NALCS Preview: How Each Team Ends Up on Top (or Relegated) This Split
With the start of the NALCS only days away, and rosters finally locked in, let's take a look at the teams, specifically the major storylines for each team, as well as what it would take for each team to end up on top or on bottom this split. For some teams, either a top placing or relegation would be very unlikely, but let's try to imagine anyways.
Note: Teams are listed in my rough estimate of strength, although as the article shows, this split is really up for grabs.
Storylines to watch: The roster that TSM is fielding this split is the most talented NA has ever seen, featuring four legitimate franchise players and some of the best western talent in League of Legends, period. This “dream team” comes along with an under-the-radar addition of Josh “Jarge” Smith, the former head analyst for Fnatic, who many consider top-level in the west, as well as an outside-the-game coach of KC “Woodbuck” Woods, who comes from a sports coaching background. If this roster figures things out and performs to their ability level, it can truly compete with the best teams in the world and contend for the Summoner’s Cup.
However talent-laden the team might be, TSM is still made up of five new teammates (some with histories of ego) and two new coaches, all of whom need to adapt to each other. Doublelift is coming from a parting with CLG that saw accusations of toxicity and team destruction levied his way (some of which Doublelift has agreed with), Bjergsen has seen some conflict with previous coach Locodoco, and Yellowstar will need to adjust to being second (or even third) in command when it comes to the team personalities. Even with a roster spoiled with talent, there are still big question marks for how the team will do this split.
How they win the split: The addition of the veteran leadership of Yellowstar and a dedicated team atmosphere coach in KC allows TSM’s players to gel and the talent to shine through. Bjergsen, relieved in part by the shotcalling experience of Yellowstar and Svenskeren, dominates the NA mid lane talent, even with the addition of new imports. Hauntzer, who many consider on a lower talent level than his four teammates, plays a low-econ style that allow resources to be spent on Doublelift and Bjergsen. Most of all, egos are set aside as the team realizes that this roster represents the best chance any of them have had at winning the World Championships.
How they get relegated: While the chances are slim, there is no telling how the spotlight of TSM and the pressure on this team will affect the players. The most obvious way is through interpersonal drama, and in order to get relegated it would probably need to come down to a player leaving mid split. While unlikely, if the drama were to spiral into a “me or him” ultimatum, it is in the realm of possibility. There is also much more talent in NA this split compared to those past, and some unexpected performances from teams such as Echo Fox or Renegades coupled with TSM really having trouble getting things going could mean that TSM ends up closer to relegation than people may expect.
Storylines to watch: Cloud 9 captured magic in a bottle during the summer split playoffs, continuing that magic into the (at least the first week of) world championship. Not satisfied with that showing, they made major moves in terms of roster. Rush, considered a top western jungler, got added to the lineup, bringing serious carry potential to the jungler role that wasn’t present with Hai in that spot. With the addition of Rush, Hai will head to the bottom lane to play support, keeping his shotcalling (which many considered to be a big part of the magic that Cloud 9 seemed to have) in the lineup. In addition, Cloud 9 picked up BunnyFuFu to play backup and heir apparent to Hai in the support role. Bunny saw much success on Gravity, both with playmaking supports such as Thresh as well as being a top warding support in NA, even in his first professional season. With Jensen seeming to get better every week last split, Cloud 9 seems to have built on success and are in position to claim top spot in North America.
How they win the split: If C9 Rush plays on the same level as TiP Rush, and Hai can hold his own against the new botlane talent in North America this split, Cloud 9 could very well claim the crown over the other top teams. Sneaky may be the most underrated player in North America currently, bringing consistent high-level performances throughout the summer split even with the mechanically-lacking LemonNation. Jensen’s play improved drastically over the course of the split, and now comfortably among the top NA midlaners. Just putting the pieces together in the well-established team atmosphere of Cloud 9, may result in a top placing for the Spring split.
