The opening weekend for the North American League Championship Series has finally arrived! Unlike their European brethren, the NA LCS managed to keep their rosters mostly intact in the top third of the standings. There’s a clear divide between teams that should be ready to go on Day 1, and teams that should have a lot of work ahead of them to sort out their new identities and where they fit in the broader scheme of things. Luckily for us as fans of the game, real life never breaks quite so cleanly, and any upset has the potential to undo much of the cemented theory-crafting behind where the teams will end up this split.
Of course, there are more questions to be solved than simply “will any of the top three teams be upset this week?” While the top may look secure, the rest of the league is entirely up for grabs. One could make just about any arrangement of the 4-9 seeds, and it’d be hard to argue with it until we see far more games played. Once you’ve listened to this week’s podcast, you can find each of the host’s power rankings below to see just how much variance there is heading into the split. Heading into the first week, there are at least six fan bases believing anything is still possible. We’ll have a much better idea of who is right after this week.
In today’s episode of the Guess the Lines Podcast presented by Slingshot, Chase “RedShirtKing” Wassenar and Walter “Ceades” Fedczuk break down each series in the NA LCS opening weekend. After explaining how the plus/minus system works for those who missed yesterday’s episode, the two look at how TSM will have to attack CLG if it wants to retake their lead in the teams’ eternal rivalry, how Moon shifts Team Liquid’s entire play style, and whether the tiers of teams underneath the big three are closer than the gambling lines might lead you to believe. They close with their best bets of the week, as well as a quick look at the futures bets available on Unikrn.
1. Counter Logic Gaming
After a stunning performance at the Mid-Season Invitational, it seems only fitting CLG maintains North America’s top spot. Rookie AD Carry Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes broke out despite tempered expectations under the tutelage of support Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black. Mid laner Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun was able to hold his own for the most part in his first international tournament, but his continued development will be crucial if CLG truly hopes to win a world championship.
A 17-1 regular season ended in disappointment with a third place finish in the playoffs. Not to be deterred, Immortals has decided to run back the roster and rely on spring MVP Jungler Kim “Reginover” Yeu-jin and top laner “Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon to carry the roster to a coveted worlds spot. Support Adrian “Adrian” Ma might have revolutionized the support meta, but if he’s no longer able to exploit ranged vs. melee matchups, can he continue to perform?
3. Team Solo Mid
With the failed “DoubleYellow,” errr, “StarLift,” uh…With the failed “Bora “YellowStaR” Kim experiment, TSM has turned back the clock and brought on rookie support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang in a move eerily similar to the signing of Nicholas “Gleeb” Haddad in the summer of 2014. As ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s handpicked choice, the pressure will be on the youngster to quickly adapt to the professional game. A second place spring finish and the talent level of the roster should make TSM’s route to worlds easier, but considering Gleeb failed to last the full split, is Biofrost doomed to a similar fate?
4. Cloud 9
It’s a brave new world for Cloud 9, as it treks into a future without longtime captain and legendary shot-calling guru Hai “Hai” Du Lam. The mid-split roster overhaul returns veteran jungler William “Meteos” Hartman among the bevy of changes while also touching the coaching staff with the additions of Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu and Kublai “Kubz” Barlas. Mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen was one subpar playoff performance from wrenching the title of NA’s best mid laner from TSM Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, but Cloud 9 needs to prove to fans that life after Hai isn’t the end, but a new beginning.
5. Team Liquid
As one of my favorite post-spring split contenders, Team Liquid has quickly dropped with the suspension of Rookie of the Split Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. Liquid gave CLG one of its toughest tests of the spring split in the semifinals, and Dardoch was the catalyst for the majority of the success. Replacing him will be fellow spring split rookie Galen “Moon” Holgate, but Moon’s play is much more raw. The official story is a two-week suspension, but owner Steve Arhancet said that team was actively seeking to transfer the player. If Liquid falls flat out of the gate, egos may have to be put aside in the name of regional glory.
6. Team EnVyUs
“Pride cometh before a fall,” or in the case of the LA Renegades: Hubris-filled boasts obscured glaring organizational issues forcing the sale of the team. For the squad’s remaining members, the acquisition by esports powerhouse Team EnVyUs appears to be a godsend and may allow their “Second best team in NA,” claims to come to fruition. Mid laner Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo has the talent to match up against the region’s best while top laner Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong performed much better on the LCS stage compared to the online world of the Challenger scene. The bot lane leaves much to be desired, but every team in the middle of the pack has questions. Hopefully for Envy, those will stay focused on the team’s actual play.
