There are still a few holes in the NA LCS roster landscape, but things are starting to settle down. As we anticipate the start of the 2017 spring split in January, here’s one key question about each of the 10 North American teams that may determine their results.
How long will it take Contractz to adjust to the LCS level of play?
Cloud9 made it to the summer finals and reached the World Championships quarterfinals with Meteos in the jungle, and while he wasn’t a weak jungler, he was one of the softer parts of their roster. Contractz had a strong showing in Challenger but there’s no guarantee he’ll be an upgrade, especially in the short term. If Contractz struggles, it could put a lot more pressure on Impact and Jensen, who are the team’s core playmakers. But if Contractz hits the ground running, C9 will be early frontrunners.
Are there any roster moves on the way?
This seems like an overly simple question, but it’s crucial to the team’s staying power as new LCS qualifiers. The reports say that C9C’s slot was purchased alongside the contracts of Balls, Hai, Altec, and LemonNation. Obviously the team needs to find a new jungler, and they have their import slots free so there’s room to bring in a solid player. But even if they get a strong import like Lira, I’m not convinced these old-school players are good enough to reach the playoffs. In their Challenger run, Hai looked much more comfortable with his return to the mid lane role, but we know what we’re getting in Balls and LemonNation, and it’s hard to give them too much credit. If the team is content with simply avoiding relegation in their first split, fine. That would actually make good business sense, given the timing of their ownership change. But if nothing changes with their roster, and if their new jungler isn’t an impressive pick-up, then I don’t think we’ll have much to be excited about beyond the organization’s new name and big money.
Counter Logic Gaming
How hard have Darshan and Huhi been practicing?
It’s no secret that CLG’s solo lanes were their weak points all summer. I’m on record with the opinion that they didn’t need to replace either player, though. Both players have higher ceilings, and CLG’s core strengths are their innovation and coordination, as well as the strength of their duo lane. Darshan and Huhi only need to improve their laning a little to put CLG back on track, but that little bit of improvement may require a lot of hard work. CLG have great coaching from Zikz and a ton of experience working together, so I have faith in them to get where they need to be.
How well will this team be coached?
The Dignitas roster, even with its AD carry not yet finalized, is very top-heavy. Ssumday and Chaser are obviously the big names in top and jungle, with Keane playing a creative role in the mid lane and Xpecial working with a to-be-determined ADC. The roster bears a lot of similarities to Ssumday’s previous team, KT Rolster, who relied on Fly’s eccentric champion pool in mid lane, Arrow’s low-needs stability at AD carry, and Hachani’s roaming and playmaking at support. Whether it’s Apollo, LOD, or someone else filling the last spot, Ssumday and Chaser will have their work cut out for them to lead the way, and it’s going to take some very intentional coaching to get the team to coordinate that kind of play style. Since the roster is imbalanced across the map, each player will need to have a very clear understanding of their role. With communication challenges likely to be a factor, the coaching staff will be on the hook to get things running smoothly.
Is Froggen good enough to keep this team out of the basement?
Froggen is a strong mid laner, and he proved himself as a pretty complete player throughout the year. Despite bringing in Looper for the top lane, though, Echo Fox haven’t substantially leveled up their overall roster. The rest of the NA LCS has stronger domestic cores. Even import-centred teams like Dignitas and Team Liquid have mid-tier NA-status players like Keane, Lourlo, and Matt. I hoped to see Echo Fox mirror Phoenix1’s approach of building up their core, but for whatever reason, Echo Fox haven’t made that happen. Their roster hasn’t been finalized, but the pool of North American free agents is pretty thin at this point, so I’m not getting my hopes up for substantive improvements to Froggen’s supporting cast.
What’s different this time around?
Let’s not beat around the bush: EnVyUs fell off a cliff in the second half of the summer split. Based on their level of play at the end of the summer regular season, they didn’t really deserve to be in the playoffs or regionals, and it showed. There’s no reason to think that stability was the right call for this roster. Procxin appears to be out, and LOD’s name has been attached to Dignitas in rumours, but it’s getting very late in the offseason to pick up meaningful replacements. A new jungler would probably help, but LOD would be a tough loss. Meanwhile Hakuho, Seraph, and Ninja all have issues with their play, but there are no signs that anything will change at those positions. If Procxin’s replacement isn’t an impressive surprise of some kind, there’s no reason to put faith in EnVyUs to right the ship.
Is Cody Sun the real deal?
The Immortals management impressed me a lot with their roster-building savvy when they first arrived in the NA LCS. The Pobelter/WildTurtle/Adrian trio was a smart complement to Huni and Reignover’s top-side aggression, with Pobelter and Adrian playing supportive roles and WildTurtle serving as the alternative carry outlet to give Huni some extra room to work. Now we’re seeing a second go-round in their roster building, and while I see some similarly impressive self-awareness, this is also the first time IMT have tried their hand at bringing in a rookie. The success of the new lineup hinges greatly on Cody Sun’s ability to live up to the hype and provide balance to the team’s carry profile. If Cody can become a meaningful threat to share pressure with Dardoch and Flame, it could mean very good things for his team. But if he’s a consistent soft spot, the Immortals’ top-heaviness and tilt potential might become exploitable.
Can Arrow be a primary carry?
I’ve written about being impressed by Phoenix1’s core of domestic players, and now we know that the team is using its import spots on Ryu and Arrow. For this roster to work, one or both of those players will need to step up as a primary carry and become the central focus of the team. Zig and Adrian tend to be very supportive players, and Arrow is used to being a secondary option behind the powerful top-side duo of Ssumday and Score, with proactive roaming supports like Piccaboo in 2015 and Hachani in 2016. We haven’t really seen Arrow take centre stage the way he’ll need to with P1. That doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t succeed in that role, but there may be some stumbles as he gets accustomed to his new role.
Is Piglet ready to play with respect?
Over the course of Piglet’s time with Team Liquid, he evolved from an incredibly cocky, tilt-prone player into a more measured decision-maker who paired his incredible mechanics with smart positioning to take over games. At IEM GyeongGi, though, in Piglet’s return to the starting lineup, we again saw Piglet playing as if he thought he was perpetually fed. He and Matt repeatedly opted into damage trades and all-ins that might have worked if they were ahead in levels or items, but instead failed because they were even or behind. Multiple Vayne selections also pointed towards Piglet’s “I’m-better-by-default” mindset. This was classic Piglet, and not in a good way. For Team Liquid to find success this spring, Piglet needs to take a step back and remember that he isn’t simply better than his opponents and capable of winning every trade; he’s only better if he makes better decisions. We’ve seen how good Piglet can be when he gets his ego in check. It’s unfortunate that he seems to have taken a step backwards during his time away.
Is Bjergsen ready to increase his work load again?
Part of what made TSM so dominant domestically this year was the dynamic between Bjergsen and Doublelift, with Doublelift drawing tons of focus to himself in the early game through strong laning. That allowed Bjergsen to have some breathing room and use his own laning strength to step up his roaming play. WildTurtle is a much weaker laner than Doublelift, and that will remove some of Bjergsen’s flexibility. Opponents are either going to camp Bjergsen or try to snowball their bot lane against WildTurtle, forcing Bjergsen to either use his roams to help the bottom lane or sacrifice bot when he goes top. Either way, there will be much more pressure on Bjergsen to carry TSM’s early game. He’s capable of doing it; we saw it in 2015, the last time WildTurtle was on TSM. Hopefully it won’t mean an overall step backwards for Bjergsen or his team, though, because his more flexible play this past year was such a great evolution.