With only two weeks left until the start of the LCS, we are being bombarded with a lot of last minute changes, either to the LCS or the teams that are competing. The biggest news so far are the involvement of Team Liquid in League of Legends, by acquiring the former Team Curse, and RIOT revealing the new LCS Rules for season 5. So let’s take a quick look at what to expect from the spring split of the NA LCS.
The new LCS rules (tl;dr version)
The 10th place LCS team will automatically be moved to the Challenger Series for the next split. The 1st place Challenger team will automatically earn a spot in the LCS.
LCS teams will receive championship points based on their performance in the LCS playoffs each split. The points will be used to determine seeding for the World Championship and Regional Qualifiers for North America and Europe.
The winner of the Summer Split and the team with the most championship points throughout the season will both qualify for Worlds for their respective region. The NA and EU Regional Qualifiers will determine the final seeds for Worlds.
We all knew that this season there were going to be 10 teams competing in the LCS, but what came as a shock to many people is the new rule that the last team in the regular season will get relegated automatically. As a European, I can’t help but notice the similarity of this format to the one practiced in the European soccer championships. Many people criticized this new format, most commonly being said that there is no guarantee that the first place challenger team will be better than the last place LCS team or that teams should always play to qualify into the LCS. Both criticisms are based on fallacies though, because as easy as it is to say that there is no guarantee that the first challenger team will be better than the last LCS team, you can always reverse the statement (just imagine if Curse Academy would have won the best of 5 against CLG – after all they were just 1 game away, and it would have been a 3-0 for them), and when saying that teams should always play to get into the LCS it’s the same as implying that challenger teams are not really “playing” and that the challenger scene doesn’t matter at all. I agree that the LCS is more important, but let’s not forget that the challenger scene gave us teams like Cloud9, LMQ or Roccat. All this does, is make the battle for last place avoidance more intense – forcing teams to care about whether they are last or not, and not just getting accustomed with the idea they are last, and focusing on the promotion playoffs – and creating a more competitive challenger series, making challenger teams value more being number one.
Overall, the new LCS rules are set to reward consistency, to make each game count more (teams will only face each other only two times, instead of four times) and to have the spring split of the LCS season count towards qualification to the World Championship (although I would have liked to see both splits have the same amount of importance in determining who gets to go). In my opinion, this new rules are a step in the right direction, that will raise the level of competition, in both LCS and the challenger scene.
Team Liquid acquires Team Curse
One of the biggest news in the NA LCS, and for League of Legend in general, is the acquisition of Team Curse by Team Liquid, one of the biggest names in esports. I’m not going to focus on the details of the deal, which were exhaustively discussed over social media, or the accusation of hypocrisy, but rather on the positive impact they can have on the western competitive League of Legends scene.
Team Liquid is one of the oldest and most prominent esport organizations, founded in the year 2000 to cover StarCraft: Brood War. Since then, they have expanded in other esports, like StarCraft 2, Dota 2, Hearthstone or Super Smash Brothers. Them getting into League of Legends, means bringing all the know-how about the inner workings of a successful team, especially when we talk about the staff supporting the players, like, for example, head-coaches, role-specific coaches, analysts, etc. These concepts already exist in Korea and China, but most western teams have resisted implementing them as a vital part of their organizations. My hope is that Team Liquid will prove how strong these concepts are, and thus force all other major teams in following their example. Also, this acquisition will mean more League of Legends specific content for all of us to enjoy.
With that being said about the new LCS rules and Team Liquid’s arrival, let’s talk about the teams that will participate in this NA LCS Split
Following the departure of Voyboy and Cop, Team Liquid made probably the most hyped transfer during the off-season by getting Chae “Piglet” Gwang Jin, former AD carry of SK Telecom T1 K, world champions in season 3. After the transfer of Xpecial in the summer split of last season, this is probably the best move they could have made. Alongside one of the best supports in North America, Piglet has the chance to shine, and become the star of this team, and finally break the curse (it was really hard not to touch this aspect). Not only his more aggressive style, compared to Cop, is better suited with Xpecial’s style of play, his mechanical skills are arguably better. This is a duo that has the chance of becoming the most deadly in the NA LCS.
