North American fans are desperate for a savior.
Recent international tournaments have not been kind to NA LCS teams. The leader of the bunch, TSM, have received much criticism due to their failings at last season’s Worlds and last month’s MSI.
But the other teams have a hand in this as well. If TSM is so vulnerable, why hasn’t anyone stepped up and taken their crown? Through all sorts of roster combinations, TSM has managed to make final after final, winning most of them.
We examined each of the challengers to the North American throne heading into the Summer Split to see if any of them had a shot at becoming the heroes NA fans pine for. These rankings are based on rankings submitted by Dot Esports staff members—each was and will be updated each split.
Here are the pre-split power rankings for summer, starting with the lowest ranked team.
10) Team Liquid (7 points)
In a somewhat surprising move, Liquid is bringing back the same roster that started the Spring Split—a split that most Liquid fans would like to forget and that Liquid management gave up on by swapping all sorts of players around.
What hope does this squad have in summer? It starts with the two star Korean players, Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin and Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin. They looked out of sorts on meta champions in the spring, and will hope to do better with the new patches. Piglet will be back on high-damage carries in the bot lane and maybe Reignover will get back on his trusty Rek’Sai.
9) Team EnVyUs (11 points)
EnVy did make a change heading into summer, replacing mid laner Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo with not one, but two substitutes: Yasin “Nisqy” Dinçer and Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik. Ninja wasn’t EnVy’s biggest problem in spring, but he wasn’t good either, and took up an import slot.
Pirean should be the starting player at first, as Nisqy may need some time getting a visa. But given Pirean’s unconvincing track record in the NA LCS, Nisqy should start at some point. The question is if it will matter. Can either of these players bridge the gap between the Korean top/jungle duo and the bot lane? Are either of them good enough too drag EnVy out of the depths? For now, it appears unlikely.
8) Echo Fox (12 points)
How much more time can we give owner Rick Fox and star mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen to get Echo Fox into playoff contention? It seems like each split starts with promise, built around Froggen’s superb talents.
But by mid-split, the issues really start emerging. Froggen is relegated to control champions like his favored Anivia, hoping just to hang on, while the team shows little ability to play the map or close games. That was their big issue last split, when they actually were a great early game team. This is a team that knows how to play but has yet to learn how to win.
7) Immortals (15 points)
Immortals had the biggest spread in the rankings. The story for most of the year was that this team would be better in the summer when the coaching staff would start to jell and build around Josh “Dardoch” Hartnett. And they gained momentum at the of the Spring Split, nearly making an unexpected playoff appearance.
Instead, the team goes into summer with even more uncertainty than before. After just a split, both the coach David “Hermes” Tu and Dardoch are gone. In Hermes’ place is former Longzhu coach Kim “Ssong” Sang-soo, who will be tasked with figuring out how to translate the team’s scrim performances to the stage. With a smart, stable player in Jake “Xmithie” Puchero at jungler, some ranked Immortals as a playoff team while others thought they would fall to the bottom of the pack.
6) FlyQuest (19 points)
Not many people believed in FlyQuest before the Spring Split. It looked like a bunch of washed up pros heading into the LCS grinder.
But FlyQuest handled the early pressure with aplomb. Even a late split swoon couldn’t undo the goodwill the team had built by playing an uber-aggressive strategy that is fun to watch, even if wasn’t totally successful.
Then, they went and signed Jason “WildTurtle” Tran, a player known for his reckless abandon. He’s big upgrade for the team and seems to suit their style perfectly. Some of the rankings were submitted before the WildTurtle news broke—it’s possible that with him, FlyQuest will shoot up the rankings when play starts.
Either way, the team should be in the thick of the playoffs again in summer, where they will hope to catch someone off guard with their unpredictable style.
5) Team Dignitas (20 points)
Dignitas survived an elimination match on the last day of the Spring Split to make playoffs. Once there, they were easily eliminated by a Phoenix1 squad playing with tempo and momentum.
Dignitas’ investors put a lot into this year’s team, and they have a tough road in the Summer Split to prove that they can be a legitimate playoff contender. The biggest question is whether top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho can take advantage of the meta, which includes a new and improved Rift Herald.
Ssumday will have to play extremely well to take pressure off the bot lane, which regressed last split. They’ll have to fix the lane phase in particular to really improve in summer.
4) CLG (30 points)
There’s a considerable gap in the rankings between the top four and the rest of the pack. The belief is that after a full split to figure out play styles, the cream will rise to the top. CLG is certainly a team that adjusts well throughout a split—can they apply that formula to the whole season?
This is another team that typically struggles in the early game. They basically wave the white flag in the lane phase, knowing that stubborn split pushing can provide pressure no matter how far behind the pushers are.
But that style makes them too one-dimensional, and the team responded by bringing in Dardoch to give them a much-needed shot in the arm. Dardoch was in the top four junglers in First Blood percentage last split, but a lot of those kills came on extremely risky plays, which he sometimes fumbled. Can the team adjust to his style of early pressure and ramp up the early game? Heck, it’s even a question whether this team can stay together for a split given Dardoch’s prickly personality.
If it works, CLG could be in the title match again. If it doesn’t, expect more behind-the-scenes drama from a team with Dardofch on the roster.
3) Phoenix1 (31 points)
Phoenix1 was one of the hottest teams at the end of last split, led by imports Noh “Arrow” Dong-hyeon and Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook.
But in the middle of the split, the team suffered through quite a bit of drama that led to a change at support. While the duo lane was still strong after the change, it was apparent that Arrow was being held back by a lack of experience with his lane partner.
P1 will hope that several weeks of Arrow playing with Jordan “Shady” Robison will turn things around. They were so confident in Shady that they let the other support sub, William “Stunt” Chen go to Immortals.
The other question is whether jungler Rami “Inori” Charagh can find some consistency. He mixes the brilliant with the boneheaded, often within the same game. He needs to learn how to communicate better with his team, particularly the two Koreans.
2) Cloud9 (36 points, 2 first place votes)
Once again, Cloud9 are seen as the major contenders to the TSM throne.
The talent is clearly there. For years, they’ve had one of the most balanced rosters in the region, one of the few that can match TSM in skill across most positions.
The problem is that they’ve played whack-a-mole with things they need to fix. Last year it was the late game, where it looked like they didn’t have a clue. Midway through last spring, it was the early game, where the jungler and solo lanes didn’t seem to be on the same page. Then it was the curious swapping of players in the top lane. And finally, when it looked like the team put it together in the Spring Final against TSM, they threw it all away on a fight at the Elder Dragon.
That’s a lot of tough history for this team. At this point, with six talented players, it’s all mental for C9.
1) TSM (39 points, 3 first place votes)
It’s no surprise that TSM is still on top.
With the return of Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng in the duo lane, this team will look to steamroll its competition again in summer. While the team had an impressive match score and won the Spring Split, stumbles were evident as they tried to replace Doublelift’s prowess in lane and shot calling instincts.
An improved bot lane will no doubt benefit TSM’s early game macro. But familiar problems lurk. What happens when they get punched in the mouth, and their typically crisp rotations get jumbled? That is the team’s biggest weakness and the reason they get exploited on the international stage.
The best teams in the world know how to take a step back from a bad situation, regroup, and figure out a way to play to their win conditions. Think of SKT facing a deficit, which rarely feels like a deficit at all. TSM need to learn how to play patiently, trade objectives, if necessary, and pick their spots. And when the time comes to be aggressive, the players need to take charge and go in together. Timidity can be as strong a killer as recklessness.
Do all that, and TSM might get back to its winning ways at Worlds.
All photos via Riot Games Flickr.