Burning 5: LCS questions following roster mania

If you blinked, you may have been lapped by the quickest roster shuffle since the inception of the North American LCS.

It all unfolded quickly. Big names swapping teams, European stars plucked from over the Atlantic and near-blank checks were passed around to the region’s most talented players. With charter membership finally kicking off, roster building became an arms race that could have been missed in the blink of an eye.

Anyways, despite the snappy moves and high-prized free agents, questions remain.

What does Meteos have left in the tank?

LCS roster

Photo courtesy of Riot Games

On one hand, adding a popular two-time LCS champion to an organization in its infancy seems like a no-brainer.

On the other, it’s been a long minute since former Cloud9 star William “Meteos” Hartman has shown the willingness to be a long-term LCS starter.

Recently, he’s been more of a flash in the pan for teams in transition. Cloud9 penciled him back in mid-season for a run that culminated with a berth to the 2016 World Championship before he resurfaced the following spring jungling for Phoenix1. His time on P1 was flashy, brief and he made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t willing to commit long-term to professional play. And after a few forgetful performances, he was supplanted by then-rookie Mike Yeung.

While there is little question he is capable of being a rock for this star-studded 100 Thieves lineup, the comfortable life of a Twitch streamer and Gunnars spokesman will always loom around the corner for a jungler who hasn’t competed for an entire season since 2014.

What can we expect out of MikeYeung?

LCS roster

Photo courtesy of Riot Games

In a perfect world, Mike Yeung isn’t the one to take the mantle of Team SoloMid’s jungler; but absorbing the proven bottom lane of Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Rodríguez was too good of an opportunity to pass on.

The young jungle main is quickly moving onto the biggest stage in Western League of Legends with little experience and heavy expectations. His four teammates have enough hardware to share and have all come together to perform on the international stage.

While he’s put together some nice highlights on the rift, the expectations to perform at the highest level with one of the best Western teams ever assembled won’t be easy. It’s international success or bust and plenty of that pressure rests on the shoulders of a flashy, but largely-unproven player.

How will CLG carry on without aphromoo?

LCS roster

Photo courtesy of Riot Games

The parting of Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black from Counter Logic Gaming is the biggest loss of the off-season no matter how you slice it.

The anchor for an organization plagued by years of instability, failures and 17-page manifestos, aphromoo not only became synonymous with CLG’s branding, but became their in-game leader as they won back-to-back LCS titles, twice qualified for Worlds and clawed their way to a runner-up finish at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational. With a resume rivaled by few, his cool vibe and team-oriented approach were instrumental for CLG’s renaissance.

The move to former TSM support and three-time LCS champion Vincent “Biofrost” Wang isn’t necessarily a downgrade on the surface, but as we’ve seen from plenty of teams, you can never put a price on leadership.

Life without aphro will be a big transition. It’ll be interesting to see if Biofrost, new jungler Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin and incumbent CLG members can fill that void.

Does Dardoch finally get it?

LCS roster

Photo courtesy of Riot Games

Rick Fox and company put together quite the boom-or-bust roster with the most boom-or-bust personality at jungle.

Joshua “Dardoch” Harnett has never been short of raw talent or passion, which we’ve known since his promotion to Team Liquid’s starting jungle position in 2016. Overshadowing his will, however, has always been the path of destruction his attitude has left along the way.

A year after Team Liquid’s infamous Breaking Point, the documentary that centered around the season-long stare down between Dardoch and then-coach Choi “Locodoco” Yoon-seop, the 19-year-old jungler is coming off a season where his attitude bounced him between three different organizations. And like his previous stops, he’s once again acknowledged his attitude problems weighed down his teams and seems determined to fix them.

“It has to get to a point where there’s a common denominator in all these teams,” he stated in his exit video with Team Liquid posted just over a month ago.

The acquisition of Dardoch is a risky move for a risky lineup, but if he can finally get it together, this team will be ready to compete for a title. If problems persist, it’ll be interesting to see what doors remain open for the controversial star.

Can we trust the Golden Guardians’ process?

LCS roster

Photo courtesy of Riot Games

Yeah, we know. The “trust the process” slogan is latched onto the LCS-exiled Philadelphia 76ers, but the Golden Stare Warriors-owned esports franchise is putting faith in the future.

Behind mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam are four players young, talented and local to North America. In fact, they’re the only team to recruit zero imports, while the rest of the league is carrying the maximum of two, regulated by the Interregional Movement Policy.

Known for his in-game leadership, the 25-year-old has tasked himself to help build a team organically for the long-term, akin to their NBA-counterpart. The Warriors have been perennial title contenders after stockpiling and developing talent over years. It’ll be fun to watch their esports division attempt to emulate their long and successful plan of action.

Featured image: Riot Games

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Four new organizations enter the NA LCS in 2018

NA LCS team identities following off-season roster upheavals

This year’s off-season has been extremely disruptive to the identity of each NA LCS team. Iconic, long-term and founding members of several rosters have switched to another team for 2018. Aphromoo is no longer playing for Counter Logic Gaming. Echo Fox is without Froggen. Hai has moved on from FlyQuest. TSM does not have Svenskeren.

Four brand new organizations are entering the LCS, while four previous organizations are no more. Immortals, Team Envy, Phoenix1 and Dignitas are out. Optic Gaming, Golden Guardians, 100 Thieves and Clutch Gaming are in. All of the narratives surrounding the dissolved teams no longer matter. Immortals’ fumbles domestically, and then their tragic World Championship; Dignitas’ return to the LCS and Summer Split run in the playoffs; Phoenix1’s roller-coaster ups and downs from Rift Rivals, MikeYeung and roster shuffles. All down the drain.

The incoming teams will create new narratives for fans to enjoy. Endemic organizations made big roster moves in the off-season, which will bring their own storylines. The other teams in the middle, like Echo Fox and FlyQuest, will continue to mold into their own identities. 2018 is a watershed year for creating new drama, rivalries and narratives within the NA LCS.

100 Thieves: Old Guard, Modern Marketing

Aphromoo joined 100 Thieves for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The roster and coach announced for 100 Thieves consists of Ssumday, Meteos, Ryu, Aphromoo and Pr0lly. Each of these members could easily help anchor a team with their veteran experience and knowledge. However, they find themselves together on a roster that could very well have the most combined professional League of Legends experience on any announced NA LCS team in 2018. The coaching role, every lane, and the jungle position is covered by an established personality.

The organization itself is rather novel, though. Matthew Haag, aka “Nadeshot,” is well-known in the Call of Duty world as a retired player and team owner. He is partnered with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers to build a brand and a League of Legends roster under the 100 Thieves moniker. With a standout logo and a merch store full of casual-wear, 100 Thieves will most likely bring a different marketing flavor to the LCS.

