BY Kien Lam
ew year, new me. The NA LCS underwent its biggest change yet as the 10 teams selected for franchising were announced. A massive roster shuffle followed. Even three time reigning champion TSM replaced three members. An offseason of speculation has fans making all sorts of claims, and it’s finally almost time to see who among us are oracles. And who among us are… whatever the opposite of oracle is. Pooracle? Porocle? These are the 10 players I think you should keep an eye on throughout the Spring Split.
100 THIEVES – JUNGLER
New year, new Meteos. After he reportedly took a year-long pilgrimage to every single location of Chipotle in the United States, Meteos bounced back into the NA LCS last year in limited appearances with Phoenix1. The former All-Star jungler guided the team with a steady hand and showed fans he was still more than capable — his KDA and kill participation were both near the top of the league. And now that he’s on Nadeshot’s 100 Thieves, he has 99 teammates if my math checks out. Among them are the reigning 1st NA LCS All-Pro Team top laner in Ssumday and former CLG legend and shotcalling support, Aphromoo. 100 Thieves are exciting as hell on paper — it’s a great combination of fan favorites and talent. And Meteos’ height of dominance came when he was paired with the best top laner in the league and another shot caller — Balls and Hai circa 2013, 2014. He should thrive on the Thieves if he’s fully committed to this return. And I expect him to be at 100 percent.
CLOUD9 – JUNGLER
The dream for Svenskeren right now is to steal Baron in a deciding Game 5 over TSM to lift C9 back to prominence. That way TSM fans can blame him one last time for a loss. I think TSM’s struggles at Worlds skewed fan perception of how good Svenskeren actually is — you’ll remember TSM won the last three NA LCS splits with him roaming their jungle. That said, at least some of their Worlds struggles must be attributed to him. How much, though, is something we’ll find out soon. C9 is approaching four years since their last NA LCS Championship and once again find themselves with a new jungler. C9 fans have high expectations every single season, and this year is no different. There is a lot of early hype for new top laner Licorice, and Jensen has been absolutely dominant (at least in the regular season). Svenskeren will have plenty of help as he tries to re-establish himself. Now’s the time for him to silence his critics… or join them and meme himself. As is C9 tradition.
COUNTER LOGIC GAMING – MID
“Who is he?” is a line I imagine stuttered by a lovestruck person as someone tall, dark, and handsome does something cool in a superhero movie. Like lift a car off a puppy or rescue a baby from a burning building. “Who is he?” is also muttered when someone does something embarrassing like trip over an extended trombone slide at band camp. This was long the erratic performance of Huhi. But the 2017 Summer Split highlighted just how good he can be as he delivered his most consistent split yet. I think you could look back and make an argument that he deserved MVP. Maybe not because he was the best player in the league, but because he was that important to CLG. No other player in the League has a signature must-ban champ quite like Huhi’s Aurelion Sol. He’s my dark horse (or dark dragon) to take the MVP this split, especially with an experienced jungler in Reignover behind him.
CLUTCH GAMING – MID
Analytics, Ernie! Febiven joins the Houston Rockets-owned Clutch Gaming as one of two EU mid lane imports. The Rockets shoot a lot of three-pointers. What’s the League of Legends equivalent? Poke comps? Ziggs One-for-All mode? Jumping into someone and then screaming for a foul? It’ll be interesting to see if this squad develops a style that’s backed by analytics and even more interesting to see what that might actually look like. Maybe they could introduce a change as big as lane swaps. This team is made up of three former Envy players and then Febiven instead of Nisqy in the mid lane and Solo over Seraph in top. Febiven was, at one time, the rising star in the EU LCS (with Fnatic), but he hasn’t managed to take the next step. Perhaps moving to the NA LCS will give him the boost he needs, but it’s hard for me to say this team is a significant upgrade over the previous Envy roster. A team is more than just the sum of its parts, though, and perhaps this rocket of a team is going to the moon.
ECHO FOX – TOP
Echo Fox’s new roster has a lot of… personality. I’m picturing the StarFox cast and any given second someone might shoot Slippy. But when you factor in the potential talent, Echo Fox may be the most intriguing team to watch this split. Huni is one of the most charismatic players in the League. He also happens to be a demi-god when it comes to the regular season — clocking in with an 86% win rate (all time). He’s only lost 15 regular season matches since he started playing in 2015. Echo Fox lost 13 last split alone. People remember SK Telecom T1 getting trounced by Samsung Galaxy in the World Finals last year, but they may have forgotten the SKT we saw at MSI 2017. Huni is still a world class player. But more than that, he’s a ball of light — every time we’ve seen him in the west, he’s been a tonesetter for his team. And Echo Fox’s success will hinge on just how bright he can shine.