How they get relegated: Along with TSM, Cloud 9 getting relegated may be hard to imagine, but it’s still possible, especially for a team who finished 7th last split and was staring down relegation through most of it. Hai remains the biggest question mark. While his jungle play wasn’t terrible, it showed that he was lacking in some knowledge departments, especially when it came to jungle pathings and timings. Switching roles again could mean that Hai flounders in lane, negating Sneaky’s carry potential and allowing other teams to gain advantages. Hai also has ongoing medical problems, and an injury or retirement due to his wrists could see the team underperform without his shotcalling and leadership. The second biggest question mark remains Balls. While he can play well on tanky, supportive top laners, a meta shift at the wrong time can see the team unable to win games against teams with strong top lane carries. In a similar case to TSM, if C9 get upset a few times by bottom-tier teams, and if Hai is unable to keep playing, C9 may very well find themselves in a similar position to last split.
Storylines to watch: The dynamic duo of Huni and Reignover is transplanted to a region with less top lane and jungler talent than EULCS had last split, and are looking to keep improving. Rounding out the roster are some fan favorites Pobelter and WildTurtle, each having a bit more to prove this split after being passed over in favor of other players on their former teams, and Adrian, a support that doesn’t have much name recognition but played at a top level in NA last split with room to still improve.
The duo of Huni and Reignover have the capability to terrorize the top lane of North America. There is no top-jungle duo with anywhere near the combination of synergy and talent that the two have, although seeing if their potential on paper plays out in a new region on a new team remains to be seen. WildTurtle had a feast or famine playstyle on TSM, but when he’s on he can solo carry games, and a return to Season 3 form could see Immortals with two hyper carry threats, with the personnel in other positions to facilitate their carry play styles.
How they win the split: First, everything has to click for Immortals to stand a shot at winning the split. Huni and Reignover have to maintain their level of play from Fnatic, Adrian has to continue to grow as a top support, Pobelter needs to be able to hold down mid lane against the newly imported talents, and WildTurtle needs to remain consistent. Fortunately, they match up well against the top teams of TSM and C9, who, while having strong rosters, both have their weakest members at top lane, which Huni and Reignover would be prime to exploit. Advantages in the mid lane from C9 and TSM’s star midlaners can be somewhat neutralized by Pobelter’s low econ style, and all of the players have big game/high pressure experience, which is key in the playoffs. Immortals are a talented team, and have a very real chance of making a deep playoff run.
How they get relegated: Huni and Reignover are the force behind this team, and not performing to expectations can quickly lead to this roster being unable to beat the middle-tier teams. Reignover carried a negative reputation before Fnatic, and leaving the structure of that organization may just return him to that level. Huni has a reputation for tilting, and if his attitude towards NA is more “paycheck and relaxation” than “consistently improving”, Immortals might find themselves without a consistent carry threat. The hot or cold nature of many of their players, along with a lack of experience playing together, may be the downfall of an otherwise talented, veteran roster.
Counter Logic Gaming
Storylines to Watch: CLG is coming into the split with a lot to prove. Last season was CLG’s breakthrough year, taking home the NALCS crown and performing decently during their first world championship appearance since season 2. However, they find themselves being passed over in analyst and fan expectations for spring split, in favor of even new, unproven teams like NRG and Immortals. This is in no small part due to the exits of Doublelift and Pobelter, their starting ADC and mid laner from last split. The exits of both players were a bit messy, and their replacements, Stixxay and Huhi, are relatively unproven, and considered by many to be a downgrade in terms of talent.
Still, CLG has a solid foundation of shotcalling, talent, and leadership in Aphromoo and Darshan, and the removal of Doublelift may be the opportunity for those two to really shine through and have career splits. And while Stixxay and Huhi are new to the starting role, both have been in the organization for a while and we can expect more chemistry from this roster than most with two new players. In an offseason where NA teams have been hoarding talent, CLG has doubled down on chemistry and team atmosphere, and this split will show if that choice was wise.
