The 2018 North American League Championship Series kicks off this Saturday -- naturally, that entails a pre-split ranking. The teams were fairly quiet in the offseason, aside from the fact that Cloud9 decided to bench three of their starting players. However, the big story heading into the summer split is not of shifting lineups, but of massive patch changes that hit League of Legends in the mid-season. From the small, tantalizing taste of what we've seen in Brazil and China, the first week of the NA LCS on this patch should be entertaining to say the least.
Next week, the Global Power Rankings will return, to the ire of many fans, but for now, here's a rundown of the NA LCS teams, and how they could perform this split.
1. Team Liquid
It should come as no surprise that Team Liquid is the current favorite entering the split. The team's performance at MSI was certainly below expectations -- especially after such a dominating finish to the spring split -- and should not be ignored. One question everyone should have is how well the players will recover from MSI, especially in the wake of support of Kim "Olleh" Joo-sung's desire to step down due to anxiety.
Until we have a better read on how teams adjust and adapt in a radically different meta, TL still has the talent and results in NA to be considered the team to beat. At MSI, TL addressed some of the team's weak points, albeit slowly, and started to fix some of its disregard for side lane pressure. The team will need to hold on to what it learned at MSI, and continue to develop in a region that didn't challenge its weaknesses much in the spring split.
2. Echo Fox
At the beginning of the spring split, a stagnant bottom lane meta with Relic Shield propelled Echo Fox to the top of North America. No other team focused as much playing through the top side, with jungler Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett and Kim "Fenix" Jae-hun creating powerful jungle/mid pressure to open up the map for top laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon. Echo Fox wasn't a consistent team, but had a strong start and a strong finish, crushing the third-place match in Miami against Clutch Gaming. This meta has interesting potential in mid lane and top side, with more than a few viable split-pushers Huni can excel with. At the same time, Echo Fox could falter on this patch, but we're curious to see how the team will attack it.
3. 100 Thieves
Preseason rankings are always tricky, especially with large balance changes -- both intentional and sometimes unintentional -- that affect a team's performance in unforeseen ways. Honestly, the rankings from Echo Fox to Counter Logic Gaming could easily be interchangeable, especially with the upcoming meta in a best-of-one format. It's all going to depend on how each team adjusts to the new meta, and what the region itself recognizes as strong. The spring finals weren't too kind to the 100 Thieves, but this is a team of unflappable veterans. These players take losses in stride and use them to adjust and improve. 100 Thieves might not have a hot start, but they are smart and experienced enough to adjust and keep themselves near the top of the standings.
4. Team SoloMid
Team SoloMid was arguably the better team against Clutch Gaming in the 2018 NA LCS, but Clutch prepared well and thoroughly earned their spring quarterfinals victory. It took a while for this new TSM lineup to come together, but once it did, it looked like one of the strongest teams in North America at the end of the split.
This summer, we expect that to continue. With all of the roster synergy miscues already ironed out, this talented lineup will be aiming for another NA LCS title. The big question for TSM will be how well it can adapt to the recent patch changes, especially since it has previously been slow to adjust in meta shifts.
5. Clutch Gaming
No other team was quite as consistent as Clutch Gaming this past spring split. Although it had a rocky start, Clutch evened out and beat the teams below it in the standings, but faltered against teams above it. Once Clutch started running Skarner/Azir compositions with jungler Nam "LirA" Tae-woo and mid laner Fabian "Febiven" Diepstraten, the team hit its stride.
Many of 100 Thieves' strengths (intelligence, willingness to learn from mistakes) also apply to Clutch -- what the team lacks in experience, it makes up for in a strong support staff that can make the most of each players' individual strengths. Clutch prepares for opponents well, as seen in its quarterfinal win over TSM.
There's a lot of potential for Cloud9 to move up and make a serious run at the title. Integrating rookie top laner Eric "Licorice" Ritchie and jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen was exciting to watch at the beginning of the spring split, with C9 sending support Andy "Smoothie" Ta to the top side, ensuring that Licorice always had an early lead. Once the meta shifted, and bottom lane became more volatile, C9 struggled to adapt and were completely overwhelmed by TL in the spring quarterfinals.
C9 announced that the team will start Week 1 without Smoothie, AD carry Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi and mid laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen. These three players will start on the C9 Academy lineup and academy mid laner Greyson "Goldenglue" Gilmer, AD carry Yuri "Keith" Jew and support Tristan "Zeyzal" Stidam will start in their places. This likely has to do with C9's read on the new meta and scrim performances, but still seems counterintuitive.
7. Counter Logic Gaming
Counter Logic Gaming is another team that could make a strong run for the title if it figures out its synergy issues. Throughout the spring split, other teams and even members of CLG themselves lamented at how strong they performed in scrims, and how well they adapted to meta changes. Unfortunately, these strengths never came together onstage in any consistent fashion and the team finished well below expectations in seventh place. The new meta offers CLG a window to a strong start, if the team can adapt faster than other lineups and focus on creating side lane pressure with mid laner Choi "Huhi" Jae-hyun and top laner Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaha.
8. OpTic Gaming
OpTic Gaming made a few moves this past offseason. Niship "Dhokla" Doshi is now the team's starting top laner and Terry "Big" Chuong is now OpTic's support for the upcoming split. OpTic's problems in the spring split were not based on individual talent -- jungler Matthew "Akaadian" Higginbotham, mid laner Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage and AD carry Noh "Arrow" Dong-hyeon are all talented players -- but came from a lack of coordination and macro understanding. The team never seemed to know what to do with either top laner (Dhokla or former top Derek "Zig" Shao) and couldn't create side lane pressure. OpTic's roster moves are also accompanied by a few staffing additions, including new analysts and David "Cop" Roberson joining the coaching staff, which means the team is at least looking to address some of these in-game issues.
FlyQuest is one of the few teams to make significant roster moves this past offseason. It enters the summer split with a new lineup that includes mid laner Jang "Keane" Lae-young as a starter (not a substitute), jungler Lucas "Santorin" Larsen and support Kevin "KonKwon" Kwon, the latter returning to competitive play after a few splits off. It's difficult to see this FlyQuest team contending for the title, even with top laner Lee "Flame" Ho-jong, but the mid/jungle duo should be a bit more stable. The key to any success for FlyQuest will rely on how well the team is able to come together and communicate.
10. Golden Guardians
Golden Guardians also had a major roster change in the mid-season. The team dropped Hai "Hai" Du Lam from the roster for Son "Mickey" Young-min. Not only do the two mid laners have wildly different play styles, they offer different things to the team. While Hai is renowned for his leadership and smart shotcalling, Mickey is far more volatile. Hai's mid lane performances have been inconsistent, especially over the past few years, but they are nowhere near as risky as Mickey's.
If Mickey believes that there is the slightest chance for an outplay or a kill, he will take it without hesitation. This leads to both brilliance and catastrophe in equal measure, which can be fun to watch, but not necessarily good for the team's overall record. Jungler Juan "Contractz" Arturo Garcia is also known for his early aggression, but has previously relied on a strong mid laner who can easily control the minion push for his riskier invades. It's unlikely Mickey will be this laner for him, so strong communication will be crucial, which also could be difficult as Mickey is the first South Korean pro player that GG has picked up.