NA LCS


One Key Question: NA LCS Teams

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.

Cloud9

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.

Ex-Cloud9 Challenger

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.

Dignitas

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.

Echo Fox

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.

EnVyUs

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.

Immortals

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.

Phoenix1

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.

Team Liquid

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.

Team SoloMid

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.


NA LCS Fantasy Challenge: Building a Team with $15

Earlier today, a Reddit thread popped up with a fun “fantasy draft”-style challenge. The objective is to create a team from current NA LCS players using a budget of $15. Each player has a dollar value assigned by the thread creator, “ChemBizWiz,” who said the amounts were “based on KDA with a few exceptions.”

I took on the challenge, partly because it’s fun, and partly because it’s an interesting way to open up the topics of perceived player value, player roles, and team construction.

Here are ChemBizWiz’s player values:

TOP JUNGLE MID AD CARRY SUPPORT
  • $5 Huni
  • $5 Hauntzer
  • $4 Impact
  • $4 Lourlo
  • $3 Seraph
  • $3 Darshan
  • $2 Ray
  • $2 Zig
  • $1 kfo
  • $1 Quas
  • $5 Reignover
  • $5 Svenkersen
  • $4 Meteos
  • $4 Dardoch
  • $3 Xmithie
  • $3 Inori
  • $2 Santorin
  • $2 Procxin
  • $1 Shrimp
  • $1 Hard
  • $5 Bjergsen
  • $5 Pobelter
  • $5 Jensen
  • $4 Fenix
  • $3 Keane
  • $3 Huhi
  • $3 Froggen
  • $2 Ninja
  • $2 Pirean
  • $2 GBM
  • $5 Sneaky
  • $5 Doublelift
  • $4 Wildturtle
  • $4 Stixxay
  • $3 LOD
  • $3 Apollo
  • $2 Ohq
  • $2 Fabbby
  • $1 Mash
  • $1 Keith
  • $5 Aphromoo
  • $5 Adrian
  • $4 Biofrost
  • $4 Matt
  • $3 Smoothie
  • $3 Hakuho
  • $2 Xpecial
  • $2 Gate
  • $1 Kiwikid
  • $1 Big

Based on those prices, I came up with a few teams that might work well. I chose not to overlap any players between the two teams, to give more room for discussion, and I also used the added restriction of only giving myself two import slots.

Team 1: Core Strength

Top: kfo $1
Jungle: Xmithie $3
Mid: Bjergsen $5
ADC: Ohq $2
Support: Matt $4

At just $1, kfo is a steal. He’s so much better than his numbers; Echo Fox’s disorganized team play has really hurt him. Neither of the $2 top laners is an upgrade, and I’m hoping that he can find better synergy with the teammates I’ve picked, and that playing within a well-coached team would help out with his split pushing.

Xmithie is a reliable choice from the middle of the dollar values. I wouldn’t consider Meteos an upgrade, and while Dardoch has a bit more to offer, he also comes with some downsides (risk-taking and low vision) that I don’t want to opt into, since I’m not making jungle the focal point of my team. I would consider trading down to Santorin to save a dollar here, since I’m looking for a supportive jungler, but I’m good with Xmithie.

Bjergsen is my centrepiece. I’m not going to put $5 into either Pobelter or Jensen if I have the option of taking Bjergsen.

At ADC, I’m looking for a player who knows how to carry, so that Bjergsen has the option of playing damage or utility. I also want strong laning to attract some enemy jungler attention and take pressure off of Bjergsen and kfo. Ohq fits the bill. To get a better carry or laner, I have to spend at least $4, and that neuters my budget in other roles. There’s risk involved with taking Ohq, but I think he has a lot more to give than we’ve seen during his time with NRG, and for $2, the risk seems justifiable.

I left a good budget amount for support because the cheaper options don’t appeal to me much. I’ve gone with Matt because Biofrost’s low warding and inexperience makes me a little nervous, but I wouldn’t really have an issue with taking either player. I might consider stepping down to Smoothie if I needed a dollar somewhere else.

Overall, this lineup is built around the laners, with Bjergsen as the core. Team fight comps are viable, with Bjergsen and Ohq carrying and kfo capable of playing tanks if the communication gets figured out. Split push comps are a definite option, with Xmithie and Bjergsen working together to be enablers for kfo in the early game (we’ve seen this split how great Bjergsen is at affecting the side lanes). Matt is flexible enough to fit in. Shot calling is something I’m not so sure about, but between Bjergsen and Matt I think the team could figure things out.

Team 2: Two-Threat Throwback

Top: Zig $2
Jungle: Santorin $2
Mid: Froggen $3
ADC: Doublelift $5
Support: Smoothie $3

Feed the carries. This would be an old school two-threat team, surrounded by three supportive players with low price tags. Zig is my pick over Ray, because Ray needs to carry, and I don’t have the power budget in this team to give him those resources. Zig will end up playing tanks every game, but so be it. Santorin is underrated. Smoothie is a good laner who can stick close with Doublelift to help him get fed. Do I get bonus points for only using one import?

Team 3: How Do You Solve a Problem Like a $5 Jungler Budget?