How they win the split: CLG is coming into the split with arguably the team most familiar with each other, and the strength of their macro play last split can be expected to carry over. A team with strong chemistry can be the kryptonite of the top teams this split, most of whom are looking at brand new rosters or major adjustments in terms of personnel. Aphromoo and Darshan, as stated earlier, are in a prime position to become the faces of the team, and elevate their play to the next level needed to beat the talented rosters of teams like TSM and Cloud 9. If Huhi and Stixxay can hold their own or perform at a high level (a pretty big “if”), expect CLG to come out of the gates sprinting while other teams catch their footing, and quiet their naysayers.
How they get relegated: Let’s be clear: going to Huhi and Stixxay from Pobelter and Doublelift is a big downgrade in immediate talent. While CLG is betting on the intangibles and long-term potential of those two, it’s not hard to imagine them becoming weak spots on the roster, especially after their performances at IEM San Jose. If the two new players falter, they very well could drop games to bottom-tier teams, especially those who have talent in those positions, such as Echo Fox with Froggen and Renegades with Freeze.
Storylines to watch: NRG is another brand new organization with a lot of talented players. Ganked by Mom was a top Korean mid laner last split, and we’re not sure if he’s even hit his prime yet. Impact was a monster in top lane for TiP last year, winning lane against almost everyone he played, and always being a factor and threat throughout the game. Altec is a top NA ADC and brings a third carry threat to the team, and was an incredibly consistent player, adjusting well to his team’s needs both in terms of team composition and resource allocation. This combination of carries is unmatched in NA, and the diversity of their threat makes it hard to shut down.
However, there are some big question marks, both in the form of unproven jungler and support Moon and KonKwon, who weren’t superstars even in the challenger series, and the communication of the team, where the languages are split between Korean and English. What remains to be seen is just how well Moon and KonKwon can play, and whether the team can get a solid form of communication down, or at least enough to allow their talented carries to win them games.
How they win the split: Any team outside of maybe TSM is at a very real risk of losing two of their three lanes to the carries of NRG. If Moon can play the supportive jungler role and get his lanes ahead, and KonKwon is capable in the bot lane, this team can win most games on the carry potential of their stars alone. If the communication gets worked out, NRG can take games from any of the top teams, and are much more resistant to meta shift with the talent and flexibility they have in their carry roles.
How they get relegated: Communication issues seem to be the easiest culprit to imagine, and we’ve seen communication plague teams with talent before. There’s also a question about who the shotcaller will be, so even if NRG make it out of laning phase ahead, their teamfighting coordination and shotcalling might become their downfall. Late-game throws are the easiest way for teams with less talent to win, and if NRG shows weakness there, expect them to lose games to teams with much less talent. Team chemistry is also a big question with a language divide, and if Moon starts to falter, there’s potential for a divided team atmosphere.
Storylines to Watch: Team Liquid won the last NA LCS Summer Split, and like CLG, have been looked over in favor of the excitement of new teams and players. The departure of Quas will be a devastating one, especially with many of the top teams having strong top laners, but TL retains some very talented players in Fenix and Piglet, both coming off their first seasons with the team, and both of whom can be expected to keep improving as they get more comfortable.
The biggest question mark of Team Liquid this split will be how their new ten player roster works out. It’s the first time an NA team has ever attempted something like this, and both the risk and reward for a move like this is incredibly high. Even if it proves a success in-game, the balancing of ten personalities and developing the chemistry of all the different combinations of players will be a huge challenge for the coaching staff of Team Liquid, especially with new head coach Locodoco, who had trouble handling the out-of-game aspects of coaching during his stint with TSM.
Team Liquid may be the team who fits this list best: they have almost as well a chance of winning the split as they do as being relegated, and neither would be all-too surprising.
