As we’re on the cusp of another Pro-season for League of Legends, NA LCS sticks out as the region to watch this year. While every region has its heroes and villains, professional League of Legends hasn’t seen a roster shake-up like this before. What was once “what if” and “if only” has now come true. The NA LCS now means more than just a win for the split or a ticket to Worlds. Lots of fans and e-sports figures are speculating, but so many new factors have made the next split unpredictable. As fans, here’s what to watch out for:
- Money vs. Experience
When Challenger teams entered the NA LCS, they lacked experience and resources to catch up to the old guard and veterans of the game. Seasons ended with the lower ranks fighting to survive relegation while the upper echelons of the LCS advanced to playoffs. Not only did newer teams lack the experience at that tier of play, but they lacked the resources to make up for the gap. I would venture to guess all the teams that went to the 2015 World Championships all had coaches and analysts advising players at all stages of the game as well.
2016 NA LCS is seeing a new breed of rookie team; with the Spring Split, well-funded teams are entering the system with experienced players. These are not the Challenger teams of past. These are teams that now have significant resources that just might be able to bridge the experience gap between the old guard and new rosters. The impact of infrastructure on a team cannot be understated in any capacity, and the funding to hire the best could shatter the glass ceiling separating low and top tier teams.
Furthermore, newer teams are sporting rosters with experience under their belt, comparable to the veterans of the NA LCS. The league is now split in half between old-guard and new-money organizations, and each week will feature at least one major clash of experience vs. funding.
- Player Diversity & Remixing
An influx of money also brought along another wave of foreign talent for 2016. While NA LCS was already arguably the most diverse of the professional leagues, more imports are arriving and filling the ranks. Each new player brings their own set of styles, views, and attitudes to how the game is played. These imports are huge names as well: YellowStar (to TSM) , Huni (to Immortals), and Reignover (to Immortals) are joining the NA league from Fnatic after a dominating EU LCS Summer Split and a 3-4th place Worlds finish. Huhi (CLG) GBM (to NRG) enter the league with Korean Mid-lane style. Alex Ich (RNG) re-enters the pro-level scene, bolstering the EU Mid-lane ranks of Incarnation (C9) and Bjergsen (TSM). Lots of new players are entering the scene from diverse origins, bringing their own level and style of play.
To further complicate the NA LCS competitive climate, new roster changes will completely change how older teams will play now. TSM sports the triple threat of YellowStar/Bjergsen/Doublelift, players that have made major contributions to how the game is played, along with Svenskaren and Hauntzer who are strong competitors in their own right. Cloud9 has picked up Rush in the Jungle and will be rotating in BunnyFufu for support set to match a trio of accomplished players.
Making a complete educated analysis is difficult; there is an unprecedented level of play forming in NA LCS just from the teams and rosters alone. With infrastructure on the rise as well, expect low tier teams to give long-time NA LCS staple teams a hard time.
- The Region Needs to Show Up
We all know the story: NA hype followed by a disappointing worlds show. This year looked fairly hopeful, up until the second week of group stages hit. Historically, NA never placed as poorly as it did in the Season 5 World Championship. This doesn’t necessarily mean NA is the worst region collectively, but the best of NA just didn’t match up with the best of other regions. “But what if the group stages were just bo1 instead of bo2?” The argument fails to hold when you consider how clean and polished other top tier teams played in comparison to NA. Furthermore, bo2 should prove how consistent teams are at staying on top; if you struggle to defeat another team that’s considered slightly worse than you, you won’t hold a candle to a higher tier team when the time comes.
NA LCS as a whole has more to prove now than ever. With an implosion from the last international championship looming over the region, even the top tier teams will have to emerge stronger than ever. It’s no longer just about winning at the end of the day, it’s about chasing perfection of the game. The reputation of the NA region has to be redeemed.
NA might not be a region with perfect teams right now, but these three factors alone make it a region to watch this year. New teams are now pushing past struggling to get by, while older teams have experience and fervor to match. Rosters looked more stacked than ever before. The region as a whole must reclaim its place in the world.