With IEM San Jose just around the corner and two of North America's most popular teams set to debut their new rosters, there are plenty of questions to be answered.
From why HuHi's communication might help Counter Logic Gaming to whether or not the kaSing effect will hit Team SoloMid, IEM San Jose will be give us a glimpse to the future of North America's top teams.
So without further ado, here are five questions for NA:
1) Is HuHi the right fit for Counter Logic Gaming?
In one of the offseason's first moves, Counter Logic Gaming announced the decision to move substitute mid laner Jae-hyun “HuHi” Choi to the starting role in favor of Eugene “Pobelter” Park. While many fans have questioned the decision, there is a certain logic to be had with the choice. Whether or not it was the right one, only time will tell.
On paper, HuHi is both less experienced and less skilled than Pobelter, and the last time he played a competitive match was as a member of Team Fusion back in May 2015. However, one of the large reasons that tipped the scales into his favor is that HuHi is a much more vocal player than Pobelter, which should help the team in terms of leadership. With the game more team focused than ever, a mid laner with high communication skills could be invaluable to move CLG forward and mesh with current captain Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black.
HuHi has been living and playing with the team for some time, even scrimming with them when it looked like he might have to take over in the jungle, which means that the integration should theoretically be smooth. Whether or not his mechanics are able to compare on the international stage is still in doubt, but as a team player, CLG has put their faith in HuHi.
2) Will Svenskeren solve Team SoloMid’s early game woes?
It’s no secret that Team SoloMid struggled with generating early game advantages throughout the course of 2015. Too often did they sit back and rely on Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg to carry the late game, conceding objectives and hemorrhaging gold while unable to make proactive decisions.
The addition of European import Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, in theory, should be a significant step in repairing this flaw while giving Bjergsen and Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng the space required to carry the game. Svenskeren is not only recognized for his effective aggression and counter-jungler tendencies, but was often charged with the task of running SK Gaming’s early game.
In many respects, Svenskeren’s prospective role on TSM and his obligation on spring split SK Gaming are similar: apply pressure on the map and force a reaction which will give his AD Carry the freedom to push up, dominate the lane, take early towers and accelerate towards the late game.
Thankfully, Svenskeren will have the highly touted Raymond “kaSing” Tsang to support his efforts and assist with deep warding and ganks, alleviating some of the responsibility which would have otherwise fell heavily on the shoulders of the veteran jungler. If the pair of them can find a strong connection and successfully continue Svenskeren’s history of early game dominance, the new Team SoloMid roster will already be a step ahead of their former counterpart.
3) Can Counter Logic Gaming change its identity without Doublelift?
For the better part of the past four years, Counter Logic Gaming has been defined by its star AD Carry, Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. For better or worse, the course of CLG’s LCS history has been tied up with the play of its controversial marksman. There’s a reason after all that CLG’s core playstyle was often referred to as “Protect the Doublelift.” But now, with the Doublelift era over and the position at this time left vacant, Counter Logic Gaming may yet face a mild identity crisis.
Rookie Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes is speculated to take over the AD Carry role, and if the rumors are true then the young player has gigantic shoes to fill. Only Johnny “Altec” Ru could rival Doublelift in terms of damage dealt for his team this past split, something which is not so easily replaced.
Thankfully, CLG already has the pieces in place to shift their mindset and forge a new path beyond Doublelift. Darshan “Zionspartan” Upadhyaha has demonstrated his ability to play a carry role if called upon, complimenting his versatile champion pool with high damage threats such as Yasuo. Furthermore, Jae-hyun “HuHi” Choi is another player who, in the past, has shown a fondness for assassins and could yet revive the carry potential he held on Team Fusion earlier this year.
That’s certainly a lot of ifs, especially with a true rookie and a former substitute making their Counter Logic Gaming debuts in front of the expectant eyes of fans. If nothing else, CLG should take IEM as a trial by fire for their new players with their expectations set not on the title, but on the 2016 season.
