielding supports such as Janna and Soraka. His attitude has been noted to be an issue from his previous teams such as Phoenix1 and Team Impulse.

It will be interesting to see if this duo attempts to stay together. They have the benefit of having a built-up synergy already and there’s no language barrier between them compared to importing.

Alex “Xpecial” Chu and William “Meteos” Hartman

Photo by: Riot Esports

Xpecial and Meteos are some big-time veterans that may or may not be returning. The money could be too good for them to pass up though and one could see them both getting some decent offers to stay in the scene.

Xpecial is more likely, as Meteos has a decent following for streaming on Twitch. Meteos has also noted his loyalty to Cloud9. It’s no doubt that both these players still have the talent to play at a competitive level. It didn’t take long for Meteos to get back in the groove of professional play that helped Phoenix1 to a third-place finish.

Xpecial will always be a long time favorite among the scenes as a smart aggressive support. Although he hasn’t seen too much success since his days with TSM and Team Liquid, Xpecial does have a veteran experience and game knowledge to still warrant being on a starting roster.

If we do see them on rosters next split, it will be interesting to see if they are still able to compete at a high level.


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Free agent moves to watch for in North America

With Season 7 ending, it’s no secret that Korea is still the most dominant region. Looking towards North America, they once again seemed like the weakest region there. Only one team made it to quarterfinals, as the week two NA curse took hold again. Team SoloMid came in as the top team from North America with a much easier group, as they didn’t have a Korean team. They still managed to not make it out and fail once again.

With franchising coming to North America next year, we can expect a lot of money being invested among the teams that make it. This may see North America become the most competitive it’s ever been. In just a few weeks, we’ve heard rumors of some big names coming to North America. It will be a long off season so expect more big news to keep coming as we go on.

With the off season in full swing here are some of my big free agent moves to look out for:

TSM Jungler

Photo by: Riot Esports

Team SoloMid once again failed to make it out of groups. Even with all the domestic success the team has had, internationally it hasn’t been working. The biggest scapegoat from this year’s worlds has to be jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen. Svenskeren seemed out matched at Worlds as he failed to make any plays in the early game. He was the face of much of TSM’s downfalls as a team lacking early game play making.

It’s questionable at this point whether it’s poor individual play of Svenskeren or a team play style for their jungler? Svenskeren is well known as being an aggressive early play making jungler. This style was punished early in the Spring split where he was often caught out going for cheeky invades.

Rumors swirled on reddit earlier this week that TSM might be looking to import LMS Flash Wolves’ star jungler Hung “Karsa” Hau-Hsuan. While these rumors may be light, it’s definitely a possibility after how the team has looked at Worlds for the past two seasons. Phoenix1’s star rookie Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung could also be available with rumors that Phoenix1 will not be returning to the NA LCS. MikeYeung has been duoing with mid laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, but it could just be for fun. MikeYeung showed flashes of stardom as he was a huge play maker on aggressive junglers while he was with Phoenix1. His Nidalee and Lee Sin plays made highlight reels during their run at Rift Rivals.

The possibility of TSM keeping Svenskeren and adding a sixth man jungler is also a possibility. SKT has shown the success of having two junglers so TSM could give it a try as well.

Disbanding Teams

Photo by: Riot Esports

With rumors already swirling about who is in/out of the NA LCS, there could be some good rosters disbanding. Teams rumored to be out are Phoenix1, Envyus, Dignitas and Immortals. Each of these teams have some big names to choose from.

In the top lane from Dignitas and Immortals you have two huge Korean stars in Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong. Each of them has had success in Korea before coming to North America this past year. Ssumday has been known to be a mechanical God, but Dignitas had some synergy issues when it came down to performing well. Flame showed success with Immortals helping them finish second domestically before being eliminated in the group stages at Worlds. It will be interesting to see if these two decide to stay in NA or head back to Korea.

Junglers in this group are also considered pretty strong. Jake “Xmithie” Puchero quietly became the best jungler in North America after transferring to Immortals. His supportive playstyle was vital in their success during Summer Split. MikeYeung will be pursued following a good rookie split on a struggling Phoenix1 team. Nam “lira” Tae-yoo was another jungler who was a great player on a bad team. He was often praised by other players as being one of the best in the league.

One of the more underrated players out of these teams might be EnVyus support Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent. Hakuho has quietly been one of the better supports in North America. He was a major reason for the improvement of ADC Apollo “Apollo” Price. He holds a lot of value as a North American player who wouldn’t take up an import slot.

