Thursday, January 24, 2019

North American LCS Spring 2019 Pre-Season Power Rankings

North American LCS Spring 2019 Pre-Season Power Rankings

Just as a note, I didn't list any subs for the NA LCS teams but they can freely call up/move academy players within the organization without penalty so take note of the academy players that are likely to be called up. 

Unlike last year I actually think Europe might have the overall stronger region this year top to bottom as I'm really, really unexcited about a lot of the bottom teams in NA this year. Most people have a consensus bottom three teams of Clutch, Echo Fox, and OpTic and I'm already way WAY different there. They also have a consensus top two of Liquid and 100 Thieves which I also disagree with (sorta). To me NA is like 3.5 tiers. Bottom (C tier), middle with low ceiling (B tier), middle with high ceiling (A tier), and top (S tier).


C Tier:

10) Counter Logic Gaming

Projected Starters: Darshan, Wiggily, PowerOfEvil, Stixxay, Biofrost
Subs: none listed
Coaches: Weldon (head coach), Irean (strategic coach), PsycSummer (player development), Prymari (research analyst), Jeff Shaw (data analyst)

I didn't like CLG last year and outside of PowerofEvil and to a lesser extent Biofrost I don't like them this year. Those that read me know that I wasn't a huge fan of Huhi but the one thing CLG had working for them was their identity and their "weirdness" factor that would allow them to mise wins through Huhi creating advantages in the draft. PowerOfEvil is sort of the better version of Huhi to me. He's weird and creates draft pressure, but he's just better overall. Wiggily will probably be good but I'm not sure he's ready for prime time yet, perhaps he can prove me wrong. I've always thought Stixxay is tremendously overrated but this bot lane could be decent. Darshan might be good for this metagame but otherwise I'm not a fan. I'm open to CLG proving me wrong here but this team doesn't look up to snuff to me. They might not be awful but I just don't see them winning a lot of games and I can't in good heart put them higher than any other team in NA. This roster has a lot of philosophical dissonance to me but maybe they'll reinvent a few of these players and come up with a unified identity but until they show me I'm going to remain skeptical.

9) OpTic Gaming

Projected Starters: Dhokla, Meteos, Crown, Arrow, Big
Subs: none listed
Coaches: Zaboutine (head coach), Croissant (strategic coach), Ryuke (player support)

OpTic added Crown, a universally respected mid laner that many consider one of the best on earth but I think if Worlds last year showed you anything, there's just something weird going on with this guy. Gen.G played Fly (formerly of FlyQuest) for most of the season and did much better with him before weirdly starting Crown for the regional gauntlet where they went on a run and got to Worlds. In other words Fly outperformed Crown (or he had behind the scenes issues we don't know about). Maybe the change of scenery will be good for him and if we're just looking at this with the eye test it's like "... well Crown is a monster this can only be an upgrade" but I just can't help but feel uneasy.

Anyway enough about Crown, I kinda like the rest of this lineup but I'm not particularly excited about it. Dhokla impressed me last season and I think this metagame could be good for him. Meteos also proved me wrong last season but was traded/replaced during Summer which you can read any number of ways. Arrow still has it, he was still excellent and I expect him to be good yet against especially with Draven in the metagame. Big is maybe below average but not by much. This team is just unexciting. They'll be ok but unless both Crown returns to form AND Meteos performs well I just don't see them being better than anybody besides maybe CLG.

8) FlyQuest

Projected Starters: V1per, Santorin, Pobelter, WildTurtle, JayJ
Subs: none listed
Coaches: Invert (head coach), Cop (assistant), Andrew Epstein (Head of Scouting and Analytics)

So on paper I think this is the worst roster in the NA LCS but I'm actually really optimistic about V1per and WildTurtle in the current metagame. Hear me out. I think professional League looks more like solo queue than it ever has at more or less any point since before Season 3. Things are wide open right now and individuals can express themselves a lot more now than they ever have. We've seen in other regions that solo queue superstars have been performing extremely well. WildTurtle has always been that. He's a great individual player that has been punished by the pace and style of the professional game. V1per has basically been the best solo queue player in NA for the past few years as well. These players combined with the veteran presence of Pobelter and Santorin as well as the upside of JayJ who, in my opinion didn't get a fair shake stepping in during Summer Split for a FlyQuest team going through some changes. I'm perhaps a bit too optimistic about this squad but there's just something I can't explain here. I still think these bottom three teams are a cut below the rest but I actually think FlyQuest could potentially move into B Tier if these guys meet their potential.