4) Does kaSing earn a full-time spot on Team SoloMid?
When Raymond “kaSing” Tsang first joined H2K-Gaming early on in the EU LCS spring split, many questioned the decision. At the time, kaSing was still an unproven talent, notable for his time on the Supa Hot Crew but otherwise with no significant achievements on his resume. However, his arrival back into the EU LCS sparked a change within the former Challenger team that propelled them to top tier status - kaSing’s champion pool, instant synergy with AD Carry Petter “Hjarnan” Freyschuss, and ability to smooth out the team’s communication proved invaluable, and he was lauded for his role in H2K’s rise.
Now recognized as a true star, his next trial comes as part of Team SoloMid’s rebuild. Currently announced on a trial basis for IEM, his performance will dictate whether or not TSM move forward with the talented support.
kaSing’s arrival on Team SoloMid will be much like his arrival onto H2K: he will likely be charged with taking over or assisting with the team’s comms, which have been most recently helmed by Bjergsen. He will also have to contend with the large personality of Doublelift, and deal with the shift in style from Hjarnan’s support/janitor duty AD Carry to Doublelift’s raw mechanical skill.
In short, kaSing has two monumental tasks in front of him and the eyes of one of North America’s most passionate fanbases trained on his every move. If the kaSing Effect holds true, his presence as a facilitator and enabler for the other players on TSM should be the perfect fit for the gold and kill hungry Bjergsen and Doublelift. Furthermore, his role as initiator and peeling machine for his carries will be highly dependent on his synergy with top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell, who will likely play a tank/bruiser role.
Basically, kaSing’s future on TSM is highly dependent on finding the right blend of stamping his own authority on the large egos of TSM’s carries and meshing with the role players such as Hauntzer. It’s a fine line to walk, especially with TSM’s fanbase breathing down his neck.
5) Can NA deal with the uncertainty?
In this sense, every single team participating at IEM San Jose has unanswered questions which surround them.
As discussed, Both CLG and TSM are dealing with roster changes, the pressures of expectation and reasonably short time to prepare compared to their semifinals opponents.
There’s no doubt that Team SoloMid has the harder road, which begins with an LGD Gaming hungry for redemption after their World Championship debacle. For LGD, IEM is their last chance to save face before the end of the year, and by all reports the team is prepared and determined to put their past errors behind them. The question becomes, which LGD will show up: the Chinese champions, or the floundering Worlds attendees?
The next step would be against Origen who are largely unchanged. In this case, the uncertainty stems from the fact that Tristan "PowerofEvil" Schrage will be taking up duties in the mid lane. While they have arguably upgraded in the mid lane in terms of skill, PowerofEvil’s addition to the team may signal a paradigm shift from an AD Carry focus to a mid-lane focus.
CLG’s first opponent, the Unicorns of Love, have themselves just completed a significant roster rebuild, and are certainly not coming out of nowhere as they famously did last year. The loss of PowerofEvil hurts, but the replacements of Hampus “Fox” Myhre and Pierre “Steeelback” Madjaldi bring some solid mechanical skill to compensate. With only a few weeks to prepare, UoL are the biggest wildcards at San Jose.
Finally, the Jin Air Green Wings come into the event hungry to prove themselves, especially in the light of Lee "GBM" Chang-seok’s departure. Their play at the KeSPA Cup was less than stellar, and the question arises who can carry the team without GBM. The most obvious answer is rookie top laner Kim “SoHwan” Jun-yeong, who is poised to become a must-watch rising talent, and could use this tournament as an international showcase for his abilities.
All told, North America’s success or failure at IEM San Jose is highly uncertain. All six teams participating have significant questions surrounding them, which will make the event interesting, if nothing else.
On Saturday, we find out for sure if the new look CLG and TSM are ready for the big stage.
Nic Doucet is a News Editor for theScore eSports. You can follow him on Twitter.