Cloud 9 Top Lane

While Cloud 9’s top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong had a great split overall after taking over full time as the starter, there were still rumors that he may be looking to retire. His contract does expire this year which was a main reason why Cloud 9 took on Jeon “Ray” Ji-won. Impact had a decent showing at Worlds so maybe that will change his mind, but it’s definitely something to keep our eyes on.

With Dignitas and Immortals not making it in, Ssumday and Flame become available. Ssumday has been a mechanical God since he came over, but hasn’t really had the right team to back him up. Flame showed success on Immortals, but language barrier might be an issue with both of them. Cloud 9 has experience working around that with coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu.

While it’s still likely Impact makes his way back to Cloud 9, it might be interesting to see if they keep Ray around or look for another sub top laner to eventually take over.

New Rookies?

We got the chance to see some new rookies in the challenger scene last year that could be making their way onto the LCS stage. One big name that has been a solo queue star for awhile and showed some promise last year was Eric “Licorice” Ritchie on EUnited. Licorice mechanically seems pretty sound, but just needs more experience on the big stage against better competition. With academy teams becoming more relevant with franchising, he might be a split away from becoming an LCS starter.

Another rookie that we could see soon is ADC Matthew “Deftly” Chen. Deftly has shown the ability to be a great ADC at times, but has also had some inconsistencies. A nice comparison would be Cody Sun last year. Deftly will most likely get picked up for an academy team for Spring in hopes of gaining enough experience to contend for a starting position in Summer.

Jungler Raymond “Wiggily” Griffin is a challenger player who benefited from Riot’s scouting grounds. He played in the challenger scene on Tempo Storm, who looked good for the majority of the regular season. Wiggily is a jungler on the rise and could see his way into a young team looking for NA talent.

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Possible Roster Moves For EnVyUs and Team Liquid

Relegations are over, and EnVyUs and Team Liquid have earned their way back into the LCS. It wasn’t a domination by any means though. Both of these teams will need to make some changes for next split if they don’t want to finish bottom two again. Here are some possible roster moves I could see for both teams going into next split:

EnvYus

Courtesy: Riot Esports

EnVyUs began to pick up its play towards the end of the split. Their jungler Nam “Lira” Tae-yoo developed into one of the best junglers in NALCS. Team EnVyUs will need to build around their star jungler going forward. Where they can look to improve is in their solo laners. Top laner Shin “Seraph” Wu-Yeong and mid laner Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo looked close to mediocre in their roles last split. It’s questionable how Ninja is still worth an import slot at this point.

Envy’s bot lane was heavily underrated last split. Apollo “Apollo” Price and Nikolas “Hakuho” Surgent held their own against some of the best, and have shown they can compete at an LCS level. They also serve as valuable assets as they don’t take import slots.

Possible Roster Moves:

Looking at possible imports and challenger players available, they may look to the team that they had to defeat to get back into LCS. Gold Coin United’s solo laners may be adequate replacements. Mid laner Kim “Fenix” Jae-hun has has also proven to be a mechanically skilled mid laner that’s able to compete with some of the best in North America.

If Seraph doesn’t play next split, they could look to either Colin “Solo” Earnest or Eric “Licorice” Ritchie. Solo has been bouncing around the challenger scene for awhile now, but looked to hold his own during the promotion tournament. Licorice also had some impressive games during the promotion tournament that could see him being looked at for an LCS team soon.

Another notable import could be EU Giants’ Na “NighT” Gun-woo. NighT made quite the impact during his rookie split last season. He was a lone star on a struggling Giants roster this split. He has shown the ability to be able to play against some of the best mids in Europe.

Team Liquid

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Team Liquid has quite the dilemma going forward. With Yiliang “Doubelift” going back to TSM, they’ll need to decide whether they keep Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin at Mid or move him back to his former role. Piglet has quite a while to prepare to become a better mid laner for Summer, but whether he’ll want to come back is the question. Piglet may have reached his breaking point, having failed to bring Team Liquid to Worlds in multiple consecutive splits now.

Support Matt “Matt” Elento has struggled since his phenomenal rookie split. Matt said in interviews that the pressure was beginning to affect his play. With the announcement of Adrian “Adrian” Ma’s departure from the team, Matt will be the support going forward.

The only sure roster locks that I see Team Liquid keeping are top laner Samson “Lourlo” Jackson and jungler Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin. Lourlo was still inconsistent last split, but I don’t think he did bad enough to be benched, and still showed glimpses of a star top laner. Reignover certainly struggled last split, but he returned to star form near the end of the split.

The mid and ADC positions have the biggest question marks heading into Summer.

