Offseason Report Cards: NA LCS

Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games Brasil/lolesportsbr / 2016 World Championship / Riot Games Brasil

An influx of investment groups with deep pockets along with another wave of foreign talent flooded the North American scene last year. Accompanying the new organizations and players to the region was the transition from best-of-ones to best-of-threes, further testing the mettle of NA teams. Immortals became kings of the NA regular season, but it was the classic organizations of Team SoloMid, Cloud9 and Counter Logic Gaming who ended up with the region’s domestic titles and three World Championship berths.

Talent development, or lack thereof, was a big 2016 talking point, one that now continues into 2017 with yet another flood of imported players, traditional sports-backed organizations, and a few up-and-coming native talents. As always, how these new lineups come together and actually perform on the Rift will be the true test of all NA organizations.


Top: Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, Jeon “Ray” Ji-won

Jungle: Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia, William “Meteos” Hartman

Mid: Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen

AD Carry: Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi

Support: Andy “Smoothie” Ta

In previous splits, C9 held onto their own legacy players for too long, using Hai “Hai” Du Lam as a team cure-all while the roster in question had a fairly definable ceiling. This changed last summer with the acquisitions of Impact from the now-defunct Team Impulse, and Smoothie, who landed the starting support position after swapping with Michael “BunnyFuuFu” Kurylo for half of a split. C9 was now a team that kept building towards their future in mind, even if it meant rough patches as the team adapted and grew together.

This past offseason, C9 didn’t make many roster changes but the ones they did make show a continued interest in retaining their key talents while grooming other players for the future. During his time on Apex Gaming, Ray showcased incredible carry potential. If C9’s coaching staff and Impact can harness that power, he’ll be a great successor to Impact when the veteran top laner either retires or possibly moves on to another organization. Contractz’s LCS debut has been highly-anticipated by those who have watched him grow throughout the NA CS, and he’s fresh off of a successful split with C9’s veteran challenger squad. His age, not lack of talent, kept him from playing in the LCS last year and an unintended benefit of this is that he comes to the LCS with a larger amount of experience than many former Challenger rookies have had under their belts.

Grade: A They retained the talent that they needed to retain while showing signs of continuing to build towards their future.

Team SoloMid

Top: Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell

Jungle: Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen

Mid: Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg

AD Carry: Jason “WildTurtle” Tran

Support: Vincent “Biofrost” Wang

The familiar, smiling face of WildTurtle has reunited with the Team SoloMid brand ahead of this split after a fairly successful year with Immortals. He is a downgrade from Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, who is taking the spring split off to rest and presumably return for the more heavily-weighted summer split.

TSM still have their star mid laner, Bjergsen. They also smartly retained jungler Svenskeren who, alongside Bjergsen, creates a one-two punch that keeps opposing junglers on their toes and gives TSM strong early-game map control. Even during their struggles and lowest finish for the franchise in regular season history last spring, TSM still made it to the NA LCS Spring Finals and nearly won. Barring a horrific internal collapse or a player injury, TSM will make playoffs and likely contend for the finals once more.

The question of how important the spring split is in the grand scheme of things has lingered over most regions for a few years now. With the season so neatly divided in two, and Worlds being the definitive major tournament despite the Mid-Season Invitational’s existence, it’s not surprising to see TSM playing it safe this split, just a bit disappointing. Perhaps the bulk of NA CS or rookie AD carries were just that raw this split, but WildTurtle has specific weaknesses in his play that aren’t always made up for with his strengths. That being said, in picking up WildTurtle, TSM knows exactly what they’re getting and how to play around it — although not with this specific roster iteration, which may be a bit of a concern.

Grade: C+ Although this roster will make playoffs and could possibly take the split, their actual roster changes include a downgrade at ADC.

Counter Logic Gaming

Top: Darshan “Darshan” Uphadhyaha, Kevin “Fallenbandit” Wu

Jungle: Jake “Xmithie” Puchero, Omar “OmarGod” Amin

Mid: Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, Jean-Sébastien “Tuesday” Thery

AD Carry: Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, Osama “Zag” Alkhalaileh

Support: Zaqueri “aphromoo” Black, Lee “Fill” Hyo-wan

Love their decisions or hate them, Counter Logic Gaming’s 2016-17 offseason roster moves reflect the organization’s recent attitude towards roster building and talent development. Their lineup doesn’t draw attention on paper — like larger, star acquisitions from their competitors often do — CLG just doggedly keep their heads down and focus on improving themselves as a unit.

To this end, they’ve not only retained their entire 2016 roster, but included all five members of their amateur team, CLG Black, as backups for every position. Not-so-coincidentally, all five of these members were at NA Scouting Grounds, and four of them were on the CLG-backed Team Cloud, which made it to the finals of the event. Only mid laner Tuesday was on a different team.

In the new era of 10 total bans, CLG have already drawn community ire for sticking with Huhi over acquiring a new mid laner. CLG opted to keep their successful 2016 lineup, which includes coach Tony “Zikzlol” Gray, possibly the most important re-signing decision that CLG made these past few months.

Grade: B- How well CLG do this split will not only depend on themselves, but whether presumably better rosters on paper come together well enough to overwhelm CLG’s superior synergy as five.

Team Dignitas

Top: Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, Cristian “Cris” Rosales

Jungle: Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun

Mid: Jang “Keane” Lae-young

AD Carry: Benjamin “LOD” deMunck

Support: Alex “Xpecial” Chu, William “Stunt” Chen

If this roster comes together, it could be one of the best in North America. However, that’s a big “if,” especially with similar unknowns like Phoenix1, Immortals and Team Liquid alongside more experienced rosters like CLG.

Chaser is undoubtedly talented but, as we learned during his time on Longzhu, fairly directionless when left to his own devices. The instructions he received from Yeo “TrAce” Chang-dong while on the Jin Air Green Wings in 2015 may have been boring to watch at times, leading to lengthy games centered around poke compositions, but he had a direction — something he never appeared to have throughout this past year with Longzhu. He should have this on Dignitas thanks to Xpecial, who is the most likely in-game leader for this lineup. Chaser’s success will depend on how well he communicates with the veteran support along with Keane and Ssumday.