FLYQUEST – ADC
This is the first time in WildTurtle’s career that a roster was built around him. Previously, he has often been one of the final pieces added to teams. So while he has thrived in the past, it was never because the team was built to support him. The talent around him now is mostly unproven — with Flame being the one exception after his resurgence last year on Immortals. This puts even more emphasis on Turtle to lead his team. But he’s developed a reputation for sticking his head a little too far out of his shell throughout his career. A more tempered style helped find a consistent rhythm on FlyQuest last split, even if the team struggled on the whole. That they kept only him should provide him with a good confidence boost after bouncing around teams for last couple of years. FLY may not sprint out of the gate, but neither did the turtle when it defeated the hare.
GOLDEN GUARDIANS – MID
This will be Hai’s first split as a professional player without Balls and LemonNation in his side lanes, which should excite long-time fans hoping for a shakeup. The Golden Guardians roster is basically a return to Hai school as it features four young players filled with promise and an old veteran teacher in Hai. The script definitely has Oscars potential. But mid lane is becoming increasingly fearsome in NA thanks to the good old NA tradition of importing mid laners from other regions. Hai is one of two native mid laners left (the other being Pobelter) — can he withstand the influx of talent? That’s the big question mark this split for GGS. And Hai needs to not only stand tall in lane, but also wrangle his new teammates together into a cohesive unit. He’ll need more than his fabled shotcalling to return to the international stage.
OPTIC GAMING – MID
The EU All-Star mid laner comes to North America to be the main face of the Green Wall. If you’ve never been randomly killed by some 12-year-old piloting a stealth bomber that they got after camping a cave for six minutes, then you might not know about the Call of Duty giant OpTic Gaming. Their NA LCS roster features PowerOfEvil — who ascended again to international recognition after his run with the Misfits at Worlds this past year. His selfless play coupled with his laning prowess makes him a consummate mid laner, and with former NA LCS MVP Arrow in the bot lane, this team will have a ton of firepower. Questions surrounding the rest of the roster could be shored up entirely by PoE’s map presence. Struggles, though, may mean a quick path of exile for him. The OpTic fan base may be even more rabid than TSM’s (if you can even imagine that).
TEAM LIQUID – ADC
It’s nothing personal, they said. It’s just business, they said. Twice now Doublelift has been ousted from major teams. This time, it’s because TSM saw the Zven and mithy pair as being too good an opportunity to pass up. It’s hard to blame them. And for all the talk we hear about Doublelift being a world class player, we haven’t really seen it — at least at international events. But to me, he’s still one of the greatest talents ever produced by the North American region, and when he’s on point, he’s one of the most exciting players to watch. Teams need swagger (no one has more than Doublelift) if they want to win, and that’s something Team Liquid was in desperate need of. Now Doublelift is paired with the best support in NA in Olleh and finds himself on a team that was 3/5ths of the IMT squad that made it to Worlds last year. And former World Champion Impact residing in the top lane. But it’s also 3/5ths of the CLG squad that disbanded two years ago (though not before securing an NA LCS title). Just how good this team can be will come down to Doublelift — him and Olleh need to be the best bot lane in NA for Team Liquid to be more than just Team Solid.
TSM – ADC / SUPPORT
ZVEN & MITHY
Okay, so technically it’s 11 players to watch, but you’d be hard pressed to separate these two at this point in their careers. The last ADC mithy played with was Niels and who can even say what happened to that guy except that Zven looks a lot like him. To me, this may be the biggest signing in Western League of Legends history. What you essentially have with TSM this Spring is the blending of the three-time reigning NA LCS champions with the four-time reigning EU LCS champions. This would be like if Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors after blowing a 3-1 lead to them in the Western Conference Finals. It’s an absurd combination of pedigree and it makes TSM the odds-on favorite to win the NA LCS title. On paper, plenty of other teams look good, but I just don’t see how they stack up against what this TSM roster could be. The only hope for teams is if MikeYeung collapses under the pressure, but the dude’s a Lee Sin and Nidalee main, which makes me think he doesn’t give a shit what you think. Of course, maybe winning EU doesn’t mean anything (kappa), so we’ll see how these two adjust in a new country. But they’ve already shown the ability to consistently adapt to different teammates and metas. I don’t expect this run to go differently.
Tune in next week on Saturday, January 20 at 2 PM PT as Team Liquid takes on TSM to kick off the 2018 NA LCS Spring Split. Can Doublelift make TSM regret their decision?