As I've previously touched on, North America is undergoing a massive change, and the 2016 NA LCS season is primed to be the most competitive in history. Only a few days into the official offseason, three teams have separated themselves from the pack in terms of buzz around their new rosters.
Team SoloMid, the only franchise to make it to every single World Championship, feature a new roster built around their European ace Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg. Along with their Danish star, TSM also picked up one of their longtime arch-nemesis that beat them in the 2015 NA LCS summer finals in New York City, Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng as well as three other new starting players.
Their constant rival throughout the past two years in North America, Cloud9, added two new players to their roster in the form of Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae, formerly of Team Impulse, and Michael "Bunny FuFuu" Kurylo as their substitute support. At the forefront of their team is their American captain and shot caller, Hai "Hai" Lam, who will be moving from the jungle to his new role as the squad's starting support.
The final team of the three is one of the new organizations that will be making their debut this spring, the heavily Korean-influenced NRG. As TSM is built around Bjergsen and C9 is run by Hai, NRG was constructed around their Titan in the top lane, Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, who has been in the professional scene since 2012 and has even won a world championship on SK Telecom T1 in 2013. He is joined by fellow former Champions Korea player Lee "GBM" Chang-seok in the mid lane and trilingual Korean-born support Kevin "KonKwon" Kwon in the bottom lane.
One built around a European superstar mid laner.
One built around a legendary American shot caller and captain.
One built around an experienced Korean with world championship experience.
Who you got?
The European Union: Team SoloMid
- Top: Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell
- Jungle: Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen
- Mid: Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg
- AD Carry: Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng
- Support: Raymond "kaSing" Ka-Sing Tsang
TSM knew they had to make drastic moves to change their disappointing results, and that's exactly what happened with their new roster. Gone is the old TSM as we're now left with a squad built around Bjergsen in the mid lane. After going through an entire year without a consistent secondary carry to help him alleviate the pressure of winning games from his individual strength, Bjergsen has been gifted two offensive carries that allow him to breathe easier this spring: his former rival Doublelift at the AD Carry position and fellow Dane Svenskeren at jungler.
The new TSM will see their first action this weekend at IEM San Jose, playing against China's LGD Gaming in the first round of the tournament. The two teams are no strangers to each other, as LGD put the former SoloMid squad to rest by defeating them in their last game of the World Championship Group Stage. While LGD will be fielding the same players that they used at Worlds and the summer season of the LPL, TSM will be bringing more of a European flavor this time around, as Svenskeren and kaSing transferred over from SK Gaming and H2k Gaming respectively to join the NA squad.
TSM's biggest issue last year was their inability to do anything in the first 30 minutes of a game. When it came to watching TSM, you could read their games like a script: the start of the game would be a snail's pace, and it would eventually end up in a late-game situation where TSM would either win or lose off of how Bjergsen was raised through the mid-game. If Bjergsen had his necessary items by the 35 minute mark, TSM usually won. When teams were able to neutralize and shutdown Bjergsen, it generally ended in a defeat for the former North American champions.
With that being said, TSM's moves this offseason should fix their stagnant pressure at the start of the games. Svenskeren, as long as he continues to be the Svenskeren we've seen throughout the years, will bring a new edge that TSM have been sorely lacking in terms of offensive pressure. In Svenskeren, Bjergsen has a jungler that he can trust to not only attack early and often across the map, but who can also carry games with champions like Lee Sin if given the opportunity. Add Doublelift in the bottom lane with the ability to carry games and Hauntzer as a flexible weapon up top, and TSM have multiple weapons across the rift that they can deploy instead of pushing everything to their star player.
The Freedom Fighters: Cloud9
- Top: An "BalIs" Van Le
- Jungle: Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae
- Mid: Nicolaj "Incarnati0n" Jensen
- AD Carry: Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi
- Support: Hai "Hai" Lam, Michael "Bunny FuFuu" Kurylo
Wherever Cloud9 goes, Captain America Hai is there to lead. Regardless if it's in the mid lane, jungle, or now the support role, it feels like no matter what hole there is on C9, Hai will find a way to fill the void. Considered the best shot caller in North American history, Hai returned to C9's lineup in the middle of the summer season after a short retirement to turn a sinking ship into a World Championship competitor. Although C9 fell in the group stages of the tournament, even after getting out to an early 3-0 start, there was little to complain about if you are a fan of C9. Incarnati0n blossomed into a legitimate pillar in the mid lane, and Sneaky teamed up with the Danish mid to create a carry combination that just barely missed out of the Top 8.
