Azure Keys's Preseason Ranking for NA LCS 2016 Spring Season
In a similar vein to my previous article listing my predicted placements for the teams in the upcoming EU LCS season, this article will attempt to rank the teams in the upcoming LCS season in North America. In this article, I will list where I believe the ten teams will fall in the standings by the playoff's end and explain my reasoning why. This list was much more difficult than the European list, as there is not near the level of dropoff in NA this season, so many of these teams are separated by very small amounts of predicted success. And yes, that other, somewhat uninformed NA power ranking article was written by someone else. This one is by the same author of the EU article.
1 - Team Solomid
As much as I tend to disagree with some of the TSM ownership, I cannot help but admit that many of their decisions regarding their LCS roster have been quite good. In particular, this roster looks incredible. TSM have not only built a roster comprised primarily of star players, but players so iconic that they effectively defined their previous teams, especially in the case of Doublelift and Yellowstar, and a case could be made for Svenskeren as well. This roster is not without its potential problems, the most obvious of which is whether the powerful egos of its players can be properly led to work together, though honestly, if anyone could lead a group like this, Yellowstar would be the one who could do it. I typically don't like to blindly buy into hype, which is why I initially resisted placing TSM in first, but after looking over all of the other top contenders, I believe they all have underlying issues that, while relatively minor, give TSM the upper hand in this ranking.
2 - Immortals
Huni and Reignover had an impressive showing in Europe last year, and the signing of them as a pair was likely a much better decision than picking up just one of the duo, as they play off of each other very well. In addition, Adrian is a vision machine of a support who should enable Huni's carry-oriented playstyle. The biggest downside to this lineup are Pobelter and Turtle who, while not terrible, should struggle to fill proper carry roles on this team. Pobelter is a solid utility mage type midlaner, but is no Bjergsen or Incarnation. Turtle has had quite the rocky past few seasons, and will likely struggle against many of the other ADCs in the league. Huni will be the hard carry of this team. However, the strong supporting cast of Reignover and Adrian, with Pobelter and Turtle at least playing solidly, as well as the fact that all players are fluent in English, should allow this roster to perform well. This was a very tough call between Immortals and NRG for second place, but I feel that the better communication, in addition to all of Immortals' players having solid experience, edge them just over NRG, who have just a few too many question marks for me.
3 - NRG
This was a very difficult decision between NRG and Immortals for 2nd/3rd. NRG has one of the most stacked lineups in NA aside from TSM. Impact was one of the best toplaners in the region last year, GankedByMom likely a top 3 mid in Korea, Altec an incredible rising star, and Moon as well looks to be the best native NA jungler since Meteos's debut. The only weak link on the roster looks to be Konkwon, who appears to have been selected primarily due to his fluency in Korean. Still, with a roster this stacked, NRG should be in contention for the title. And I believe they are. However, the issue that I just couldn't overlook, which caused me to place them beneath Immortals, is the language barrier. Impact and GBM both have significantly worse English skills than Huni and Reignover, and even with Konkwon as a facilitator, there is still a history of teams with mixed communication rosters struggling. This is not always the case, as teams such as EDG and Fnatic have shown, but it has been much more the norm for these types of teams to struggle, especially early on, which I believe should be just enough to put them out of top two. NRG is still a powerful team though, and I expect them to be a success over this season and this year.
4 - Cloud9
After an unbelievable run through from having to play a tiebreaker to avoid relegation, to coming a game away from Worlds quarterfinals, C9 have made some significant roster moves. By the end of their year, Sneaky and Incarnation (now Jensen) have become an incredibly formidable duo of carries. In addition, they've picked up the best jungler in the region, and managed to do this without sacrificing the in-game leadership of Hai, which kept the team afloat during their dark previous season. The main issues that C9 face now are integrating Rush into the lineup, getting Hai accustomed to playing support, and dealing with the ailing Balls in the top lane. This should be their biggest issue, as he has significantly dropped off from two years ago, when he was on top of his region. Hai supporting shouldn't be too big an issue, the team has traditionally played with a cerebral, not necessarily mechanically gifted support for their whole LCS campaign, and Rush could potentially be a huge boon for either protecting Balls, or even serving as that flex carry that toplaners can typically provide. I don't foresee C9, at least for now, returning to the top, but I believe they have enough strength and knowledge to maintain a top four position.
5 - LA Renegades
Top: RF Legendary
Mid: Alex Ich
Though they are a new org, Renegades, much like Origen, is primarily made up of veterans. The duo of Alex Ich and Freeze should be an incredibly effective one, as each have been top 3 players at their positions within Europe, and having this hard carry core, like with C9, should give them a strong starting point from which to build success. In addition, Crumbzz is one of the most cerebral junglers in NA and his vision heavy style should serve to enable his carries quite effectively. Finally, Remilia, while a newcomer to LCS, has impressed me with her playmaking style for quite some time within NA Challenger, and should serve as a strong partner to the lane-dominant Freeze. The team's biggest issue, similarly to C9, comes from the top lane, with RF looking like one of the weaker tops playing this season. In addition, both he and Remilia are known for having relatively volatile personalities, and could possibly be prone to tilt or losing interest should the team start to perform poorly (I don't believe this will be the case, but it is a worry to keep in mind). Overall, I believe this team is a contender to make playoffs, where they should be able to garner experience for a stronger run in the summer.