Although Apex were a middling team for most of the NA LCS Summer split, Keane improved significantly, becoming a more versatile player and shrugging off the weird, oddball label given to him during his time on Gravity. This should allow room for Ssumday, LOD or sometimes Chaser to take over carry duties more easily. Ssumday is a monster on tanks with proven carry prowess and LOD should do well alongside veteran support Xpecial.

Grade: B+ This roster is really interesting and shows thought behind its construction. Dignitas is another “wait and see how they gel” team, which isn’t a bad thing at all.


Top: Derek “zig” Shao

Jungle: Rami “Inori” Charagh

Mid: Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook

AD Carry: Noh “Arrow” Dong-hyeon

Support: Adrian “Adrian” Ma

Phoenix1 have another roster that, on paper, could turn out to be one of the best in the region. Their two imports show thought and care behind who they want on their team, and this roster looks to be fairly flexible when it comes to resource distribution.

Arrow was a much-maligned weak link on KT Rolster prior to the start of 2016 LCK Spring — in an interview during the 2015 summer playoffs, he joked that his team would be fine if he managed to hit his minions — but by the end of LCK Summer he was a monster. He has not only increased his mechanical prowess but his flexibility across the past year and is a strong pickup for Phoenix1. Alongside Ryu, this gives the team pliable carries in at least two — likely three depending on how zig develops — lanes.

Throughout all of last year, Adrian was constantly at WildTurtle’s side, keeping the AD carry out of harm’s way as best he could. He also drew no small amount of criticism for his champion pool, relying on Karma, Soraka and Janna even when no other supports were playing them regularly in the current meta. Arrow makes fewer positional errors than WildTurtle and this will hopefully free up Adrian to prove his doubters wrong.

Grade: B+

Team EnVyUs

Top: Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong

Jungle: Nam “LirA” Tae-woo

Mid: Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo

AD Carry: Apollo “Apollo” Price

Support: Nikolas “Hakuho” Surgent

Last year’s Team EnVyUs was an odd Korean-American hybrid roster where the top half of the map didn’t coordinate well with the bottom half — who were often left to their own devices. nV had one of the best starts in the summer split of any team, going 5-1 in their first three weeks, and appeared to have a strong understanding of the meta at the time. They fell off come mid-season and barely scraped their way into playoffs thanks to a winning head-to-head record against Apex Gaming, despite Apex having a superior overall win rate. Nv relied on outplays from Seraph, Ninja and occasionally jungler Kim “Procxin” Se-young to carry them through late-game teamfighting.

This year looks to be much of the same, with an all-Korean top half of the map that still includes Seraph and Ninja, this time with former Afreeca Freecs jungler LirA. LirA was a large part of the Freecs’ success last year. Although he flies under the radar compared to other jungle talent in Korea, he’s certainly a step up from Procxin when it comes to knowing and understanding the map. Apollo is either a slight downgrade or a sidegrade depending on how strongly you feel about LOD, and Hakuho returns as the team’s starting support.

A lot of nV’s struggles last year were more due to poor drafting and a lack of communication rather than talent, and this team looks to be on par if not better on paper than their lineup last split simply due to the LirA pickup.

Grade: C+ I’m not as down on nV’s roster as others although they seem oddly stuck on ensuring that the team has two separate halves of the map. Apollo and Hakuho should be perfectly serviceable to this end and LirA is an upgrade over Procxin.


Top: Lee “Flame” Ho-jong

Jungle: Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett

Mid: Eugene “Pobelter” Park

AD Carry: Cody “Cody Sun” Sun

Support: Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung

With Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and Kim “Reignover" Yeu-jin, Immortals became the strongest regular season team in North America. They also failed to make it to the finals twice and ultimately found themselves on the outside looking in at the 2016 World Championship. For a new organization, their success is quite impressive, but to Immortals themselves, it was likely a disappointment simply due to their own lofty expectations.

On paper, this Immortals lineup still has a good amount of talent, especially on the top side of the map with Flame and Dardoch. Pobelter should shore up the mid lane, allowing Dardoch ample freedom to help his lanes or power-farm. The primary question of talent lies in the relatively untested Cody Sun and how well he and Olleh develop their synergy in the bot lane. Cody Sun had an inauspicious start at IEM Gyeonggi and while it would be unfair to evaluate him based on that one performance, it does raise questions as to just how raw of a talent he is.

The first Immortals roster was known for their innate synergy from day one. Before the season even started, rumors of Immortals’ scrim prowess dominated preseason speculation. In addition to the loss of the pre-existing synergy between Huni and Reignover, Flame won’t arrive in North America until this week, cutting down on their practice time prior to Week 1. This roster can work and be one of the best, but don’t expect a repeat of the 2016 Immortals.

Grade: B+ This grade is likely lower than most expect and it’s due more to what the Immortals roster was in comparison to who they have now than their individual talent out of context. The Huni/Reignover combination is a tough hole to fill, and it’s uncertain as to whether Flame and Dardoch can find the same synergy.

Team Liquid

Top: Samson “Lourlo” Jackson

Jungle: Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin

Mid: Gilmer “Goldenglue” Grayson, Austin “Link” Shin

AD Carry: Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin

Support: Matthew “Matt” Elento

Along with Immortals, Team Liquid is the other lineup that has seen preseason play prior to their LCS debut. Also like Immortals, TL looked like they had some good pieces in place and little practice time to fit them together. Both organizations can make a run for the top.

With the return of Piglet, TL should play around the bottom lane a lot more. Piglet and Matt have already proven that they can work well together, now it’s a matter of fitting them into this new team. Lourlo will have his work cut out for him with the strong top lane talent entering the North American scene, but has improved his teamfighting since his debut last year. Reignover was the best jungler in NA last year, and he’s a welcome, experienced addition to this team who should be able to communicate with Piglet, although expect a bit of a grace period initially as the entire team works out the kinks in their new communication system.

