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10 Players to Watch

Here are 10 players to keep an eye on heading into Summer 2019.

I took a short vacation after returning from MSI and so it feels like a haze to me, but apparently Team Liquid did in fact secure 2nd place at MSI. That did happen. They did beat reigning World Champion Invictus Gaming 3-1 in what was one of the greatest upsets in League of Legends history. Not really sure what happened in the Final, though I imagine it was a super closely-contested affair between them and G2. Surely NA would not get stomped in such a hyped Final. With that over, though, we now return to the LCS, or as I more affectionately like to call us: the second best region in the world. Here’s 10 players to watch going into the Summer!

TEAM LIQUID — Doublelift
In The Dark Knight, the Joker says, “I’m like a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one, you know, I just do… things.” This is kind of what happened to TL at MSI — they’re the dog, and IG was the car. Hard to blame them for being lost in the Finals. Doublelift is one of the few players that can always be the Player to Watch (whatever the rules are for this) because of his stature. Like, if the LCS were its own galaxy, then he would be its gravity. TL is coming off a couple of different things when you break down their MSI run. First is the Group Stage in which they were largely lackluster (which is putting it nicely) until the very final game, where they then absolutely destroyed G2 to avoid another tiebreaker. Using that momentum, they then went on to beat IG in a fairly convincing 3-1 set. IG, mind you, was coming off a 9-1 Group Stage and was heralded by some as in contention for the most dominant team ever. So Liquid winning it was in fact the equivalent of a dog somehow catching a speeding car and then stopping it in its tracks. Then they got absolutely walloped in the Finals by G2 (it was the fastest Bo5 in international history). Doublelift himself admits he played like shit, so the question for me now is what’s next? They’ve been the best team in NA for three consecutive splits now and there’s no doubt in my mind they’ll do well enough this split to secure a Worlds bid. My hope is that they still take this split seriously — as we saw at MSI, they are still lacking when it comes to consistency. They shouldn’t just rely on being able to turn it “on” when they need to. I want to see this team push for an undefeated streak, and I think a push for perfection is on Doublelift to lead by example.

TSM — Zven
“The play” will be broadcast ad infinitum this split. Before TSM’s first game. Before their second game. Before Playoffs. On his Twitch ads. In his dreams. On Netflix. You name it. It is, of course, when he overstepped as Ezreal into a waiting Skarner stinger, which led to a TL comeback in the decisive 5th game of the Spring Final. It was probably the single most inexplicable play I’ve ever seen in NA when you consider the occasion and the caliber of a player like Zven (and he was on Ezreal, which is a champion that has two Flashes). If you close your eyes, perhaps you too can still see it all unfold in slow-motion. It is like those videos of men sticking their arms into an open crocodile mouth, only in this instance the teeth come down and the arm is torn off. This must have spurred a series of “what-ifs” for TSM, especially after watching TL make the deep run at MSI. Could they, too, defeat IG? Could they fare better against G2? What you do have is a not-small contingency of TSM fans who still believe they were the better team, even if they weren’t better on that particular day. They might call it a one-off or they might hone in on Zven’s blunder. As might TSM. And I don’t think they’re super far off from being able to make that claim — this was the most exciting iteration of TSM in a long time, and I think they have every right to have high expectations in the summer. There is only one way for Zven to put this behind him, which is of course to win. It doesn’t have to be now per se, but if you’re TSM, surely you’re thinking, “Why not now?”

CLOUD9 — Licorice
Going into the Spring Split Playoffs, I actually thought C9 was the best team in NA because I am smitten by proactive teams. And then they jumped out to a 2-0 lead against TSM and I felt like a genius. And then they got reverse swept and I pretended I was never really that confident in them anyway. Who cares! I don’t anticipate things changing much in the standings in the Summer — the Top 3 teams in the league were leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else, and it doesn’t seem like enough roster changes were made to address this gap. Things could change with the meta inevitably shifting, but these teams are all good because they’ve been the most adaptable. Licorice, for example, is someone who seems very quick on the uptake when it comes to new champions and builds. This makes him one of the most exciting players in the LCS for me — not only has he clearly become the carry for this team, he’s also their main catalyst for playmaking. As we saw from Impact’s play on the Worlds stage and also from Licorice’s own performance at Worlds last year, NA’s top laners have undergone a sort of renaissance in the last year or so. What was once a weak spot for the region has blossomed into one of its strongest. It’s a top do or top die world, and as an MVP-candidate, Licorice is the face of that movement.

