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Top laners and junglers 2018 NA LCS teams should consider

by Josh BuryĀ Nov 14
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Flickr

Disclaimer: For the purposes of this article, we are considering players that are on teams which have, according to reports, not been accepted into the 2018 NA LCS. We are also considering players whose contracts expire on Nov. 20 and, under Riot's rules, will be available to receive offers.

Franchising in the NA LCS will, among other things, bring an immense shake-up to the region's rosters. Some organizations have lost their spots and, consequently, their rosters. Other teams have expiring contracts and, with the influx of resources to the league, may seek to bring in import talent from other leagues ā€” particularly, perhaps, the EU LCS, whose players face less of a language barrier and which will not implement partnerships until 2019.

Since there are now four teams in the NA LCS without any roster whatsoever, we've looked at top available players in each position, both domestically and abroad. We've used Riot's contract database to determine whose contracts are expiring and made the assumption that players on teams that have reportedly failed to secure an NA LCS spot have been released from their obligations with those teams (as has so far been the case).

Domestic top laners

1. Darshan

Summer Regular Season stats:

  • KDA: 4.2
  • Kill Participation: 60.9%
  • Average Gold Difference@10 mins: 108
  • Average Experience Difference@10 mins: 108

Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaha has been a strong force for Counter Logic Gaming in the top lane, showing consistent early performances against lane opponents. Not only is he dependable, his preferred champions have been in vogue recently. While his contract is expiring, it would be surprising to see CLG let him slip away.

Editor's note: Since publication of this article, the Riot contract database has been updated. Darshan's contract has now been renewed until November 2018.

2. Zig

Summer Regular Season stats:

  • KDA: 2.2
  • Kill Participation: 59.4%
  • Average Gold Difference@10 mins: -17
  • Average Experience Difference@10 mins: 64

Derek "zig" Shao didn't manage to stand out statistically in a disappointing Summer Split for Phoenix1, but his Spring campaign was considerably better. With Phoenix1 now reportedly out of the NA LCS, he'll be looking for a new home. Having played the game at a high level for over six years, he could also be a stabilizing veteran presence on a new roster.

3. Balls

Summer Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 2.1
  • Kill Participation: 60.7%
  • Average Gold Difference@10 mins: -31
  • Average Experience Difference@10 mins: -7

Balls is another NA top laner whose team did not fare well in Summer. FlyQuest's disappointing campaign in the second half of this year was a harsh chaser to the up-and-down roller coaster that saw them finish fourth in Spring. Balls could be a valuable addition to a team looking for veteran top lane presence.

4. Licorice

Summer NA CS Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 4.7
  • Kill Participation: 60%
  • Average Gold Difference@10 mins: 145
  • Average Experience Difference@10 mins: 209

Clearly one of the stars of the NA Challenger Series in its final season, Eric "Licorice" Ritchie will be looking to turn his stellar summer split into a full-time gig in 2018. Whether he makes it to a starting roster instead of an academy team may depend on how many organizations decide on import players for the position.

5. Solo

Summer NA CS Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 4.3
  • Kill Participation: 68.8%
  • Average Gold Difference@10 mins: 210
  • Average Experience Difference@10 mins: 128

You might be able to argue about the NA Challenger Series' best top laner in 2016 between Colin "Solo" Earnest and Licorice. Either way, they're both considered hot prospects with the coming franchised season. With teams required to field an academy roster, it would be extremely surprising for him to not find some kind of home, but it feels like this could be the year that Solo finds a spot in the NA LCS.

Import top laners

1. Khan

LCK Summer Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 4.1
  • Kill Participation: 64.7%
  • Average Gold Difference@10 mins: 116
  • Average Experience Difference@10 mins: 49

First things first: it feels unlikely that, even if Kim "Khan" Dong-ha is not re-signed by Longzhu, he would move to the NA LCS. But as a free agent, he has to represent a highly desirable import for the league. Since Longzhu is currently being run by KeSPA, it's hard to say exactly what might happen here. Having said all that, Khan is one of the of world's finest top laners, and any NA team would be lucky to have him.

2. Huni

LCK Summer Regular Season stats:

  • KDA: 1.5
  • Kill Participation: 55.7%
  • Average Gold Difference@10 mins: -203
  • Average Experience Difference@10 mins: -117

Seung "Huni" Hoon Heo did not have the greatest of Summer splits, but he has spent the entire year fitting into SKT's system and sharing time with Park "Untara" Ui-jin. Though he seemed happy to be back in Korea when we interviewed him earlier this year, he does have experience in both North America and Europe, which pushes him up the list a bit. With his contract coming up and Untara also waiting in the wings, it could be an interesting offseason for Huni.

3. Smeb

LCK Summer Regular Season stats:

  • KDA: 4.3
  • Kill Participation: 70.5%
  • Average Gold Difference@10 mins: 310
  • Average Experience Difference@10 mins: 180

KT Rolster's shocking 3-0 loss to Samsung Galaxy in the gauntlet doesn't take the shine off Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho's stellar regular season. There were rumors of Smeb joining a North American team in the past, and with his contract expiring, he could yet be an option once more. His summer regular season performance was among the best in the LCK, and he was 2016's back-to-back LCK MVP.

4. Ssumday

Summer NA LCS Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 3.8
  • Kill Participation: 69.6%
  • Average Gold Difference@10 mins: -60
  • Average Experience Difference@10 mins: -1

While those Summer stats may not be as incredible as some others on this list, consider that Dignitas went 11-7 in Summer, and that Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho was a big reason why. With instability elsewhere in the roster, Ssumday remained the rock in the top lane that consistently made this team a threat even when they maybe shouldn't have been. With Dignitas reportedly failing to secure a spot in the franchised NA LCS, Ssumday will likely be a hot commodity. Another boon for Ssumday's offseason prospects is that he's already spent a year in the NA region, and was part of the all-pro NA LCS first team.

