The 2019 LCS Summer Split is halfway over, and while the standings have shaken out to what many fans might expect for the most part, a few surprises have highlighted the summer split. Both Counter Logic Gaming and OpTic Gaming are sitting in a 5-way tie for first after both teams missed Spring Playoffs only a few short months ago.
Simultaneously, FlyQuest and Echo Fox have gone from playoff squads to tied for last place after 9 games of Summer Split play. Team dynamics is a very important concept in League of Legends, but as the season has been going, many teams have a pivotal player who has either risen above previous limitations, or has kept a sinking team afloat single-handedly. Let's take a look at the members of each LCS team that has had the most impact on their respective squads.
100 Thieves - Ryu "Ryu" Sang-wook
At face value, it's hard to value 100 Thieves' recent play as a full turnaround. However, a 3-2 win rate in its last 5 games is a welcome change for a team who had not won a game in over 100 days prior to week 3 of the Summer Split.
100 Thieves has improved across the board through an emphasis of priority on the Bot Lane, giving a far sharper spear to the team in the early game and as a win condition overall. Aaron "Fakegod" Lee has had a relatively smooth debut in the Top Lane in the stead of Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho to make an import slot for the return of Mid Laner Ryu "Ryu" Sang-wook.
The former Mid Laner retired at the beginning of the year to move into a coaching role as Choi "Huhi" Jae-hyun joined the team for the 2019 season, but after the team's failure to integrate Huhi and 100Thieves Academy Mid Laner Max "Soligo" Soong still a bit green behind the ears, Ryu has once again taken the middle seat on the stage.
Since Ryu reunited with the rift, 100 Thieves look far more coordinated. The team is making far more pro-active plays and acting with a level of decisiveness that has not been seen from the Cleveland Cavaliers affiliate since last season. Most importantly, 100 Thieves is more willing to hard commit to fights when behind, utilizing superior individual skill and decisiveness as a unit to turn a losing battle against Cloud9 into a pivotal victory.
In an interview with The Shotcaller in 2017, G2 Esports Jungler Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski highlighted his at the time H2k teammate's decisiveness and experience in communication as integral developments for him learning how to shotcall on his own. When Ryu and Jankos first became teammates on H2k, Jankos went further in-depth on Ryu's decisiveness in shotcalling a 2016 episode of Summoning Insight.
"Ryu's calls are decisive and everyone listens. When he tells you something...you have to do it no matter what because he's so decisive...Some players might be like 'Oh maybe we can go Top here.' but Ryu is just like 'GO TOP! GO TOP! GO TOP!'"
100Thieves' recent improvements have been highlighted by increased synergy and stellar laning from Bot Laner Bae "Bang" Jun-sik and Support Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black, but the stabilization of the team's identity may have never come to fruition without the return of Ryu.
Cloud9 - Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi
Despite a myriad of roster swaps, Cloud9 has been firing on all cylinders. The organization has continued its pro-active roster shuffling, a tactic usually reserved for teams scrambling to find their footing. The team currently has two LCS-caliber Junglers in Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen and Robert "Blaber" Huang, and Cloud9 Academy Top Laner Ziqing "Kumo" Zhao's 2019 LCS debut was nothing short of spectacular followin Eric "Licorice" Ritchie's injury announcement.
Throughout all of Cloud9's different looks, Bot Laner Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi has quietly put together an incredibly solid 2019 season. The veteran marksman has not only adapted to whatever the meta requires for him in the way of mages or double supports, but he and Tristan "Zeyzal" Stidham are arguably the most self-sufficient Bot Lane in the LCS, never losing lane despite little to no focus or resources from the team.
It's very easy to point to Cloud9's several tiers of talent around the top side of the map, but the flexibility, durability, and self-sufficiency of Sneaky in the Bot Lane has been pivotal in making it possible.
Clutch Gaming - Cody "Cody Sun" Sun
Cody "Cody Sun" Sun's promotion to the main roster after spending the spring on Clutch Gaming Academy was a circumstancial maneuver. However, Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin's shrouded, peculiar departure from Clutch Gaming turned out be quite the blessing.
Top Laner Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon's recent form has been a welcome improvement, Cody Sun's stabilization of the bottom side of the map has given Nam "LirA" Tae-yoo the opportunity to jungle around the top side of the map in a more secure context. Clutch Gaming currently sits at 4-5, but compared to a 9th place spring finish with a 5-13 record, that's far more significant than the record might initially represent.
Last split, CG looked their best with Piglet on Irelia in the Bot Lane, as the former World Champion and Philippe "Vulcan" LaFlamme looked outclassed against every other Bot Lane in the LCS. However, Cody Sun's measured, controlled presence has stabilized CG's lower half, allowing Huni to make more of his trademark flair for the dramatic.