Top: Seraph $3
Jungle: Reignover $5
Mid: GBM $2
ADC: LOD $3
Support: Xpecial $2

In the real world, it makes a ton of sense to build a team around Reignover, but the value-for-dollar options are so good at jungle, compared to the other positions. It’s hard to justify dropping the budget in the other roles to the levels I’ve had to. I think this team could be decent, but the bot lane might get exploited in some cases, and I’m not sure there’s enough reliable damage threat for team fights. GBM will really need to step up, and I’m banking on Reignover helping him out a lot. If I had an import slot open, Ray might work in this team, as a carry top laner who could try to be a Huni replacement, and I would probably use the extra dollar to grab WildTurtle, but that would create three lanes that rely on jungler help, and even Reignover can’t gank for three lanes all at once. No matter what I do, if I draft Reignover, my early game is going to be weak in multiple lanes, so my star jungler will really have his work cut out for him.


With these numbers and a $15 budget, what team would you build? Which players do you think give the best value in these lists?


NA LCS One-Sentence Power Rankings

I won’t be doing any formal power rankings articles ahead of the Summer split, but here’s how I see the NA LCS stacking up on paper at the moment.

10. Phoenix1
Clearly the weakest team on paper.

9. Apex
Don’t take the ninth-place rank to mean this is a “bad” team; take it to mean that I think eight other LCS teams are better than them.

8. EnVyUs
NV have talent in the upper half of the map, sure, but I’ve got some question marks about their players’ play styles and the strength of their bot lane. (More to come on this topic next week.)

7. Echo Fox
I’m a fan of Hard and kfo, and Froggen is Froggen, which means this team has lots of room, and potential, to grow, but the rest of the league is growing around them, too.

6. NRG Esports
Huge Korean talent, and decent veterans around them–they could easily climb the standings if they mesh well–but something about this team makes me think they may end up being less than the sum of their parts.

35. Team Liquid
Assuming their young talent doesn’t regress, this team is poised for very good things.
Edit May 27: With Dardoch suspended from the team for behavioural issues, I’m revising expectations down from 3rd to 5th.

54. Cloud9
I’m tentatively optimistic, because the talent in their new lineup is pretty strong, but I need to see whether they can work as a unit.

43. Team SoloMid
Until Biofrost proves himself (I’ll be watching closely), I’m not comfortable saying TSM is a top three team, but I’m also not comfortable rating last split’s finalists lower than fourth.

2. Immortals
IMT learned a pretty valuable lesson about playing to the meta, and I suspect that best-of-threes will force them to play a wider variety of compositions, which may produce a few more losses in the regular season, but should set them up better for the summer playoffs.

1. Counter Logic Gaming
I’m done underestimating Zikz and his team.

—–

Overall, I think the middle of the LCS pack is the strongest it’s ever been. Anyone from EnVyUs to Team Liquid has the potential to compete for playoff sports 3 to 6, I think.

CLG are a shaky first, but they’ve earned top spot. I still think multiple other teams on this list have more talent than CLG, and theoretically higher ceilings, but CLG is so mentally strong, and so creative and versatile. They deserve the right to have first place pried away from them.

I’ll try to update my sense of the power rankings every week or two as the split goes on.


Magic Bullets: NA LCS Finals

I’m not putting out a full preview or “win conditions” piece for the LCS Finals, but it’s still a fun and useful exercise to set some expectations. Here’s what I’m thinking (without having done a ton of in-depth analysis or exploration).

CLG will win because…

  • Zikz is a fantastic coach. I have complete faith that he will prep a solid game plan against TSM, and that he has a much better grasp on the meta and on his opponent than the Immortals did last week.
  • Darshan is looking right at home in the current Top lane meta, and that was one of the potential concerns for CLG coming into the playoffs. He’s showed a great Ekko and Poppy.
  • Xmithie has a champion pool advantage over Svenskeren. Sven has looked great on carry Junglers but not as good on gank-focused champions; Xmithie has showed success on both.
  • One of CLG’s weaknesses has been their laning phase, but they were able to survive Team Liquid’s very strong laning and decent early playmaking by using their Teleports effectively and softening the blows of TL’s Tower dives. TSM have great laners, but they aren’t as proactive as Team Liquid, so if CLG can keep coordinating well in their map movements, they might have an even smoother path into the mid game than they had against TL.

TSM will win because…

  • Bjergsen is looking great, and should be able to play a cleaner series than Fenix did, which will make the skill gap in Mid lane more meaningful.
  • They’re riding a giant wave of momentum from beating the Immortals.
  • There were far fewer individual map play mistakes from TSM last series, which is just one of the signs pointing to their improved communication. That’s pretty huge, because poor communication really seemed to be holding TSM back in the regular season.
  • CLG’s deliberate, relatively controlled style might give TSM the breathing room they need to farm up and plan ahead for team fights. TSM historically haven’t been as comfortable when a faster, more skirmishy pace is forced onto them.

Prediction

CLG 3-1

This isn’t my final answer (yet), but I think the arguments for CLG are stronger than those for TSM.


NA LCS Mid Laner Power Rankings

At the center of the map, two isolated 1v1 duelists square off in a battle for lane dominance, probing for openings to either all-in for the glorious solo kill, or shove the wave and disappear into the fog of war to roam to their side laners’ aid. The Mid lane is a crucial battleground on Summoner’s Rift, and has always been the home of some of the world’s most talented LoL players.

This split the North American LCS has fielded perhaps its strongest ever crop of Mids, with the addition of big-name imports like Froggen and GBM and the growth of holdovers like Jensen, Fenix, and Pobelter. Who’s really the best Mid in NA, though? And how does everyone else stack up behind them? That’s what we’re going to explore here, in a full 1 to 10 ranking of NA LCS Mids.

Continue reading at Unikrn →