While previous mid laner Kim “FeniX” Jae-hoon took a lot of resources, he was also a strong laner, able to keep mid pushing in most cases and giving prior jungler Dardoch ample room to breathe. Goldenglue did not impress at IEM Gyeonggi, and the late addition of Link is likely to accompany a period of time where TL will swap between both Goldenglue and Link in order to find the mid laner that is right for this new team. The burden of TL’s early game could fall to Reignover while the team sorts out their mid lane situation.

Of all retired players on the periphery of the NA competitive scene, Link was always mentioned in conversation as one of the best, should he make his return. His intelligence and natural ability are consistently brought up by his former NA opponents and teammates. He now gets the chance to prove them right.

Grade: B+ With Team Liquid, it’s not usually about the names on the paper, but how they come together, or fall apart, over the course of the season. This new roster has strong pickups in Reignover, the return of Piglet, and an interesting last-minute signing of Link. Regardless of what happens, I’m curious to see how it unfolds.


Top: An “Balls” Le

Jungle: Galen “Moon” Holgate

Mid: Hai “Hai” Du Lam

AD Carry: Johnny “Altec” Ru

Support: Daerek “LemonNation” Hart

Bolstered by the core of three legacy Cloud9 players in Balls, Hai and LemonNation, FlyQuest is the former Cloud9 Challenger team that qualified for the 2017 NA LCS Spring split minus promising young jungler Contractz, who was moved to the starting spot on C9’s LCS team prior to the sale of C9C.

This roster has received a lot of flak from the community and it is a rather underwhelming lineup on paper. Moon is presumably a downgrade from Contractz, although that’s purely based on Contractz’s NA CS performances against Moon’s disappointing LCS showings, which is a bit unfair, if only due to the strength of LCS teams over their NA CS brethren. FlyQuest are counting on this team’s pre-existing synergy and that’s not a bad bet, albeit a safe one. They’re a team that could get off to an alright start while other rosters are still getting it together. However, this is also a lineup that can only go so far, and even if they somehow manage to make it to playoffs, the sheer amount of raw talent on the rosters of their opponents should overpower them quickly.

Grade: D+ You would think that with the amount of money this team has, they could get a more promising lineup for the future. It’s not that their current lineup is horrible, they have talent that’s proven themselves in previous seasons, but that it’s a lineup that can only go so far.

Echo Fox

Top: Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok

Jungle: Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham

Mid: Henrik “Froggen” Hansen

AD Carry: Yuri “KEITH” Jew

Support: Austin “Gate” Yu

Unlike the rosters of Phoenix1 and Team Dignitas, this Echo Fox roster doesn’t seem to have the same care in creating a five-man unit. There are a few formidable names here — Froggen and Looper — along with challenger jungle talent Akaadian, but on the whole it’s underwhelming in comparison.

Looper was likely picked up for his Teleporting prowess, something that has been synonymous with his name since his days on Samsung Galaxy Ozone. Yet, Looper with support Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong and Looper without Mata are two completely different players. Looper looked like a shadow of his former self without the legendary support while on Masters3 in 2015 — lost and directionless. That being said, Looper will probably do just fine in lane.

Their previous top laner, Park “kfo” Jeong-hun, had only one mode, split-pushing. It’s understandable that the team would want a top laner to Teleport into teamfights successfully. What Looper can bring to this Echo Fox squad will depend on how well he communicates with the rest of his team and if someone takes up the shotcalling mantle. The most likely person for the job is Akaadian, although Gate has also been cited by former teammates as an agreeable in-game leader.

Just as Phoenix1 and Team Dignitas could come together, Echo Fox could gel as a team and perform well. It just doesn’t seem as likely as these other rosters hitting their stride.

Grade: C- Echo Fox received an upgrade in Looper and retained Froggen, yet they lack the firepower of other rosters on paper, and Looper’s performance could heavily depend on team communication.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

NA LCS Spring 2017 Preseason Power Rankings

by 6d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Jose Silva / theScore esports

Big money. Brand power. Korean superstars.

North American is seeing an influx of many things for the 2017 spring split. Multiple teams have received new investments or ownership changes, gaining funds and business expertise from organizations like the Philadelphia 76ers, the Milwaukee Bucks, the aXiomatic group, and Lionsgate. World-class players like Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, Noh “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok, Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun and more have come to bolster the talent pool.

But the most exciting thing the NA LCS appears to have gained doesn’t come down to numbers or names. Instead, it’s the holy grail of every sports league: parity.

On paper, North America has seven teams who can legitimately challenge for a spot in the spring finals this April, but only two teams can actually get there, and one won’t even make the playoffs. We’re in for quite a race!

Below are my power rankings for the 10 rosters competing in the 2017 NA LCS Spring Split. These rankings are meant to project the final standings of the 2017 spring split, based on my expectations of how each roster will perform over the next few months. I’m using the following criteria:

  • The skill levels of the five players.
  • How well the players’ strengths, weaknesses and play styles fit together into a cohesive, well-rounded unit.
  • The players' expected ability to communicate and coordinate strategically, based on language, past team play performances, and quality of coaching staff.

10. FlyQuest

Key Player: Hai “Hai” Du Lam, Mid Lane

Hai is a great leader, and he looks much more comfortable now that he’s back in the mid lane, but he isn’t a miracle worker. At the end of the day, FlyQuest will have to steal every win by outsmarting their opponents, because they definitely aren’t going to out-skill anyone. They’ll definitely pick up their share of games, and they’ll do it cleverly enough that sometimes it won’t feel like they were underdogs at all, but creative tactics alone can’t carry you very far in today’s LCS. There just isn’t enough stable firepower here to make a reliable argument in FlyQuest’s favor.

9. Echo Fox

Key Player: Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, Mid Lane

Signing Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok was a good move. Re-signing Froggen was a good move. Unfortunately, the rest of this roster just isn’t on the same level. Against teams like FlyQuest and EnVyUs, the solo laners will be good enough to earn leads, and we know Yuri “Keith” Jew can pick up big multi-kills under the right circumstances. Overall, though, it seems that too much time and effort was put into the Looper pickup, without enough diligence in improving other positions.