How they win the split: If Team Liquid’s experiment goes well, it will give them the competitive advantages needed to take top spot this split. Teams will not be able to prepare as thoroughly for Team Liquid, who can bring quite a few different players with different champion pools and playstyles. It also would allow them to motivate their players to continually improve, and allow for the team to practice pocket counterpicks without alerting other teams. Fenix and Piglet carry the team as they continue to get more comfortable, and the chemistry that they’re bringing into the split allows them to beat teams who are still struggling to adjust to each other.
How they get relegated: On the flip side, Team Liquid’s experiment has the capability to leave the team at the bottom of the standings. Piglet has already shown that he can be a disruption in the team atmosphere, and pulling him out in favor of another player can do the opposite of motivating him. Similarly, Fenix, still adjusting to English and developing his communication with the team, can be set back in his development by a rotating roster. Locodoco has already shown he can lose control of a five man roster, and the problems that can crop up with a ten man roster might result in a repeat performance, and cause TL to drop to the bottom of the standings.
Storylines to watch: MonteCristo’s own LCS team has quite a few interesting things to watch for. The return of veterans Alex Ich and Crumbzz to the professional scene will interest older fans, and how they will perform still remains to be seen. ADC Freeze comes over from EU LCS, where he performed at a very high level on a team that wasn’t very good. The team has also been playing together for longer than a good number of the NA LCS teams, and has been bootcamping in Korea for the better part of the offseason, which might allow the team to come into the split with coordinated play and communication.
The unknowns for the LA Renegades reside in RF Legendary, their toplaner, and Remilia, their support. The mechanical skill of RF Legendary remains in question, and many fans don’t consider him to be of LCS caliber. Remilia comes into the split with the pressure of being the first female LCS player, as well as having some issues being comfortable in the spotlight in the past. She also has shown flashes of brilliance on playmaking supports such as Morgana and Thresh, but her remaining champion pool remains to be seen. In addition, Crumbzz and Alex Ich are anything but safe bets, and their performance can realistically range from a bit below their previous professional level to the mediocre performances they turned in during the NACS split.
How they win the split: It would take a lot for Renegades to reign supreme. Crumbzz and Alex Ich have to play as well as they have ever played professionally, or in the case of Alex Ich, at least close. Freeze would have to dominate the top NA ADC talent, and Remilia would have to show a similar level of mastery with a wider range of support champions. In addition, the Korean bootcamp will had to have pushed RF Legendary to the point of being an upper-level top laner, with the capability to at least escape laning phase against players like Impact, Huni, or Darshan. If all these things were to come to fruition, Renegades would be in a prime spot to compete for the top spot. Freeze can turn in some hard carry performances, and Remelia can be a fantastic catalyst to make that happen. As said before, chemistry is at a premium this split, and if Renegades can get their player performances to a top level they have a chance to upset even the top level teams.
How they get relegated: Much more likely than the previous scenario, if RF Legendary becomes a focus point for opposing teams, and Crumbzz and Alex Ich play at the level they did in the NACS, this team can very realistically end up at the bottom of the standings. Freeze will likely continue to perform, but if Remilia can be banned out, she will not be enough to win them games against teams like Team Liquid or Echo Fox, if their newcomers perform well. A meta shift back towards carry top laners would also be a nail in the coffin for Renegades this split if RF Legendary hasn’t improved drastically over the off-season.
Storylines to watch: For many people, Echo Fox is just the latest iteration of the Froggen 1 v 9. And, to be sure, the former EU mid laner brings a ton of talent to the team, even if his Season 5 was a step back from his fantastic Season 4. Otherwise, the team is made up of many unknown quantities. KEITH has LCS experience with both Team Liquid and TSM, and while he hasn’t exactly blown people away in his performances with those teams, his performance in a more stable role may prove to be what he needs to grow and show his potential. Hard and Baby are two NACS players who have shown to be capable, and seeing how they grow during this split will be interesting to watch, along with getting an idea of what their Korean solo queue toplaner kfo will bring to the table.