100 Thieves should bring a mixture of results on and off the Rift. Meteos, Pr0lly and Aphromoo are some of the most recognized personalities in North America, while Ssumday and Ryu rally their own sets of fans. Nadeshot and the Cavaliers may contribute new styles and promotions than League of Legends is used to. Combine the charisma of the players and staff with the creativity and flashiness of the brand, and 100 Thieves could pull a nice set of followers. Not to mention, if the team actually has synergy, then there is no doubt they can be contenders regardless of which AD carry they sign.

Cloud9: question marks

Svenskeren joins Cloud9 for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Fans are filled with confusion and concern towards Cloud9’s off-season. With Impact and Contractz leaving, Cloud9 brought on Svenskeren and Licorice to join Jensen, Sneaky and Smoothie on the starting roster. Factions of the fan-base believe these members to be side-grades at least, downgrades at worst. Licorice has not been tested above the Challenger Series, while Svenskeren was not viewed as a key factor for TSM in 2017. While Impact and Ray had their low moments this year on Cloud9, there is no question that Impact’s high points were on another level.

Cloud9 still remains as one of the goofier, nonchalant organizations. Sneaky will still be the central personality, as the longest tenured member of the organization. Jensen, Smoothie, Svenskeren and even Coach Reapered and team owner Jack have had their fair share of memes and fun. Licorice will probably fall right in line with this theme.

However, the lightheartedness of the players only works if they are winning. Jokes and humor fall flat if the roster has issues clicking, or if results do not show. Despite standing out as an amusing team, Cloud9 actually has a strong League of Legends legacy. They have won two NA LCS championships, and finished runner-up four times. In 2018 Cloud9 will look to continue building on this success, while still playing the jester role off stage.

Counter Logic Gaming: the Nice Guys

Biofrost joins CLG for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

CLG took their first step away from their “Team Friendship” theme when they traded Xmithie for Dardoch in the 2017 mid-season. They took a step further this off-season by bringing on Reignover to start over OmarGod. Add Aphromoo’s departure, and CLG’s identity is reeling.

But look at the starting roster: Darshan, Reignover, Huhi, Stixxay, Biofrost. These are the nice guys of the NA LCS. This squad has charisma. None of these members have any baggage following them from a previous team, or lacks personality. When Stixxay is the most arrogant player on the roster, it is probably a healthy work environment.

CLG should have some concerns, though. Who will be the leader and shotcaller to fill the void left by Aphromoo? Is there enough fire in the team? And is the talent strong enough to pass the test of 2018? Stixxay has never played in the LCS without Aphromoo. Biofrost only played one split without Doublelift, and it was not nearly as impactful. Reignover has not shown a level of play akin to his days with Huni on Fnatic and Immortals. 2018 will be a huge test for these players’ improvement together.

Clutch Gaming: upgraded envy

Febiven joins Clutch Gaming for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Lira, Apollo and Hakuho made up three fifths of Team Envy in 2017, and they will make up three fifths of Clutch Gaming in 2018. Instead of Nisqy and Seraph, though, Clutch opted for Febiven and Solo. Unlike Cloud9’s, these acquisitions should definitely be upgrades. Nisqy brought a level of consistency to the mid lane, which Envy did not have prior to starting him. Seraph was a starter for the team over a longer period of time, but played much less consistently. Febiven earned first team All-Pro in the 2017 European LCS Summer Split, and Solo was a top performer in the North American Challenger Series.

Envy’s jungler and bottom lane were huge contributors to the team’s Summer Split success. They were able to secure a playoff spot, and took CLG to five games in the quarterfinals. With stronger top and mid laners, Clutch Gaming may be able to reach the next level and push even farther. They also brought on David Lim, who led Team Liquid Academy during their promotion into the LCS and Team Liquid during the 2017 Spring Split.

Beyond a possibly underrated roster, the Houston Rockets’ Clutch Gaming identity within the LCS remains unclear. Sebastian Park, their Head of Esports, seems confident in the team’s potential, and the organization has teased analytical tools for optimizing talent scouting, including a “pathfinding engine.” If these types of developments pan out, then Clutch Gaming could become the Moneyball team in the NA LCS.

Echo Fox: The Aggressors

Dardoch and Fenix join Echo Fox for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

List the most aggressive players in the NA LCS over the past two years, and several of Echo Fox’s reported members are likely to pop up. Huni, Dardoch and Fenix are well-known hawkish competitors. Altec and Adrian began building a similar reputation in the 2017 Summer Split, as well. Echo Fox has combined these aggressors into one squad to completely revamp into 2018.

Drama and tension are the other side of this aggression coin. Dardoch and Fenix had their fair share of issues while on Team Liquid in 2016, as showcased in Breaking PointAdrian had his own problems on Phoenix1 in the 2017 Spring Split. These types of off-stage obstacles could bubble up once again without the proper infrastructure.

FOX’s new look is also a departure from the previous Froggen-centric 10-man roster and the Stream Dream Team (Delta Fox). Echo Fox could never develop any synergy on their LCS roster during Summer Split, due to constantly rotating starters. Froggen’s status is still unknown (although Jacob Wolf reported that FOX plans to drop him), but even if he stays, he will no longer be the only voice on the team. This new Echo Fox will have the highest performance variance, as most of the members rely on emotional momentum to succeed. If this roster is able to mesh and remain problem-free, then Echo Fox could reap huge rewards from this huge risk.

FlyQuest: A chemistry experiment

Flame joins FlyQuest for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

One of the few fully announced rosters, FlyQuest is completely revamped for 2018. Following the trend of keystone figures switching teams, Hai is no longer FlyQuest’s mid laner. Balls, Moon and Lemonnation are gone, as well. Instead, FlyQuest acquired Flame, Anda, Fly and Stunt as starters. They also signed Keane and Shrimp, as well as Ngo, Erry and Jayj from the University of Toronto’s collegiate team. Wildturtle is the only remaining member from the 2017 roster.

Other than Flame, these players feel middle of the pack individually. Anda and Fly are untested in the LCS, but have played in the NA Challenger Series with varying success. Wildturtle can spike fairly high, but generally relies on his teammates to play around his style. Stunt was the on-and-off starter during his time on Phoenix1.

Unlocking these players’ ceilings will be FlyQuest’s greatest challenge in 2018. With the proper synergy, FlyQuest could certainly rise higher than their 2017 Summer Split. Communication problems are more likely, though. Wildturtle has veteran experience, but he may not be a loud voice to build a team around. The rookies, Anda and Stunt, will rely on Wildturtle to be a leader and gel together with the Korean imports, Flame and Fly. Keane and Shrimp are smart pick-ups, since they worked fairly well with Ssumday on Dignitas, and could bring that experience into FlyQuest.