8. EnVyUs

Key Player: Shin "Seraph" Wu-Yeong, Top Lane

We all remember how bad EnVyUs were in the final weeks of the summer split, and how they didn’t seem to deserve their playoff spot. Fewer of us seem to remember how good they were, relatively speaking, earlier that season. Their wins came from intentional, controlled macro; their losses came from sloppy, skirmishy play rife with individual mistakes. Adding Nam “LirA” Tae-yoo gives them more skill from the jungle, and hopefully more self-discipline, but LirA will need time to acclimate. There’s enough strength here to overpower some teams, but not enough to climb the standings.

7. Immortals

Key Player: Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, Jungle

Here’s where things get interesting, because every remaining team has a legitimate shot to reach the finals in April.

Immortals have lots of potential in their top/jungle duo of Lee “Flame” Ho-jang and Dardoch, with Eugene “Pobelter” Park reprising his role as the low-econ roaming mid laner. Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung intrigues me at support. He can be a skill shot machine, but some LMS analysts tell me he can have team play issues if he doesn’t think his teammates are carrying the load. Sound familiar? This team can’t afford more big personalities given the histories of Dardoch and Flame. Immortals feel like a lit fuse, and I’m not sure whether the impending explosion will be directed at their opponents or themselves.

6. Phoenix1

Key Player: Noh “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, AD carry

With Adrian “Adrian” Ma, Rami “Inori” Charagh, and Derek “Zig” Shao, Phoenix1 have built a versatile, future-ready domestic core. Yoo “Ryu” Sang-ook and Arrow are the hired-gun imports brought in to stand on the domestic players’ shoulders and carry the team. It’s a solid arrangement, but the outcome hinges heavily on how well Arrow can adapt himself into a primary carry, instead of benefiting from the pressure drawn by having multiple other superstars on his team, like he had with KT Rolster. This team’s future is wide open, but Zig, Inori, and Arrow will all need to grow a lot over the coming months if they want to reach their ceiling as a team.

5. Dignitas

Key Player: Lee "Chaser" Sang-hyun, Jungle

In earlier versions of my rankings, I placed Dignitas fourth. There’s so much skill in their top/jungle duo, and their domestic core is certainly serviceable. I still think they have the potential to climb much higher than fifth in the eventual standings, but the more I’ve pondered them, the more I’ve come to doubt their ability to stand up in the oh-so-crucial early game. None of their laners are better than average in the laning phase, which puts a lot of pressure on Chaser to be an instant success even though he’s just been freshly imported from Korea and is coming off a weak showing last summer. All things considered, there are a few too many soft spots for me to get really excited about Dignitas for now.

4. Team Liquid

Key Player: Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin, AD carry

If Team Liquid does as well as I’m projecting, it will be mostly due to their superstars, Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin and Piglet, both of whom are arguably the strongest players at their positions in North America. If Liquid fail, it will be due to disappointment from their mid lane. Others will rate this team lower than I do, but I’ve seen so much growth from Samson “Lourlo” Jackson and I remember how good Matthew “Matt” Elento looked when he was playing with confidence and had Piglet by his side. Liquid have excellent imports, underrated domestic players, and a coaching staff with lots of potential. I expect them to put all those pieces together effectively.

3. Counter Logic Gaming

Key Player: Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, Support

Say what you want about the individual skill levels of Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun and Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya, but I don’t plan to bet against Aphromoo and Tony “Zikz” Gray. That tandem of in-game leadership and out-of-game strategic guidance has been generating consistent success for a while now, and their late summer derailment and resulting fourth-place finish were influenced by uncontrollable circumstances like Zikz’s health and Aurelion Sol bugs. Teamwork has always been superior to simple skill in League of Legends, and no team exemplifies that better than CLG, which is why they’ll be contenders yet again by the time playoffs arrive.

2. Team SoloMid

Key Player: Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg, Mid Lane

Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng is on hiatus for the spring split, but TSM are still good enough to reach the finals, thanks to the best player in Western League of Legends, Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg. With Jason “WildTurtle” Tran returning to take over at AD carry, Bjergsen will once again have to play a more dominant style, either propping up WildTurtle’s early-game weakness or shouldering more of the carry load himself. He’s up to the challenge, but TSM have lost some flexibility overall, which will make it harder to repeat their summer success. Still, it’s never wise to bet against TSM: they’ve literally never missed an LCS final in the last four years.

1. Cloud9

Key Player: Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, Top Lane

Cloud9 earn the top spot in my rankings, but not because they’ve improved themselves significantly beyond their second-place summer finish. Their one roster change, bringing in rookie Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia to replace William “Meteos” Hartman, may turn out to be a modest upgrade in skill but is a massive step down in experience, and the overall effects could go either way. It’s TSM’s backwards step that opens the door for Cloud9 to edge ahead. C9 can wield the strength of their solo lanes and the stability of their duo lane to make Contractz’s job easier, and they have great flexibility in their carry setups to adjust as the 10-ban meta gets figured out over time.

There are six teams who could conceivably become good enough to take Cloud9 out this split, but this is the team with the fewest obvious points of vulnerability. It only remains to be seen whether their opponents will expose any further weaknesses and develop enough strength to exploit them.

Tim "Magic" Sevenhuysen runs, the premier source for League of Legends esports statistics. You can find him on Twitter, unless he’s busy giving one of his three sons a shoulder ride.

Rand: 4 NA LCS storylines to watch

by 2d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games

Sometimes the offseason feels endless, sparsely populated by only a handful small tournaments — a veritable desert when compared to the massive slate of in-season games. We are now nearing the end. The 2017 NA LCS Spring has the distinction of starting last, after the four other major leagues kickoff. New imports have been recruited, rosters have been set, and now all that's left is to actually play the game.

Here are a few storylines to watch out for as we head into the 2017 NA LCS Spring Split.

C9 Contractz

Throughout the 2016 North American Challenger Series, Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia was hailed as one of the strongest native talents in the scene. While on the failed Challenger Series experiment known as Ember, Contractz was their standout player. His presence was sorely missed when he was unable to play in the 2016 NACS Spring Playoffs due to age restrictions.

There’s always a mystique that surrounds an underage player when they’ve shown prowess in scrims or the challenger leagues but are unable to play at the highest level until they turn 17. Performing with new team and, more importantly, at a higher level of competition, doesn't always live up to performances in the lesser leagues.

With Rasmus “Caps” Winther starting for Fnatic and Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir starting for Unicorns of Love over in Europe, Contractz isn’t the only rookie entering the scene with high expectations and those expectations are compounded by the fact that he’s starting for one of the most popular teams in his region: Cloud9.

Contractz's jungle style is fairly aggressive, shaped by the teams he’s been on previously, especially his recent split on Cloud9 Challenger. He’s grown accustomed to having his lanes pushing at most times — C9C often won by simply rolling over their opponents in lane while Contractz moved wherever he pleased. This means that some of his more aggressive invades, especially if he doesn’t have an invade buddy or pushing lanes, won't work out. Contractz died often on C9C, and while these statistics don’t mean much in a vacuum, he’ll have to curb his enthusiasm and better coordinate with his team if he wants to succeed in the LCS.

Fortunately, much like C9C, Contractz is surrounded by experience. Mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen is not only a laning beast, but he's vastly improved his map pressure and laning movement over the past year. He will be able to provide the mid lane pressure that Contractz needs. Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi has been a steady presence for C9 since their LCS debut, and Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong spent the latter days of the 2016 NA LCS destroying his opponents while looking far more coordinated than he ever had with his C9 teammates. The pieces are in place for Contractz to succeed. All that’s left now is to see how he performs.

The Mystery of FlyQuest

Running concurrently with Contractz’s debut are the returns of his former Cloud9 Challenger teammates’ to the NA LCS. Cloud9 once ruled the NA LCS, winning two straight NA LCS titles and making it to all but two NA LCS finals. Their original lineup of An “Balls” Le, William “Meteos” Hartman, Hai “Hai” Du Lam, Sneaky, and Daerek “LemonNation” Hart are immortalized as one of the best and most successful lineups in NA history.

Now, the boys are back in town, sans Meteos or Sneaky, dividing NA fans into two distinct camps — those who remember and love the C9 of yesteryear and fans who wonder why the new FlyQuest (formerly Cloud9 Challenger) ownership retained four of their five qualifying players instead of seeking out younger talent and imports like the rest of NA. Now, all eyes are on FlyQuest to see just how far they can go in a region that bulked up on high-profile imports this past offseason.

A possible template of this split’s FlyQuest is 2015 CJ Entus, or even Cloud9 themselves in the 2015 NA LCS Summer Split. Then, Hai’s swap to the jungle position first saved their chances at the Regional Qualifier and then won them a spot at the 2015 World Championship. There’s something to be said about relying on existing synergy and experienced talent. CJ’s roster of veterans, which included a role-swapped Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, gave SK Telecom T1 the closest fight in the LoL Champions Korea Spring 2015 playoff run and still finished third in the Summer 2015 regular season. Yet, they didn’t make it to the 2015 World Championship, and they had an obvious skill ceiling. They were a team on borrowed time with a definite end.

Going into this split, FlyQuest resembles 2015 CJ. They retained Balls, Hai, LemonNation, and AD carry Johnny “Altec” Ru from C9C, betting on team synergy and Hai’s leadership rather than new talent. The only newcomer is former NRG eSports and Team Liquid Academy jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate.

Moon had his own struggles within the NA LCS last year. Because NRG Esports was a festering stew of a team, it’s impossible to know just how much internal issues played a role in Moon’s lacklustre performances. Still, Moon is far more prone to passivity than prior jungler Contractz. It’s difficult to imagine Moon going on the same aggressive invades — even for deep vision —the same way Contractz did.

That being said, Moon is now surrounded by some of the best veteran talent that NA has ever had. If any unit is going to help him with his rumored stage fright, betting on three of the famous C9 five is a strong bet. Moon and Altec are the two players who can lift this team above their visible skill ceiling. If they’re to do this, they’ll have to use another strategy than the one they showed in the NA CS. There, C9C was known for obliterating teams in lane, and had an average 1834 gold lead at 15 minutes over their opponents which they used to steamroll their way to victory. This isn’t going to work in the NA LCS since there are other teams who can do it better with stronger individual laners.

The Battle for the NA Top Lane

The NA top lane talent pool has deepened thanks to the arrival of Korean imports like Immortals’ Lee “Flame” Ho-jong, Team Dignitas’ Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, and Echo Fox’s Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok. Many are expecting these three — especially Flame and Ssumday — to run rampant over their laning adversaries, garnering significant kill and CS leads with or without jungle help. Top lane has been a bit of a sore spot in NA for a while, and the three high-profile Koreans entering the scene this spring all have domestic experience in Korea as well as extensive international experience. The battle for the glory of the NA top laner begins this weekend.

This does present a steeper challenge for homegrown top laners like Team SoloMid’s Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, Counter Logic Gaming’s Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaha, FlyQuest’s Balls, Phoenix1’s Derek “zig” Shao, and Team Liquid’s Samson “Lourlo” Jackson. Even previously embedded imports like C9’s Impact and Team EnVyUs’ Shin “Seraph” Woo-yeong could struggle against the region's imported talent. However, the situation for native top laners isn’t as dire as some would make it seem.

RELATED: What Flame, Ssumday and Looper bring to the NA LCS

Many of the teams with NA tops are also betting on existing coordination and team synergy. TSM’s only change was the addition of Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, with whom the organization is already familiar and whose playstyle is well known. Aside from WildTurtle, Hauntzer is surrounded by the same supporting cast. WildTurtle isn’t likely to draw the same amount of pressure as Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. TSM will need Hauntzer to continue to improve and call for a bit more help from jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen. Counter Logic Gaming is betting entirely on their roster from last year, and they were fairly successful, even with ups and downs from Darshan in the top lane. Similarly, the aforementioned FlyQuest is also counting on Balls’ experience and coordination with the rest of his team, as are C9 with Impact and Seraph on nV.

