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I may not have 2020 vision, but it is the year 2020 and that is the only boost I need to tell you who to keep an eye on as we kick off the 10th (!) year of League of Legends esports. It’s been a decade of, of course, great success for North America as the LCS has been won every single time by a North American team. That kind of success isn’t easy to come by in a global sport. And as we head into another split that will surely be won by an NA team, here are 10 players to watch!
100 Thieves — Ry0ma
Mid lane import that has to fly over the Pacific Ocean to get here? Sounds great. Asian? Awesome. Success in his region? Perfect. From Australia? *Record scratch.* Meet Ry0ma, who hails from the Down Under. Mid lane has, for a while now, been the most imported position in NA, but taking someone from OCE raised a lot of eyebrows and the 100 Thieves were the subject of much criticism for the move. This means Ry0ma’s not going to have a lot of time to prove himself in what is arguably the most stacked role in the LCS. Let us pause and look at the biggest brightside for this relative unknown: because Australia is upside down, he’ll be accustomed to playing from the bottom. This makes him the ideal candidate to help NA rise from the bottom of the international totem pole. PapaSmithy (new 100 Thieves GM, in case you didn’t hear) also suggested that he stood out in his tryouts, so it’s not like they just plucked a random player. Overall, the 100 roster went through pretty significant changes, and with proven entities in Ssumday, Meteos, and Cody Sun leading the way, their ceiling as a team will hinge on how well Ry0ma can perform. If he doesn’t immediately perform, you can expect people to demand he be replaced by an NA mid laner who fans think haven’t gotten a real shot (even if said replacement has played for years now). I ask that maybe, in your heart of hearts, you give Ry0ma some time. Or maybe he’ll just clap Week 1 and won’t need time at all!
Cloud9 — Blaber
Here are the facts: Cloud9 was easily the second best team in North America last year (and very close to beating TL in both splits). They had the MVP. They had an ADC who’d made it to Worlds for the seventh year in a row. And now they do not have that MVP, and they do not have that ADC. In most situations, losing your franchise player and the MVP is an “oh shit” moment. It’s not good! There is no real way you can convince me that C9 didn’t downgrade over the offseason. Even though their year ended with a Group Stage exit at Worlds, it was still a very good year overall for a very good roster. That said, I also don’t think this roster is a huge downgrade or anything, and there is an argument to be made that they felt like they were capped with potential on the previous roster. Out goes Svenskeren, Sneaky, and Zeyzal, and in comes Blaber who’s been one of the most exciting players to watch in his limited playtime (he also has the highest win rate of all time among players with >18 games). This will be the first split where he’s the starter, which means we’ll get to see if he can shore up his mid and late game to complement his strong early game pressure. Zven and Vulcan round out the roster, which could shift the dynamic on how C9 chooses to play around bot lane (which they did not do with Sneaky lately). Everything will still revolve around Blaber, though — trading away your MVP jungler is always a huge gambit. Blaber’s playstyle being all-or-nothing fits that motif, though, and his success is what C9’s record streak of making it to Worlds will hinge on this year.
Counter Logic Gaming — Crown
Welcome back, CLG fans. I am here to remind you that you are currently on a winning streak against TSM that spans back nearly half a year. Congratulations. You’ve also signed former World Champion Crown to your roster to replace PowerOfEvil, which is a move that excites me even if I am not sure whether it’s good or not. With PoE, you had the “wtf two Stixxays” meme, but it never really amounted to true success on the Rift. CLG is, unfortunately, a roster and a team that’s lacked a clear identity over the last few years (even as they started winning again last year), and I’m curious if bringing in Crown can change that. His first year in North America was pretty low-key, which I feel like might have been good for him given how public he was about wanting to find happiness for himself. Hardcore CLG fans might tell you there is no happiness in being a CLG fan, but maybe together Crown and them can find it together. This is a team that finished 3rd in the regular season last summer, and with Crown being the biggest change, he’s pretty clearly the player to watch. I am particularly curious to see how he’ll fit with Wiggily, who made enormous strides as a player last year. A shift in the jungle/mid dynamic could be a setback, but it’s also an opportunity to grow even further. That depends, I think, on how Crown accommodates him.