"I think we have a similar playstyle where we just play for the team," Vulcan explained in an interview with Inven Global. "We don't require everyone on our team to walk bot lane and help us get the tower. We want to do whatever we need to do.I guess you could say we're role players."
Whatever Vulcan wants to call himself and his new duo partner, Cody Sun, simply by not being Piglet, has given Clutch Gaming new hope and a higher ceiling.
CLG: Raymond "Wiggily" Griffin
When Counter Logic Gaming Academy's Jungler Raymond "Wiggily" Griffin made his LCS debut in week 9 of the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split, it was the first inkling that the faithful may be rewarded once again. The entire CLG team played around Wiggily as the rising star carried the team with a 1v9 style on the likes of Graves to a 2-0 week. While CLG may have missed playoffs, Wiggily's debut inspired hope for a new #FaithAge after CLG failed to make playoffs for the entire 2017 season.
CLG's 2019 LCS Spring Split started off optimistically, but as weeks progressed, Wiggily looked more and more lost. Halfway through the split it was almost inarguable that he was the worst Jungler in the LCS. In an interview during the spring split with Inven Global, AD Carry Trevor "Stixxay" Hayes explained Wiggily's growing pains with the main roster.
"We have very vocal laners in regards to what we want to do, so in the beginning, we were having a lot of problems because there were so many options for Wiggily. He would get called everywhere and fall massively behind individually."
While new Top Laner Kim "Ruin" Hyeong-min is far more self-sufficient than Darshan "Darshan" Upadhyaya looks at this point in his career, to point towards the pressure-absorbing new member of CLG would be a disservice to Wiggily's summer split turn-around. CLG currently sit in a five-way tie for first place after missing playoffs for three splits in a row.
If Counter Logic Gaming is able to maintain its form and qualify for the 2019 LCS Summer Playoffs, expect an MVP nod towards Wiggily for his individual turn-around and his ability to take his team with him.
Echo Fox: Nickolas "Hakuho" Surgent
Echo Fox has struggled to inspire hope of a second straight playoff berth after its miracle run through the second half of the Spring Split to a sixth place seed. The bright spots have been few and far between, and halfway through, the team is still struggling to find its identity. Since the start of the 2019 LCS Summer Split, Echo Fox has started two Top Laners, three Junglers, two Mid Laners, and two AD Carries. The one constant? Support Nickolas "Hakuho" Surgent.
Hakuho has performed consistently well despite switching between longtime laning partner Apollo "Apollo" Price and budding young talent Lawrence "Lost" Hui, slotting into whatever the team needs as the rest of the roster goes through a musical chairs routine as Echo Fox struggles to find its way out of last place.
While Echo Fox's chances look grim, Hakuho's stability is a great reminder of Echo Fox's spring, where the team took a last place split into a last ditch effort at a qualifying sixth seed for the 2019 LCS Spring Playoffs.
We've been through this before, we know how this works," Apollo told Inven Global in an interview during week 4 of the LCS. "It's not over yet. You can have a bad start to the split and turn it around. We've been there."
If Hakuho has any faltering in form between now and the end of the split, it's hard to imagine a world where Echo Fox can remain even remotely competitive in the LCS.
FlyQuest: Lucas "Santorin" Larsen
Since joining FlyQuest ahead of the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split, Lucas "Santorin" Larsen has transformed the squad into a competitor. The Danish Jungler is hitting his stride, reaching new heights not even seen during his time on TSM and solidifying himself as one of the best Junglers in North America. Santorin led FlyQuest to qualifying for the 2018 NA LCS Summer Playoffs after missing the post-season for the three previous splits.
FlyQuest capitalized on its previous split with the addition of Omran "V1per" Shoura in the Top Lane, and the team was able to secure a Semifinals birth in the 2019 LCS Spring Split and subsequently, 4th place. However, FlyQuest's growth has seemingly grinded to a standstill. As other teams continue to develop and grow, FlyQuest seems to be treading water and unable to figure out exactly how the team needs to evolve.
Still, while a clear win condition is not in sight for FlyQuest, Santorin has done an admirable effort to gives his squad a fighting chance. While the meta is certainly less suited to his strengths than the previous spring meta, Santorin has found a way to keep the pace with Junglers on superior teams and give his laners a fighting chance. If FlyQuest can convert and make more of Santorin's efforts, expect the team to return to a playoff hopeful.
