The off-season has settled a bit in the last weeks, with teams' final rosters announced and only the last few pieces of various Academy squads left to fill in. Other than the Demacia and KeSPA Cups, there is nothing left to do now but twiddle our thumbs and wait for the LCS to start...
Or we could talk about the teams too, I guess.
In order of 2019 Summer Split placements, here are the new teams and how they look for 2020!
Team Liquid has won back to back to back to back LCS titles, the longest streak in LCS history, and did so with two slightly different rosters. This off-season, they made one change, swapping out long touted "best LCS jungler" for a strong import from the LEC.
Jake Kevin "Xmithie" Puchero has been replaced by Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen. Broxah previously went to the Worlds finals in 2018, and then Worlds Quarters in 2019 losing to the eventual Worlds champs, FunPlus Phoenix. That means two years in a row, Broxah and FNC only lost to the World Champions.
Given Team Liquid's tough time in international competitions, adding a recent international strongman (pun intended!!) to the roster makes a lot of sense. The only question is whether or not he will mesh well enough with the team to take them there. But hopefully by now, with two World Champions, a Worlds finalist, a Worlds semi-finalist, and Yiliang "Peter" "Doublelift" Peng... Liquid can do it.
Premature power ranking: 8/10 (Cant be a 9 or 10, this is still the LCS we are talking about.)
Cloud9 has not quite won back to back to back to back domestic titles, but they've been darn close to taking the trophy a bunch of times in the last five years. That counts for something. Regardless, they've made a quite a few changes this off-season, replacing their longest tenured player Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi with Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen, who also fills in the "Sven" brand with former C9 jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen leaving. C9 also brought in former Dignitas support, Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme for an entirely new bot lane.
Most importantly, they kept their star top laner. The biggest questions though are: How will C9 operate without the face (and body) of the org, Sneaky? How will Robert "Blaber" Huang pair with Yasin "Nisqy" Dinçer, since some say Nisqy was only great because of Svenskeren? And will the overall team even mesh, since there are three new pieces, compared to the single change they made last year?
Premature power ranking: 7/10
After multiple disappointing splits, CLG finally climbed back to top three this past summer, winning the 3rd place match over Clutch Gaming (now Dignitas). CLG brought in Kim "Ruin" Hyeong-min between Spring and Summer, and immediately saw better results after the swap. This off-season, they kept their top duo and longest tenured player, Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes, making changes in the mid and support positions.
Once again, Lee "Crown" Min-ho followed Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage, taking his place on CLG. Andy "Smoothie" Ta swapped with Vincent "Biofrost" Wang, in a direct trade with TSM, bringing him to his fourth team in the last three splits. CLG also brought on Kim "SSONG" Sang-soo, and swapped Weldon "Weldon" Green from Head Coach to a new role, the "LoL Division Coach."
There are a few big questions about their ability to keep up, though. Will Ruin improve enough to be a stronger top lane presence? Will Raymond "Wiggily" Griffin work well with Crown? Will the bot lane mesh? Will the new coaching staff complement each other and find a good rhythm? If any of these bust, climbing back to third, much less claiming another title, would be nearly impossible.
Premature power ranking: 6/10
Dignitas (Formerly Clutch Gaming)
This team went to Worlds after finishing 9th in Spring and starting slow in Summer. Then everyone left but Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon. The new roster is an amalgamation of a bunch of old veterans and a couple newer faces. For the newer, Jonathan "Grig" Armao has been tested, but hasn't necessarily passed, and Johnson "Johnsun" Nguyen is relatively untested, though still able to generate chatter even before joining the league. So keep your eyes on Johnsun and Zaqueri "aphromoo" Black. If aphro can mentor well and find some spark of his own, they could be incredible, otherwise, they're in for a long season.
Otherwise, DIG has an incredibly interesting Academy squad. They somehow have Matthew "Akaadian" Higginbotham and Grig on the same team again, which could be great, but could be disastrous. And then they have Tanner "Damonte" Damonte back after letting him go and signing both of his former mid lane mentors, Henrik "Froggen" Hansen and Kim "Fenix" Jae-hun. It's clear he will be hungry for his spot back, but whether or not it all works out for the team, only Tanner time will tell.
Premature power ranking: 3.5/10
"We are taking this loss as a learning experience and will be stronger next year." Maybe this time it will actually work! Two years in a row failing at Worlds, then two years in a row missing Worlds entirely, TSM fans heard this statement. After dropping the best NA ADC, then dropping the best EU ADC, maybe the team will return to their glory days and overtake them.
It's hard to imagine an NA team ever being as iconic as 2017 TSM, but TSM at least brought back their old support, Biofrost. More interestingly, however, TSM signed Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett after his stint in Academy, a move fans have asked for for a while. Dardoch has been a controversial figure in the scene, but has also continued to grow as a player and teammate every season, and has now lasted a full year on his last two teams.
Still, regardless of top talent in each position, TSM has a lot of work to do to gain synergy. Each individual shouldn't have many issues in their own role, but fitting everything together has seemed to be a problem the org hasn't been able to solve in the last couple years. Additionally, they made yet another coaching change, which brings more question marks to the team. They have incredible potential, but will have to do a lot right to reclaim their throne.
Premature power ranking: 7.5/10
Immortals (Formerly OpTic)
This roster is entirely new. And I don't think anyone ever could've predicted it. Let's look at the positives, every player has a wealth of experience, and knowing what to do should never be a problem with the team. Xmithie is still an incredible jungler, and Paul "sOAZ" Boyer knows how to go even and lose gracefully when required. That gives the team a strong point that Xmithie will surely use well.