Golden Guardians: Hai and Company

Hai joins Golden Guardians for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Hai kick-starts a new organization in 2018, Golden Guardians, and he is basically their only hope. The Golden State Warriors-owned organization has reportedly acquired Lourlo, Contractz, Deftly and Matt. This roster would be the only one in the NA LCS without any imported players. Golden Guardians also seem to have the least combined LCS experience. These two factors will leave many fans wondering what reasoning was used to construct this team.

Golden Guardians will live or die by Hai in 2018. He is surrounded by relatively young players who have never played for more than one previous organization. LCS fans were impressed with Moon’s performance on FlyQuest with Hai as a shotcaller, but that success was short-lived. If Hai is able to unlock Lourlo, Contractz, Deftly and Matt the same way, then Golden Guardians could surprise.

ESPN also reported Locodoco as the Golden Guardians’ head coach, which could be helpful. He has experience coaching younger players on Team Liquid and Gold Coin United, including Lourlo and Matt. It would be surprising if Golden Guardians kept these same five members as their starters throughout 2018. Without the pressure of relegation, this organization could be taking the opportunity to develop younger native talents with Hai’s proven leadership.

Optic Gaming: The HodgePodge

PowerOfEvil joins Optic Gaming for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

A true concoction, Optic Gaming enters the NA LCS pulling together a wide variety of talents. The “Green Wall” is an expansive organization spanning Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty, Overwatch and other esports. They have announced their acquisition of Romain Bigeard, ex-manager of Unicorns of Love, and Zaboutine, former caster, as manager and coach. ESPN has reported the starting roster as Zig, Akaadian, PowerOfEvil, Arrow and LemonNation.

If all of this is true, then Optic is combining rising stars in top and jungle with an experimental European mid laner, an up-and-down Korean AD carry and an analytical, veteran support. The roster will be led by an eccentric manager-mascot and a French caster-turned-coach, and they will have the full support of an esports powerhouse brand. There are some strong pieces to this puzzle, but they are not necessarily a clean fit.

The Optic LCS team seems like it may sit somewhere between 100 Thieves and FlyQuest. Optic is definitely a well-known esports organization, and they should draw a fan-base. The first-person shooter edge and player recognition of 100 Thieves combines with the questionable roster synergy of FlyQuest. Romain is a promotional personality with a knack for creating content and winning hearts, so expect Optic to use him to full effect. There is certainly plenty of talent on this roster, but it may take a while for them to actually produce favorable results.

Team Liquid: Vengeful Spirits

Doublelift joins Team Liquid for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The hoarders of the off-season, Team Liquid emerges with a complete roster overhaul. After acquiring contracts for several different players, Liquid has most likely settled on Impact, Xmithie, Pobelter, Doublelift and Olleh. This five-man group feels much stronger and intuitive than Liquid’s team from 2017 Summer Split. Xmithie, Pobelter and Olleh are proven talents who made up three fifths of Immortals’ World Championship-qualifying roster. Impact had a mostly off year, but still solid during the high points. Doublelift comes to Liquid after being replaced by TSM.

Revenge is the overarching theme for Team Liquid going into 2018. Owner Steve Arhancet wants revenge for his last two years of roster troubles. The ex-Immortals players want revenge for losing to TSM in the Summer Split finals, then being denied from the franchised LCS. Most importantly, Doublelift wants revenge for getting nudged out of TSM.

With Cain remaining as head coach, Team Liquid should trend towards the top of the league. If this roster is unable to perform, then it will be a complete disgrace. All of these players have been victorious in the past. Each of these players have attended the World Championship, many of them as teammates. 2018 serves as a fresh start for Team Liquid and Steve, and they need to use their past frustrations as fuel. Dardoch is not an excuse. Piglet is not an excuse. Goldenglue is not an excuse. It is time for Liquid to put up or shut up.

TSM: the final boss

Zven and mithy join TSM for 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Citing international shortcomings and issues with shotcalling and communication, TSM’s owner, Reginald, decided to replace Svenskeren, Doublelift and Biofrost with MikeYeung, Zven and Mithy. He also picked up Coach Ssong from Immortals’ dissolved team. The six-time NA LCS champions continue to adapt and reinvigorate their roster, and TSM will remain as the final boss in 2018. Every individual player on this team should be top three in their role at the beginning of the season.

MikeYeung is the only player worth questioning. He showcased an explosive Rift Rivals in 2017, but Phoenix1 fell off as a team afterwards. Fans will find out how meta-dependent MikeYeung is in 2018.

Hauntzer was the standout player at Worlds, and he had an all-around stellar 2017. Bjergsen continues to be an anchor in the mid lane, ever-present, ever-consistent. Zven and Mithy’s reputation precedes them, as they have been a package deal since their time on Origen starting in 2014.

TSM’s performance floor is higher than several LCS teams’ ceilings, because the consistency and experience on this team should be solid. Ssong obviously factored into Immortals’ Summer Split success. If he can produce even a portion of that improvement with TSM, then they have a fruitful road ahead. With so much volatility in the off-season, TSM is one of the only teams to maintain the same identity as the villain of the league. They are the team that assumes North American dominance, and shoots for greatness abroad. Franchising has opened doors for some others to compete financially and strategically, but will they actually have what it takes to dethrone the kings?

credits

Featured Image: Akshon Esports Twitter

Other Images: LoL Esports’ Flickr

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Winners and Losers of the Off-season: NALCS

Franchising has definitely brought a different level of spiciness this off-season that has had many fans alike excited for the upcoming season. It almost feels that anyone and everyone has been on the move with every team having money to spend this off-season. While not everything is confirmed yet, most of the rumors have come to fruition.

Some teams have made big splashes recruiting big names this off-season. Others seemed to have been late to the party. This piece we’ll be looking at the winners and losers of the off-season so far. Let’s take a look:

Winners

Team Liquid

While “Paid by Steve” has become a meme, it became a reality as Team Liquid struck fast in the off-season. They were able to obtain most of the Immortals roster who qualified for Worlds last year and added two veteran stars to go along with them. Their starting roster consists of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, Eugene “Pobelter” Park, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, and Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung.

Being able to obtain three players who previously worked together is definitely a win right off the bat will bring some needed synergy for a new team. Pobelter, Doublelift, and Xmithie are all longtime NALCS vets who can bring a lot of leadership to this team. Impact has been a star for the past few seasons on Cloud 9 and had another great Worlds performance. Having played in NA for the past two years, his English has gotten a lot better. He’s often been heralded for his communication and which is a great trait to have as an import. He also has the experience of having been a world champion with SKT in season 3.

Olleh is an aggressive laning support who should do well with star ADC Doublelift. Doublelift comes to Team Liquid after being replaced on TSM by European star, Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen. Doublelift is hungry to be the best and get revenge on his former team. He’s been arguably one of the best ADC’s in the West since becoming a pro. While domestically he’s been great, it’s internationally where he’ll need to show up. His past few Worlds performances have been average at best so he’ll want to get to Worlds again to finally prove himself.

