By Tanner Kinney
Another year means another season of the North American League Championship Series (NA LCS) is upon us. A number of huge changes were made since the last summer split, but I’m only going to talk about the most important ones here: franchising and format shifts. The NA LCS was completely redone to include security for teams. Previously, the worst teams would have to compete against challenger teams to keep their spot in the championship series, but now teams simply had to buy into the LCS for a spot in the new franchising system. While fan favorites such as Immortals and Dignitas went down, new blood enters the split with some teams bringing in fanbases of their own. OpTic, a popular organization within the Call of Duty competitive scene, is launching a team in the NA LCS. Several other teams funded by NBA organizations also have bought spots in the LCS. It’ll be interesting to see how these more “professional” organizations compete against the old guard of TSM, CLG, C9, and TL.
The format has also shifted from best of three series to a now best of one — meaning surprise strats and the random upswings and downswings of normally successful teams are back on the menu. Formerly, when the NA LCS was a best of one format, you’d have teams like Complexity or Team 8 who only served to play spoiler to the teams at the top of the table — dubbed “blue shell” teams by the community. Will they return this split? No idea, but it’ll be exciting to see.
The predictions I make here are purely speculative. At the time of writing no team has played yet, aside from a couple players from OpTic subbing in for their academy team counterparts. The rankings are based on perceived power, synergy, potential to overachieve, and potential to self-destruct horribly. Things are likely to change as the split goes on and we start seeing results, but as of now, here are my power rankings.
1. Team Solomid #TSMWIN
TSM made a lot of changes during the offseason, keeping only two players from their previous World Championship team. But are these changes for the best? Absolutely. TSM kept their two hugely successful solo lane carries in Bjergsen and Hauntzer, while picking up Zven and Mithy, who were widely considered one of, if not the best bot lane players in Europe. By sheer star power, these four alone make the team a force to be reckoned with, and should be able to communicate fairly well as a unit. The only questionable part is jungler MikeYeung, who impressed during Rift Rivals on Phoenix1, but couldn’t make waves during the rest of the season. To be fair, Phoenix1 was not a very good team and had many issues that beyond MikeYeung’s control. An aggressive, shot-calling jungler like MikeYeung could be TSM’s ticket to success. Then again, previous TSM junglers had been aggressive shot-callers before joining the team and essentially losing their teeth. They are still likely the strongest team with the least chance of completely tanking.
2. Counter Logic Gaming #CLGWIN
I’ll admit to a little bit of bias here; I was a CLG fan during previous seasons because I enjoy being horribly disappointed. I have my reasons, however, for placing them so high in my ranking. CLG has the team most likely to gel instantly. With no perceived communication issues; existing synergy between the three returning members of the roster (Huhi, Darshan, and Stixxay); two replacements who at least break-even in terms of what is being gained; Reignover serving as an easy upgrade to OmarGod; and Biofrost as a much stronger mechanical support than Aphromoo had been, CLG is promising this season. The potential problems with CLG lie in strength of shotcalling and Reignover. Losing Aphromoo meant CLG lost their strongest shotcalling voice for Biofrost — who was reportedly kicked for not communicating well with TSM. Reignover was also incredibly inconsistent towards the end of his run on Team Liquid during summer split 2017, being a non-factor in many games. At the very least, CLG should be stable enough to not hit the bottom of the table — unlike the next team.
3. Team Liquid #TLWIN
On paper, Team Liquid has one of the best rosters of any team in the LCS right now. Their team has been completely overhauled by adding Impact from C9; Xmithe, Pobelter, and Olleh from Immortals; and the legend himself, Doublelift from TSM. This roster is incredibly stacked with existing synergy outside the top lane and three players who recently competed together on Immortals and Doublelift and have played with Xmithe and Pobelter in the past. On top of that, every player (apart from maybe Impact) is in the top 5 in their role at the lowest within the NA LCS. That’s all well and good, but there’s one huge problem with this team: Team Liquid itself. Team Liquid has somehow managed to squander any potential their teams have had since 2016 and has ended both of the last two splits at the bottom of the table before trying to use money to patch the holes in their terrible teams. Liquid owner Steve Arhancet has spent all the money in the world to get this stacked roster and, while it could possibly even be better than TSM, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another TL roster barely breaking the top 5.
4. Cloud 9 #C9WIN
Second only to TSM in terms of current fanbase in the NA LCS, Cloud 9 made some roster shifts that unfortunately lower the team’s overall potential. The previous Cloud 9 roster made it to quarterfinals at worlds, but thanks to TL’s massive checking account, lost their rock in Impact. Losing Impact and getting Licorice, while not a terrible swap, is a complete downgrade. Picking up former TSM Svenskeren for jungle may also be seen as a downgrade, but Sven has shown himself to be a strong player when given the proper tools to play the game. On top of that, C9 kept their main powerhouse players in Jensen, Sneaky, and Smoothie, so they still have a lot of potential to climb high in the standings. With the top lane as stacked as it is this season it might be hard for Licorice to make much of an difference in the game. It’ll depend on the bottom half of the map for C9 to win games, which they definitely can. There just will be more pressure on Jensen and Sneaky to perform at and beyond their normal levels. And if Jensen doesn’t perform, all they need to do is bring in the ultimate NA talent GoldenGlue. Raise your VaultBoys.
5. Echo Fox #FOXWIN
Here’s a team that’s probably surprising to see this high up. I put Echo Fox in the middle of the table, but they could easily swap with the next two teams beneath them. Echo Fox is a fantastic organization that spent the past two splits plagued by some truly awful players. Even with better players in 2017, the constant roster swaps when things started going poorly made Echo Fox look like a complete joke. Thanks to that delicious NBA money, Echo Fox has finally picked up a roster that has probably the most volatility of any team currently in the LCS. Former SKT Huni in the top lane is a monster, Dardoch and Fenix have had games were they popped off, and the former Dignitas botlane of Altec and Adrian was absolutely rock solid, if a bit underwhelming. If Huni, Dardoch, and Fenix are firing on all cylinders and have completely amazing performances, Echo Fox could easily compete with teams like TSM. Huni and Dardoch, however, aren’t really known for being consistent. Huni can be a complete terror in the top lane or play dumb things like Lucian top into Maokai. Dardoch can be a presence around the entire map or tilt and flame his teammates who are former world champions. It’s a tough call, but I’d like to believe Echo Fox can finally break the top five this season.
6. 100 Thieves #100WIN
The cool new kids on the block who’ve developed probably the strongest fanbase of the new teams, it seems 100 Thieves focused on building a brand first before building a good team. Not a bad idea, of course, and the players have had good performances in the past, but there’s not much in the way of synergy. In addition, mechanically, it could be argued a couple of these players are washed up and might just quit halfway through the season. Both the jungler Meteos and midlaner Ryu of Phoenix1 had issues with burnout during the last season, and support Aphromoo has been noted to make a lot of really questionable plays in lane despite good shotcalling. Top laner Ssumday of Dignitas and AD Carry Cody Sun are good players, but will they be strong enough to carry if the rest of the team slumps? I’m not convinced. Still, it’s not a terrible roster, and they could easily break the top five. I don’t think they’ll be able to compete with TSM or Team Liquid, but definitely can style on some of the weaker teams.
7. Clutch Gaming #CGWIN
While Clutch City Gaming (now just Clutch Gaming, apparently) came into the LCS with one of the best worst names of the new teams, their roster is just looking like it’ll struggle to break the top five. While players like Lira (formerly of EnVy) and Febiven (formerly of H2K Gaming) are both superstars in their own right and the bot lane of Apollo and Hakuho (also formerly of EnVy) are fairly solid, this team simply seems like a slightly better version of EnVy. EnVy wasn’t terrible, of course, but still stayed towards the bottom of the table during their time in the LCS. Synergy and communication were always a struggle for EnVy and, while getting rid of some problematic players like Seraph helps, it’s still a problem. The biggest question mark for me, however, is on toplaner Solo, who has never looked very impressive on any team he’s been on. If the team performs like EnVy did, but slightly better, they could place somewhat higher, but I doubt they have the ability to break the top of the table.
8. FlyQuest #FLYWIN
FlyQuest is a team famous for doing really well, then doing really poorly, then doing really well again. The former FlyQuest team had three washed up members of the golden age of C9 trying to regain former glory, but they couldn’t cut it mechanically. Fortunately, FlyQuest has made some changes. Unfortunately, I’m not sure these changes are going to help them all that much. FlyQuest lost the leadership of Hai who, despite being a lackluster midlaner in terms of mechanical skill, could shotcall and make ambitious plays like no one else in the league. Players like Flame and Fly are good of course, but there isn’t too much in the way of synergy for this team. The bot lane of WildTurtle and Stunt in particular seems very lackluster. We’ll have to see how they perform to really judge how their synergy is really going to play out, but as of right now, I doubt FlyQuest will be able to make it very high unless Flame pulls off a miracle.
9. Golden Guardians #GGSWIN
That delicious NBA money did not save the Golden Guardians from picking up a roster that looks like it was taped together last minute. Players with no real synergy in Contractz (formerly of C9) Lourlo and Matt (both formerly of Team Liquid) and Deftly, who was pulled straight from the challenger series, don’t seem like they can bring star power or good team play. At the very least, GGS has the benefit of the shotcalling legend Hai in the midlane. Hai can micromanage even the worst teams into pulling off some cheesy wins, but it won’t be enough to climb the standings once teams get used to their shenanigans. The only positive thing I can say about the Golden Guardians roster is that they probably aren’t going to be the worst. That spot belongs to, of course:
10. OpTic Gaming #OPTWIN #GREENWALL
Oh, poor, poor OpTic. The ultimate meme team coming from Call of Duty, I had hopes you would pick up a good roster so I could torture my friends by screaming #GREENWALL. If anyone lost the off-season in terms of getting a team together, it was OpTic. Every other team has at least one player who could pull off a miracle and drag their team across the finish line. FlyQuest has Flame, Golden Guardians have Hai’s shotcalling, Clutch Gaming has Lira, all of them can single-handedly win games. OpTic’s best and most consistent player is PowerOf€vil, who only left Europe and joined OpTic for that sweet, delicious North American dollar. I’d like to believe he won’t just cash his paycheck and phone it in, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Surrounding Po€ is Zig, a top laner who failed to make really hard-carry games on Phoenix1; Akaadian, who both carried and tanked Echo Fox depending on whether the week was even or odd before being benched for Grig, unbenched, then benched again; Arrow, who was wildly inconsistent on Phoenix1 and rarely wins lanes against better AD carries; and old man LemonNation, who is admired for his ability to draft good team comps, but is easily the worst support (mechanically speaking) in the entirety of the LCS. So, OpTic has a horribly weak botlane, an inconsistent jungler, a toplaner who only found success on Rumble and Kled, and a mid laner playing for the money and not for the glory. I may be repping that OpTic flair in my solo queue games, but I’m almost certain this team isn’t going to get anywhere near the top, let alone above 9th place.
Once the season starts, we can talk upsets, surprises, chokes, and amazing hail mary plays, but for now we only have predictions. If you have your own prediction and they don’t line up with mine, just remember that the only thing really on the line here is my reputation. If OpTic somehow ends up in the top five past the middle of the season, I’ll exclusively play Kindred for the rest of the season. That should make up for the dishonor I’ll have put on my name.
Images: YouTube, The Score Esports