Every North American LCS team, and how they should stack up this season
The 2015 offseason was by far the craziest roster swap period in League of Legends history. But, unlike its European brother, the North American League Championship Series (LCS) saw something special: investment.
While NRG, Immortals, and Echo Fox were investing in a spot and putting together a roster, Cloud9 and Team SoloMid were digging heavily into their pocketbooks to acquire some of the region’s (and Europe’s) best talent.
This quick signing of players left very little time for other teams—like Team Liquid and Team Impulse—to decide on their own rosters and potential acquisitions. Impulse lost their entire squad, while Liquid lost their best player to a suspension after disputes and player depression. Both teams spontaneously fixed their issues, but how will those quick decisions affect their outcome this season?
Final season rankings are dependent on many variables—such as coaching staff, player behavior, and performance—but it’s possible to make a preseason estimated guess based off the team’s rosters and players’ previous performances.
Here’s how we think the North American LCS will stack up this year:
10) Team Impulse
Top: Feng - Jungle: Procxin / beibei - Mid: Pirean - ADC: MashMe - Support: Gate
Team Impulse had a pretty rough end to 2015. They lost four of their members—Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae, Apollo “Apollo” Price, and Adrian “Adrian” Ma—after failing to qualify for the 2015 World Championship. The organization tried to sell its spot, but failed to do so and had to build a new roster.
Overall this lineup may just be the worst team to ever play in the North American LCS.
Not much is known about their top laner Wang “Feng” Xiao Feng. He has been referred to as a “Bard one trick pony” by many professional players—meaning he only excels on that champion, which mainly resides in the bottom lane. The same goes for their mid lane, Kim “Pirean” Seyoung, who is an unknown player from deep in the Korean Challenger ladder.
The rest of their roster—Jungler Kim "Procxin" Se-Young, substitute jungler Meng “beibei” Zhang, marksman Brandon “DontMashMe” Phan, and support Austin “Gate” Yu—are known for being extremely mediocre. Yu and Phan both competed in the LCS last year, and were the worst players on their teams. Meanwhile Se-Young and Zhang barely played at all in 2015, with lackluster results whenever they did set foot on Summoner’s Rift.
With all of this in mind, it's easy to say Team Impulse will be the worst team in the LCS this year.
9) Team Liquid
Top: Lourlo / Zig - Jungle: IWillDominate / Dardoch - Mid: Fenix / Youngbin - ADC: Piglet / Fabbbyyy Support: Smoothie / Matt
Last season Team Liquid successfully broke its curse of placing fourth, but they face a harder problem this season: avoiding relegation.
With the sudden departure of top laner Diego “Quas” Ruiz (arguably their best player), and rumors of Christian “IWillDominate” Rivera and Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin struggling in scrimmages, it's likely the team will have their roughest season yet.
Their starting top laner is former Counter Logic Gaming Black player Samson "Lourlo" Jackson. During his time with the CLG squad he proved to be an extremely strong Challenger top laner. But this year he’ll have to square up against some of North America’s best top laners—the likes of Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya, Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, and Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon. In this case, he might struggle against such stiff competition.
If Rivera and Gwang-jin really have been underperforming Team Liquid will need to utilize their 10-man squad effectively. Luckily for them, substitute jungler Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett is probably the best jungler to never have competed in the LCS before—alongside Echo Fox’s Anthony “Hard” Barkhovtsev.
Substitute marksman Jovani "fabbbyyy" Guillen is mechanically strong, but just how well his strategy will play out in-lane and outside-of-lane is yet to be seen. Hopefully for Liquid we won’t need to find out.
With all of these questions it is realistic that we will see Liquid struggle for the first time ever, bottom four is definitely not out of the question.
8) Echo Fox
Top: KFO - Jungle: Hard - Mid: Froggen / SELFIE - ADC: KEITH - Support: Baby
Echo Fox first made headlines after former Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics basketball player Rick Fox acquired Gravity Gaming’s LCS spot in December. The team recently finalized their roster, adding four familiar faces and one unknown Korean Challenger player.
