A New Challenger Appears? An Asessment of NRG eSports
Hype has been surrounding the roster of NRG before it was even announced. With rumors of the Sacramento Kings buying Coast’s spot, people began to wonder what such a rich organization could bring to North America. Earlier this week the rumor of Coast’s spot being bought was confirmed, with the spot going to owners of the Sacramento Kings, and this new team being called NRG eSports. The announcement of their existence included a majority of their roster: former Team Impulse Top Laner “Impact” Eon-yeong, Ex-Imagine Jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate, Lee “GBM” Chang-seok from the Jin Air Green Wings will be the Mid Laner, and Kevin “KonKwon” Kwon from the old Coast lineup will be the support. Later on the same day they announced their ADC would be Johnny “Altec” Ru. Will this roster be the new superteam in NA? Or will the amount of Koreans make it flop like Winterfox and Dignitas before it?
Impact left SKT to join Team Impulse during the Preseason, and made definitely showed the rest of North American Top Laners what a World Champion can do. He had the largest championpool, and the most versatile of any other Top in the region. Sadly, he doesn’t speak a lot of English, which might hurt his communication with his Jungler, an issue that didn’t happen on Team Impulse.
Speaking of Junglers, Moon was rumored to join Team Liquid a few months prior, but it seems that he has joined NRG. While we haven’t seen much of him, he outperformed Renegade’s support, Alberto "Crumbzz" Rengifo, a veteran Jungler, and Team 8’s Jungler Braeden "Porpoise" Schwark. It is hard to accurately judge him, but he seems to have raw talent.
Similar to Impact, GBM left his team in Korea, Jin Air Green Wings, to join a North American team. He was one of the Top Mids in Korea, and when he is on champions he knows very well, there are very few players who can match him. Sadly, with the meta moving towards a more ADC style, GBM will be a little left out, as he is a rather mediocre Assassin Player.
Altec is the NA’s newest ADC prospect, and during his time with Gravity, proved why some people have been hyping him. He was the only real carry on that team, and the majority of the team’s wins could be credited towards Altec’s amazing play. Hopefully, he will do even better with this new team behind him.
Konkwon is the only remaining member from Team Coast, and for good reason. He was definitely the second strongest player on the team, slightly behind their Jungler Lee "Shrimp" Byeong-hoon. While NA has many supports in Challenger, only he, and Renegade’s support Maria 'Remilia' Creveling were standouts. Of course, now he will be playing against the best bot lanes in the region, will he able to keep up with NA’s elite?
Out of all the teams we know of so far in NA, NRG definitely has the strongest roster on paper. They have arguably the best Top Laner in North America, one of the best Mid Laners from Korea playing for them, and one of the top ADCs in the region. While Moon and KonKwon haven’t really been tested yet, despite the latter playing a few games in the LCS last Spring, both can become very good from what we have seen in Challenger. It is also good to mention that both were playing around much weaker players than they are playing around now, which means they could be even better than we once thought: especially Konkwon who has gotten a massive upgrade by working with Altec. Moon went from having weak Solo Laners, to having the best Top in the region, and one of the best in Korea, who will probably become at least Top 3 in the region. However, the roster is also marked with uncertainty. The organization is taking many risks with this team, and while they can pay off, it is also possible that they drag the team down.
One of the first problems I noticed with the roster is a lack of a real secondary carry. Altec will definitely be the primary carry of the team, and the team looks more than capable of being able to assist Altec in that task, but the lack of a real secondary carry can hurt the team severely. Impact might be able to play the role, but he has never really needed to do so in the past. On SKT and TiP his job was mostly to play team fighting Champions, though there are a few exceptions, such as his Jax and Renekton in Season 3. While I believe Impact is a very good player, and has the ability to do so, the lack of experience in doing so might deter the team from making him the secondary carry. I do believe Impact will be the option they go with, as in an interview with NRG Co-Owner Gerard Kelly, he states that he planned on building the roster around Impact. While that is a bit vague, I'm pretty sure it means he will make Impact into a carry.
The secondary carry could be Moon, who is still incredibly young, and can easily be molded into whatever the team wants him to be. On Imagine, his pressure in the early game would be crucial in winning them the games, though often not from snowballing himself. Moon was able to keep the team alive until Pierre “Steeelback” Medjaldi, the team’s ADC, would hard carry the team to victory. However, Imagine did have the issue of not having the second carry, and whenever Steeelback couldn’t carry, the team wouldn’t be able to win. Moon showed to be great throughout the early and mid game, and could stall out games until Steeelback could carry if he didn’t get snowballed early on. He lacks the history of a hard carry, but as he is still a very young player, he can be molded into a real carry alongside Altec.
The final spot for a hard carry, and the one I feel will be it the least, is GBM. GBM is an amazing player, but his play style just isn’t around carrying a game. He has some of the best control mage play in the world, and can be a terror in a team fight if the enemy team isn’t careful, but his style isn’t fitted towards hard carrying a game. It especially showed this year on Jin Air, where the team had constant issues where they just wouldn’t have anyone to carry the game. Jin Air’s only real carry was their Jungler Lee "Chaser" Sang-hyun, and while he is arguably the best jungler in Korea, it is incredibly hard to carry a team on your own. Jin Air only managed to get 6th place in the LCK Summer Split, but during the Regional Finals, they did manage to claw their way to the finals before being defeated by KT Rolster. In hindsight, Jin Air doing this well isn’t that impressive, as they beat a NaJin team that didn't know what they were doing, and CJ Entus, which lives and dies by Coco’s success.