B Tier:

7) Clutch Gaming

Projected Starters: Huni, Lira, Damonte, Piglet, Vulcan
Subs:  none listed
Coaches: McScrag (head coach), BabyZeus (Assistant coach), Empyre (head analyst and player scout), TheAzotal (analyst)

A lot of people have Clutch as one of the bottom teams this split but I'm a bit more confident than most are about this team as well. Huni and Lira could completely dominate the top side of the map and the current metagame is just so so good for these two. Damonte is another solo queue superstar that's received a bit of hate because he stepped into an already good Echo Fox team when they started floundering. The real question on this team is whether Piglet still has it and if he can work with the up and coming Vulcan. Piglet has had a tumultuous journey in NA over the past few years but I think his willingness to embrace his role as a mentor type player in the Academy League really gave him some perspective. As I've mentioned in a few other leagues this year, I'm way less pessimistic about "washed up" veterans this year. I think the combination of new and old could be really good for this team just like it could be for FlyQuest but I think Huni and Lira are such a high potential top side of the map that they're a cut above the bottom teams.


A Tier:

6) Echo Fox

Projected Starters: Solo, Rush, Fenix, Apollo, Hakuho
Subs: Lourlo (top)
Coaches: Ssong (co-head coach), Thinkcard (co-head coach), Tyler (assistant), Vynarian (analyst)

As I've already mentioned I'm higher on solo queue super stars and individually strong players than I normally am with the game in the place it is right now. To me this team is a rock solid bottom lane that's been together (and underrated) for a long time and three solo queue super stars. Solo was outstanding for most of the year last year until Clutch started losing toward the end of Summer and I'm not going to fault him for that, we see good players pseudo-mail it in all the time and it gets overstated. Solo was arguably the second best top laner in Spring let's not forget that. Also overstated is the whole "Fenix is dramatic" narrative. I think for a player like him the meta is in such a good spot and he has such strong individual players on his team that he won't be frustrated by the pro-style as he has in the past. We've seen how good he can be and I'm guessing he's grown up a little. This top trio has the potential to take over games to me but unlike Clutch, I'm a lot more confident in the bottom side of the map for Echo Fox so I'm putting them a tier up. 

5) Team Solo Mid

Projected Starters: Broken Blade, Akaadian, Bjergsen, Zven, Smoothie
Subs: LustBoy
Coaches: Zikz (head coach), LustBoy (assistant), Goldman (assistant), Sevag (analyst), APC (data analyst), Heaventime (translator)

I love most of the moves TSM made this offseason. That might not be a popular opinion but something needed to change with this team. I'm not a huge fan of Zikz but I'll admit that he had a CLG team performing well over expectations for MOST of his tenure there and theird style could be the right thing to break Bjergsen out of this weird funk he's been in. In other words I think Zikz could unleash Bjergsen which has huge implications. Smoothie was still excellent last year and along with Aphromoo and to a lesser extent Olleh made up a trio of supremely good supports in NA. I think Zven and Mithy breaking up could end up being good for both of them and TSM picked up an excellent player in Smoothie. 

A lot of the questions for TSM come from the top side of the map in Akaadian and Broken Blade. As I've mentioned a few times now I'm higher on solo queue superstars this year with the game where it's at. BrokenBlade and V1per are the two feature in the NA LCS this split and I'm high on both of them going into the season. This top side has a high ceiling and I think could perhaps encourage Bjergsen to break out as well. I also think this team is constructed a lot like the old CLG teams and if split pushing becomes a viable strategy again that TSM are going to be extremely well positioned. They're basically the good version of the good CLG teams from a few years ago.

I'm more optimistic about TSM than I think a lot of people are and I'll admit that I was last year too but this shakeup in coaching staff and players looks fresh to me. I'm willing to give Bjergsen and the boys one last chance. I've got the faith in this squad to make playoffs and potentially be as good as third.

4) Golden Guardians

Projected Starters: Hauntzer, Contractz, Froggen, Deftly, Olleh
Subs: none listed
Coaches: Inero (head coach), Jimmy Harrison (two-way player coach), Ji Eun (translator)

"Go home Gelati, you're drunk!" I really, really like this lineup and I want to put them higher than this. Hauntzer is one of, if not the best top laner in NA, Froggen is a monster player and I think the season off is only going to help him. The dude can still play DO NOT SELL HIM SHORT. We've already discussed the dismissing "washed up veterans" angle enough. Contractz had a ton of potential going into last season and while he may have been "a let down" to some people I tend to think he'll only be a year better. I think this top side of the map is potentially dominant but I'm worried their bot side might be a bit too passive and able to be exposed. If they can focus on drafting priority bottom lanes I think the top half are going to be a huge boon. Deftly is going to be a year better too. Don't forget that this kid was a super prospect going into last year in much the same was Upset was in EU.