The team’s strong points are their mid laners, former Elements player Henrik “Froggen” Hansen and Marcin “SELFIE” Wolski from MeetYourMakers. These two are among the best talent to play in Europe’s mid lane over the years, particularly Hansen who is a legend in his own right—proving to be one of the most consistent and strong mid laners throughout his time in Counter Logic Gaming Europe, Evil Geniuses, and Alliance. Those strengths made him one of the most known mid laners in the world.
Now that Hansen and Wolski are in the North American LCS with Echo Fox they’ll have their work cut out for them due to playing with a large amount of rookies in a brand new team.
Depending on jungler synergy, they could present deadly combos with their jungler, former Cloud9 Tempest player Anthony “Hard” Barkhovtsev.
As for their bottom lane, the pressure lies on Terry “Baby” Chuong (also known as “BIG”), who has shown mediocre performances during his time substituting with Team Dragon Knights and Counter Logic Gaming.
AD carry Yuri “KEITH” Jew should be fine this season. He’s one of the most consistent substitutes to ever have a chance at LCS glory, during his time with Team SoloMid and Team Liquid.
That likely won’t be enough to save Echo Fox from relegation. Like Liquid they could fight for a spot between sixth and ninth, and maybe make playoffs. But at face value, the lack of results from their members in the past does question how strong the team will be this season.
7) Team Dignitas
Top: Smittyj - Jungle: Kirei - Mid: Shiphtur - ADC: Apollo - Support: KiWiKiD
Like many of the other rosters this offseason, Team Dignitas made significant changes to their roster.
They lost all three of their Korean players—Noh "Gamsu" Yeong-jin, Shin "Helios" Dong-jin, and Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in. As replacements they acquired two Europeans, Lennart "Smittyj" Warkus and Thomas "Kirei" Yuen, and an American AD carry Apollo “Apollo” Price.
The highlight of the new Dignitas roster is Yuen, who was the best jungler in the European Challenger Series last season. His first performance with the team at the Intel Extreme Masters Cologne showed he can compete well against international talent, despite his team failing to make it past the first round.
At IEM Cologne Warkus showed that he has nerves, which may be a big issue for the team going into this season. During his time in Europe he was an adequate top laner, but nothing special—he’ll need to improve if he wants to fight with the best.
Dignitas’ bottom lane will also need to step it up this split. AD carry Price looked at the top of his game while on Team Impulse—but how much of that was due to a strong support in Adrian “Adrian” Ma? Unlike Ma, Alan "KiWiKiD" Nguyen has been known to struggle in the LCS, so Price will need to hold his own more often.
Mid laner Danny "Shiphtur" Le is also known to be mediocre, but on his high notes he’s shown some strength, particularly when his jungler is performing. When Le joined the team in Summer 2014, former jungler Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo was favored in the meta and jungling playstyle, resulting in Le performing tremendously.
Theoretically Yuen should be able to replicate the results in his own right this split. That should be enough to keep Dignitas out of relegations. But it won’t be enough for them to make playoffs.
Top: RF Legendary - Jungle: Crumbz - Mid: Alex Ich - ADC: Freeze - Support: Remilia
Renegades is the only team who made it to the LCS last summer via the Promotion Tournament, which is still around. This season Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles’ Renegades will look to prove that they can make it against some of the best teams in the world.
Shortly after qualification, the team parted ways with their AD carry Ainslie "maplestreet" Wyllie. In return they upgraded significantly this offseason, acquiring the talent of former Copenhagen Wolves player Aleš "Freeze" Kněžínek, one of the best European marksmen of last season.
And while Kněžínek and support Maria "Remilia" Creveling should be one of the best bottom lanes in the league, the real weight for Renegades’ success lies with their top laner Oleksii "RF Legendary" Kuziuta. They will depend heavily on his performance, as the rest of the squad have proven consistency or proficiency at what they do.
That said, if he improved in Korea, the team should theoretically be a middle-of-the-pack team. Kněžínek and Creveling are incredible, and mid laner Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin is one of Europe’s biggest legends—due in part to his time with Moscow 5/Gambit. And as long as jungler Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo can perform adequately, the team should be just fine this season.