5. Duke

LPL Summer Regular Season stats:

  • KDA: 3.4
  • Kill Participation: 60.3%

Duke is a former world champion, presiding over SKT's top lane during their last World Championship. Among SKT's varied rosters, Duke looked like their most consistent top laner. More recently, he found his success in 2017 most notably on tanks that could enable his team, despite drifting towards splitpushers that could generate pressure in the 2016 season. As well, he had a bit of a down year on Invictus Gaming, where he split time with TheShy and found himself out of favor. That could lead to a cheaper price tag on his transfer.

NA resident junglers

1. MikeYeung

Summer Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 3.2
  • Kill Participation: 74.8%
  • First Blood: 50%

If Phoenix1's summer split was an ashen mess, Mike Yeung's appearance was one smoldering ember of hope for the future. The jungler got off to an incredible start and earned Group Stage MVP at Rift Rivals before ultimately being named Rookie of the Split. Mike Yeung would be a tempting addition to a newly assembled roster but also to established teams looking to add some fresh blood in the jungle ā€” and likely find some first blood from the enemy as well.

2. Xmithie

Summer Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 3.4
  • Kill Participation: 66.7%
  • First Blood: 56%

When a team is undeniably changed for the better by the addition of one player, it's a player worth considering for your roster. And while Jake "Xmithie" Puchero may not be a flashy young rookie anymore, he's been an absolutely crucial part of Immortals' 2017 turnaround. Given that roster's success, it might not be surprising to see them try to stick together post-Immortals. If not, Xmithie is the kind of presence that many teams could use, including the shotcalling and experience that he brings.

3. Moon

Summer Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 2.3
  • Kill Participation: 66.9%
  • First Blood: 30%

If Galen "Moon" Holgate's stats from Summer don't appear incredible, it's partially because his team did not do especially well. In fact, Moon has been on several disappointing rosters including NRG Esports. He built some hype in the spring split with FlyQuest as that roster got off to a hot start, but his appearance on a new roster could really give him the chance he needs to show what he's made of.

4. Inori

Summer Regular Season Stats (P1, 7 Games):

  • KDA: 3.0
  • Kill Participation: 68.9%
  • First Blood: 14%

Rami "Inori" Charagh could easily find a home with any of North America's teams. 2017 was not kind to him, marred as it was by being subbed out for Meteos on P1 and then his eventual move to Team Liquid. With his contract expiring and Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett now under contract with Liquid, Inori is likely to be on the move again, and if he can find the stride he started with in Summer 2016, he's likely to turn some heads.

5. AnDa

Summer Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: N/A
  • Kill Participation: N/A
  • First Blood: N/A

Andy "AnDa" Hoang comes into the list as one of the most hyped prospects in recent memory. Previously a top laner, he shifted into the jungle to great success, amassing a high ranking and securing interest from professional teams as early as last offseason. He eventually made his way to Immortals as a mechanically adept substitute and learned from the pros. This culminated in him being the top Western player in Korean solo queue during the Worlds bootcamp. His signature will be highly sought after.

Import junglers

1. Ambition

LCK Summer Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 3.8
  • Kill Participation: 65.0%
  • First Blood: 35%

While Ambition could probably rest easy with his victory at Worlds 2017, it could be interesting to see him make the jump to North America, especially given that he brings experience that could be valuable to newly-assembled rosters. That said, Samsung will almost certainly be looking to hold onto the veteran player.

2. Score

LCK Summer Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 7.1
  • Kill Participation: 71.7%
  • First Blood: 53%

Go "Score" Dong-bin had an absolutely incredible season from a statistical standpoint, but it wasn't enough to get KT Rolster to Worlds. Still, he will be a highly-sought free agent and it would be surprising were he to somehow be persuaded to leave KT.

3. Blank

LCK Summer Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 4.1
  • Kill Participation: 69.3%
  • First Blood: 29%

Statistically superior in summer 2017 to fellow SK Telecom jungler Han "Peanut" Wang-ho, it would certainly be a shock if SKT let Kang "Blank" Sun-gu head to North America. With both junglers at the end of their contract, however, it will be interesting to see how SKT treat this offseason.

4. LirA

NA LCS Summer Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 3.6
  • Kill Participation: 72.3%
  • First Blood: 43%

Among all NA LCS junglers with more than 20 games in the 2017 summer split, the only one clearly statistically superior to Nam "LirA" Tae-yoo was likely Cloud9's Juan "Contractz" Garcia. The difference? Contractz was indisputably getting a lot more help from his teammates on C9, while LirA was nearly a one-man show at times on Team EnVyUs. LirA would count against a team's import restriction, but one big benefit is that he's already spent a year in NA and has shown his own personal ability on an uninspiring roster.

5. Peanut

LCK Summer Regular Season Stats:

  • KDA: 2.8
  • Kill Participation: 65.8%
  • First Blood: 29%

SKT's 2017 season ended without a championship and Han "Peanut" Wang-ho's performance throughout was inconsistent. With the ROX Tigers in 2016, he showed that he is capable of very strong play, though, and it's very possible that 2017 was simply an indication of his attempts to fit into the SK Telecom T1 system. It feels very unlikely that he'd head to NA, but given his 2016 performances, it would be strange if no teams offered.

Watch theScore esports for our look at mid, ADC and support, coming later this week.

With files from Gabriel Zoltan-Johan.

Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.