Thursday, January 18, 2018

NA LCS Spring 2018 Predictions and Preseason Bets

North America stepped it up in our first franchised split and, just like last split, almost every team is at least competitive. You'll notice that I don't have any C Tier teams in NA like I did in Europe. My reasoning for this is that I believe every NA LCS lineup is at least B Tier and the strength of competition will only help everyone.

This list, along with the EU LCS list, is the order in which I believe these teams will finish the regular season and is NOT necessarily indicative of which teams I feel are strongest or weakest. This is NOT A POWER RANKING but a prediction. It also takes into consideration the following:
- Strength of roster (individual players)
- Philosophical Uniformity (do the team, coach, and organization's ideas align)
- Stylistic Cohesion (does the roster construction make sense stylistically)
- Personal opinions on trends, strength of competition, and other concepts like potential upside


B Tier Teams:

10) 100 Thieves
Roster: Ssumday, Meteos, Ryu, Cody Sun, Aphromoo, Prolly (Coach)
Odds to win split (via the sports books): 16 to 1

I think a lot of people will be surprised that I have this lineup finishing last but I'm going to use a bit of a cop out here and say "IF this lineup doesn't change." As it stands you have two world class players in Ssumday and Aphromoo but the pieces around them aren't remotely close to the same level. On the plus side this team does make sense stylistically and it would appear they're going to play a "full court press" style much the same as the Prolly-coached H2k did in the 2015 and 2016 years. Perhaps not coincidentally that fits Meteos' farm heavy style as well. So let's get this straight. They have two world class players filling similar roles that they did on previous teams, an ADC that needs a good support to reliably perform well (at least this is my presumption) which they have, so why do I think this team is going to finish last? I have two main reasons. The first is that Ryu fell off BIG TIME last year. He showed a lack of ability to perform on more than a couple champions (really only Corki was elite level) and while he was stuck on a team that wasn't the greatest, mid has the ability to overcome that and he didn't which shows me that he is now in the pool of "average AT BEST." which is bottom tier in this competitive LCS split. For what it's worth he's also said he doesn't enjoy the game multiple times so I feel like he along with Meteos, who has also said similar things, are just taking one last contract before retiring or moving to some other career in coaching. This roster has name value and sort of makes sense but I'm not buying the Meteos comeback story and I don't think Ryu will perform at even a fraction of his former self. This just looks like an implosion waiting to happen. They could get off to a fast start and maybe that'll reignite Ryu and Meteos but unless that happens I just don't see it with this squad. That being said they're better than half of Europe so there's that...

9) Flyquest
Roster: Flame, Anda, Fly, WildTurtle, Stunt, Robert Yip (Coach)
Odds to win split (via the sports books): 25 to 1

I'm a huge fan of Fly as a player. He's a specialist in a style that is extremely potent in the game right now and brings a lot of influence to games by drawing bans on his pocket Aurelion Sol and Twisted Fate picks fairly often. Flame is an all time great that seemingly reignited (get it!?) his career for a late push last year. The real reason I'm putting this team here is because I'm just not a huge fan of WildTurtle and I don't know too much about Anda and Stunt other than they're about as highly touted as prospects in League can get. This squad has a lot more upside than 9th place so I could be completely wrong on this one. Simply skepticism is all I've got here.

8) OpTic Gaming
Roster: Zig, Akaadian, PowerofEvil, Arrow, LemonNation, Zaboutine (Coach)
Odds to win split (via the sports books): 33 to 1

So to me OpTic are the opposite end of the bottom half spectrum from 100 Thieves. They have some good young players, some savvy veterans, and overall their player quality seems good but unlike 100 Thieves this roster doesn't make a lot of sense stylistically. Arrow has been a lane dominant, world class ADC talent for more or less his entire career and LemonNation has been the opposite, a support focused about as little on laning as possible. There is also a language barrier, although Arrow has been on English speaking teams for a bit now so maybe that won't be an issue. PowerofEvil is a good player but not a great player as he's often overhyped to be and benefited greatly from Misfits' being in winning scenarios thanks to Maxlore and great coaching. Zig and Akaadian have shown flashes of good and bad and I actually think moving forward they could be the strong part of this lineup so I'm not too worried there. In fact I think Akaadian could end up being the surprise of the split if OpTic outperform this ranking prediction. If you're a person that believes opposites attract or that they balance each other out this estimation of OpTic is probably far too low for you but historically in League of Legends you want players on the same page rather than different ones if your goal is to have the synergy team and not overpower people with superstars team. 