One of the more interesting situations could play out on TL. Once denigrated for his small champion pool, Lourlo has become a strong tank player and the meta suits him well. If he can coordinate better with his team than some of the other imports, TL could be a surprising upstart in the rankings. Above all, the new top lane arrivals should generally improve the level of play, but rarely has a team won the title on strong lanes alone. The latest arrivals to the NA top lane are more individually skilled than their domestic counterparts, but they in no way guarantee victory.

A Link to the past (and TL’s future)

Team synergy is a tricky and elusive thing, even for an entirely domestic roster. A caveat to all preseason assumptions is always written, “if the team comes together, if they coordinate well enough, if they learn to communicate.” These reservations accompany the three previous storylines. They also surround the new TL squad — a hybrid roster built around the return of AD carry Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin to the starting lineup and the homecoming of lost-long NA mid laner Austin “Link” Shin.

Link was a late addition to TL, joining the team after their somewhat shaky performance at IEM Gyeonggi with Greyson “GoldenGlue” Gilmer starting in the mid lane. Although he’s known for his memetic manifesto and adding “donezo” to the general League of Legends esports lexicon, Link is also one of the few players that ex-NA pros cite as strong enough to make a significant return to the NA LoL scene, should he be inspired to do so.

Throughout last year, TL struggled to find a winning roster permutation that could carry their team to an NA final. The organization’s problems have never been in raising their own homegrown talent, or even in failing to import strong players, but in making that roster play as a unit once assembled. Internal disagreements plagued the organization last year by their players’ own admissions. On paper, this new TL roster is an interesting beast that should prove intriguing to watch, one way or the other. Link is a large part of this. He now receives the chance to prove his fans and former adversaries correct with this upcoming season.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

Rand: What Flame, Ssumday and Looper bring to the NA LCS

Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games/lolesports / 2014 World Championship / Riot Games

Come the 2016 North American League Championship Series Summer playoffs, two top laners dominated the region. Both Korean imports, Immortals Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and Cloud9’s Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong faced each other in the playoff semifinals and again in the Regional Finals, with Impact and C9 emerging the clear winners. Although Impact had already been in NA for nearly two years — he spent the entire 2015 season on Team Impulse and 2016 on NRG eSports and Cloud9 — this playoff surge was the first time Impact appeared to trust and work harmoniously with his entire team.

Sometimes import players instantly click — Huni and Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin had a large amount of success with their strong in-game synergy while on 2015 Fnatic, and took this to the 2016 Immortals. Sometimes, for whatever reason, they never find their stride away from home.

Now in 2017, three well-known and decorated Korean top laners have entered the North American scene. Here is a primer on their histories and how they might fit on their new NA organizations.

Immortals' Flame

The most famous, and highly-anticipated, Korean top laner to grace the 2017 NA LCS is former CJ Entus Blaze stud Lee “Flame” Ho-jong. Flame was the 2013 Top Laner of the Year, his name synonymous with the rise of Blaze as one of the best teams in the world.

Under the name “Goldtec” Flame was scouted by then-Azubu Blaze in late 2012 and made his professional debut with the team at IPL 5. His first OGN tournament with Blaze was Champions Winter 2012-13, where Blaze placed fourth behind the KT Rolster Bullets, their sister team Frost and NaJin Black Sword. Throughout 2013, Blaze developed a split-push style built around Flame’s large laning leads and team minion wave control.

Blaze became one of the pioneers of wave manipulation in League of Legends, using a slow-push style that became common practice in LoL. As the team, and Flame’s, strengths earned worldwide recognition, Flame also became known specifically for his personal minion control and freezing the lane. A 100-minion laning lead became known as the Flame Horizon, so often did Flame garner massive advantages over his laning opponents. Flame’s overwhelming pressure allowed the rest of Blaze to spread their adversaries on the map, taking objectives while keeping opponents guessing as to where they would strike next.

This strategy could not work forever. Although they helped pioneer slow-pushing and were the best team at putting it into practice, other teams caught up to and overwhelmed Blaze’s strategy. Flame and Blaze lost to the KT Rolster Bullets in the quarterfinals of Champions Summer 2013, again in the 2013 Korea Regional Finals, and once more in the Champions Winter 2013-14 quarterfinals. Blaze devolved during 2014, with rumors of internal conflict and passive-aggressive comms. Come Champions Summer 2014, Blaze failed to make it into playoffs for the first time in their history.

At this time Flame was rumored to be difficult to work with and arrogant despite his many obvious strengths on the Rift. He was picked up by China’s LGD Gaming in 2015, but split time with former Samsung Galaxy Blue top laner Choi “Acorn” Cheon-ju. Acorn became the team’s starting top, with Flame playing occasionally. Flame never gelled with his LGD teammates, although he did diversify his playstyle, strengthening his tank play, a fact often overlooked when criticizing Flame for only having one mode as a split-pushing carry.

Flame’s 2016 return to Korea on Longzhu Gaming was less than stellar. Longzhu’s games often self-destructed into messy mid-games where even a monstrous lane lead on Flame mattered little when the team couldn’t coordinate together.

On Immortals, expect Flame to return to his natural style of play, building early lane advantages that translate into becoming a strong split-pushing threat. Whether these leads will turn into Immortals victories will depend on how much the rest of Immortals will be willing to support him alongside having strong wave control themselves. Jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett is known for his early pressure, and in standard lanes this could be a great boon for Flame, allowing him to control the top lane as he sees fit.

Team Dignitas' Ssumday

Although Ssumday is only 20 years old, he’s been a League of Legends player since he was 16 on amateur team PSW Ares. KT Rolster picked him up in February 2013 as the starting top laner for their spring Bullets squad. At the time, Ssumday was known as a Renekton one-trick who lacked the depth or style of other Korean top laners. The KT Rolster Bullets finished second in their group to CJ Entus Frost and made it into the Champions Spring 2013 playoffs but lost 3-1 in the quarterfinals to MVP Ozone.