Coming off of their Cinderella run at Worlds, Cloud9 have switched up their lineup a bit in the offseason. Hai, on his quest to play every position in the game (including ones not even created yet), has moved to the support role, hoping to move his shot calling talents and leadership to the bottom lane with his longtime teammate, Sneaky. With Hai moving to a new position, Cloud9 could bring in last season's MVP, Rush, into the fold. The addition of Rush will allow Cloud9 transition Balls into a more supportive role in the top lane while also giving their often criticized top laner a jungler that can get him an early advantage if need be with well-timed ganks and jungle pressure.
The other new player signed for Cloud9 is Bunny, the playmaking support that formerly played on Gravity. He will slide into the sixth man role for at least the beginning of the split. In the summer, Hai proved that he could play a new position and do well in the role, but Bunny gives Cloud9 the opportunity to easily relieve their captain from his duties if he can't keep up or adapt to his new position. With Bunny being an up-and-coming star in his own right, Hai could also help him transition into the starting role by helping him acclimate to a championship contending team like he did with Incarnati0n when he returned to the starting lineup in the middle of summer. Be it Hai or Bunny as C9's starting support, the team appears ready to try and reclaim the NA LCS title they've been kept away from the past two seasons.
Balls, Hai, Sneaky, and Bunny are all Americans. Rush, a Korean, decided to not to begin his professional career in Korea and started it in North America last year. The same can be said for Incarnati0n, the highly touted European rookie, who decided to choose Cloud9 over any European team following his reinstatement from a lengthy suspension.
All six of Cloud9's players began their pro-gaming dreams in the United States. By the end of spring, they are hoping they're once again the kings of their land.
The Korean Kingdom: NRG
- Top: Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong
- Jungle: Galen “Moon” Holgate
- Mid: Lee “GBM” Chang-seok
- AD Carry: Johnny “Altec” Ru
- Support: Kevin “KonKwon” Kwon
The only team of the threesome that will have possible communication issues (Rush can communicate well in English), NRG have gone against the grain of North America's other rebuilding teams. Last year there were various teams like Winterfox, Gravity, and Impact's own Team Impulse that attempted to create hybrid NA/Korean teams to win NA, but they all failed. On how their team would succeed where other Korean hybrid teams would fail, their co-owner Gerard Kelly told theScore eSports that he doesn't "think it's about Koreans or Americans. We wanted specific qualities in players. There might be a communication gap, but I don’t think its going to be a hurdle that we won't be able to run over."
And while a team built with solid communication was shown this year to be the best way to win at the international level, Gerard still might be right. Impact and his Impulse team did fail to make it to the World Championships, but you can't really fault either Impact or his former Korean teammate Rush for that loss. Impulse would have more than likely made it to Worlds and had a chance to do well on the world stage if not for their starting mid lane, XiaoWeiXiao, getting suspended right before the regular season ended due to ELO boosting. That forced TiP to use Gate, an inexperienced Challenger player, to play in a heated playoff race.
GBM and Impact might have issues meshing with Altec and Moon, at least for the early stages of the team, but the signing of KonKwon as their starting support should help ease the fusion between the western and eastern teammates. Born in Korea and then moving to America as a child, NRG's support is able to speak fluently in both English and Korean which gives him the valuable opportunity to step up and become one of the team's leaders as a rookie. If KonKwon can show himself to be one of NA's better supports after an impressive showcase in the minor leagues, NRG could have the strongest team in the league with Impact, GBM, and Altec all capable of carrying games through their mechanical skill.
"I really liked [Impact] when I first met him. He has accomplished so much and still remains very grounded. He was the person I wanted to build my roster around," Gerard told theScore eSports on why he added the former world champion to his roster.
A jack of all trades and a selfless player in the top lane, Impact brings the right mixture of experience and talent needed to lead a team to a title. There are still a lot of questions swirling around NRG — the communication, how well Moon and KonKwon will do as rookies, and their overall synergy as a new five-man unit — yet it's difficult to write them off with how much potential firepower their roster currently possesses.
Korean-led teams have won the past three World Championships. NRG hope that their world champion can lead them to international stage next autumn.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.