7. NRG Esports
After falling flat in its first split, NRG has gone all in on a “stars and scrubs approach” by surrounding carries Lee “GBM” Chang-seok and Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min with low-risk, medium-reward veterans. At the center of critique, former Dignitas support Alan “KiWiKiD” Nguyen has been left for dead, but he’s never played with an ADC as talented or as aggressive as Ohq. NRG pulled out all the stops, pulling in funds from multiple high-profile investors, but with all their success in other fields, are they willing to wait and slowly build a contender?
Visageddon ripped across Echo Fox like a troublesome vulture, stunting the growth of a young team with upside. Following a trip to Korea, the team looks raring and ready to go, but questions remain. Top laner Park “kfo” Jeong-hun excelled in Korean solo queue while Tony “Hard” Barkhovstev is the next bearer of the “worrying trend” meme, but none of that will matter if they fail to grow on the big stage. Mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen’s continued faith in the team speaks volumes, but his inability to solo carry his recent teams might send him searching for his own “South Beach.”
9. Apex Gaming
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. “Three veteran junglers walk into a bar and the bartender asks…” I forget the rest, but the punch line is Cristian “Cris” Rosales is back in the LCS. Despite the failed 10-person roster attempts by Korea’s Longzhu Gaming and NA’s own Team Liquid, head coach Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco and company have insisted thatApex has a plan. Early starting rosters project top laner Cris and ADC Apollo “Apollo” Price instead of filling the team’s second import slot with top laner Jeon “Ray” Ji-won or Oh “Roar” Jang won. The beginning of the season will be crucial for Saint to determine which players fit together best and whether the 10-person roster really is worthwhile.
Phoenix are beautiful mythological creatures reborn from the ashes of their previous lives. Phoenix1 certainly matches the “ashes” part, and time will tell how beautiful a beast it will be, but I’m not hopeful. The Team Impulse holdovers were mediocre, and starting jungler Kevin “Zentinel” Pires has quite literally burst so far out of nowhere even Dumbledore is impressed. (Yes, the Harry Potter wizard, not the amazing Turkish support player). The roster leaves little to the imagination and survival should be the goal. Think more Mr. Deeds and less Paul Blart.
Might as well throw the next one into the same section…
2. Counter Logic Gaming
Do you know how hard it is to win back-to-back-to-back championships? It’s only happened twice in League of Legends history. The first team to do it was Season 3-4 Fnatic, which had the advantage of being what was essentially an all star team with resources the rest of Europe was nowhere close to having. The second was SK Telecom, winning their third consecutive champion this past split, which is just yet another example of just how insanely good Faker and company actually are.
Counter Logic Gaming is a great team. Zikz has been a mastermind since his move to the head coaching spot, creating a system in which each individual player has a clear role to execute to make the whole unit an unstoppable force. Players like Stixxay and Xmithie rose to the occasion last split far more quickly than I had ever anticipated. It’s easy to pencil them in as the champs this split, but now, the metrics for success have changed. Smart North American teams have spent the entire offseason watching film of this team, discovering how the system works, and combing over every detail to find its flaws. If CLG pulls the championship off regardless, they’ll go down as North American legends. If they don’t, they’ll still be a damn good team worthy of our attention when they get to worlds.
The team most poised to take the top spot away is undoubtedly Immortals. While their series against Team SoloMid in the semifinals was downright disgraceful, it’s also something that’s incredibly unlikely to happen again. One week later, Immortals easily dispatched Team Liquid 3-0, while TL took CLG to a full five games in a series that could have gone either way. All of Immortals’ pieces fit together in a rather terrifying display of raw power. I’m betting on Immortals learning how to stay out of its own way and put in the work necessary to “solve” CLG. Let’s hope we get to see these teams duke it out in a best-of-five this time around.
3. Team SoloMid
The Biofrost signing fits in a weird zone for me. Obviously, it’s a great move to let YellOwStaR, whose shot-calling skills were being wasted on TSM, return to Fnatic, as it allowed TSM to get the man Doublelift wanted. On the other hand, I’m not sure how much Biofrost can actually move the needle. Young supports have historically proven themselves difficult to predict, and even if he does well in the regular season, there’s no way to know how he’ll respond to the massive pressure that follows all TSM players until the playoffs come around. My current impression is that he’ll be good enough to keep the team scary in the playoffs, but not good enough to put TSM over either of the other two top tier teams.