7) Golden Guardians
Roster: Lourlo, Contractz, Hai, Deftly, Matt, Locodoco (Coaching)
Odds to win split (via the sports books): 50 to 1

Before I go into specifics I need to say that while I'm not a fan of how he has handled a lot of his public appearances, Locodoco has a history of turning dumpster fire situations into successful ones and while this squad might look like a dumpster fire (it sort of is) I don't think it's quite as bad as people think. Lourlo has always been on the cusp of reaching his potential and with a second go around with Loco I think it could happen. Contractz is going to be one year the wiser and will have a lot more direction given from Hai than he did with Jensen which should make his job a lot easier. Deftly is the hottest young prospect from NA and a lot of people, pros included, are really excited to see what he can do. Matt is a workhorse who may not have the best chops but is a significant contributor to a healthy professional environment and has also been a player under Loco in the past. This is a full American team. No language barriers, some with previous experience together, a coach that has created winning teams out of much rougher situations, and perhaps most imporantly, an underdog chip on their shoulder. I actually think Golden Guardians are going to come out of the gates swinging and then flare out. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see them limp into the playoffs after a blazing hot start but this team could be in first place after the first few weeks and I wouldn't be shocked. They're not going to have to go through a lot of the same barriers other teams are going to early in the season and they should be in top form faster than more or less anyone. For what it's worth Hai's teams always come out fast which is another trend working in this predictions favor. One other note about this squad is that it's the organizations full intention to move forward as the team that develops and fosters domestic talent which I feel is something that was desparately needed in North America (Liquid and C9 were more or less the only squads really invested in this before). For the future it could give them an edge in maintaining free import slots if a free agent that is overhwelmingly strong becomes available and they want to make a run for a championship.


A Tier Teams:

6) Counter Logic Gaming
Roster: Darshan, Reignover, Huhi, Stixxay, Biofrost, Zikz (Coach) 
Odds to win split (via the sports books): 13 to 2 (6.5 to 1)

This is probably my hottest take on the list but I need to clarify that it's not because I think CLG is a bad team. As a matter of fact I think the entire Top 6 are all potentially excellent teams that are very close together so a lot of this is going to come down to a combination of personal preference about roster construction, player evaluation, and, in my opinion, upside. As many of you know I'm not a huge fan of CLG and never have been. I've always found them to be extremely overrated by the community and their players to be even more overrated as individuals. So it shouldn't really surprise anybody that I'm lukewarm on this squad which retains three members and the coach from CLG last split. Darshan is incredibly one dimensional and while he has worked hard to become more well rounded he hasn't really had a lot of success in the past with certain styles. Now that could change with a new jungler but I'm not going to bet on it. Reignover is rock solid and is, to me, an upgrade at the jungle position in pretty much every way but he too has shown a lot of vulnerabilities as a player at the most elite levels. Huhi, to me, is one of the most overrated players in North America but I'll give him credit for influencing the draft and for playing a style that fits the current metagame very well. Stixxay has never really done anything to make me think he's an elite talent. Good carry players are able to do so when given resources. Great carry players are able to do so with or without resources. To me Huhi is just good as his very specific things. He's not a great player but he hasn't had to be on all of his teams. This is another team set up to allow him to perform well but Stixxay is going to have a new support, albeit a good one so I'm a bit skeptical that they'll be stomping people right away or at all since neither Bio or Stixxay are lane dominant players in a lane priority metagame. I think my biggest issue with CLG besides the players is that Zikz always seems to get figured out by seasons end and maybe that's sticking with me more than it should for a regular season rank list but I'm saying it nonetheless. While I think CLG made improvements, I think they moved more laterally while the other top NA teams made bigger, more vertical moves to improve. I'm more than likely to be wrong about this one but the truth is that I simply feel better with the next five teams than I do with CLG. They could finish significantly higher than this based on similar reasons I gave to Golden Guardians coming out to a strong start and from retaining players that won't have to completely learn a new system but something about this squad just seems off to me. Don't be surprised to see Stixxay, Huhi, and Darshan come back down to Earth and drag CLG with them.