Possible Roster Moves:

Like team Envy, NighT is a definite option for them. Piglet wasn’t the worst mid laner, but you could tell he didn’t know his lane matchups quite well enough yet. NighT is an adequate option as he has experience communicating in English. Team Liquid has experience integrating Korean Imports into their lineup as well. NighT has shown that he can be a force in the mid lane. Bringing Piglet back to the ADC role would also not be the worst thing with recent patches making them much more powerful than before.

Looking at the ADC role, Eunited’s ADC Matthew “Deftly” Chen showed some good games in the promotion tournament. He had a tremendous score line in game one against TL. He’s an up and coming NA talent to watch after having a feature on his Scouting Grounds experience.

 

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Mid Split Grades For Each NALCS Team

We’re halfway through the NALCS spring split, and I’ll be handing out grades for each team so far. My basis for grading: expectations coming into this split, if they’ve met/under performed those expectations, and their current standing. Every team has played each other once now, so we have a good feel for how each team matches up against one another. Things can definitely change in the second half of the split, so it’ll be interesting to see where these teams end.

10. Team Liquid(2-8)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Nobody expected us to be halfway through the split with Team Liquid sitting at the bottom, even below Envyus. They acquired supposedly one of the best junglers in the region in Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin, but it hasn’t been enough. One thing that has changed this split is the meta shift to utility style AD carries, in which star Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin has struggled on. In the past, Team Liquid relied on Piglet to be a main carry for the team. That has not been the case this split as Piglet currently sits dead last in KDA and leads all AD’s in deaths.

Team Liquid has obviously hit the panic button with the announcement of possible roster changes during the IEM break. The most notable rumor being Piglet switching to mid. If that doesn’t spell desperation, I don’t know what does. There aren’t many ADC’s in challenger willing to thrust themselves into a sinking ship and be apart of the downfall.

Grade: F

9. Team Envyus(2-8)

In all honesty, everyone expected Envyus to be a low tier team, possibly similar to Echo Fox last summer. The fact that they have two wins, one coming off a talented Echo Fox team, tells me they’re not as bad as people think. They’ve shown the ability to take teams to close matches even when they do lose.

Their laners are able to gain significant CS differences in games. Looking at top laner Shin “Seraph” Wu Yeong and ADC Apollo “Apollo” Price, they’re both near the top in their positions in CS diff@10. They may lack the team fighting needed to really compete on the LCS level, but that’s to be expected when only your bot lane speaks English as their first language.

Grade: B-

8. Team Dignitas(4-6)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

With the big name imports of Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, Dignitas was expected to be towards the top of the standings. They were off to a slow start, but things have finally picked up for them, going 3-1 in the past two weeks. I’ll admit two of those wins were against Team Envyus and Team Liquid, two teams at the bottom of the standings, but they needed those wins. They also looked impressive in a 2-0 victory against Flyquest, who were tied for second heading into the week.

Their schedule doesn’t get any easier heading into the second half, as they half Phoenix1 and TSM as their first opponents. Maybe this IEM break will give them the needed time to finally come together as the top tier team many had hoped for.

Grade: D

7. Echo Fox

Echo Fox has to be the most inconsistent team in LCS. At least with bottom tier teams you can expect how they’re going to play. With Echo Fox, one week they’re 2-0 sweeping TSM, the next they’re getting 0-2’d by Envyus. This team seems to have trouble playing to the level of their competition. Against the good teams, they play their best, but against the worse ones, they’ll allow themselves to play down to their level. This is just about where people were placing them in terms of standings heading into the split, if not lower.

It is surprising to see a team this low still hold the highest Gold difference@15 among NALCS teams. Their early game isn’t their weak point by any means. Jungler Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham has shown to be the best jungler so far, despite a poor showing last weekend. His early game aggression has allowed Echo Fox to jump to their early leads. It’s been in the mid-late game where Echo Fox has struggled in not knowing how to translate their leads into victories.

If they can fix their macro-play, this team can definitely be a “Cinderella” team heading into playoffs.

Grade: B

6. Immortals (5-5)

For the most part, people pegged Immortals as being around this 5th-8th place team. Immortals was expected to play mostly through star jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park. For the most part, Dardoch has had to solo carry the team, with Pobelter playing uncharacteristically poor. Pobelter has improved as the weeks have gone on, but he’s still currently last in KDA and CS diff@10 among mids.

Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong looks to have fixed some of the communication issues that he was having. In the beginning of the split, his teleports and team fighting seemed off from the team. In a meta where tank play was very important, Immortals struggled to gain any wins to start out. They have gone 3-1 in their past two weeks, but most of those victories came off teams below them in the standings.

They’ll need to show some competitiveness against some of the better teams before we can list them as a definite playoff team.