Dignitas — Huni
Dignitas took a while to announce their full roster, and some say that Huni is actually going to play the first week by himself in what is called the “Reverse Visa” maneuver. DIG is one of the old-new teams who were formerly in the LCS and then weren’t and are now back in it again, which is a roundabout way of me saying welcome back. This is one of the most interesting rosters put together in the sense that I have no idea how it’s going to pan out. It kind of feels like when you’re playing Fantasy Football and you let it auto-draft the highest ranked player available, except that’s your whole team. None of them have any competitive experience together and one of them (Johnsun) literally has zero experience in the LCS — most people in the scene didn’t even know what Johnson looked like prior to our media day ahead of the season. That said, I think Huni is the most polarizing player and could actually be a great pair with Froggen. Huni is someone who will absolutely make a play for you, which often results in a giant mess on the Rift, and Froggen is someone who is very good at cleaning up said messes (but maybe not so great at starting them). No matter what team he’s been on, Huni has been able to become a point of attention for them, and I don’t expect that to change with DIG. When you are lacking in identity or any sort of cohesion, it also means that you aren’t not cohesive, and having an unknown ceiling is much more exciting than a known and mediocre one.
Evil Geniuses — Svenskeren
Be Svenskeren. You are on TSM. You get flamed because you died once. You get flamed because you died twice. You get flamed for eating breakfast. That’s your life. Then you go to C9, where eventually you win the MVP, but even that split you share some time with your backup jungler, and then you are traded. What more do you have to do to prove yourself as a player? At this point, he could win Worlds and still get flamed by some random Redditor. I’m sure a lot of other factors went into the trade, but I feel like if you win an MVP, you have the right to feel like your spot on a team is pretty much a guarantee. It is maybe fitting that he is joining “evil” now, as this could all be his origin story as a mega villain. EG’s roster is also extremely interesting, and I think it could be good but there are a couple of question marks. The biggest one is Kumo in the top lane — he’s someone that hasn’t really had any time to play in the LCS. He’s been hyped up a lot as an upcoming talent, but he wasn’t ever going to play much over Licorice, so here’s his chance to finally prove himself. Jiizuke is a surprise pickup as well, but like Bang, had an off year in 2019. If we rewound a year and you told me this was going to be a roster, I’d be a lot higher on them, but as is, it’s a lot of pieces that are going to rely on the reigning MVP to buoy them. Svenskeren needs to channel that Thanos “fine, I’ll do it myself” clip from Avengers.
FlyQuest — IgNar
Last week, one of the internal worksheets listed FLY’s support as “gnar” because the “i” was scrubbed out, and I was extremely impressed that FLY somehow signed a champion (a top laner at that) to be their support player. IgNar is a little disappointing when compared to that but still a good pickup. Almost every single support swapped teams in the offseason — CoreJJ could be the only support player to play for the same team he did last year. CoreJJ is also arguably the most important player in the LCS after what he accomplished with TL last year, which makes me think teams are placing a higher premium on the value of their support players. It’s not a role that sees too many import players, so it’s interesting for FLY to use one of their slots here on a player that, while successful with Schalke04 last summer, isn’t a major name. For those of you who haven’t paid much attention outside of NA, IgNar first made his name on the Worlds stage in 2017 in the Misfits’ 2-3 Quarterfinal loss to SKT. He then played in Korea and in Europe again before coming to NA. FlyQuest is my early dark horse candidate, which means I think they have a really good shot at pushing into the Top 3 this split. I think PowerOfEvil was a pretty big pickup for them and it should give them a clear player to focus their resources around, which was a thing I think was lacking last year when they had a good team and good players but nobody that could particularly stand out. I think PowerOfEvil has potential to be the guy in the clutch for them, and IgNar can help facilitate that with his aggressiveness. He might also be able to unlock WildTurtle’s full potential (or bait him into dumb shit), which makes IgNar the dark horse on the dark horse team. The darkest of horses.