5) Echo Fox
Roster: Huni, Dardoch, Fenix, Altec, Adrian, Inero (Coach)
Odds to win the split (via the sports books): 16 to 1

This team is exciting as hell! The upside here is tremendous but so is the likelihood that this could implode. I could talk about the whole "Breaking Point" thing with Fenix and Dardoch and talk about attitude problems and teams imploding but I think a lot of that stuff is overexaggerated and matters a lot less than I believe people think. This is a solid squad from top to bottom with one thing in mind and that's upside. Huni is going to look to redeem himself after a poor Worlds performance by styling on some NA players and I think the "Dardoch camp top" strategy will be one teams see coming it won't be one that's easy to stop. This team could easily ride on the coattails of these two superstars but the rest of the lineup has upside as well. Fenix was a bit overhyped from that famous Azir play but is an extremely talented player that hasn't quite been able to put it all together on and off the Rift. Perhaps another chance will do that. It definitely means something that he and Dardoch agreed to work together again which makes me think they're confident in each other and for two guys that have zero patience for poor players that's an exciting prosect. Altec and Adrian are both rock solid players and have been for their entire careers through good and bad so that should bring a level of consistency as well. To me the upside for this team is as high as winning the split but I also think they could get "figured out" in much the same way CLG's linear style could. They're also extremely vulnerable to metagame shifts but as the game currently stands in patch 8.1 this team should be one of the early leaders in the LCS.

4) Clutch Gaming
Roster: Solo, Lira, Febiven, Apollo, Hakuho, DLim (Coach)
Odds to win the split (via the sports books): 14 to 1

While I know a lot of people will disagree, Clutch Gaming looks like 4/5ths of a super team to me. Apollo and Hakuho were absolutely remarkable last split on a really inconsistent Envy team that managed to surprise a lot of people. Similarly to advanced metric superstar Altec, Apollo has consistently outperformed the LCS averages in damage per gold (a stat I hold in high regard), and in laning statistics like gold differential at 10 minutes, CS differential at 10 minutes, and others. He's done this on mostly bad teams. Apollo and Hakuho kept Envy in games that had no business being in and won them games that had even less business winning. I'm extremely high on them and they could be the best bot lane in NA even if the general public won't give them credit for it based on name recognition alone. Febiven had a bit of a rough year but we're talking about a guy that was absolutely dumpstering every mid in Europe for a long time and even had his moments against world class opponents like Faker. You could look at this as him taking a paycheck but in interviews he seems refreshed, reignited and ready to work in a new setting with new coaching. He wants to improve. I don't need to say much about Lira because I thought he was the best jungler in NA going into last season and I still think that this season. The only question on this team is Solo. The perennial "best top that's not in the LCS" has been in that position for a long time in C9s farm system and is finally going to get a chance to shine. He might be towards the bottom of the table with the strength of the top lane position in NA but he has the ability to play carries and as a pseudo rookie, if worst comes to worst, he can play tanks which are substantially easier and fit the current meta well. I think this squad looks like a great mix of talents and has the tools to outperform a lot of people's expectations.


S Tier Teams:

3) Cloud 9
Roster: Licorice, Svenskeren, Jensen, Sneaky, Smoothie, Reapered (Coach)
Odds to win the split (via the sports books): 12 to 1

Similarly to Clutch Gaming, this Cloud 9 team looks to me like 4/5ths of a super team. Jensen is an absolute monster. He had one of the best statistical seasons in organized play history last split and seemingly takes over every single game both in the draft and in the game itself. He and Bjergsen have Faker level influence on games, perhaps even more so due to the strength of competition when you compare Korean mids to those in NA. They are the absolute biggest game changers in the NA LCS. Smoothie was, in my opinion, the best support last split even over Olleh and Biofrost. He had a much more tangible effect on games than his competition and is more well rounded than they are by being able to play any champ and any style to his highest level. Svenskeren is a perennial world class jungler despite some memorably bad-looking situations (I could write a whole post on this, maybe I will sometime). Sneaky is above average at his worst and has periods of time in his career where he looks like one of the best in the world. Reapered returns for another round as well. The only question is Licorice, an exciting new talent that has been working his way through the Challenger Series similarly to Solo. I've actually got high hopes for both Solo and Licorice now that they're finally getting their chance and both have EXCELLENT teams around them. That said, they're both question marks to me which is my only hesitation for keeping C9 here.

(I have C9 a tier above Clutch because, to me, the 4 in the 4/5ths of the super team is just slightly stronger than Clutch because Jensen is just that much of a difference maker to me. Febiven has shown that in the past though so don't rule that out.)

2) Team Liquid
Roster: Impact, Xmithie, Pobelter, Doublelift, Olleh, Cain (Coach)
Odds to win the split (via the sports books): 9 to 4 (2.25 to 1)

So here is an example of why I need to clarify that this is where I feel a teams will END THE REGULAR SEASON. This Liquid lineup is chock full of way more than savvy veterans. These are all players that you could consider top half in the role and maybe the best in their role in a few cases (you could argue this for Xmithie, Doublelift, and Olleh, personally I think Doublelift is the best ADC in NA). The reason I'm putting this team here isn't because I think they're the second best team but because I believe they're going to come out of the gates red hot and while I don't think they quite have the upside that some other squads do, it's not as if they're lacking in that category either. Pobelter and Xmithie have had "the Doublelife treatment" before. They know what it's like playing on a team with him and none of them would have signed on without thinking this team was the real deal and that means a lot because these guys have faith in each other. The only concern for me is the Olleh and Doublelift stylistic mismatch but I think Doublelift has shown over his past 3 splits that he's more than capable of playing any way he has to win, unlike a lot of narratives would have you think. This is a premier team but I don't think they're the best team...