Grade: C

5. Counter Logic Gaming(5-5)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) was somewhat expected to thrive to begin the split. Most teams were brand new rosters with absolutely no synergy built up yet, as was evident in the first few weeks. CLG would have the advantage of not having any roster changes and knowing how to play with one another. They struggled to use this to their advantage, as they had a slow start due to not having a great grasp on the meta. CLG have noted that they’ve always been a bit slow on picking up on the meta. As a top tier organization, you’d expect this problem to be fixed by now.

Star support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black looked lost in the meta of carry style supports, often being caught out of position. Jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero has looked as okay as he always has, but with the rise of jungle talent in a meta of carries, it hasn’t been enough.

They’ve recently began to look like they’re returning to top form, going 3-1 in the past two weeks. They took a much needed victory against Immortals last week that put them ahead of them in the standings.

Grade: B-

4. Phoenix1(6-4)

Phoenix1 were my darkhorse favorite heading into the split, and they haven’t disappointed.  Most people ranked P1 as a middle-lower half team heading in, but they’ve shown the ability to compete with the best, after sweeping C9 2-0 with a substitute jungler. No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon has been the best ADC in NA “by far” and a candidate for MVP.

Nobody really knows what exactly is happening with Rami “Inori” Charagh. Before he departed the team, he was looking to be struggling on any champion that wasn’t Rengar or Kha’zix. In recent interviews with substitute jungler Will “Meteos” Hartman, he made it sound like P1 may just be looking for a long term replacement. Meteos is no slouch as a replacement, although he doesn’t sound like he’d be willing to commit long term. If P1 continue with Meteos, I don’t see why this team can’t finish in the upper echelon of the standings.

Grade: A

3.Flyquest (6-4)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Flyquest have developed into fan favorites as the “C9 White”. No one can really count out any team with prolific shotcaller Hai “Hai” Lam on it. Having three out of five members who have played together for so many years also has to help. Everyone, including myself, wanted to cheer for this team, but honestly expected them to be in the bottom tier.

This was reinforced with the announcement of Galen “Moon” Holgate as their new jungler just days before the LCS start. The last time we saw Moon, he looked scared and out of his element on stage. This split, he’s become one of the most improved players we’ve ever seen in LCS. This may be due to playing with some LCS veterans this time, but Moon himself has been looking like an absolute steal from free agency.

Hai’s effectiveness as a shotcaller will never be able to be measured statistically, but if Flyquest finish top two, I’d peg him as a favorite for MVP.

Grade: A+

2. Cloud 9(8-2)

Cloud 9 came into the split as heavy favorites, as their only roster change was bringing in rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia. They also have top tier players in just about every position. They definitely started the split as the strongest looking team, with an 8-0 record. Before this week, Cloud 9 was the lone wolf atop the NALCS. After an abysmal 0-2 week, they’re now tied with TSM at 8-2.

It’s questionable how Cloud 9 went undefeated through the first half of the split. Other teams may have just needed more time to build synergy. Cloud 9’s early game still isn’t what we’ve come to expect from a top team. They’re currently ranked seventh in CS diff@15. They’re not nearly as proactive as they could be in the early game and often take wins from team fighting in the mid game.

Star top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong has played the worst I’ve ever seen. He seemed out matched against TSM’s Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell in their last series. Cloud 9 seems to live and die by how well Impact does. If Impact isn’t playing, they tend to look much more disorganized as well.

For the most part, they’ve played up to expectations, but losing to Phoenix1 with a sub jungler is unacceptable. They’ll need to bounce back strong to prove that they deserve the NALCS title.

Grade: B

1. Team SoloMid (8-2)

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Team SoloMid had a rough beginning, as the absence of ADC Yiliang “Doubelelift” Peng hindered their play more than expected. Doublelift held a very strong vocal leadership role in game that was missing after he left.

Solo laners Hauntzer and Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg have adapted to take more vocal roles on the team. It was slow at first, but the team has finally looked to be peaking at the right time. They 2-0’ed the two teams ahead of them in the standings, in C9 and Flyquest. Hauntzer and Bjergsen have also been playing extremely well individually. In a meta where tank play is extremely important, Hauntzer has played near perfect in what his team has needed.

TSM will need to continue this trend of improvement as they head into the second half of the split.

Grade: A

 

There’s still much League of Legends to be played. Playoffs will ultimately be decided by who comes out strong for the second half of the split. Can Cloud 9 bounce back from a rough week? Can TSM continue to improve and be the top team in North America? Will Echo Fox break the curse of their odd week struggles? These are only a few questions that will need to be answered before we crown a North American champion.

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