The other transfer made during the off-season was that of Kim “FeniX” Jae Hun, from Jin Air Falcons. This is a weird transfer, as it is the only real unknown for this lineup; he was not a big name in Korea, and additionally he will be switching positions, from top to mid (in the same manner as Voyboy did) where he will have to face seasoned players like Bjergsen or Hai. Maybe the level of competition is not as high in NA as it was in Korea, but that will not save him from the fierce mid laners of the top teams. On the plus side for him, he has the assistance of a very aggressive jungler, and I think that his synergy with IWillDominate will be paramount for his success. Also, for both him and Piglet, communication will be a key factor, as it is well known that not all Korean pro players speak good English.
Team Liquid also retained Quas in the top lane – who had a very good season 4, and is favored by the tank top lane meta – and has overall a very good roster, that is able to challenge Cloud 9’s and Team Solo Mid’s domination of the North American scene.
During the off-season, Cloud 9 made no changes to their roster, being the only team in this category. And rightly so: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Could 9 dominated the NA LCS over the last three splits, placing first in all three at the end of the regular season, winning two out of three play-off finals and making two consecutive quarter-final appearances at the World Championship. It’s a record any team in the NA LCS must envy.
After a somewhat disappointing World Championship, they had a spectacular performance at IEM San Jose, losing only one game in the three matches against PaiN Gaming, Alliance and Unicorns of Love. That doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement though. The new jungle changes seem to favor them, seeing as Meteos is undoubtedly the best NA jungler, but they also need Hai to keep expanding his champion pool, and increase his aggressiveness in lane. Also, LemonNation needs to work on his mechanical skills, to keep up with Sneaky’s improving style.
Still, there is no debate they are the favorites at taking the number one spot again, and under the new LCS rule, their consistency is likely to book them a spot for the next World Championships.
Following Amazing’s announcement of his departure from the team, TSM had to look for a new jungler to replace him, and chose to gamble on Santorin, instead of former LCS players like Xmithie. A controversial pick, seeing he has no major achievements under his belt, he has the advantage of being young and able to rely on the help of two of NA’s best solo laners, Dyrus and Bjergsen. Even though their games at IEM San Jose were disastrous, with all players having a mediocre performance, I don’t think those games are representative of TSM’s true strength. With the addition of Lustboy at the end of last season, we may see WildTurtle returning to his season 3 form, and if that happens we may see TSM repeating last split’s performance.
Counter Logic Gaming
After a disastrous finish of the 2014 summer split, and barely avoiding relegation, Counter Logic Gaming brought in William “Scarra” Li, as the new coach, and ZionSpartan, as the new top laner, from Dignitas, and also replaced Dexter, who was in my opinion one of their most consistent players during last season, with Xmithie, former jungler for Vulcun. These new acquisitions solve some of their problems, such as the language barrier they had with Seraph, and the “remote” style of coaching they had with MonteCristo. After two amazing games against Roccat, and finishing second at IEM Cologne, they seem to have solved some of their problems, especially seeing as they did that having Thinkcard as a sub for the jungler position. However, we must take into account they have two players, ZionSpartan and Link, which were plagued with inconsistency issues last year. Unless they manage to fix this problem, I doubt they will be a real contender for first place, especially seeing as the competition is even stronger this season. They may also have a weak start to the season seeing as due to a Riot ruling they will not be able to field Scarra for the first three weeks, and, more importantly, they will have to play with a sub for the top lane in the first week, putting that much more pressure on the bottom lane duo of Doublelift and Aphromoo.