Jérémy "Eika" Valdenaire, however, brought a lot of question marks from fans, particularly because he isn't a young player with unknown potential. He has played competively for five years, starting in the LEC, then moving to the French League. Similarly, Johnny "Altec" Ru is a known quantity, and there were other open bot laners that are likely stronger pickups.
Overall, top is stacked in NA, and sOAZ likely won't be in the top three there, so it's up to Eika and Altec to surprise everyone and Thomas "Zaboutine" Si-Hassen and the rest of the staff to work some magic, particularly on team synergy and playstyle. It's great to see unexpected roster moves, but now we need to see the follow through to justify the decisions.
Premature power ranking: 4/10
Speaking of "It's great to see unexpected roster moves, but now we need to see the follow through to justify the decisions..." This GG(S) roster is really interesting. Despite already having a couple supports on the team, the org had Keith to roleswap to Support to play alongside their OCE import from last Summer, Ian Victor "FBI" Huang. They also brought on Greyson "Goldenglue" Gilmer in the mid lane and star Turkish jungler, Can "Closer" Çelik.
The problem here is only one player looks to be a top contender in their position. Goldenglue has looked really strong on multiple teams across multiple seasons, but he always seems to be the 11th best mid. And Yuri "Keith" Jew roleswapping means he will have a sharp learning curve and will struggle against a lot of veteran LCS supports.
For this team to do well, they need a lot to go right. Synergy needs to run high, and practice has to be serious. As Clutch proved last year, though, anything can happen. This Golden Guardians roster is going to have to bring that same energy if they're hoping to make a Worlds run.
Premature power ranking: 3/10
If you don't succeed, try, try again. Or... Just do what worked the first time. 100 Thieves made it to the finals in their first ever LCS split in Spring 2018, but hasn't been back since. This off-season, they brought back a few of the pieces that got them there before. Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho, William "Meteos" Hartman, and Sun "Cody" "Cody Sun" Li-Yu are all returning to the starting roster.
Complementing them are two question marks, though. New GM, Christopher "PapaSmithy" Smith, brought in fellow Australian, Tommy "ry0ma" Le, to the mid lane and grabbed William "Stunt" Chen for their support. Each makes sense in their own way though, as ry0ma has been a top mid in the OPL for a while, and Stunt and Cody Sun are former teammates and close friends.
If the two new pieces fit in as well as the original two from 2018, this 100 Thieves squad could have finals potential yet again. But aphromoo got MVP that split, and Ryu "Ryu" Sang-wook was a solid mid and shotcaller. So they're big shoes to fill. But with Anthony "Zikz" Gray and Papa at the helm, the team should have the necessary resources to pull it off again.
Premature power ranking: 6/10
FlyQuest came out of the gate in a sprint last Spring, making it to the semis, largely off the back of an over-performing Lucas "Santorin" Tao Kilmer Larsen. But the Summer split didn't yield the same results after a delayed support swap. The team claimed they were incredibly confident for the gauntlet based on their scrims, but fell to Clutch who ended up advancing to Worlds.
This year, they're replacing their mid and support positions with PowerOfEvil and Lee "IgNar" Dong-geun, the old Misfits duo that beat out that 2017 TSM squad and took SKT to five games. Whether or not the players will have any leftover synergy or fit in with the rest of the squad is yet to be seen, but their playstyle should lend itself well to the core of the team. IgNar has been a super aggro player in the past, so he and Jason "WildTurtle" Tran should plan to dominate as a duo.
Premature power ranking: 5/10
Evil Geniuses (Formerly Echo Fox)
Even more than Immortals, Evil Geniuses needed to create an entire roster, management, and support staff from nothing, as they chose not to recycle any of the Echo Fox org into their own. They got started fast, with an early report from ESPN claiming a buyout of four C9 members in the first weeks of November. In that buyout were Svenskeren and Tristan "Zeyzal" Stidam, two top tier LCS pros who will be starting for the EG squad.
Colin "Kumo" Zhao was also a part of the deal landing him his first LCS starting spot. Evil Geniuses then filled in their missing positions with their two import slots, securing Bae "Bang" Jun-sik in the bot lane and the Itallian Stallion, Daniele "Jiizuke" di Mauro, in mid. While the team was rumored to be in talks with some incredible firepower in their solo lanes, the overall roster looks solid, and with good synergy could top the LCS.
Premature power ranking: 6.5/10
Overall, a lot of the rosters look to have slightly downgraded. There are some interesting upgrades too, but if the bottom tier teams are overall worse, the disparity in the league could be really troubling, particularly for international performance. There are some really interesting moves, and a few specific rosters/players that could surprise people, but the average performance will likely see a slight decline from 2019.
Every year after Worlds, everyone questions what NA needs to do better. Then NA always implodes its rosters, completely undoing a lot of the work that teams did throughout the year. Every single team made roster changes this year. Team Liquid is the only team who made one change, and the average is 3.3 roster moves per team.
That's a ridiculous amount of change for something that was supposed to be more stable after a couple years of franchising. Yet still, trusting in the long term of a roster has never been a priority for orgs, and even after things like a 9th to Worlds run can't keep a squad together.
The LCS will remain entertaining to watch, but don't expect 2020 to be too much different when it comes to overall regional strength. Of course, though, we won't know for sure until the season starts late next month.
Maybe the rosters will all work wonders, maybe the new emphasis on Academy will help with growth, or maybe the other regions will falter, but until then, we can assume the top few orgs will remain in their position, but will still fail internationally.