6 - Counter Logic Gaming
So it may seem a bit odd to see the reigning LCS champs so relatively far down on the list. The primary reason for this is simply that the rest of the league (for the most part) has upgraded their rosters while CLG, at least for now, is a strictly worse version of their previous lineup. I've been following Fusion since they started back during expansion and have never been impressed with Huhi. He appears to be simply a worse version of Pobelter and I don't see him improving too much more over where he is now. CLG's other new player, Stixxay, actually looks like he has the potential (TM) to be the next big NA rising star, similarly to Altec. However, I don't see him becoming an overnight sensation, and I feel he'll need at least a season before truly becoming a reliable carry force. In time, this roster (possibly with a different mid laner) could place a lot higher in a prospective ranking, but for now, I'm hedging on them going out in quarters.
7 - Dignitas
This was an incredibly close call between Dig and Liquid for me, but ultimately I feel Dig has the upper hand. Kirei has been a discussed talent within Europe for a while now, and now that he's joined Dig, I can really see why. His play at IEM Cologne against Qiao Gu's Swift impressed me in a way I haven't been impressed in a while by a new LCS player, nearly leading the team to victory over the recent LPL runners up. SmittyJ, while less impressive, does seem a solid foundation from IEM as well as his time in EU challenger. Lastly, Apollo is an incredibly solid role-playing ADC. The downside to this roster is their legacy players. Shiphtur is still famously passive, to the point that he lost out in farm to a Doinb who was down two kills (which is just one recent example of Shiphtur's chronic passivity). Kiwikid, while pulling out a big move every once in a while, still maintains a typical level of poor play. I feel like this roster will be hampered by the lack of a true carry. Shiphtur certainly isn't going to do it, and Apollo, while a good player, doesn't typically perform well when forced to be his team's single carry threat (see Impulse during the most recent LCS playoff). Unless SmittyJ develops into a Huni style player, this team will likely be Kirei trying to hard carry from the jungle. These stylistic pitfalls are what makes me put this team out of playoffs.
8 - Team Liquid
Liquid made bold moves this offseason to consolidate both of their teams into a single, 10-man roster, however I still see them placing near the bottom. This was a very close call between Liquid and Dig as to who I believe will fall into promotions, but ultimately, I feel Liquid has generally less tested or worse players overall, and that their 10-man gambit is less of a ground-breaking new strategical development and more of a coverup for what is looking like a fairly weak lineup. Liquid was hurt by the loss of Quas, who'd been a rock for the lineup. Not only that, it forced them to select from the thin pool of native NA talent for their toplaner, resulting in former CLG Black player Lourlo being pulled in. In addition, Fenix has always been a player I've believed to be heavily over-rated. His champion pool is laughably low, especially considering there were those nominating him as some kind of all star. Smoothie seemed good during his tenure on the Dragon Knights, but I cannot see how, barring personality clashes, he could be an improvement over Xpecial. Finally, while the 10-man roster sounds like an enticing idea, I feel it will result in a lack of in game coordination between the players, and that it was brought on likely due to management running out of time to solidify a truly competitive roster.
9 - Echo Fox
Unfortunately, getting into the game pretty late in the offseason has left Rick Fox's LCS venture with a questionable lineup. There is definite potential here, especially for the upper half of the map, but there are just too many question marks for me to realistically put this team any higher on the list. Keith and Baby have both played limited stints in LCS, and neither have impressed me. I feel this bot lane will be a weak point for the lineup. And while KFO has some hype behind him and Hard looked pretty good in challenger, I'm still unable to predict how that play will translate to the LCS stage. Froggen should be an anchor for the team, as he was for Elements last year, and the biggest hope I see for this lineup is to survive promotions, get experience, and possibly pick up some upgrades in the mid-year offseason.
10 - Team Impulse
I shouldn't have to explain why I think this team will be autorelegated. In fact, I'll just copy-paste some text from my previous article on Elements instead. The ownership reportedly tried to sell the team, but couldn't come to an agreement and missed the deadline, forcing them to scrounge together a roster in a few weeks. [Their] ownership tried to quit, failed, and only stuck around because they would've lost out on a large asset if they didn't. I just don't see the [Impulse] management being invested enough in this team, and we will likely see them dissolve following their autorelegation at the end of the season. We could talk about how the team role-swapped a mediocre mid to support, added a mediocre ADC, pulled in a completely unknown Korean, a Korean who had to play in Japan to get on a team, and a little known top laner who is reportedly a support main, or even how there's just no team in this league that looks vaguely worse than Impulse, but really, I think the way the ownership wretchedly mismanaged the offseason speaks enough to this org's impending demise.