5) Counter Logic Gaming
Top: Darshan - Jungle: Xmithie - Mid: Huhi - ADC: Stixxay - Support: Aphromoo
The defending North American LCS champion will suffer from the same thing as Team Liquid, the old guard is broken. There was once a time when you could expect Curse (now Liquid), Cloud9, Team SoloMid, and Counter Logic Gaming to be the top 4 (or damn near close to it)—but that time is over.
Luckily for Counter Logic Gaming, they won’t suffer as badly as Liquid. The team made two roster changes this offseason, removing mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park and AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng—with both finding arguably better teams in the end.
In their place, the team promoted two of their substitute rookies: Korean talent Choi "Huhi" Jae-hyun and North American talent Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes. Both were signed to the main Counter Logic squad in May of 2015, so they’ve had plenty of time to train with the roster, despite never setting foot on the LCS stage.
Hayes is poised to be one of the best marksmen to ever come out of North America on a mechanical level, he consistently outplayed opponents in solo queue. When paired with Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black, the duo could prove very strong as they both have a lot of raw talent. Top laner Darshan “Darshan” Upadhyaya (formerly known as ZionSpartan) is also one of the best top laners in the league, and has been since season three.
The true question lies with Choi Jae-hyun and jungler Jake "Xmithie" Puchero. The former showed promise during his time with Bigfile Miracle and Team Fusion in Korea and North America respectively, with the latter showing some strength three years ago with Team Vulcun, but his performance has fallen off harshly ever since.
Overall Counter Logic Gaming looks to be a high/middle-of-the-pack team. But if Choi Jae-hyun and Hayes show something incredible, they could easily fight for the top four like they always have.
Top: Huni - Jungle: Reignover - Mid: Pobelter - ADC: WildTurtle - Support: Adrian
Immortals is undoubtedly going to be one of the top LCS sides this split. However, there are factors that make them weaker than the remaining three on this list, and those need to be addressed.
Heo Seung-hoon’s performance at Worlds left much to be desired (despite his team taking third-fourth), and overall rumors of attitude problems shroud the star. That said, he was one of Europe’s best top laners last split, and it would be nice to see him replicate his regular season performance in North America.
As for Tran, there’s not much to say. He was one of the weakest links in last season’s version of Team SoloMid, despite being a veteran and competing with some incredibly notable teams in his long career. It’s hard to forget the multiple times he’s jumped into fights against five people as Tristana—a deed which scarred most SoloMid fans for life.
But that could be a mesh issue, as he’s consistently one of the highest ranked solo queue players on the ladder during the season. Now he’ll be paired with one of North America’s newcomers, Adrian “Adrian” Ma, who proved to be one of—if not the best—supports in the region last summer. He’s used to carrying mediocre AD carries as well, as he spent his entire season five with Apollo “Apollo” Price on Team Impulse.
Despite the potential downfalls of this squad, Ma and mid laner Eugene “Pobelter” Park have proven consistency when it matters. As long as jungler Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin performs like he did in Fnatic, and Heo Seung-hoon and Tran swallow their issues, the team should prove to be the bottom of the top four.
Top: Balls - Jungle: Rush - Mid: Jensen - ADC: Sneaky - Support: Hai/Bunny FuFuu
Cloud9 is historically one of the best LCS teams, but last spring and summer (mostly summer) saw an extremely bumpy road for the team. They brought in a new mid lane talent, Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen (formerly known as “Incarnati0n”), who’s ban had been lifted just days before being picked up by the team.
The result without their shotcaller—former mid laner Hai “Hai” Du Lam—was brutal. Their jungler William “Meteos” Hartman stepped down mid-split and Lam returned, but in the jungle. The team placed seventh and then made a miraculous Cinderella run through the regional gauntlet to qualify for Worlds.
Now Lam will once again switch roles to the bottom lane, to be the replacement for retired support Daerek "LemonNation" Hart, who now serves as the team’s head coach. In Lam’s old spot Cloud9 picked up former Impulse jungler Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae, as well as former Gravity support Michael "Bunny FuFuu" Kurylo, to substitute for Lam in the bot lane.
