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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 OraclesElixir.com, 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.