Unfortunately for Froggen, the talent surrounding him shouldn’t be expected to make this a top-level team. Hard and Baby weren’t jumping off the screen even in the NACS, kfo doesn’t have competitive experience, and KEITH hasn’t shown any reason to believe he’ll be an upper-level NA ADC, especially with the wealth of talent at that position. Still, the unproven nature of most of the team and the familiarity of hard carrying for Froggen may just lead to some surprising victories this season.
How they win the split: If Froggen plays on a Season 2 (or 4) level, with a change of scenery reinvigorating his competitive spirit, he could carry this team to many more wins than most expect. It would also take kfo being a bona-fide superstar, with the mechanical skill to go even in lane against players like Impact or Darshan, and Keith taking big strides to become an upper-level ADC. While unlikely, Froggen has shown that level of play, and kfo and KEITH are both relatively unknown and have shown flashes of real talent. Add to that some surprising performances by Hard and Baby, and Froggen could just be good enough to win series against top teams.
How they get relegated: It’s really down to how Echo Fox matches up with the bottom-tier teams in the LCS. Against teams like Renegades and Team Liquid, Echo Fox’s lack of experience as a team (and kfo’s lack of experience in general) loses them games, and Echo Fox find themselves in the midst of relegation. If Renegades or TL can win a few upsets against top-tier teams, the path to relegation is even farther for Echo Fox, especially if they can’t work out some upsets of their own.
Storylines to watch: Fan favorite Dignitas enter another split without high expectations. Rehauling their roster over the offseason, Dig enters the spring split with only mid laner Shiphtur and support KiWiKiD remaining. After the EU Dignitas team was sold, challenger series players SmittyJ and Kirei came over, along with the pickup of former TiP ADC Apollo.
The good news is that Dig have more experience on their roster than most of the bottom-tier teams, with three veterans, and had some bright moments during IEM, with Kirei playing relatively well. In addition, the Dig organization is well-established, and not as susceptible to the growing pains that new organizations may face, all of which leads to the opportunity for a somewhat surprising split.
How they win the split: While many of the bottom team’s chances at winning the split rely on unknowns playing out of their minds, Dig has some intangibles that may facilitate surprising results better than other teams. Dignitias is well-established organizations, who have doubled down on their commitment to the NA branch of their League of Legends team. This may result in this roster, somewhat lacking in talent, hitting above their weight class. Dignitas has a reputation for overperforming (at least at the start of splits), and if that can stay consistent, Dignitas can show up and give it their all during the playoffs. If they get some favorable matchups in the playoffs, and teams play down to them, Dignitas might just put together the Cinderella story of the split.
How they get relegated: While the team has a few promising aspects, relegation is probably in the cards for Dig. While they do have more veteran players than organization like Echo Fox, the veterans they have aren’t very good. KiWiKiD has become somewhat of a punchline for his poor play, and Apollo and Shiphtur are known as passive-at-best, non-existent at worst during the laning phase. The lack of a single star player has bad connotation for their games against players like Froggen or Freeze, and if they can’t make up for it in macroplay, expect to see them in the relegation series.
Storylines to watch: TiP, unable to find a buyer for their LCS spot, is doing their absolute minimum necessary to be called an LCS team. Calling their team a bunch of unknowns does the other usage of the term in this article injustice. An unknown is a NACS player, and TiP has three solo queue talents, two of which have never played competitively. DontMashMe spent time with Team Coast in the LCS last year, and is the most experienced on the team (and that should tell you everything you need to know). Gate was a part of last year’s TiP lineup, now returning to the support position that TiP brought him in for initially.
In good news, this roster looks to be so bad that they become a fan favorite, the Bad News Bears of the NALCS. This isn’t your ordinary lackluster roster that’s just unremarkable in every way -- this is a unique level of bad that will draw attention and jokes for the entirety of the split. Expect extreme celebration if they manage to win a game, especially if it’s against a top team in some miracle fashion.
How they win the split: LOL
How they get relegated: If the owner had every intention to sell the spot but just didn’t and then threw together the last scraps of players he could find from across the world. Oh, wait.