Golden Guardians — Goldenglue
Golden Guardians’ Greyson Gregory “Goldenglue” Gilmer. After Goldenglue wins 10 consecutive Worlds titles, they’ll write children’s books with that tongue twister in it for him. Unlike some of the other players here, this isn’t “finally” Goldenglue’s chance to shine — he’s had a lot of opportunities, actually, but I’m appreciative of this chance because I think he exemplifies what it means to not give up as a pro. Not giving up is a privilege not afforded to everyone, but there are also a lot of players who hang it up after struggling through challenger and whatnot, but Goldenglue has continuously battled and battled to get to this stage. In some ways this feels like his last chance to prove himself as a professional player, but that’s also something that’s probably been said about him before. I think this roster is, on paper, one that most people are going to place towards the bottom of their predictions. I’m also in that camp of people, but when expectations are low is when it is often the easiest to perform. Their support position is a pretty big question mark with two role-swapped players in Huhi and Keith, and when coupled with an inexperienced bot laner in FBI, I feel like the solo laners are really going to need to step it up. In many ways it feels like Goldenglue may be set up to fail here, but if he can carry the team, then that’s the kind of thing that defines your legacy as a player.
Immortals — sOAZ
When you think about the most accomplished top laners of all time, a few names come up: Impact, Cuvee, Smeb, and of course TF Blade TheShy. Few people mention sOAZ even though he’s been to the Worlds Finals twice and Semifinals four times overall, which means he sports one of the most impressive resumes ever for a top laner. I’m not saying he’s the best top laner, and he probably isn’t in that conversation, but he’s definitely accomplished and he’s definitely extremely good at winning games. On the Rift he’s one of the most exciting players to watch because of the many shenanigans he’ll pull to keep his team in the game, and it’s demonstrative of his ability to always identify win conditions or routes towards said win conditions. Honestly it’s going to be kind of weird seeing him in NA because I associate him so heavily with Europe. He’s joined by fellow Frenchmen Eika, which is also a surprising pickup and one that should be monitored closely. Rumors of a strong French scene have existed for a while, and it makes sense given the size of their country, but with sOAZ and Eika joining forces, I’d expect a heavy French contingent to follow them. Xmithie also makes his return to IMT as a four-time reigning LCS Champion, and I’m excited to see him prove himself again away from the TL behemoth. Sometimes you forget Xmithie is extremely good at winning games in NA, but I haven’t, which means IMT is another team I expect to do well this split.
Team Liquid — Broxah
Is it true that Broxah can bench 600 pounds and that he wrestles grizzly bears as part of his morning workout routine? I’ve never seen him not do those things. Here’s a player that gained international acclaim after being critical to Fnatic’s run to the 2018 Worlds Finals, and while FNC struggled last year, they still had an overall successful season in making it to the Quarterfinals. Rumors of tension in the team swirled all year, so it’s not surprising for me to see them make a roster change. Broxah will give TL what fans have long desired when it comes to international play, which is a jungler with a high mechanical ceiling that can challenge the best players in the world. What they lose in Xmithie, though, is the single winningest jungler in NA history and someone who I considered to be a great glue guy to a lot of rosters. Xmithie is the consummate jungler in that he prioritizes his laners’ needs over himself, and I’m curious to see if TL can make different use of Broxah. I remember Jankos telling me at Worlds that G2 learned they needed to play around their jungler more (instead of vice versa), and I think Broxah is a player TL can cater to in the early game. It’s an extremely exciting move on paper, but it’ll definitely throw a wrench into the carefully crafted dynamic that TL has built over the last two years. It doesn’t matter if the parts are better if the sum doesn’t function, and if TL isn’t able to make Broxah shine, then what’s the point of getting rid of Xmithie?
TSM — Dardoch
In Dardoch, TSM finds a jungler that many people have called on for years now. This role is the LCS’ Defense Against the Dark Arts position in that it has been a massive scapegoat role for basically all of TSM’s existence. It also means TSM is secretly conspiring to revive Voldemort. Junglers on TSM, though, have rarely (if ever) been as vocal as Dardoch is, and I think that might be the kind of dynamic that helps this team out. The joke has always been that Bjergsen is surrounded by Wards, and Dardoch is anything but that. His ability in-game hasn’t been the subject of too much criticism, which means how he’ll fit into the team on a personal level (as is usually the case) is going to be the determining factor on whether this marriage will make sense or not. I think it has a lot of potential to go well and the downside isn’t really that bad — after all, TSM hasn’t made it to Worlds in two years now, so they’ve got nothing to lose. They also picked up Kobbe and brought Biofrost back into the fold to switch up their bot lane. It’s a new year for TSM, and finally, I can say I don’t really think of them as a powerhouse anymore — their aura of invincibility has faded entirely. A clean slate, though, is good for all of them — Dardoch especially — and I’m excited to see how it’ll all come together.