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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.