The three players Cloud9 didn’t change are very different from one another. Top laner An "BalIs" Van Le is often criticized as the weakest link in the team, but had his ups (particularly on Rumble). But their two carries, Jensen and marksman Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, are some of the best in their positions in the region.
Cloud9 should be a top four contender—most likely in third place. If Le can perform and Lam can still shotcall proficiently from the bottom lane, they may place higher. But there’s something to be said about role swaps and how they’ll affect the team. Either way Cloud9 looks to make top three, and that means a lot for one of the LCS’ most glorified franchises.
2) NRG Esports
Top: Impact - Jungle: Moon - Mid: GBM - ADC: Altec - Support: KonKwon
NRG Esports is one of the newest teams to join the LCS, and likely the best of the three newcomers. The organization bought Team Coast’s LCS spot this offseason, and with the help of former OGN freelancer Barry “Edelweiss” Lee, assembled what looks to be a top four team.
They have three stars on the squad—top laner and 2013 World Champion, former SK Telecom T1 K and Team Impulse’s Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, former Jin Air mid laner Lee "GBM" Chang-seok, and former Gravity Gaming AD carry Johnny "Altec" Ru. All three have shown to have tremendously high skill ceilings throughout their years in professional play.
NRG’s other two members, jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate and Kevin “KonKwon” Kwon, are two of the better up-and-comers in their positions. In 2015 Holgate showed himself to be one of the best Challenger junglers in North America, and will now get his big break. Kwon also showed promise—both in the LCS and in Challenger with Team Coast.
With this setup, NRG should be a top three team. It comes down to synergy and support staff, but with one of the best western minds in the game—Tadayoshi “Hermit” Littleton—as their head coach, that should be enough to make a difference.
1) Team SoloMid
Top: Hauntzer - Jungle: Svenskeren - Mid: Bjergsen - ADC: Doublelift - Support: YellOwStaR
Team SoloMid won the offseason in North America without a doubt. The team replaced four of their members (top lane, jungle, AD carry, and support) with significant upgrades across the board. In those positions, the team picked up some killer veterans both locally and internationally.
The highlight of the new Team SoloMid is their bot lane, mixing former Counter Logic Gaming AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng and former Fnatic support Bora "YellOwStaR" Kim. These two will be the best bottom lane in the league, with mid laner Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg likely one of the best in his position as well.
Top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell shows a lot of promise, performing adequately at Intel Extreme Masters San Jose with the SoloMid squad, and being a consistent player during his time on Gravity Gaming. And jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen has finally found a good team after serving his time on SK Gaming.
Team SoloMid is the best in overall raw talent, and if their new support staff comes through, as they should, the team will easily take out number one.
Team to Watch: Counter Logic Gaming
Counter Logic Gaming is the wildcard for this year’s LCS. Their success is dependent on individual performance from rookies, mid laner Choi "Huhi" Jae-hyun and AD carry Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes.
Mixing veterans with young talent is always exciting, and Counter Logic Gaming is doing just that. Hopefully that pays off, and given the mechanical skill of their rookies, it should.
The team will be fun to watch regardless, and will likely give the better teams a run for their money.
A Challenger Approaches: Team Dragon Knights
Top: Seraph - Jungle: Kez - Mid: Ninja / do it - ADC: Ohq - Support: Bischu
If any organization was done a disservice by the United States State Department last year, it was Team Dragon Knights. The team had visa issues (related to a technical glitch) in attempts to import mid laner Noh "Ninja" Geon-woo and AD carry Kim "Emperor" Jin-hyun—who is now a member of European squad G2 Esports. The result was auto-relegation from the LCS in August.
The team has retooled with a new bot lane—including former NaJin e-mFire marksman Oh "Ohq" Gyu-min and local mid-laner-turned-support Aaron “Bischu” Kim—and they look very strong.
Given the overall talent on their roster, Dragon Knights are the best in Challenger Series on an individual level. They’re even better than Team Impulse, who are actually in the LCS. Now the team looks to make it back in the LCS, and it’s likely we’ll see them in the summer.
Special thanks to LoLEsportspedia for being a resource of League of Legends competitive facts for this article.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr