In under a week, the NA LCS returns, looking to be one of the most competitive splits in the region's history. The advent of venture capital and NBA money flowing into the North American scene has created a monster; teams have searched and scouted for some of the biggest talent across the globe in every role to create some truly stacked rosters.
But where the sheer talent of imports has risen across the board on previously middle-table teams, we've also seen very modest moves (or none at all) from some of the NA LCS veterans. As such, the value of consistency becomes a bit more important going into the opening weeks; when most teams overhaul on average three roles, it's not out of the realm of possibility that these new-look squads will need time to find the synergy that's so important to competitive League of Legends.
With that said (and in keeping with the need for hasty power rankings), here’s how B/R thinks the NA LCS Spring Split will end up in April.
A Relegation Battle in the Distance...
Where the rest of the LCS looks close in terms of potential playoff races, the bottom end of the league is fairly easy to predict. EnVyUs, Echo Fox and FlyQuest (formerly C9 Challenger) will more than likely find themselves battling it out in the relegation zone.
Across the board, their talents are individually known quantities at this point. And if any team’s skill ceiling is easiest to predict, it’d be FlyQuest.
We find FlyQuest with three-fifths of the original Cloud9 lineup—one of the best rosters Western League of Legends has ever seen. That was three years ago, though, and the boys formerly in blue aren’t the same in a region and game that has significantly changed since they last dominated. Hai (easily one of the two best shot-callers NA has ever had) could carry FlyQuest to wins throughout the season with his macro knowledge. But even when he was stomping the NA LCS in his prime, he was doing so at the cost of sacrificing his lane, which you can only imagine might be worse with the likes of Bjergsen, Jensen, Ryu and Pobelter around.
That said, FlyQuest isn’t totally out of their depth when compared to EnVyUs and Echo Fox. Balls and Moon face teams stacked with some of the most talented jungle and top lane talent in the world, and Altec and LemonNation will experience similar challenges in the bot lane. But even still, FlyQuest seem better prepared as a unit to outrun the relegation monster facing their peers.
The addition of Looper to Echo Fox should help Froggen in some of the team’s now-signature insane games, but with only the Danish mid legend and Keith remaining for the same lineup, Rick Fox’s guys are essentially back at square one.
EnVyUs has been able to retain a larger core in Seraph, Ninja and Hahuko, but—in truth—it doesn’t garner the same sort of respect due to the more apparent dip in quality relative to other NA LCS squads.
9. Echo Fox
A Close Battle for Playoffs
It’s when we consider playoff contenders that the rankings get interesting with low margins separating each of the remaining seven. Every team in contention for the spot either stands there on the established merit of their rosters or off the back of huge changes to their teams.
That’s why Counter Logic Gaming and Team Liquid are a bit of a mystery.
As the only team that didn’t undergo a single roster change, CLG is the only outright known quantity heading into the NA LCS. While that may be a strength in some regard (as the veteran org can go straight into the Spring Split without any issues), the same problems the team faced are still valid concerns.
Namely, the Huhi problem still remains; in a much stronger NA LCS with a new 10-ban draft system, it’s probably even exacerbated. There’s just no way around the fact that Huhi is likely out of his depth when compared to the elite midlaners running around North America, and CLG (purely on a skill level) just doesn’t seem to have enough to make a huge impact in the league now.
Team Liquid finds themselves here for similar reasons: their decision to stick with known quantities that never actually stood out entering a meta that—at some level—rewards individual skill. Lourlo and Goldenglue seem to be the biggest question marks; we’ve seen what both can do in the LCS, the Challenger Series and (even most recently) internationally at IEM Gyeonggi.
That’s not to say room for improvement doesn’t exist; with the best jungler in Western League of Legends in Reignover, it’s certainly possible. Team Liquid even has an out in the mid lane with Link set to share games with Goldenglue. But as much as much as CLG’s problems in Huhi present clear challenges going into the split, Team Liquid is shrouded with a lot more questions—not only if the team can work together, but if the level of skill is there to compete in this NA LCS.
7. Team Liquid
The New-Look Brawl for Top 4
Among the teams remaining, Immortals, Phoenix1 and Dignitas have seen the largest roster overhauls in the NA LCS, and they make it this far on the sheer impact of individual talent among them. As much as the revamps have added a whole breadth of talent, that talent still has to go through the growing pains every team must face.
This is where the distinction becomes clearest—how far their sheer talent will carry them until they begin to gel as a team. As such, Immortals likely finds itself just outside of the top four due in part to its completely fresh bot lane duo. While Cody Sun and Olleh may possess a high skill ceiling, the fact of the matter is they are one of the bot lane duos with the least amount of experience between them.
It’s a tall order for the duo to come out strong in the NA LCS, one that Dignitas’ bot lane in veterans LOD and Xpecial should be better equipped to handle surrounded by elite talent in Chaser and Ssumday (arguably the best top laner going into the split).
In considering Phoenix1, retaining its top-jungle core in zig and Inori, while adding Ryu—a veteran midlaner who has both performed at the highest tiers of competitive play and in Western environments—seems to provide a much more strong foundation going into the Spring Split, which should see them barely squeak by Dignitas and Immortals.
Yes, Phoenix1’s bot lane is equally fresh as Immortals’ duo, but the combined knowledge of Arrow and Adrian far outweighs their lacking experience as a partnership (not to mention their known individual skill pushing them above LOD and Xpecial). Yes, Ssumday-Chaser and Flame-Dardoch represent some of the most talented top-jungle duos in the league, but they’ll still have to refine that partnership over the course of the split while adapting to the Western environment like every import before them—a luxury Phoenix1 will dodge.
In the end, Phoenix1’s road in the Spring Split looks the clearest, with the fewest kinks to work out. Whether that makes them the more threatening playoff prospect remains to be seen; by that time, Immortals and Dignitas should be operating at a much higher level—potentially realizing their immense talent.
The Veterans Atop the Summit
Call it a boring prediction, but in a league where teams will be tasked with finding cohesion and identity, stalwart organizations Team SoloMid and Cloud9 will be relatively ready right out of the gates.
Sure, their rosters are different going into the Split Split. TSM will see the return of former AD carry WildTurtle joining their dominant Summer Split side while Doublelift takes a break from competitive league. Cloud9 have looked to rookie jungler (and odds-favorite rising star) Contractz over Meteos.
Though, the extent to which that will negatively impact their final NA standings is less than that of the rest of the league because both teams have their Worlds-caliber cores intact.
On paper, a Doublelift-less TSM may be weaker, but Bjergsen, Hauntzer and Svenskeren will undoubtedly be one of the top solo lane-jungler trios in the NA LCS.
Contractz doesn’t have the stage experience, but to think a team with the breadth of competitive experience in Jensen, Sneaky and Impact would drop significantly in NA just because there’s more talent in the region is a bit of a leap.
The true meat of the prediction lies in what team comes out on top. When you go there, you have to favor Cloud9 edging out TSM as the absence of Doublelift will be most felt. With TSM losing one of their main shot-callers, the duty falls once again on Bjergsen’s shoulders, which has been too much of a load for the midlaner to take all at once. Biofrost, Svenskeren and Hauntzer (maybe even WildTurtle) could step and fill the gap, but it’s more of a doubt than Contractz replacing a previously less crucial player to Cloud9's success in a working, supportive Cloud9 system.
2. Team SoloMid