In 2016, the big kids came to play in esports. Broadcasters like ESPN and Turner Sports brought esports to television, while celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal and Rick Fox built teams to varied results.
Venture capital also entered esports in a big way. New owners and investors made major signings, while established brands fought back with experience and better awareness of the scene. With that money came big-time shakeups, as popular personalities and world champions alike found new homes this year.
While some roster moves worked out better than others, several less successful changes caused major shifts in their respective esports titles. Below, we’re ranking the biggest roster changes of 2016. We consider each move based on public reaction, the players involved, and long-term impact to determine which moves stood above the rest.
Echo Fox signs Mew2King
While Rick Fox’s Echo Fox organization attracted talented players in several titles, it was the acquisition of Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman that’s found the most competitive success.
Mew2King entered 2016 ranked No. 5 in Melee It On Me’s SSBM Ranking. He’s a threat in every tournament, and his value cannot be overstated when you consider the placement gap between the top six and the rest of the top fifteen. After he joined Echo Fox, Mew2King entered 19 tournaments, won seven, and finished in the top 5 in all but one. Mew2King also had strong showings in Smash 4, as he defeated top players like Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios and placed among the elites in singles and doubles of several big tournaments.
Beyond his play, Mew2King’s goofy personality lends itself to great marketing, like Echo Fox’s “Ask Mew2King” series, which is a hit within the Smash community. As a hard-working competitor in multiple titles and with a massive brand, Mew2King couldn’t have been a better pick-up for Echo Fox.
Zven & mithy leave Origen for G2
G2’s acquisition of Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez will go down as the most surprising changes of 2016. The biggest moves in League of Legends take place when most players’ contracts end in November, so seeing an internationally successful duo jump to the European champs caught many fans by surprise.
During the 2016 Mid Season Invitational, G2 Esports drew fire for not taking the event seriously. To outsiders, it seemed like G2 opted to take a vacation instead of competing seriously against the world’s best. Their weak showing even cost Europe a coveted first seed at Worlds.
The resulting move saw Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen and Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez leave the organization they helped promote to the LCS. While G2 won the Spring Split, Kim “Emperor” Jin-hyun and Glenn “Hybrid” Doornenbal were seen as the weakest links.
This move devastated Origen’s roster, who battled relegations at the end of the Summer Split. G2 failed to escape groups at Worlds, but they had better domestic success, and their bot lane was a large part of that. It’s no doubt the Zven and Mithy were an upgrade, but some considered the move a betrayal to G2’s former-bot lane.
SK Gaming acquires Luminosity’s Brazilian roster
After months of inconsistent statements, contract disputes, and heated public discourse, SK Gaming and Luminosity Gaming finally agreed to terms to send its top-ranked Counter-Strike roster to SK Gaming.
The public first received wind of the dispute when ESPN reported Luminosity had accused SK of poaching its players. The move took place over several months, with the players flip-flopping in their public responses. Brazilian captain Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo told ESPN, “SK was pushing us to sign a contract with them when we were not comfortable with the whole situation.”
The teams eventually settled the dispute, but the debacle cost SK its playoff spot in ELEAGUE, despite being a favorite to win it all. At ESL One Colgone, SK demonstrated its strength with a clean 2-0 victory in the finals against Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostylev and Team Liquid. From there, the Brazilians underperformed and haven’t won a LAN since. This prompted the recent departure of Lincoln “fnx” Lau. That said, the media firestorm surrounding this transfer made it one of the most publicized move of 2016.
KT signs top free-agents and re-signs Score
Although they haven’t played a game together, KT Rolster likely won the 2016 League offseason.
Several former-ROX Tigers players topped this year’s free-agent rankings. But Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho was the stand-out. Smeb was considered by many to be a contender for best in the world this season. With Smeb, KT committed to a carry top laner that already has a history of bopping SKT’s Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon on the Worlds stage.
In the jungle, KT re-signed Go “Score” Dong-bin, a top-level talent to help get Smeb rolling. KT also signed three world-class talents on their way back from China: Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu, Heo “PawN” Won-seok, and Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong.
All three won titles while in China, but their return to Korea signals a commitment to winning a championship, rather than a lesser domestic league. While PawN struggled with injuries in China, his performance at Worlds 2016 showed glimpses of the man that was known as Faker’s bane. The botlane of Mata and Deft may go down as the biggest in the league, given Mata’s prowess as a shotcaller and Deft’s legacy as one of the greatest teamfight AD carries.
Former-Dignitas roster heads to FC Coepenhagen
When Dignitas announced its acquisition by the Philadelphia 76ers, few fans foresaw it parting ways with its top-level Counter-Strike team. But the organization wanted to relocate the team to North America—something the players weren’t interested in. And that led Dignitas to drop the team and begin a search for domestic talents.
It didn’t take long for the players to find a new home, however. Their new owners are a bit closer to home than the Sixers. FC Copenhagen, the biggest soccer club in Denmark, is set to acquire the roster. Whether they outbid Dignitas, or swooped in after the fact, isn’t yet clear. But this transfer from one traditional sports team to another will have massive implications.
