There is just one week left in the off-season and then the wait is over. Winter has come and gone (metaphorically speaking, but also literally speaking), and Spring 2020 has finally arrived! Teams are soon to take the Rift and show off their new rosters, coaches, and jerseys.
While all 10 teams would surely love to represent the region at MSI this year, only one can. And while there are eight slots opening for the new Summer Playoffs, Spring still only offers the usual six, leaving the bottom four teams with nearly three months of off time before Summer begins. As of today, every team has equal opportunity to qualify for that first international tournament of the year, but three particular teams have the highest likelihood of making it.
Those teams are Liquid, Cloud9, and TSM.
On paper, every team has pros and cons, and of course we won't know what gets expressed until actual tage games are played, but paper teams still have a tier. These teams each have the most pros and fewest cons, with top talent across multiple positions, and a strong history to back them up.
It seems like every split in recent history, these are the three most anticipated, and they've consistently backed up those expecations. Here they are set up to do so again.
Team Liquid won four titles in a row, and made yet another upgrade this off-season, while keeping consistency by only changing one player. Not only have they proven themselves time and time again, they haven't made any huge changes, which should increase their ceiling for team synergy and playstyle. (The one big drawback here is that Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen has been delayed due to visa issues.)
Yiliang "Peter" "Doublelift" Peng is now the sole record holder for total LCS titles, and the team has a plethora of Worlds & MSI winners and finalists. They have the most experience in international tournaments, and the most experience dominating NA. They also have the most imports (four original imports, two of whom are now residents), which is always a good sign.
It turns out this list is "mostly pros & very few cons." Each player is top in their role. The solo lanes are at worst third place each, and both bot laners are first in their role. Additionally, Broxah has overperformed compared to NA junglers in international tournaments where they clashed, and at worst, should be top three as well. Even if the whole top side of the map is third in their role, it still shows how incredibly solid each position is.
There really isn't much to prove from this squad other than finding synergy with a new jungler/how they fare after replacing Xmithie, who was always a rock for the team (in domestic play, at least). The most likely scenario, however, is Broxah comes in, finds his place after a few weeks, and the team coasts through to the finals, and likely even MSI. But if anyone will stop them, you can bet it will be one of the two following teams.
Unlike Team Liquid, Cloud9 made quite a few off-season changes, but shouldn't be worse for the wear. Despite his remarkable fandom, Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi's replacement was inevitably going to happen eventually. After failing to claim the Summer title and the org's worst Worlds appearance since 2015, it was time.
Jesper "Zven" Svenningsen moves takes his place (and the resident C9 "Sven/Zven" role), and though he has had a couple rough years on TSM, he is still lauded as one of the best bot laners in the league, and a new environment should hopefully return him to form.
Zven will be paired with one of the youngest, and most promising, NA stars, Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme. After spending some time in Academy, Vulcan made it to Worlds in his debut split on a hodge-podge team with a bunch of mid-tier rated players and Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon. Vulcan is good. He and Zven spent quite some time bootcamping together in Korea this off-season, so they should have strong duo synergy. This may be the lane to compete with Doublelift and Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in.
Cloud9 round off their roster with Robert "Blaber" Huang, who is also rated incredibly well, even though he spent most of his time on Academy. Though it will hurt to lose Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen, Cloud9 should be unlocked to play with a more aggressive style this year, and each piece is poised and ready - and capable - of doing so.
That said, when changing three pieces of a team, there's never any security for it working out, and they'll need time to develop synergy. Luckily for them, most teams changed just as many. But to take down Liquid, they won't have that same advantage. Regardless, the strength in each position should be enough to match the NA superteam, they'll just have to find their style and perform.
The final contender, this team hopes to rise back to the top. The fan favorite around the world, there have been two full years of TSM chants without TSM. At this point, there are more TSM chants at MSI and Worlds than in the LCS studio, but maybe this roster can change that.
It's a familiar feeling, looking at a TSM roster and expecting greatness. It happens pretty much every year. However, this one feels different. Like Cloud9, TSM also has three new members on the team, one of which has played with them before. Vincent "Biofrost" Wang was never able to find the same success off TSM, but has remained in good form and just came off his best split of the last four.
They brought in Kasper "Kobbe" Kobberup to accompany him, who just performed incredibly well at Worlds, advancing to the Quarterfinals, and taking down the World Champions, FPX, in one of their group stage games. Whether or not he will be as high caliber as Zven, we won't know until we know, but he's at least a formidable replacement.
Most importantly, however, TSM brought in THE jungler needed to fix THE problem that has plagued TSM for years. Time and time again, junglers lose their ability to proactively play the game over the course of their tenure on TSM. The age old meme is that the TSM jungler is a nothing other than a moving ward, but Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett will be different.
Despite the league perspective on the incoming talent, Dardoch has an incredible eye for the game. He is one of NA's best native junglers, and can beat anyone on any given day. He is intelligent and aggressive and incredibly mechanically sound. After spending one year on OpTic Academy, he returns to the LCS, looking to prove himself and silence the dissenters. Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg still sits as the most respected mid in the game, and if their mid-jungle synergy ramps up, they could completely run over the rest of NA.
Dardoch is both the reason why TSM is a top contender for MSI in 2020 and simultaneously their biggest potential pitfall. My worry isn't that Dardoch is toxic, but that he may be too much of a good thing. If the other members of TSM can't perform well with such a different style in the jungle, they may fail to reclaim their title yet again. But if the pieces come together, they sit right next to Cloud9 and Liquid in the fight for the throne.
Let us know who you think has the highest likelihood of representing NA at this year's MSI by commenting below or on our Twitter. Is it one of these three, or do you have a dark horse you think can upset these historical giants?