When imagining which players would be crucial for Summer Split playoffs in the NA LCS, most people might point to veterans like Doublelift, Aphromoo, Bjergsen, or Sneaky. Of course, these long-time superstars are extremely important for their teams’ success. Their consistency, composure, and leadership tends to shine in the major events. However, this year’s playoffs featured several North American rookies. Cloud9 brought out Blaber and Zeyzal. 100 Thieves tapped Rikara and started Anda. Grig made his playoffs debut for TSM. Even FlyQuest had a rookie support–JayJ.
Having this many newcomers playing for the top teams is highly uncommon in the NA LCS. Solo was the only rookie in the 2018 Spring Split playoffs. For Summer Split 2017 playoffs, Omargod was the only rookie. Phoenix1 introduced Stunt and Shady to playoffs in Spring 2017. Playoffs in 2016 were the last time a comparable number of rookies cropped up, with LOD, Smoothie, Biofrost, and Fabbbyyy/Jynthe in summer, and Lourlo, Dardoch, Matt, Huhi, and Moon in spring.
Perceived strength is another unique aspect of this Summer Split’s rookie players. Almost every newcomer in playoffs past seemed like major weaknesses for their team. Fans groaned about Omargod on CLG, Phoenix1’s support situation, and Liquid’s roster moves. LOD, Moon, and Solo did not seem like their teams’ major assets. Smoothie and Biofrost were surprisingly excellent options for Cloud9 and TSM, but that felt like the exception, not the rule.
Alternatively, Cloud9’s young guns received plenty of praise this split. Licorice and Zeyzal received All-Pro honors and some MVP votes. Blaber won Rookie of the Split. Anda found his place within 100 Thieves, despite general disdain towards his replacing Meteos initially. Grig had his ups and downs, but ultimately pulled through in playoffs. Rikara popped off in one game, but fell flat against Liquid in semifinals. Meanwhile, JayJ provided major contributions for helping FlyQuest reach playoffs at all.
These guys have plenty of room for growth, but their success this split should inspire organizations to take more risks in the off-season. The introduction of Academy League and Scouting Grounds has allowed more player development in North America. With every minor league player getting time directly under an LCS roster, access to LCS coaches, and scrimming other strong teams, Academy players can get vital experience.
In the press conferences following the finals matches, Anda and Pobelter spoke to the effectiveness of Academy League pulling up new talent. Pobelter pointed to Damonte as a solid North American mid laner, and commented that Solo Queue offers another handful of promising mids. Anda expressed that Academy League has allowed the current field of rookie junglers to break into LCS. He, Grig, and Blaber may not be where they are without Academy.
Hopefully, this trend continues over the coming splits. Younger North American junglers, in particular, have been on the rise for the last few years. Dardoch, Moon, Inori, Contractz, Akaadian, Omargod, MikeYeung, Anda, Grig, Blaber, and Wiggily have all had high moments starting for LCS teams over the last three years. Not all of them have remained on top teams, but three of the top four teams this split started rookie junglers for playoffs. Anda and one more will attend their first Worlds directly following their premiere split. This is a great sign for the future of the NA LCS.