Returning to the drawing board, Ssumday was shuttled to KTB’s sister team, the KT Rolster Arrows, in order for the then Bullets jungler Choi “inSec” In-seok to role-swap to top lane making way for jungler Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon. This Champions Summer 2013 iteration is likely the KTB’s strongest lineup, and certainly their most well-known. Meanwhile, Ssumday, along with the rest of KTA, failed to make it into Champions Summer 2013, falling in the qualifier to GOL.

Even during his time on the beloved 2014 KT Rolster Arrows, Ssumday was not as much of a standout as fellow teammates KaKAO and Song “RooKie” Eui-jin. He indulged in their more aggressive antics, once diving past an inhibitor turret into his opponent’s base just to secure a kill while on Jax, but wasn’t the carry top laner that people now know him to be. He had strong tank play and teamfight targeting, occasionally controlling KTA’s teamfights entirely. Ssumday had improved from his 2013 Renekton days, but was unreliable and inconsistent in lane. His willingness to be on the exact same aggressive page as the rest of his teammates made him the perfect top laner for KTA, but not a name that was recognized as one of the best.

Ssumday’s awakening began in 2015. The newly-combined KT Rolster had a historically bad start to LoL Champions Korea 2015. Former KTB AD carry Go “Score” Dong-bin was adjusting to the jungle and all-too-often found himself tasked with stemming the bleeding from perpetually losing lanes. KT didn’t find their stride until the end of the spring season with the addition of support Jeong “Fixer” Jae-woo.

With Fixer, KT began pulling out more creative in-game packages and Ssumday began to show his true carry prowess, an extension of what he had developed as a strong tank player while on KTA. Ssumday still had excellent targeting in teamfights and added to this was a newfound ability to Teleport thanks to improved communication on his team and the addition of Cinderhulk as a top lane item on the likes of Hecarim. LCK Summer 2015 was Ssumday’s coming out party as one of the region’s best top laners. Again, his tank play shone above the rest, even over the undisputed best top laner in Korea, Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho. On Maokai and Shen, Ssumday cemented his legacy.

This past year, Ssumday continued to play his role as KT’s carry top — a phenomenal tank player who could also lead KT to victory provided he received the slightest of laning advantages or early jungle help from Score. Yet, Ssumday faltered in the LCK Summer 2016 playoffs and again in the regional qualifier for the 2016 World Championship. By his own admission, in an interview with Inven, he had fallen into bad habits from being with the same organization for four years.

Ssumday will likely play a similar role for Dignitas as he did while on KT over the past two years. His tank play is still phenomenal, and with their lineup somewhat similar in style to 2016 KT, Ssumday should perform well, provided he can communicate with his teammates. Now paired with former Longzhu Gaming and Jin Air Green Wings jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, Ssumday will likely look for jungle help early, but doesn’t need constant jungle pressure in order to succeed. One gank in his favor is all it usually takes for Ssumday to overwhelm his opponents.

Echo Fox's Looper

Samsung Galaxy Ozone’s lackluster at the Season 3 World Championship has somewhat been forgotten, thanks to their redemption in the 2014 World Championship and China’s far more embarrassing collective collapse at the 2015 World Championship. Ozone entered Season 3 Worlds as one of the favorites and failed to make it out of groups following a tiebreaker loss to Gambit Gaming. Accompanying this inauspicious debut under the Samsung banner was the introduction of new top laner Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok, who was starting in place of the team’s original top, Yoon “Homme” Sung-young.

Unlike the rest of his team, Looper individually impressed on the Worlds stage in 2013, cementing Singed as his signature champion in the eyes of international audiences, and giving hope for Ozone’s future. Throughout Champions Winter 2013-14, Looper grew to be one of Champions' most notable top laners thanks to his impeccable Teleport play. This ability to read the map and be exactly where his team needed him to be only improved throughout the year, culminating in Samsung Galaxy White’s eventual Worlds victory in 2014. Looper’s name became synonymous with strong Teleport usage in an age of the game when Teleport became a required spell for a top laner.

Both Samsung teams were picked apart after the 2014 World Championship and distributed among a myriad of Chinese organizations. Looper, along with former Samsung Galaxy mid laner Bae “dade” Eo-jin, landed on Masters3, an offshoot of the beloved World Elite organization. Masters3 were a disappointment. Disjointed and uncoordinated, the team’s wins all too often relied on dade outplays, with dade himself as inconsistent as the rest of his teammates. Looper’s Teleport prowess plummeted without the direction of former teammate Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong and the strong lanes of Samsung White.

After an unsuccessful 2015, Looper thought of retiring before China’s Royal Never Give Up offered him a contract. Not only did RNG give Looper a chance to once again prove himself, they also were the home of Looper’s Samsung White shotcaller, Mata. Together, the two formed the backbone of the new RNG. Mata helped his younger teammates like laning partner Wang “wuxx” Cheng develop while Looper was a consistent, reliable presence in top, always Teleporting in when the team needed him. Their team dynamic changed a bit when star AD carry Jian “Uzi” Zihao joined in 2016 LPL Summer, but Looper remained a steadfast presence, even breaking out his old favorite Singed for a stylish Game 1 victory over IMAY in the playoffs.

For Echo Fox, Looper should be a good laning asset. However, if the organization is relying on him to be a large voice on the team or Teleport perfectly without assistance, they may have signed him for the wrong reasons. Looper himself expressed a bit of awe that Echo Fox wanted him badly enough to pay his transfer fee from RNG. In an interview with FOMOS’ Park Sang-jin (translated by Andrew Kim of Slingshot), Looper said that Echo Fox’s dedication in signing him would serve as inspiration for improving his English skills and communication within the team. Communication will be crucial in determining whether Looper’s Teleports stay on point — richly rewarding Echo Fox’s faith in him — or whether he returns to his 2015 LPL form.

Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.