Team Impulse (LMQ)
Following the management problems that afflicted them at the end of season 4, and a disappointing World Championship, four of the five LMQ team members left the team, prompting a complete team overhaul, starting with the new team name, Team Impulse. The only remaining team member is XiaoWeiXiao, one of the best, and probably most aggressive, mid laners in NA. Except for the signing of Impact, former SKT Telecom T1 K member, who is a decent top laner (but in no way close to Ackerman’s level) and accustomed to high level games, they also acquired former Team Coast ad carry, WizFujiiN, and two solo queue players: Yoonjae “Rush” Lee (ranked number 1 on the Korean ladder) and Adrian “Popstar” Ma (a Robert Morris University player). At this moment there is no saying what their capabilities are. If they will be able to have good team communication (seeing as they have two Koreans, a Chinese and two Americans) and coordination they may be able to have good results, but at the moment their prospects are not that high, looking to be at best a middle of the pack team.
Narrowly escaping from having to play relegation matches, Team Dignitas was delivered a huge blow when coach Scarra and top laner ZionSpartan moved to CLG, and ad carry Imaqtpie decided to retire. At this time, team captain and jungler Crumbzz, was put in charge in creating a new team. He decided to go forward with star mid laner Shiphtur and support KiWiKiD, and followed the overall Korean hype and brought in Gamsu, a non-tested top laner, and former Bigfile Miracle ad carry, Core JJ. They fielded this exact lineup at IEM Cologne, where they dropped a game against Aces High eSports Club, and got swiftly defeated by Gambit. Of course, those games are not enough to help us form an opinion about their strength, but it did show us that they are still plagued by the same problems they had last year, with maybe the addition of some new communication problems. One of the most controversial decisions he made however, from my perspective, is that he decided to keep KiWiKiD, who last season had, at best, a mediocre performance, and which I don’t think will improve much this season. That though remains to be seen, and they may surprise all of us.
Practically nothing remains of the former Evil Geniuses team (the north American version): all the original players, except Pobelter are gone, and now they are playing under a new name. With the addition of two new Korean players, Avalon and Imagine (one of which – Avalon – is Helios’s brother) along with a new Korean coach, they now have one of the youngest, and with the most room to grow, teams in the NA LCS. Having two untested players, and a history of the other players having LAN jitters, does not bode well for them at first sight. Having a Korean coach may be a factor in helping them overcome all these hurdles, and forming them into a strong and cohesive team, but that remains to be seen.
Team 8 is the only one of the new teams from the NA LCS that defeated an actual LCS team to gain entrance, by defeating Complexity during the Spring Promotion Play-offs. Aside from frommaplestreet, former ad carry of Velocity esports, none of the other members played in the LCS. They had a very strong performance in the challenger scene, but that does not always translate to good results in the LCS. When taking a look at the other two challenger teams that entered in the LCS, the point could be made that Team 8 will have a hard road ahead of them, and I think that avoiding relegation is a legitimate goal for them, especially under the new rules.
With 3 former LCS players in their roster, Curse Academy is poised to be one of the best teams this season. They had a very close series with CLG, taking them to a five game series, and after that they went on to dominate the Expansion Tournament. Saintvicious seems to have regained his form, with a little help from the current meta, and will probably be one of the strongest junglers in the NA LCS. Having played together before, and with Bunny FuFuu showing great improvements, the duo of Cop and Bunny FuFuu will surely be one of the strong points of Curse Academy, and will look forward to challenge the other bot laners from the league, even though it will not be an easy thing to achieve. Being new to the LCS, Hauntzer and Keane will have to prove themselves; especially with all the strong opposition they will face this split.
By signing two young European, former LCS players, Team Coast made a strong statement prior to the Expansion Tournament about their commitment to return in the LCS. Even if Jesiz, former mid laner of SK Gaming, seemed to continue his declining form, their saving grace was Impaler, former jungler for SUPA HOT CREW, who had an amazing performance. Even if they lost a match to Curse Academy, they did show they are a strong team overall. This team is also a chance for Mash to prove himself, so his synergy with Sheep will be of paramount importance. It’s hard to tell what to expect from them, but they definitely have the chance of becoming a strong team.
Photo credit: gamepedia, lolesports