4. Team Liquid
The drop-off between the third and fourth seed in North America looks poised to be a big one this split, but that doesn’t mean Team Liquid should be easily discarded. This roster got significantly better as the season went along, and its fourth place finish was a great example of just how good they can be when their young players get the opportunity to shine alongside the dominant Piglet and the “continually proving to be better than I ever gave him credit for” FeniX. Until Dardoch formally leaves the team, I’m going to assume they find a way to make it work, as he’s the most valuable asset not named Bjergsen in North America. Whatever they gain in experience from last split’s playoff run, they lose in the chemistry issues that caused this suspension in the first place, leaving them, as they always seem to be, in fourth place.
5. Team EnVyUs
If you’ve listened to any of our podcasts, you know I’m a massive Ninja fan. Upon returning from his suspension, he gave the LCS just a glimpse of what he can look like as a full time player, and it was downright terrifying how cleanly he made trades in lane to give himself an advantage. I have concerns about their bot lane, specifically Hakuho, who managed to put up average numbers without ever seeming to make the big play that helps turn games around. I’m counting on Seraph to look like his LCS self rather than the inconsistent version we saw in the Challenger Series, and I’m banking on Proxcin to take a step forward now that he’s on a much better roster. If they do, they’ll be a fun dark horse heading into the playoffs.
To be honest, I didn’t want to put this team in my top six. Despite a solid spring, the team fell apart in the playoffs. The fact that the team has already signed Smoothie to its Challenger roster shows it doesn’t have enough trust to move on from Hai, who has officially becomeCloud9’s version of the Linus blanket – silly to hold onto at this point in their lives, but stubbornly held onto regardless. I don’t trust Meteos, who stepped down after deciding the game was no longer fun and is now returning during a time in which players are most upset by the current practice environment (thanks Dynamic Queue!). I don’t trust Impact, who went from a dominant threat to a below average top laner last split who could no longer win lane. Luckily for Cloud9 fans, I do trust Reapered, who might turn out to be NA’s new best coach given his previous track record. They’ll do enough to fight their way into the playoffs because that’s what Cloud9 does, but this version of the roster does not instill much faith in me when the playoffs roll around.
7. NRG eSports
If it hadn’t been for Reapered, this is the team I’d put in the six spot. There are many reasons to be excited: Ohq is a dominant ADC that can single handedly carry games in the right meta, and GBM is the perfect swiss army knife for a mid lane meta that has so many different viable champions waiting to be used in the right situation. Unfortunately, the rest of this team has a ton of question marks for me. I’m not as convinced as my co-host that KiWiKiD isn’t just a below average support. The mysterious circumstances under which Quas left Liquid last year make me wonder whether he can be the hard carry they’ll need, and Santorin is…well, he’s Santorin. I’m excited to see what this coaching staff can do with the roster, but with so many moving pieces, I’m not convinced they’ll be able to settle down in time to make a serious run at the playoffs.
8. Echo Fox
The seventh best team in North America no longer has visa issues and ran the full roster back…and dropped a spot in my predictions. That doesn’t feel right, and I won’t be surprised if Echo Fox ends up surprising me when I look back on my predictions later this split. For now, though, it’s a hard sell when so many other teams have made changes that give them a greater upside. Kfo and Hard were fine last split, but it’s hard to see either of them suddenly making a leap. This is a team with four supporting players and one mid lane star, and when the league as a whole has made such a leap in talent, I’m not convinced that’s enough.
9. Apex Gaming
As Colin Nimer wrote on this very site, 10-person rosters don’t work. While I can see a team benefitting from having one Challenger team and one LCS team that scrim against each other constantly, you lose something when you try to cram all of them into one spot. It’s nearly impossible to build the synergy necessary for every possible combination of this roster to excel, and honestly…I’m not too optimistic about their chances to excel even when they do inevitably settle on the five guys they trust in big moments. Any team that actively opts into starting Apollo has a ton of question marks, and while they have a few solid role players, there is no one star that the team can point to to carry. It will be an interesting experiment to be sure, but I have very little optimism for it.
I can summarize this team the same way I’d summarize any of owner Jack Giarrapunto’s recent films: there’s no reason this needs to exist, I’m really sad that I’ll have to spend any time watching it, and the fact that we even got here leaves a bad taste in my mouth that makes me wonder if something shady is going on behind the scenes to make this happen.