Another major issue I see with the team is an overall lack of experience. They do have a legendary veteran in Impact, as well as in GBM, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the roster. Moon has never played on the LCS stage before, and Konkwon has only played a few games at the end of a split. While Altec has been playing since the Summer Split of 2014, he is still doesn’t have the experience he should have at this point. This isn’t Altec’s fault of course, but he was stuck with organizations that had little to no support staff, and would never be able to mature him into the best ADC in the West, which he has the potential to do. NRG’s biggest challenge is going to be maturing these underdeveloped talents into stars, but it might take some time. Depending on NRG’s schedule, they might lose their first few games, until the roster begins developing synergy- and players have some more experience.
Despite these two drawbacks, I think the roster has more than enough potential to be the best in North America. They have the best Top Laner in North America, one of the best Mids in Korea, one of the best ADCs in North America despite having had next to no nurturing, and the two Rookies with the brightest futures in their Jungler and Support. Many people have been hyping TSM’s roster to be the best in North America, and while they have the potential to do so, I believe NRG’s roster has just as much, if not, more potential if everything within the team works correctly.
While many people would think two imports would lead to some issues in communication, I’m not sure if that issue will arise with this roster. Impact has had a year within NA, and while his English skill is nothing that amazing, it should be enough to communicate with. From what I understand, GBM has the basics of the language down, which isn’t really enough to have good communication. However, if neither of these players can communicate effectively, NRG always have Konkwon, who is fluent in both English and Korean. He can probably teach both GBM and Impact, as well as communicate their ideas in game if they aren’t sure what to say. While this won’t really help them in split decisions, they can set up plays minutes beforehand, which is incredibly rare for a team with imports. Konkwon’s addition to the team really helps fix the issue many imports have within NA, and his ability to allow communication between the entire team will be crucial to the team’s success.
While the inexperience of players is definitely a strong downside, with the correct support staff, it can become a blessing in disguise. As I stated earlier with Moon, him and Konkwon can be molded into whatever the team needs them to be. Does NRG need someone to engage because they want Impact to carry? Konkwon can be molded into a player who players engage based supports. Konkwon can also be a protective support who can constantly peel for Altec, and give him the ability to hard carry for the team. Konkwon might become a support who is dominant in lane, and tries to give his ADC as far as ahead as he can in lane, or he can become a Support who roams to other lanes to get them ahead. Similarly, Moon can become a hard carry for the team, or he can become a support with an emphasis on vision. There are many ways NRG can mold these players to make them fit the team correctly, and they could really only do this with players who don’t have a lot of experience.
The thing I'm most excited for however, is what lies behind the scenes. While the actual roster is very impressive, and could be the best in North America, I am much more excited about the Owners, and the support staff. Out of three owners, two of them have own parts of the basketball team, Sacramento Kings. The first Part-Owner, Andy Miller was also a former executive at Apple, while the second, Mark Mastrov is the creator of the U.S. fitness chain "24 Hour Fitness." The final Co-Owner is Gerard Kelly, who was the founder of Team Imagine. I am happy that the owners have such a rich background, as I hope they will not only pay the players what they deserve, but give them everything they need to be successful. The more money that is thrown into teams in competitive League, the better teams will get, and the more the scene will grow.
While the owners, and having this much money being put into a team is great for the game as an eSport, I am the most excited about the support staff. I personally believe that the support staff could carry a rather mediocre team to the playoffs. Let us start with the Head Coach, Charlie Lipsie, who was originally a part of Cloud 9. While he eventually was dropped from C9 for being ineffective, I believe he could gain the respect he needs to effectively coach with this new roster. I also believe with the assistance of the rest of the staff, he will come off as an amazing coach.
The second major name is former Origen Analyst and Head Coach Tadayoshi "Hermit" Littleton. Hermit is arguably the smartest man in Western League of Legends, and proved it when he led Origen to Semi-Finals at this year's World Championship. He also showed that he has the best Pick and Ban in the West, and if he is given control over the Picks and Bans, he will show the rest of North America what they should be doing. Hermit is a tremendous pick up for the team, and should lead this roster to becoming at least a top 3 team, but they could easily become the best team in North America with this man on the roster.
Outside of the two major coaches, there is the group of analysts on the team. This is definitely the greatest group of Analysts I've ever seen on a team, and I'll start with the man I know decently well, Naser "Empyre" Al-Naqi. Despite Empyre's first foray into LoL writing and analysis being Season 5, he was quickly seen as a talent by other analysts, such as Hermit. He would join the Origen during their World Championship run, and help the team secure their spots as Semi-finalists. On a more personal note, Naser was one of my inspirations to start taking a more analytical approach to League, and to start writing about League as well. I know he will bring only good things to the team, and I wish him the best of luck.
The other two analysts on the team are Alec "Qwem" Warren, who was formerly known as "Baby Zeus", a Challenger player, and Joseph "Archon" Aguirre, a former Origen Analyst. Two of the three analysts on the team have worked with Hermit before, allowing the team to work really well from the start. It also grants NRG a support staff that was nearly identical to Origen's, and that could possibly make them a force as strong as Origen was during the World Championship. While I know little about Qwerm, I do believe that is status as a Challenger Player, and a player that has played in the NACS can help guide the team. I do have the highest of exceptions for him, as I trust Hermit's judgement in bringing him onto the team.
What I am truly hoping for with this roster is beyond just the success of the team, though I do hope and believe they will do great things. I really just want this team to dominate domestically, and across Europe so that the West can finally get into shape. No matter how strong a roster is, without a strong support staff that roster will amount to nothing. While Korea has the most talented players, some of their rather mediocre players can amount to great things, just because they have the staff to turn otherwise mediocre players into players good enough to stay in the LCK. I am not expecting this to be an overnight change, but I do believe once NRG starts doing great domestically, other teams will start developing strong staffs, and North America will start becoming a stronger region, and stop being the pitiful joke it has become this Season.