FLYQUEST — Santorin
In the Spring Split, the LCS’s Big 3 teams placed 14 out of 15 players on the All-Pro teams. The one person who wasn’t on those teams? Albert Einstein Santorin. He’s had one of the more interesting career arcs for a player — after a super promising start with TSM, he’s since bounced around from team-to-team across both NA and EU, mostly on Challenger or Academy teams. He just kind of disappeared from the biggest stages and has since talked about how it’s been a long but humbling process for him. FLY was a team that, to many people, overperformed last split — much of this is tied to how they didn’t and still don’t have a “superstar” so-to-speak, but Santorin has shown that perhaps he can be the one to step up and don that mantle. The jungle pool in NA is maybe the weakest overall position for the region, so if someone is able to be an outright superstar here, then I think that could really elevate their team. It’s often the most difficult role to accurately judge since so much of a jungler’s performance is reliant on how their laners perform, but it’s also a role that’s kind of a chicken-or-egg situation. Junglers seem to either have too much influence or not enough influence. Santorin recently clinched Rank 1 on NA Solo Queue with over 1600 LP, which is an absurd number when you realize he was only gaining 7-10 LP per win towards the end. His continued resurgence is going to be the thing that can push FLY into the Top 3, which is, of course, now a requirement for making Worlds.

When I was a kid, I thought obsessing over old cars like a 60’s Mustang was weird because I thought they looked dumb and clunky compared to sleek modern cars. But those cars actually sometimes have a stupid amount of horse power to them — be it through different safety standards or design or whatnot, they certainly didn’t lack speed and torque. Froggen as a player is the equivalent of one of those old cars. Sometimes he picks really weird stuff like Anivia or Vel’Koz — things no one else plays — and still makes it work for his style. Just because it isn’t super flashy doesn’t mean it can’t deal a truckload of damage. And while that’s the thing that defines or separates him from other mid laners, it’s not as if he can’t play newer champions either. GGS is a team that fumbled out of the gate and then steadily recovered over the rest of the Sprint Split — I think there’s good reason to expect them to be even better this go-around. Froggen is a player that’s either super overrated or super underrated depending on who you ask and on what day and on what champion, but I think you at least know he could pop off in any given game, and because the high ceiling for him is still there, that makes this GGS team, again, the dark horse going into the summer.  

ECHO FOX — Rick Fox
Recently, it was pointed out that Rick Fox is among the 100 worst players to queue up for Solo Queue on the North American ladder, which is statistically more difficult to do than to make Challenger. Honestly most of you could never. It’s okay, Rick — you just happen to play in the second best region in the world, so it’s no surprise the quality of our Solo Queue is much higher. I consider myself a fairly active player, but he’s actually played more ranked games than I have — in fact, he averages out to about two games a day. That’s pretty cool to see from someone who first got interested in this game because of his son! Anyway, the path to pro is still steep for him, but if he wants to become the GOAT owner, then he needs to queue up for a pro game, win, and then immediately retire — ala IG owner Wang Sicong. In all honesty, FOX’s key player this split is going to be Fenix. I admittedly did not have very high hopes for him going into the Spring Split, but he proved me wrong as FOX made a surprising run into the Playoffs, and to me, he was the anchor behind the operation. Mid has become a super stacked position in NA, and Fenix was able to hold his own even while the jungler position on FOX was in flux. FOX is weird in that the bar for success for them now is to make Playoffs, but most people (me included) didn’t expect them to do that last split. It’ll be interesting to see if they can adjust their bar, which to me now is they must play Rick Fox or they will have failed us all.  

Recently Doublelift announced that he received a card from Chipotle that would give him a free meal every single day for the next year, which is a thing we’ve joked about since 2013 when Meteos and the OG C9 team essentially made the C in C9 stand for Chipotle. Basically I demand justice for Meteos. He deserves the sponsorship, too. OPT came close to making Playoffs last split after struggling through some visa issues at the beginning of the split that sidelined Arrow and made it difficult for the team’s main roster to properly gel. And while Dardoch split some time on the main stage with Meteos, it was still clearly Meteos’ role to lose. Even though he hasn’t had a consistent presence in pro play in the last couple of years, whenever he
has played, he’s still been one of the top junglers in the league. OPT’s main problems were rarely in the early game in the Spring — instead they faltered when it came to the mid and late game, where it seemed like they lacked good direction. I don’t think it’s easy to just teach someone how to shotcall, but that’s the kind of thing that’s at least identifiable in scrim reviews and practices. That, to me, feels more do-able than to have your players suddenly start winning lane.