First, FC Copenhagen will make its Major debut on live television in the ELEAGUE Major, while its new roster seeks to improve on a solid run that included a 2-1 victory against Virtus.pro in EPICENTER 2016. The team’s potential, paired with the exposure provided by Turner Sports’ simulcast makes this move a steal that Dignitas take time to recover from.
Envyus adds Apathy and John; goes on to win COD World League
Team EnVyUs won the roster lottery this year when one change transformed the squad from a relative outsider to a world champion lineup.
When Team EnVyUs dropped Patrick “ACHES” Price and Tyler “TeePee” Polchow retired, they were in the midst of a 5-8 placing streak in Call of Duty World League events and playoffs. With Bryan “Apathy” Zhelyazkov and Johnathon “John” Perez joining regulars JKap and Slasher, it was unclear how the team would gel as a unit.
Five months later, the American squad entered the Call of Duty World Championship finals against Splyce with $800,000 at stake. EnVyUs defeated Splyce, capping off a milestone year for the new-look roster.
Replacing two established players can often cause struggles with precision and teamplay, but EnVyUs saw marked improvements and overcame fierce opponents like Splyce, Optic Gaming and FaZe Clan. What more can you ask for?
Forg1ven returns to H2k, despite drama
Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou’s raw talent and aggressive laning has often drawn praise from experts and fans the world over. While his past teams never found their footing, many believed with the right opportunity, Forg1ven could go to Worlds and compete with international talents like Deft and Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao.
Despite a top-four finish in the Spring Split, Forg1ven and H2k parted ways in an ugly manner that included public banter. Forg1ven lasted two games on Origen, before they also parted ways and left the superstar teamless. Once again, it seemed like Forg1ven was robbed of a Worlds appearance.
But after Freeze was forced to step down from the starting lineup due to an injury, Forg1ven shocked the western world when he agreed to return to H2k and help them finish its Summer Split. It was unclear how long Freeze would be out, but given the supposed tension between the players, few imagined Forg1ven and company would make a run to the semifinals of the World Championship in 2016.
This move allowed Forg1ven an actual shot at worlds, and it may help the controversial figure’s long-term legacy, even as he searches once more for a suitable home.
CLG parts with Champion Halo squad, who joins Optic
With a Summer Finals victory and a Halo World Championship under their belt, few players should’ve felt safer than Counter Logic Gaming’s Halo lineup. CLG rewarded its squad for its dominating efforts by releasing the roster of Paul “Snakebite” Duarte, Matthew “Royal 2” Fiorante, Brad “Frosty” Bergstrom, and Tj “Lethul” Campbell just before the North American Halo Championship Series Pro League.
The core roster joined CLG in 2014 to play Halo 2: Anniversary, and went on to be a dominant force in Halo 5. Optic Gaming scooped up the defending champs, which eventually finished second in the fall league finals. CLG’s roster was dominant in prior seasons, making this move a head scratcher from an outside perspective.
It’s unclear why CLG decided to cut ties with a team with such a historic legacy, but it’s yet to return to competitive Halo.
Team Secret and Evil Geniuses shuffle back and forth
Team Secret looked like a Dota 2 powerhouse when it acquired Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora and Artour “Arteezy” Babaev last March. Secret was so confident in this move, it dropped Rasmus “MiSeRy” Filipsen and Aliwi “w33” Omar just weeks after winning the Shanghai Major 2016 title. EG brought back Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling and added Kanishka “Bulba” Sosale, in response.
EG and Secret flopped in the months to come, which was capped off by group stage finishes for both teams at the Manilla Major 2016. Evil Geniuses brought back UNiVeRsE in exchange for Bulba, and Ludwig “zai” Wåhlberg returned to the starting lineup after he completed his schooling.
The swap-back had mixed results: EG and UNiVeRsE returned to form and finished third at The International 2016 and netted a $2 million paycheck. Team Secret finished first in the tournament’s European qualifier, but put in a disappointing performance when it mattered. w33 and MiSeRy made out best, as they placed second in the world with Digital Chaos.
Fnatic and Godsent split a legendary lineup
In a slump after one of the most dominant runs in recent Counter-Strike history, Fnatic’s lineup split when factions within the team decided it was time to split last August. This shuffle caused waves, as Jesper “JW” Wecksell, Robin “flusha” Rönnquist, and Freddy “KRIMZ” Johansson carried their spot in the ELEAGUE Major to the player-owned organization Godsent. In exchange, Fnatic picked up Simon “Twist” Eliasson and Jonas “Lekr0” Olofsson, and John “Wenton” Eriksson.
The move didn’t work for either teams, as mixed results prompted Fnatic to swap back Lekr0 for KRIMZ in October. This brought the major spot back to Fnatic, but Godsent wound up qualifying on its own merit.
The longstanding impact opened up the scene for other contenders, as neither Godsent nor Fnatic accomplished much since. The move transformed a top contender into two relative outsiders, which makes this a milestone change.