Golden Guardians: Henrik "Froggen" Hansen
Rumors of Henrik "Froggen" Hansen's demise were greatly exaggerated. The Danish legend was unable to carry a struggling Echo Fox in 2016 and 2017, and after taking a year off in 2018, it was though that the legendary Mid Laner might finally be hanging up the mouse and keyboard.
Froggen's love for League of Legends could not be contained, as the Mid Laner was signed to Golden Guardians ahead of the 2019 LCS season. Golden Guardians' robust support staff and flexible players sported an environment where Froggen's controlled, heavy-resource playstyle could thrive. Golden Guardians started out the Spring Split 0-4, but rallied to qualify for the Spring Playoffs in no small part to Froggen's enormous carry performances on a pocket pick Karthus.
Froggen has continued his strong performances on meta picks and pocket picks like his signature Anivia alike, solidfying himself as a top 3 Mid Laner in North America thus far in the 2019 season. While the GGS Bot Lane has had some trouble stabilizing, the strong solo lane player from Froggen and Top Laner Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell remains a bright spot.
Despite sharing a record of 4-5 with Clutch Gaming, GGS playoff hopes are far higher than the LCS cowboys can boast. The single largest reason for this is the proficiency in Froggen's Mid Lane play and Golden Guardians' ability to place him in a position to succeed time and time again.
OpTic Gaming: William "Meteos" Hartman
If Mid Laner Lee "Crown" Min-ho hadn't fallen ill and missed a few games this split, he may have claimed this spot for himself. However, amidst Crown's phenomenal performance, William "Meteos" Hartman has formed a fearsome 1-2 punch with the former World Champion and maintained stellar form when playing with OPT Academy Mid Laner Marcel "Scarlet" Wiederhofer, who subbed in during Crown's time of illness.
Time and time again, Meteos has adapted and withstood the test of time long after his career obituary had been written. The 'American Monster' has time and time again re-invented himself and defied odds and expectations, and this split has been no different. While OpTic Gaming struggled to find its footing in the 2019 LCS Spring Split due to VISA issues, its summer campaign has them sitting at 6-3 as part of a five-way tie for 1st place.
As OpTic Gaming solidfies its chances as a playoffs contender for the first time in LCS franchise history, it's becoming less and less outlandish to call Meteos the best Jungler in North America.
Team Liquid: Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in
Support Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-In gets the nod over the rest of the star-studded Team Liquid roster for the same reason he was able to secure the 2019 LCS Spring Split MVP award. The former World Champion has stood at least a head taller than every other support in North America since joining the LCS.
CoreJJ excelled on a healthy dosage of Tahm Kench and Braum, but has found himself succeeding on the likes of new flavor damage support Lux while maintaining his engage focused style on playmakers like Nautilus. With Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng relegated to Sona duty for the majority of TL's Summer Split, CoreJJ's influence and indvidiual advantage over his peers in the LCS cannot be understated.
CoreJJ continues to come in as best in class in both statistics and the eye test, as well as adjusting and adapting to new metas. Even the most talented teammates of the Korean Support are in awe of what he is able to accomplish. Team Liquid Mid Laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen explained his perspective on the difference between CoreJJ and other professional Supports in an interview with Inven Global during the 2019 LCS Spring Split.
What CoreJJ does in-game is unlike anything my former Supports have done," said Jensen. It''s like, 'Whoa, supports can actually really carry games a lot!'."
Every single one of Team Liquid's players is elite in their respective roles, but CoreJJ shines just a bit brighter than the rest amongst the LCS competition.
TSM: Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg
TSM's man in the Mid Lane's legacy cannot be overstated, and in 2019, Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg continues to weave new thread into the legendary tapestry of his career. Bjergsen led a young, compeletely new look TSM to a LCS Final in its first split, and while the team may have been reverse swept by defending champions Team Liquid, TSM's 2019 has breathed new life into the organization.
Gone are the days of only scaling, fear-focused play. Bjergsen has been unleashed on a myraid of aggressive picks, assassins and bruisers alike, as the greatest Mid Laner in LCS history has had far more influence around the map in the snowball-focused meta. Standout performances from Top Laner Sergen "Broken Blade" Çelik and a completely re-tooled support staff headed by Tony "Zikz" Gray should not go uncredited, but Bjergsen is and always has been TSM's crown jewel.
Bjergsen is undeniably the best Mid Laner in the LCS currently, and even when he's not casted as the sharpest spear in a TSM composition, his ability to maintain an individual edge is unparalleled. Even in a TSM loss, it is extremely rate to see Bjergsen at fault in any major way.
2019 TSM is refreshing in plenty of ways that are worth being excited about, but Bjergsen is the linchpin that makes it all work for the winningest team in North American LoL Esports history.