NA LCS Week 1 Staff Picks: Where the WildTurtles are

by 11h ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Dennis Gonzales / theScore eSports

theScore esports' League of Legends experts have tapped into their inner oracle for the first week of the 2017 North American LCS Spring Split and offered up predictions for each of the games. We'll be keeping track of how many results the predict correctly as the season goes on, but for now, we'll be heading into the season with a clean slate for our analysts.


Friday Rand Zoltan-Johan
FOX vs. P1 P1 FOX
Saturday Rand Zoltan-Johan
nV vs. FLY FLY nV
Sunday Rand Zoltan-Johan
DIG vs. C9 C9 C9

Spotlight Matches

TSM vs. C9:

Rand: Headlining NA LCS opening weekend is the clash between perennial NA powerhouses TSM and C9. Both organizations only made one roster move — Jason “WildTurtle” Tran replaces Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng in the TSM bot lane while the latter takes a split off and Juan "Contractz" Garcia is now the C9 jungler instead of signature C9 jungler William "Meteos" Hartman. Both teams are expected to be at the top of the region this split.

So why am I picking TSM? TSM knows what they're getting with WildTurtle and are already aware of his strengths and weaknesses. AD carry is somewhat of a nebulous position in the current meta as it is, and WildTurtle should be perfectly serviceable. Issues could arise due to the loss of pressure in the bottom lane and another veteran shot calling presence on the team; however, for Week 1, Bjergsen and company should be fine. C9 on the other hand, have to develop a communication system with their rookie jungler Contractz, which is a more difficult adjustment than the WildTurtle for Doublelift swap.

Zoltan-Johan: This one’s a doozy, I’ll say it. It’ll come down to whether you believe WildTurtle fits TSM’s style more than Contractz fits C9’s. In a world currently filled with ADC in 2017 memes, perhaps the negative impact of WildTurtle may be more muted than the exploitation of Contractz by a more veteran jungler such as Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen. I expect this to be close, and coaches' drafts in the new 10 ban system may play a big part in where this series goes. But I think TSM will edge it out 2-1.

CLG vs. TL:

Rand: In the battle of established synergy and a new hybrid roster, who wins? Although I think TL's roster shows thought behind its construction, it's unlikely that they'll have the same amount of coordination as CLG, a team that made their name last year on playing together as a cohesive unit. Again, things could change as the season wears on, but in Week 1, I'm betting on synergy.

Zoltan-Johan: The return of Austin "Link" Shin makes this quite the spotlight match, but unfortunately for TL, I just don’t think they have enough co-ordination to displace CLG just yet. Some bright spots were evident in TL’s IEM play, but I think a big hole in TL will be their inability to exploit Huhi outside of the draft phase. If he brushes up his often-criticized champion pool and Jake "Xmithie" Puchero continues matching Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin’s pressure as he historically did, the bottom lane win-condition for the early iteration of Liquid may be hard to accomplish. CLG takes this.

TSM vs. IMT:

Rand: TSM have two important matches this week against likely contenders for the top spot — first C9 and then IMT. Again, IMT have made more significant changes to their roster, with a hybrid lineup that focuses on Flame in the top lane and Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett in the jungle. Short of one, or both, of these two players going off and having a monstrous carry performance, I don't see IMT beating TSM in the first week of competitive play.

Zoltan-Johan: A veritable trial by fire for Immortals’ rookie bottom lane, they run into one of the more experienced bottom lanes of the LCS very early. One of the key weaknesses of a rookie such as Cody Sun is their champion pool, something that I expect to be exploited as TSM gets frequently better matchups for WildTurtle and Vincent “Biofrost” Wang through the draft. As a result, they will need to rely on the stability of Eugene “Pobelter” Park and the potential to take over a game imbued within Lee "Flame" Ho-jong and Dardoch. To have that happen so early, when coordination can be amiss, is incredibly unlikely, so I see TSM taking this overall.

Arrow on moving to NA : 'If I do end up going, I'll be going with Ryu as a set'

by 1d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games/lolesports / 2015 World Championship / Riot Games

No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon was one of the LCK's most dominant AD carries over the last two years, and his decision to move to the NA LCS was a head-scratcher for many. As Arrow explained to Slingshot's Andrew Kim, his sights were always set on Worlds.

"Since I left the best team I could enter, KT, I wanted to seek out a new experience away from Korea. So I was thinking of going abroad since then, and another big reason is making it to worlds, since it’s really tough because of the level of Korean teams," he said.

While Arrow says that other regions aren't necessarily weaker than Korea, he believes he could excel on a new team in a different region. Initially, he wanted to move to, China but received several offers from North American organizations.

"I felt like I would be able to go to worlds as long as I do well and carry," he said about teams outside of the LCK. "NA was the first to extend the an offer. I think it was Phoenix 1 and Immortals. After talking with both of the teams, I thought that P1 was more eager to work with me and that they really wanted me, so I chose here."

His decision to move to North America was heavily influenced by Yoo "Ryu" Sang-ook, and Arrow openly stated that Ryu's presence was always important for him both in-game and out.

"[I thought] if I do end up going, I’ll be going with Ryu as a set, and I thought that if Ryu was in the mid lane, the team had potential to make it far," Arrow said.

When it comes to Korean players transitioning to other regions, one of the biggest negatives brought up is the language barrier. Arrow admitted that it was a problem for him when he began scrimming with his new team, Phoenix1.

"At first that was very difficult. Around Dec. 16, I scrimmed with the team when they came to Korea, and I scrimmed with them from January 1-11, and I got more used to playing in English in that time. At first was kind of tough," he said, "But it’s much better now. From time to time, Korean and English gets mixed up in-game."

Heading into their first matches this week, Arrow is excited for the atmosphere but worries about the criticism he may face as a Korean import.

"This happened in Korea [as] well, but I think I would get more upset if I receive mean comments, because they’d be foreigners to me, "he admitted. "In Korea, I’d just think, “people like this exist, I guess,” and I could say the same with NA fans, but I think it’ll feel different."

Pheonix1 has what many consider one of the strongest NA LCS rosters on paper. Their potential will be front and center this week when they play their first LCS game against Echo Fox Friday night.

Kristine "Vaalia" Hutter is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find her on Twitter.

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