A lot of this prediction is going to be how this team envisions themselves succeeding. If they focus on top side and play to their strengths I think they'll look at lot like Inero's last team Echo Fox with a top side focus. If he can learn from his shortcomings there (and there weren't many) then I think this team has top 3 potential. If they have the same weaknesses I think they're going to be punished by the really good bottom lanes present in the region this split.

3) Cloud 9

Projected Starters: Licorice, Svenskeren, Nisqy, Sneaky, Zeyzal
Subs: Blaber (jungle), Goldenglue (mid), RapidStar (mid/coach)
Coaches: Reapered (head coach), RapidStar (assistant/sub)

I think this is the pick I'm most likely to regret/be wrong about in NA. To me, Zeyzal was excellent outside of lane last year for a rookie but in lane Sneaky and Zeyzal were abysmal. They were dominated in the Play-In tournament for Worlds mutliple times by wildcard bottom lanes without any really exceptional players and with how good the bottom lanes are going to potentially be in NA this year it might be stupid of me to have this team as high as this. Cloud 9 are willing to make adjustments and I actually think they'll be quick to thrive in the metagame the way it is. They're well-coached and I think the top side of the map is potentially so dominant with Blaber OR Svenskeren that I'm willing to combine that with my confidence in the coaching staff to sort of turn a blind eye to the potentially weak bottom lane. This is more of a gut feeling because my logical side tells me this team should be closer to the middle but I also think Sneaky and Zeyzal can't really be as bad as they were during Worlds. People are going to sleep on Nisqy, the dude's a beast, don't let the other narratives and the overhype of Jensen distract you. He might also be better for team chemistry and attitude than Jensen was. We simply won't know until we see it. Combine all of these factors and I actually think Cloud 9 will have a strong finish to the season. 


S Tier:

2) 100 Thieves

Projected Starters: Ssumday, AnDa, Huhi, Bang, Aphromoo
Subs: Ryu (mid)
Coaches: Prolly (head coach), Reinfcmnt (performance coach), Ryu (assistant), JungleJuice (strategic coordinator and analyst)

Bang was in desperate need of a change of scenery. The guy can definitely still play. Combining him with superstar support Aphromoo makes this the best or second best bottom lane in NA this split. The only way this backfires is if the culture change from the disciplined, military-esque SKT for years into the swag culture of 100 Thieves takes his edge off to a point where he falls off but I'm willing to bet that won't be the case. Changing things up should bring us a refreshed Bang that has the potential to run train on this region if he can still perform at the world-class level. 

I'm really not a huge Huhi fan and you all know that by now but I think he could succeed in the current metagame. Ssumday was a monster the entire calendar year last year I don't expect that to change even in a competitive top lane region. The question mark for most people is AnDa. I said it during the trade last year that there is a reason this team did this and believe it or not I don't think it was Meteos' personality or play. They saw something in him. I think the metagame is in a state for individual players to express their skills more than it ever has been especially junglers. AnDa has alwys been a great performer in solo queue and his potential displayed in Academy appealed to a lot of teams. I'm higher on him than most. 

This team has the perfect blend of veterans, uniqueness, great coaching, potential, and individual talent. Unless things go wrong even a little bit of the fulfilled potential is going to make this team a juggernaut. I know this is a complete curveball from last year where I was down on 100 Thieves going into the Spring split but call me reformed. They've converted me. This team is going to be great.

1) Team Liquid

Projected Starters: Impact, Xmithie, Jensen, Doublelift, CoreJJ
Subs: TF Blade (top)
Coaches: Cain (head coach), Dodo (assistant, translator), Kayys (scouting and analytics), TeeKhay (remote analyst)

So I don't think Team Liquid being the best team in NA is as automatic as a lot of people think. There's a chance we see some of these players like Impact and Xmithie fall off as they've typically been more brains over brawn type players but the combination of continuity and an upgrade at the support position leaves only two barriers to this team repeating to me. Whether or not those previously mentioned players fall off and if CoreJJ can't be efficiently aclimated are those two barriers. CoreJJ has been here before and I trust that he'll have no problems doing so again and if you balance out the upgrade from Olleh to CoreJJ and the potential downtrend for Xmithie and maybe Impact that leaves this team still at the top of the table to me. 

Team Liquid were the best team in NA last year and I'm going to take this time to once again mention that just because they didn't escape groups doesn't mean that wasn't the case. They were dominant last year. They worked harder than everyone and it showed. Team Liquid are a really honest team. They were real with themselves when changes needed to happen or adjustments needed to be made. Hell they even tried stuff knowing it would lower their chances of winning just to prepare for the bigger picture of a World Championship. I don't think any of that will change. This staff is excellent, their resources are excellent, and the players are excellent. This team is going to remain a powerhouse and I expect them to win this split.

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