1) Team Solo Mid
Roster: Hauntzer, MikeYueng, Bjergsen, Zven, Mithy, SSONG (Coach)
Odds to win the split (via teh sports books): 11 to 8 (1.375 to 1)

Are you guys tired of TSM yet? They're the New England Patriots of NA LCS except people love them. Look, the truth is this team does anything it has to do to win EVERY SINGLE OFFSEASON. This time they SOMEHOW upgraded their bot lane to Zven and Mithy who are, to me, the best bot lane in the West and have been for a long, long time. You import the entire lane so that "getting to know each other" phase is non-existent for them but there is another new addition that I'd like to talk about because I think it's going to make the biggest difference. TSM brought in former pro and Rox Tigers, Longzhu, and last year Immortals head coach Kim "SSONG" Sang-soo who is known to have a significantly stricter approach than even most Korean coaches. Parth was a good coach for the most part but to me, the main reason TSM struggled so much at Worlds this year so I was more than happy to see the addition of a veteran coach that is well-versed in up-tempo gameplay, something TSM have been sorely lacking for the past few years. This is theoretical match made in heaven. You have premium players at every position including a budding superstar jungler that you get to mold and your best coaching attribute is the one this roster needed the most over the past three years. The only real concern to me is MikeYueng compared to Svenskeren. While people seem to only remember the bad, the strongest part about Svenskeren's play over the course of his career was how remarkably consistent and ever-improving he's been. Those are big shoes for MikeYueng to fill but his talent is unquestionable so I'm willing to bet that he can. This is a juggernaut team and while they might not start the season in first while they get situated, I certainly think TSM will finish there. 

Preseason Bets and Predictions:

Value Bet to Win the Split: Cloud 9 at 12 to 1 (alternates: Clutch Gaming at 14 to 1, Golden Guardians at 50 to 1)

Again, to reiterate, this bet is meant to get the most bang for your buck. A team that isn't likely to win but is perhaps the most likely of the unlikely choices to do so. Cloud 9 just have so much upside to me. IF Licorice ends up exceeding expectations and is more than just servicable and closer to average or above average (I'm thinking like top 4 to 7 top laners) then this team should make finals and would have a reasonable chance at upsetting one of the other top favorites (let's assume TL or TSM). I like Clutch for similar reasons and almost nobody will be on them. If you want to go further down the table I actually like Golden Guardians at 50 to 1 simply for value because I could definitely imagine a world where Hai does his thing and leads a team to some crazy run. 

Spring Split MVP: 1st: Jensen (Cloud 9), 2nd: Doublelift,  (Dark Horse: Lira)

Jensen could have, and many would argue, should have won the MVP last split and I think he has a good shot at doing it again. If C9 wins it's through him. For similar reasons Doublelift would be my 2nd choice because unlike the new look TSM who look to play uptempo and not necessarily feature any one player, TL is built almost entirely around enabling him so IF Liquid is going to do well it'll be because Doublelift turns in another stellar peformance. Lastly, my dark horse is Lira because I think, similarly to C9, if Solo exceeds expectations it'll be because Lira sets him up to do so and he could enable his super strong mid and bot lanes to carry games as well.

Biggest Disappointment: Counter Logic Gaming

As I said in the CLG section, I don't think this team is bad but people have such high hopes for them and I just don't feel the same way. To me this team is capped. They have a low ceiling. Everybody else made substantial improvements or at least took risks that offer significantly more upside while CLG more or less moved laterally, or made very minor upgrades in comparison. You could put 100 Thieves here too but I'm not sure anybody is thinking highly of them.


North America improved their top teams signficantly and their bottom teams are similar or slightly better than last split which is going to make this split very interesting from top to bottom. Depth of talent should lead to a more competitive region despite the shift back to Best of One series. I'm actually way more excited for NA LCS than I have been in awhile. I'm an LCK fan first and foremost and didn't do predictions for that in time for the season to start (although you're more than welcome to ask for my thoughts there anytime) but I was able to get EU and NA in before they started.

Here's to a good season!

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