A lot of changes happen in the off-season that somewhat float under the radar. And if you’re a fan of the minor leagues, there are even more changes that can go unnoticed unless actively monitoring the situation.
After a split where academy teams were able to breathe a sigh of relief — finally pulling in some of the best young names North America has to offer, changes still happened. And some are pretty significant.
Westrice to Golden Guardians
One of the most successful academy coaches in the region’s history finally has a home after a split away. Jonathan “Westrice” Nguyen joins Golden Guardians, replacing Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham who is returning to playing.
Westrice rounds out a coaching brain tree that is arguably one of the best, if not the best, in North America. He’ll also be getting the opportunity to develop a lineup with several interesting pieces — featuring an excellent veteran jungler, a confused mid laner and a hyped marksman prospect.
100 Thieves Lose Two Marksmen
Michael “Wixxi” Fernandez and Jackson “Array” Moldenhauer are no longer under the 100 Thieves umbrella.
Spending only one split with the team, Wixxi struggled to find his footing on the academy team. Although he has received praise from pundits for his pop-off performances, his split could be defined as a mixed bag. He would rank towards the bottom of the pack in laning phase performances, often impacting his ability to peak in team fights.
During the team’s Proving Grounds run, Wixxi showcased the hype as one of the top prospects available in the marksmen role, producing complete games rather than fumbling in one area. The next team that fields the young marksmen likely will be hoping for a strong foundation to build off of. Yet in a way, it is still too early to know what Wixxi’s projection really is.
Array was not able to find that proving moment at the Proving Grounds Spring event however, he remains one of the most discussed marksmen prospects available in the region. Completing his short tenure with 100 Thieves Next, Golden Guardians Academy is signing someone that could be their future franchise marksmen.
But, we’ve had this story before with the organization.
This will be Array’s first stint in the academy circuit after almost three years of being in the amateur scene and he will be one of the players to watch. With an opening on the main roster in his immediate future, its an opportunity players dream on.
On the contrary, this is a significant loss for 100 Thieves. While an organization that hasn’t needed to promote talent to their main roster, 100 Thieves has been bleeding talent. The minor leagues for 100 Thieves did experience growing pains for the first time in a long time last split. With the expected return of Milan “Tenacity” Oleksij to the team, it does feel as if the organization is taking a step back to re-group.
Sheiden to Cloud9 Academy
Okay, you probably heard about this one.
Jade “Sheiden” Libut has seen a dramatic rise in interest given his solo queue success to start 2022. Constantly towards the top of the ladder — even managing to do so with multiple accounts, he becomes another jungle prospect that will look to translate solo queue success to a competitive stage.
And if history is any indication, he has a decent shot at doing so. He’ll be able to grow in a Cloud9 system that has arguably two of the best junglers to play in the western region. The last time he did play in a competitive setting was in the Unified Premier League Fall Season, winning the event on AOE Cope.
In what feels like a relatively competitive jungle prospect pool, Sheiden is going to have the opportunity to establish his name as one of the best in the region. And he’ll likely present a really impressive case.
100 Next and Dignitas Academy Swap Mid Laners
Isaac “DARKWINGS” Chou and David “Insanity” Challe will be swapping places.
DARKWINGS continues to display struggles in the laning phase despite being one of the better control mage players in the region. His time on Dignitas Academy would feature much of the same that he showed in the amateur scene: large laning deficits, impressive performances in team fights. A return to the amateur scene — this time within the comfort of an LCS’ organization — may just be the starting point to re-introduce himself.
Meanwhile Insanity continues to be the player often lost in the shuffle. In limited performances at Proving Grounds, Insanity put together impressive stat lines against 100 Thieves Academy, FlyQuest Academy and the dangerous Winthrop University. He likely will not be a player to get the promotion to the main line-up — given the relationship between Dignitas’ head coach and mid laner.
However, it could be the much needed, “I’m still here” statement his career needs. His tenure ended on complicated terms — with the team promoting Prodromos “Pretty” Kevezitidis several times with no real progress. Falling to the amateur scene after the 2021 season is a chip on the shoulder yet he has taken it in stride.
And it might just be the opportunity to re-earn the trust of a starting LCS position.
Soul, formerly animegirl, joins TSM Academy
And maybe the best move of the academy mid-season, and the move that is getting a bunch of deserved attention, Cheng “Alex” “Soul” Luo is joining TSM Academy. Joining the amateur circuit in 2021, he has impressed with his large champion pool and stylistic flexibility.
Brandon “Meech” Choi — who was just signed to CLG Academy — was the key highlight piece for Immortals AOE. But the potential that comes with Soul is the exciting thing. His ability to speak fluent Mandarin may earn him early time on TSM’s main roster as they look to rebuild from a dumpster fire of a spring. And if he is kept to the academy line-up, he’ll have the opportunity to improve his craft under an excellent veteran in Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon.
It is one of the best signings of the offseason just given how “on paper smart” it feels. A raw but incredibly talented top laner joins an organization desperate for young talent after a worrying spring season. Not only will he get the resources and investment to grow, TSM is desperate for some good news.