Xmithie and Pobelter come off a summer split where they both revitalized their careers on Immortals. Both players looked to be on the decline after rough Spring Splits. Xmithie had an MVP like split in which the meta leaned towards tank-control junglers. His play was vital in Immortals making it to Summer finals.

Team Liquid without a doubt had a lot of money to spend, and this time spent it in the right places.

TSM’s Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung

Photo by: Riot Esports

Mikeyeung went from playing on a 9th place Phoenix1 team to one of the most successful franchises in NALCS history. While the pressure will be on to perform, he’ll be surrounded by star veterans in every lane. Opportunity arose with TSM importing the European bot lane duo of Zven and Alfonso “mithy” Aguirre Rodríguez. With TSM needing a North American talent in the jungle, Mikeyeung’s opportunity was there.

Mikeyeung had one of the most surprising rookie splits this past summer. He came into a flailing Phoenix1 team that went from 3rd to last place and tried to salvage as much as he could. He showed great aggression on champs such as Lee Sin and Nidalee. He’ll have every chance to succeed with TSM being the kings of domestic success. He’ll also have a chance to learn under the leadership of former Immortals coach Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo. Any team Ssong has coach, he’s been praised for improving the team drastically.

TSM has the reputation of turning aggressive junglers into ward bots so we’ll need to see what Mikeyeung becomes. If he stays the aggressive, play making jungler, it may be just what TSM needs.

100 Thieves

Of all the new teams entering the league, 100 thieves have the build of a prominent roster if things pan out. As one of the only teams who hasn’t announced their bot lane yet, all signs point to star support Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black heading their way. The confirmed players look to all be individually really good. They are top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, jungler William “Meteos” Hartman, and mid laner Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook. It’s also good to note that they’ll be coached by Neil “pr0lly” Hammad who showed great success in EU with H2K.

If Aphromoo is heading to 100 thieves as their support it will most likely be a North American rookie at ADC. Aphromoo has shown the ability to mold great ADC’s in the bot lane with Stixxay on CLG so it won’t be new for him. This team could be a major sleeper to storm into the league as legit contenders right away.

 

Losers

 Counter Logic Gaming

Counter Logic Gaming took a major hit this off-season losing long time veteran leader Aphromoo. Aphromoo has always been associated as CLG’s main leader inside and outside of game. His leadership qualities will be missed. He was always seen as the mediator when things got rough and with how inconsistent this roster can be, his absence will be felt.

Taking his place will be TSM’s former support, Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. While mechanically Biofrost has showed to be really good, his communication seems to be lacking as Doublelift and Bjergsen were more of the shot callers on the team. He’s still young, but this roster isn’t too talented on paper. Everyone else imported big names, while CLG looked to stay mostly the same. They picked up jungler in Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin who had a horrific season on Team Liquid. Individually he did okay, but he’ll be looking to bounce back big this year.

The returning members  of the team, mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, ADC Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, and Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya have had their share of inconsistencies. Without the leadership of aphromoo this team may crumble if they don’t perform well early.

CLoud 9

Photo by: Riot Esports

In a shocking turn of events rising star Juan “Contractz” Garcia and top laner Impact both left the team for brighter pastures. While one could see Impact leaving as a possibility, the fact that Contractz left meant Cloud 9 needed to either import a jungler or top laner. Cloud 9 seemed to be late to the party as most of the North American junglers had already found new homes.

They found their replacement in former TSM jungler, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen who is an EU talent. This means Svenskeren will be taking an import slot. This most likely means that rookie Eric “Licorice” Ritchie will be the starting top laner for Cloud 9. Svenskeren has had his troubles with inconsistencies. He was a huge scapegoat in TSM’s performance at Worlds in which their early game play making was lacking.

While Svenskeren isn’t necessarily a steep downgrade to Contractz, replacing Impact with a rookie will definitely be felt. Licorice spent his time in the challenger series on EUnited last split. He’s been a top player in the challenger scene for the past few splits. He’ll have big shoes to fill if they plan to start him right away. With many of the top teams looking even better, Cloud 9 may have taken a step back. Only time will tell if this was the right move for them.

EuLCS

An exodus was bound to happen with franchising heading to North America. With EU having some big name talents who can proficiently speak English, North America was bound to try to recruit them to cross the Atlantic. Europe loses the G2 bot lane of Zven and Mithy, along with mid laners Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage and Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten. The off-season isn’t even over yet. There’s definitely still room for more players to head over.

This is a major hit for EU. Misfits in particular almost knocked off former champions, SKT. Most of these rosters did not choose to stick together and EU will have to look to garner new talent to replace the ones that left.

With franchising not coming until 2019, many of the EU organizations can’t compete with the salaries being offered in North America. This will most likely result in EU being top heavy. Players are looking to team up with the best in EU while younger orgs will have to fight for scraps.

 

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Thanksgiving Free Agents: League of Legends Edition

League of Legends is having their first major free agency period since the start of franchising in North America. As with traditional sports, free agency is going to be a major time for teams to build their rosters for LCS’ new start. Instead of just giving you who some of the free agents are and where they might go, a holiday theme has been added for your enjoyment. (Note: As of the time this was written none of these players have signed officially)

Corn “Froggen”

Froggen has been consistent since the day he entered the LCS. Never overly flashy but a major part and sometimes the best part of his team. Corn like Froggen is never flashy but it is reliable and can be the best part of a bad meal.

Last year on Echo Fox, Froggen was the unchallenged leader of the team. Echo Fox finished in eighth, just outside of the playoffs the last two splits. This was due to many things, but rarely ever Froggen. There are plenty of new openings for Froggen. As an in-game and out of game leader, Froggen will be someone who is going to be brought on to do just that. His play is consistent but his leadership skills are what gets him his next position.

For this reason, Froggen will be going to a completely new squad in NA as some of the newer teams will be looking for a leader to help guide them through their first season. He did this with Echo Fox and maybe with a better and more consistent roster around him, Froggen will finally make NA playoffs this year.  With sources saying Akaadian has been bought out by OpTic Gaming it would make sense that they add arguably the two best players from Echo Fox.

Prediction: OpTic

Cranberry Sauce “PowerOfEvil”

Like cranberry sauce you either love PowerOfEvil or you strongly dislike him. He can be an absolute legend on the rift or look like he is lost. That being said PowerOfEvil is testing the waters of free agency hoping to be picked up by a NA squad.

Misfits made a surprising run in world this last year making it out of group stages. While the team played well as a whole, in most games until the end, PowerOfEvil had looked solid. He can make the flashy plays and keep up with many of the games top mid-laners when he is on his game. If he can find consistency there is no doubt that he can challenge just about anyone while in lane. For that reason I think PowerOfEvil will be a hot commodity for NA this free agency.

A great squad for PowerOfEvil would be Flyquest. With Flame reportedly signing there and a solid bot-lane of WildTurtle and Stunt, bringing on PowerOfEvil would make a nice splash for FlyQuest. For PowerOfEvil he would be able to play with teammates who can help guide him in his first year in NA and allow for him to learn from his mistakes he will probably make early on. If they get the PowerOfEvil we saw during group stages and during Mistfits’ run in EU championships, then FlyQuest could have a very strong squad next season.

Prediction: FlyQuest

Sweet Potatoes “LemonNation”

Sweet Potatoes are classic when talking about Thanksgiving dinner. They are sweet and almost like desert before actual desert. Lemonnation is a classic NA support who can surprise people by quietly being solid throughout the game. (Also both are orange/red) Lemonnation has been a consistent and overall solid support since he came into the professional league scene. He does his work and helps lead teams to being better than many people would have thought.

Last year on FlyQuest, many people felt that they would be a joke because it was made up of players who had not played in the pro-scene in awhile. They came out and surprised everyone by making playoffs their first split and barely missing playoffs their second split. Lemonnation came back with a vengeance and showed that older players in the scene can still play and has maybe changed everyone’s opinions about what a “old” player really is.

While Ignar and Aphromoo are higher on teams’ lists, there are still openings for supports especially on new teams. You could reasonably argue that once the other two have signed, whoever else has an opening would sign Lemonnation. With that in mind 100 Thieves looks like a good place for Lemonnation to end up. Ssumday and Meteos (both of whom are on this list) are rumored to be signed with 100 Thieves and Ryu has been confirmed. With Pr0lly as their coach this group could add Lemonnation and have a very reliable team.

Prediction: 100 Thieves

Green Bean Casserole “Meteos”

Some years it’s there, some it’s not. Sometimes you dislike it, sometimes you love it. Like “Dark” Meteos green bean casserole comes back after missing some time at family events and you’re afraid of what is coming next. It is put on your plate against your will and you are told to try it. This time you like it and oddly want more.

Meteos was a mainstay with Cloud9 for many splits. He has a solid following and thus every time he’s filled in for a team people have been very excited. After spending different parts of the year with Phoenix1, who went from playoffs to last between Spring and Summer split, Meteos is ready to be a starter again. With the many opportunities it is likely that he will get a chance to show he is a top level jungler at the professional level.

It is being reported that Meteos will be signing with 100 Thieves. If this stands, with Ryu and Ssumday, it looks as though 100 Thieves could have a very interesting roster to start of League of Legends franchising.

Prediction: 100 Thieves

Biscuit/Corn Bread/Rolls “Febiven”

Any type of bread is needed with any Thanksgiving meal. They help to fill you up and are a go to if you’re not ready to try something new. Febiven in NA would be that. He is a solid mid-laner who brings consistency to any team. He may not be the mvp on his team but he is needed and a safe pickup for any team.

Febiven brings that feeling of a stalwart in the middle of the rift for any team. For H2k this past year Febiven brought composure to an already winning team. He got his start with Cloud9 Eclipse and many speculate he is testing free agency in order to go back to NA. Febiven can bring a lot to one of these new franchising teams and it is likely that he would have a nice payday doing so.

According to sources Golden Guardians only have their coach so far, Locodoco. It is also rumored that Shiphtur might be signing with them. While Shiphtur is a good mid-laner, the Golden Guardians would be making a big time acquisition by signing Febiven. He would not only attract fans but also players. If they know they have someone like him holding down the middle of the Rift then players will feel more comfortable around him. Also wouldn’t it be fun to see Bjerg, Jensen, Pobelter, Huhi, Ryu and Febiven battling it out in mid next season?

Prediction: Golden Guardians

Stuffing “Ignar”

On the outside, if you have never had stuffing before you might think, “I dont know what to think about this”. Then you try it and realize it’s solid and brings the meal together. In many ways this is Ignar. The All-Pro support had some questions coming over to Misfits and showed this year that he is the stuffing to any Thanksgiving meal.

After a quick stay with KT Rolster Ignar found a home with Misfits. He was exactly what you would want in a support. He is able to speak Korean and getting better at English, and he is able to help get bot-lane ahead. His aggresion mixed well with his lanemate, Hans Sama, as he played champions like Rakan, Blitzcrank and Thresh. He is a playmaker and with that will come many offers from teams for a support who can do more than just keep their ADC alive.

There are rumors that Ignar is looking to head back to the LCK, possibly even with SKT. If this doesn’t happen and he heads to NA, there is no doubt that he will land a starting roll. OpTic would be a good match with Ignar. Sources say that Arrow has already signed and thus Ignar would have another Korean ADC. This would eliminate a language barrier and give OpTic another nice pickup.

Prediction: OpTic Gaming

Gravy “Aphromoo”

If you don’t like gravy, what are you doing with your life? If you don’t like Aphromoo the same question should be asked. The man is one of the best supports in NA and, like gravy, he is liked by mostly everyone. Gravy is also what you put on everything in order to help it taste better. No matter what team Aphromoo joins, he will make them that much better.

The Moo has been one of the best, if not the best, supports in NA since he arrived on the scene. His ability to get his ADC ahead by whatever means necessary has made him a lanemate that any ADC would want. While he still can go back to CLG if he wants to, it is interesting that he is testing free agency. It may help drive up the money for his contract wherever he signs, including CLG.

While it would be interesting to see another team pick up Aphromoo, it is likely he stays with CLG. They will give into giving him a large contract and that should bring him back. He is already familiar with the team as most of his teammates, Darshan, Huhi and Stixxay have all already signed with CLG.

Prediction: CLG

Mashed Potatoes “Ssumday”

Mashed potatoes are one of the best parts of the entire Thanksgiving meal. Is it really Thanksgiving without them? Nearly everyone loves them and sometimes if the other parts of the meal aren’t good you can always turn to mashed potatoes to be the best part. Ssumday will be this for which ever team he signs with. Everyone is going to want to bring him on and when others may not be as good around him, you can turn to him and know he will show why he is one of the best top-laners in the world.

Ssumday did not live up to the hype during his first full year in NA, but was still very good. Coming over from KT Rolster everyone believed Ssumday was easily a top 3 top-laner in the world. Dignitas fans were ecstatic when he signed on. Dig went to the playoffs both splits in their first full season back, but unfortunately were not chosen to go forward with franchising. Now Ssumday is again looking for his next home to show he is a top tier top-laner again.

Originally it was thought that Ssumday would be looking to go back to the LCK this season. Then sources came out claiming that 100 Thieves is looking to sign him. While the team has not confirmed it yet, if he were to sign there 100 Thieves, it would have a very nice start for their team.

Prediction: 100 Thieves

Pumpkin Pie “MikeYeung”

Pumpkin pie is what everyone wants even though they are already full, it is that good. It can be the only part some people care about. MikeYeung is the new, young jungler that everyone is going to be going after. He is the pumpkin pie at this Thanksgiving dinner, every team will be giving him a look.

MikeYueng made a splash in NA during his first split with Pheonix1 by winning Rookie of the Split. He showed that he can be an impact player at every phase of the game, especially when he got ahead. The problem was when he didn’t get ahead or his team struggled, he lacked the experience to bring them back. Now that he has played a full split he will be looking to show anyone who signs him that he is the real deal.

Sources are saying that TSM is likely going to sign MikeYeung. After a disappointing year with Svenskeren, it is not a huge surprise that TSM would be looking at someone with the potential of MikeYeung. With Bjerg and Hauntzer most likely staying, they will be able to help bring Mike along and help him to reach his full potential. Also, with sources saying that Zven and Mithy have come over to TSM, this squad could have an incredible 2018.

Prediction: TSM

Turkey “Peanut”

The main course, the bird that represents all of Thanksgiving is the turkey. Turkey is what people spend days prepping to make sure it looks and tastes amazing. Shows and movies constantly show people fighting over the last available turkey. Thanksgiving dinner is not Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey. Peanut is someone people can build a team around. He is the turkey of this Thanksgiving meal.

Many people were surprised when Peanut announced that he was a free agent. He instantly shot up to the top of teams wishlists, as he is considered by many to be the best jungler in the world. Every team that has a jungle opening should be looking to sign someone of his talent level. He made his name on ROX Tigers and then signed with SKT this last season. While they didn’t win Worlds he was still a major part, along with Faker, of getting this team to Finals.

Peanut is the prize in this free agency and if he heads to NA, every team will want him. If it wasn’t likely that TSM was signing MikeYeung, it is probable that they would be in the mix. Counting them out, there are three teams who will likely be vying for his service: FlyQuest, Golden Guardians and CLG. CLG has a very good squad especially if they bring back Aphromoo. OmarGod had a solid first split after Dardoch left but, if CLG want to be a contender for Worlds, they need to sign Peanut. With him on their team CLG could easily be vying for a top spot in NA and could make a huge run at Worlds.

Prediction: CLG

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

graduated junglers

Preseason: NA’s graduated junglers

After joining the NA LCS in 2017, three former rookies mount their return as NA’s newly graduated junglers. Mike “MikeYeung” Yeung, Omar “Omargod” Amin and Juan “Contractz” Garcia exploded onto the scene in season 7. After an exciting freshman year, these three junglers look to stake their claim on the newly franchised NA LCS. Looking back at their performances the past year, who is poised for even greater breakout performances in 2018? Let’s take a look at North America’s graduated jungler trio as they plot their return.

MikeYeung: From the Ashes

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

MikeYeung made his NA LCS debut in the Summer Split as the jungler for Phoenix1 (P1). Previously a highly rated solo-queue player, MikeYeung erupted onto the NA scene with an arsenal of carry junglers. His signature pick in “Nidalee” stunned the NA crowd and crushed his opponents. Boasting an insane 80% overall winrate on “Nidalee” in summer, this pocket pick was no joke. Following an already impressive debut, MikeYeung travelled to Germany with Phoenix1 to participate in the Rift Rivals tournament, his first international event. Mike shocked his EU opponents with some flashy plays on his patented “Nidalee,” earning himself the Group Stage MVP distinction.

After returning from a strong showing at Rift Rivals, the MikeYeung hype train was in full gear. However, with the jungle meta shifting to control-oriented tank picks, Mike’s champion pool struggled. His star champions, “Kha’Zix,” “Lee Sin” and “Nidalee” could not snowball enough advantages against more useful utility tanks. Due to these meta changes, fans did not see the dominant MikeYeung that most expected. Phoenix1 suffered a steady decline that saw them forced into the summer Promotion tournament.

After ending their summer season early, news surrounding P1’s failure to earn a spot in the new NA LCS began to leak. The question now: where will P1’s rookie sensation go to reclaim his former glory? With the recent runes overhaul in patch 7.22, carry junglers look to make a serious comeback. MikeYeung has an opportunity to showcase his improvement since the Promotion tournament at the upcoming 2017 All-Stars event. For MikeYeung, the sky is the limit. Can the graduated rookie can reclaim his spot atop NA’s jungle hierarchy?

Omargod: Breaking the Chains

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Omargod made his professional debut as a substitute jungler for Counter Logic Gaming (CLG). After internal issues involving starting jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett surfaced, Omar became the team’s starter. For Omargod, the road to NA LCS was a long climb. He first appeared on CLG’s radar at the 2016 Scouting Grounds event. Impressed by his carry performances, coach Tony “Zikzlol” Gray and veteran support Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black first-picked Omar as the jungler for Team Cloud Drake. After several fantastic games on carry picks like “Hecarim,” Omargod proved why he belonged on the LCS stage.

After Dardoch parted ways with CLG, Omargod had a huge gap to fill. Dardoch established a name for himself by consistently dominating enemy junglers. But, because of meta shifts in the summer split, Omar found himself mainly on utility tanks. Criticism poured in as CLG struggled to regain their footing in the latter half of the split. Analysts pointed to the recent jungle swap as the obvious reason for CLG’s decline. After falling to Cloud 9 (C9) in the NA LCS regional qualifiers, CLG and Omargod found themselves stuck at home, instead of attending Worlds.

Because of Omar’s shaky performances during the Summer Split, fans have mixed expectations for the upcoming season. However, Counter Logic Gaming is an organization known for the coaching staff’s dedication and loyalty to players. If any coach can bring out the best in Omargod, Zikz is second to none. Now is the time for Omar to free himself of the criticism from last split and prove himself on CLG. Perhaps the preseason meta changes will encourage Omargod to dip into his champion pool and show North America the carry potential that CLG witnessed at Scouting Grounds. After all, rumor has it “Predator Hecarim” is rampaging through preseason.

Contractz: A Carry’s DNA

graduated junglers

Credits: LoL Esports Photos

Unlike the other graduated junglers, Contractz began his journey with Cloud 9 in the spring of 2017. After earning spring Rookie of the Split, Contractz stumbled a bit in summer. In the Summer Playoffs, Cloud 9 dropped out in quarterfinals against a surging Dignitas (DIG). So, C9 spent their time preparing for the regional qualifier gauntlet. There, the squad overcame CLG in a solid 3-1 finish and booked a ticket for China.

At Worlds, Contractz battled the likes of SKT Peanut, EDG Clearlove7 and WE Condi. His peerage became a group of elite, international junglers. Still, the rookie performed fantastically on the world stage. Contractz won over many fans, pulling out picks like “Ezreal” and “Graves” in the group stage. While the other NA junglers struggled against international competition, Contractz held his own against the best. After being the only North American representative to advance past group stages, all hope rested with Cloud 9. Although C9 fell to Team WE in quarterfinals, the roster made a definitive statement to the fans back home. “We are the best NA team here.”

With a great Worlds performance behind him, Contractz looks to dominate in the upcoming split. As carry junglers rise both in power and viability in preseason, is this the split for Contractz to stamp his name as the best jungler in NA? A Top 8 finish at Worlds means the onus is on C9 to reclaim their former glory at the top of North America. With changes coming to NA LCS, Cloud 9 look poised to gun for first place. Of the three former rookie junglers, Contractz may be the one to surpass them all. Still, only time will tell which graduated jungler will break ahead of the pack.

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Can a new team break into Worlds for North America?

Over the past two seasons we’ve seen North America represented by the same three teams at Worlds: Team SoloMid, Cloud 9 and Counter Logic Gaming. These organizations have become fan favorites for most, but some new challengers have risen this split to possibly take their shot on the World stage for North America. The North American scene seems to be looking better and better. TSM has continued their dominance, while CLG and C9 have had their share of inconsistencies. Cloud 9 have almost guaranteed their spot at Worlds as long as they do well enough in playoffs. Second place for Spring granted them a massive amount of circuit points. With 3rd/4th place teams Phoenix1 and Flyquest looking close out of the playoff race, CLG will need to play well to ensure their spot at Worlds.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the teams that could contend for a spot:

Immortals

Due to Immortals finishing 7th place last split, they have zero circuit points to help with contention. This almost guarantees that they’ll need to earn their spot either by winning Summer or qualifying through the gauntlet. The latter will be the most likely scenario.

Immortals have become known for having great regular seasons, aside from last spring. This split came as a bit of a surprise to most. People expected the jungle swap of Dardoch and Xmithie to favor CLG, but both teams have benefited greatly. Not only the jungle swap, but the hiring of former ROX tiger coach, Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo, has given them the knowledge to properly out-macro opponents.

Every lane seems to have come into their own. Young rookie, Li “Cody Sun” Yu Sun has developed into a top tier ADC this split along with support Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung. Cody Sun is near the top for DPM and DMG percentage among ADC’s. Olleh has shown great performances on playmaking champions such as Thresh.

Immortals is currently tied for first with TSM and CLG. They’ll need to prove that they can finally perform when it matters, not just the regular season if they want to make it to Worlds.

Dignitas

Worlds

Photo via Riot Games

Dignitas stormed out the gates this split, contending for first place for a few weeks before going on a losing streak. They still have their inconsistencies at times. Last week against CLG they flashed the potential to be able to dominate some of the best teams in the league. Other times, they play to the level of their inferior opponents and drop matches.

With jungler Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon taking the reigns as the full time starter now, Dignitas can maybe gain some consistency for a Worlds run. Shrimp has the second highest kill participation percentage among junglers. In the bot lane, they’ve added two veterans of the LCS in Altec and Adrian. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes the full time bot lane for the team moving forward.

What’s worrisome is how average of a mid laner Lae-Young “Keane” Jang can be. Keane has middle of the pack stats in comparison to the rest of the NA mids. If he can play up to the likes of Bjergsen, Jensen, Pobelter and Huhi, then maybe Dignitas can make it.

Dignitas has 10 championship points from last split which likely means they’ll be battling in the gauntlet for a Worlds spot. If the team can find some consistency, don’t be surprised to see them as real contenders for a Worlds spot.

Phoenix1

Despite Phoenix1 not being far from the playoff race at the moment, and tied for last place, they still have a ton of circuit points that can help them qualify. A third place finish from Spring granted them 50 circuit points, more than a lot of the teams outside of C9/TSM. Even if they don’t qualify for playoffs they still have a shot in the gauntlet based on circuit points.

Rift Rivals was seen as a stepping stone for the team after a rough start to summer split. They had a good performance and were looking to carry that momentum into the second half of the split. That hasn’t been the case as they’ve stumbled coming back. Star rookie jungler Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung hasn’t looked as dominant since he’s returned. The tank jungler meta hasn’t allowed him to show the same carry performances we saw at Rift Rivals.

Mid laner, Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook, stepping down certainly doesn’t help their cause either. Ryu was an integral part of the team, and it’s hard to say that Pirean can come in and perform up to veteran Ryu standards. If Ryu does return after a needed break, Phoenix1 can definitely make a C9 Cinderella run in the gauntlet.

Worlds

Photo via Riot Games

With only two and a half weeks left in the split, any team can make a late run for Worlds. Will it be CLG, Cloud 9 and TSM at Worlds once again for North America? Or will a new team emerge from the ashes?

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Cover photo by Riot Games

 

 

NA vs. EU Rift Rivals power rankings/predictions

Rift Rivals is around the corner. We will get the chance to see some of the top teams from EU and NA face off in a regional battle for bragging rights. EU and NA has been a long time rivalry in professional League of Legends. They were two of the first big regions to produce pro teams during LoL’s early days.

The history of the NA vs. EU rivalry has been a bit lopsided as of late. EU comes in as heavy favorites with most of the top of NA looking inconsistent for most of the first half of the split. You never really know with international tournaments though. The two regions are used to playing to their own metas so it will be interesting to see how the teams match up. Here are my power rankings for the teams playing at Rift Rivals:

1. Fnatic

Photo via Riot Games

Fnatic come into Rift Rivals with a steady 6-1 record. After struggling last split, they found their groove towards the end. Fnatic have found a style that works for them and continue to show mastery on it. ADC Martin “Rekkles” Larsson has his pocket pick Kennen that teams must watch out for. If it’s not the Kennen, it’s his Tristana that can give teams trouble. Mid laner Rasmus “Caps” Winther gets his first shot at international competition. This is a great opportunity for him to face off against some of the best in the world in Bjergsen and Jensen at Rift Rivals. With Rekkles usually on more utility carries, Caps is heavily relied on to be the main damage dealer for the team. Caps currently leads the league for all mids in damage percentage and damage per minute.

Young jungler Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen gets his chance to prove himself as one of the best junglers in the West. He’s been dominating the EULCS this split with a monster 11.3 KDA. He’s an aggressive jungler that has had phenomenal performances on early game junglers such as Elise and Kha’zix.

Fnatic are comprised of two veterans in SoaZ and Rekkles who should be able to lead this rising squad to a Rift Rivals victory.

2. Unicorns of Love

Unicorns of Love come into Rift Rivals with a 5-1 record, only dropping a series to Splyce. They are led by star top laner Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás. Rookie of the split Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir will also be a player to watch as he’s come into his own in the EULCS. He has a deep champion pool, willing to pull out unique champion picks such as Warwick and Hecarim. With EU having some of the best junglers in this tournament, NA will need to step up.

Fabian “Exileh” Schubert may have a a rough time. In EU he’s currently dead last in CS difference@10. He’s also near the bottom for many mid lane stats. He will be up against the likes of Bjergsen, Jensen and Ryu. Teams will most likely look to exploit the mid and bot lane. ADC Samuel “Samux” Fernández has looked improved this split, he comes in facing the likes of Arrow, Doublelift and Sneaky. UoL have strong shot calling and have shown consistency to play well together. In just about every matchup against TSM they’ve handily defeated them. We’ll see if that changes this time around.

3. Cloud 9

Photo via Riot Games

Cloud 9 come in off a solid win over TSM, but a very deflating loss at the hands of CLG. Had they beaten CLG they may have been in a higher position. Cloud 9 are led by carries Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi. Jensen has been having the best split of his career in the NALCS. He sits near the top in most statistical categories among NA mids.

In NA Cloud 9 has had some of the same issues from last split. Their early game play making still lacks a bit, but their laning phase is still pretty solid. They have a versatile roster with their interchangeable top laners of Jeon “Ray” Ji-won and Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong. Ray has slowly been taking the starting role from Impact showing the ability to be a carry top laner for the team.

In the jungle rookie Juan “Contractz” Garcia has still shown some inconsistencies, but has turned it on as of late. He’ll be facing many good junglers from EU, so he’ll need to step it up if Cloud 9 have a chance. It will be his first international competition so he’ll look to prove himself. Cloud 9’s rivalry with Fnatic will be ignited once again as they get a chance to face off in this tournament. Cloud 9 took the battle of the Atlantic, but Fnatic has gotten the best of them at Worlds.

4. Team SoloMid

TSM are the reigning North American champions and had the chance to eliminate G2 from MSI. They failed to do so and were eliminated themselves. They get another shot in the EU rivalry this time with ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Doublelift vs. Rekkless and Zven will be matchups to watch here at Rift Rivals. Rekkless isn’t really known for his aggressive laning phase so we’ll need to see how he does against one of NA’s best.

Many thought TSM would retake the NA throne easily with the addition of Doublelift back onto the roster. That hasn’t been the case as TSM sit in 2nd place with a 7-3 record. Jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen has looked phenomenal on Lee Sin. Anything outside of Lee, he has looked meh at best. He’ll be a huge crutch for TSM if he has a repeat of his performances at MSI.

TSM have been known to choke at international events. We’ll need to see if Rift Rivals will be another one added to that list.

5. G2

Photo via Riot Games

After a great run at MSI where they reached the finals before losing to SKT, G2 was expected to come back and destroy the EULCS scene. That hasn’t been the case as G2 seem to have taken a step back in terms of performance. They may be using the regular season to try out new things, but their old strategy of playing to the late game has not worked well for them. They currently sit at 3-3, third in their conference.

Their early game play making is lacking. While they can still try to play around star ADC Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, teams will look to punish them for their lack of early game play making. Support Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez has been a weak link this split getting caught out uncharacteristically. He will need to step it up or he’ll be punished by some of the better supports at the tournament.

6. Phoenix1

Phoenix1 will be heavy underdogs as the only team coming to rift rivals with a negative W-L. They currently sit in 8th place with a 3-7 record. They struggled heavily out the gates, but after bringing in new jungler Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung and veteran support Alex “Xpecial” Chu the team has looked much more competitive.

MikeYeung brings in a signature Nidalee pick that teams will need to watch out for. Former MVP ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon has not shown the same prowess he did last split. He’s currently last in CS differential@10 and near the bottom in other statistics.

The team has looked improved in recent weeks. Maybe Rift Rivals can be a spring board for turning their season around. Ryu, Arrow and Xpecial are the steady veterans who have played in international competition before. Ryu in particular should know his opponents very well. Phoenix1 could definitely take a game or two under the right circumstances.

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Cover photo by Rift Herald

The rise of North American junglers

With the phenomenal performance of Phoenix1’s rookie jungler Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung, it seems that NA junglers are the easiest role to fill with homegrown talent, while EU has become known for producing some of the most talented mid laners. Over the past few splits, we’ve seen several junglers come from challenger to the pro scene and do quite well. Names like Contractz, Akaadian, and Dardoch all come to mind.

Dardoch and Contractz were well known names in the amateur scene. Some pros predicted their success into the pro scene. Akaadian and MikeYeung, on the other hand, were very unknown to most and surprised spectators with how well they performed starting out.

Photo by: Riot Esports

Why jungle?

It’s interesting to note how few jungle imports there are in the NALCS. Jungle seems to be one of those vital roles where communication is key to overall team success, and the language barrier may be the reason why. Support/jungle communication is very important in roaming and making plays in the early/mid game.

Solo que junglers also seem to have the most influence when thinking about ranked play. As a jungler, your decisions in the early/mid game can set your team up for the most success. Doing well on the challenger ladder would be the first step to being recognized for pro play.

What’s surprising is that jungle is one of hardest roles to transition from solo que to pro play. Jungling solo que and in a professional setting is much different with all members being able to communicate. Your decisions are much more impactful in the game as they’re not going to be nearly as kill heavy as ranked play. Teams also ward much better so jungle routes have to be efficient. It’s hard to pin point exactly why rookie junglers seem to have the most success right away.

Lack of NA talent in other roles

Although NA rookie junglers seem to find a lot of success, other roles don’t seem to have the same effect. ESPN recently came out with an article discussing the lack of NA mid talent. It’s no doubt that more teams have gone to importing talent from elsewhere for their solo lanes. Just last split, many teams brought over talented Korean top laners instead of trying to recruit within North America.

Rookie junglers such as Contractz, Dardoch, Akaadian, and MikeYeung also seem to find success very early as well. Akaadian stormed onto the scene last split, showing some phenomenal performances on carry junglers. MikeYeung has been able to duplicate that success this split, helping P1 earn their first win of the split off his aggressive Nidalee play.

Immortals rookie ADC Li “Cody Sun” Yu Sun struggled his first few matches, but has slowly developed into one of the better ADCs in North America. Most of the times we’ve seen rookies in other roles, they haven’t been able to stand out nearly as much as junglers have.

Looking toward the future

With franchising coming soon to the NALCS, we could see more development of homegrown talent. With each team being able to foster a “minor league” sister team, NA talent will have more chances than ever to be able to make their way into LCS.

With the relegation system, fear losing their spot in the pro league. If teams take a chance on a rookie and it doesn’t work out, their spot could be in danger fast. With franchising, bottom tier teams can experiment with different rosters if they struggle to start out the split.

With most of the successful NA teams fostering veteran junglers at Worlds, these rookies haven’t gotten much of a chance to see international play. That could change this split with Cloud 9 having Contractz and CLG with Dardoch. Mikeyeung potentially will have a chance to represent NA at rift rivals as some of the best teams from EU and NA square off. It’ll be interesting to see how these young junglers do against international competition. One can only hope that they can show that North America also has talent worth importing.


Cover photo by Riot Esports 

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