Darshan’s departure feels kind of like when you finally buy a new couch or a new car or something of that nature. The old one works fine. Perfectly fine, even. But every now and then someone would say something like, “Wow this is so old,” and that pressure would mount up until you start to notice its imperfections a little more each day. I am not saying that Darshan was still the best top laner in the league, like he has been able to stake claim to before, but I did feel like CLG’s problems extended well beyond just him. Even still, perhaps a change is exactly the kind of thing that will motivate this roster to make a return towards the glory days of old. CLG is still one of only four organizations in the LCS to actually win a split, and their fan base is still strong (if a little dormant now). New top laner Ruin comes to Los Angeles from Turkey, where he played on MSI participant 1907 Fenerbahçe — this was a team that was only eliminated by Phong Vu Buffalo in a tiebreaker. Hailing from South Korea, Ruin was their primary catalyst and carry all split. He follows in the footsteps of top laners FNC Bwipo and TSM’s BrokenBlade as the latest dominant top laner to leave the TCL — that’s some good company, and I think it bodes well for CLG’s hopes. Even if their faith is dim these days. It’s as the Foo Fighters once said — it’s a long road to Ruin.   

Very few yees were hawed in the Spring Split for this roster. They reminded me a lot of Invictus Gaming if you took out the part where Invictus Gaming still managed to win somehow. There was a lot of dumb aggression to this roster, which was no doubt inspired by Huni. Sometimes it looks like the work of a genius, and sometimes it feels like watching a spastic cat. Mid laner Damonte has been one of the up-and-coming talents in North America for the past couple of years, but I think it’s starting to get to the point where his inexperience can’t really be used as an excuse anymore. He’s had some very good stretches, even while CG struggled, but that hasn’t been consistent enough to push him into an elite echelon. Clutch is a team that I felt like was a lot better than their record suggested in the Spring Split, and to me it wouldn’t be surprising to see them correct course. There’s a lot of individual talent on this roster, and it’s hard to envision Huni having another split as disappointing as his spring, but he will always be a bit of a coin flip player. That’s why Damonte needs to provide a more steady presence — mid lane is a very punishing position (not just for your lane, but for the entire map) if you slip up, and his highs haven’t been high enough to balance out the lows. For their summer to bear any fruit, Tanner time will need to be all the time.

100 THIEVES — Aphromoo
In case you forgot, the 100 Thieves did in fact finish last place in the Spring Split, and in case you forgot even more, they were in fact expected to finish near the top of the table. You might note that last and top are very far away from each other. You might also note that their roster featured 2018 Spring Split MVP Aphromoo and two-time World Champion Bang in the bot lane. Science can’t explain that! The biggest change they made over the short offseason was permanently replacing mid laner Huhi with Soligo, who they trialed at the end of the Spring Split. They’ve also brought former TSM jungler Amazing back from the LEC to shore up the jungle spot alongside Anda. It’s hard for me to say an unproven talent in Soligo is better than Huhi, but I am generally an advocate of making changes if things are clearly not working out. You figure their bot lane and top laner, Ssumday, should have the natural ability to shine given the right circumstances, and with a new mid/jungle pairing, it will give us a bit of a case study into what the actual problem could be. Aphromoo was on the receiving end of an enormous amount of criticism last split — even to the point of community members feeling like they needed to publicly defend him. But it’s not like the criticism of his play wasn’t unwarranted — it was clearly a difficult split for the entire 100 team, and Aphromoo as the de facto leader was always going to take the brunt of it if they struggled. Another poor split from him will only give more resonance to that chorus of dissent, but he’s someone who’s hit lows before in his career — I don’t think he’s likely to be rattled by external noise. With a split of communications with Bang under his belt now, I think this roster still has potential to reverse their script. They shouldn’t finish last again. No way. Definitely couldn’t see it happening again.

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Final Update on Little Demon Trist