We still have several weeks before the 2019 NA LCS season kicks off. We don’t even know the starting rosters for all 10 teams yet. But so far, this has been one of the craziest offseasons in recent memory, perhaps topped only by last year’s post-franchising bonanza.
So who came out on top? Well, quite clearly that’s Team Liquid, at least on paper. But are there any teams that look ready to threaten Liquid’s reign as two-time defending champions? To find out we took a look at the rosters we know and made a tier list.
It’s pretty early to be making predictions. But the risk of being wrong has never stopped before. Let’s start with Liquid at the top and see where everyone else falls. Rankings within each tier are purely alphabetical.
- Team Liquid
As expected, there’s only one team in this tier. Liquid did three important things this offseason: First, they shored up their weakest points at mid lane and support. New mid Nicolaj Jensen has a case for being the region’s best at that position. And import support Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in is a former world champ and a great fit for bot laner Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng—on paper, at least.
Liquid also weakened one of their primary rivals, Cloud9, by stealing Jensen away. And they also created tremendous flexibility with regards to import slots that could have them on top of the league for years to come. That sounds like an “S” tier team to us.
- 100 Thieves
Ah yes, the other two North American Worlds teams. 100 Thieves entered the offseason facing tremendous uncertainty due to their unconvincing end to last season. Their roster shuffling caught the ire of fans, even though it was well-reasoned.
They’ve reloaded in a big way by importing Bae “Bang” Jun-sik, a two-time world champion bot laner who has played the last five seasons with SK Telecom T1. And they grabbed a great mid laner in Choi “Huhi” Jae-hyun, who can be the team’s glue guy.
Cloud9 reloaded by retaining most of their starting roster and filling Jensen’s slot with standout European mid laner Yasin “Nisqy” Dinçer. Nisqy last played in the region in 2017 when he led Team EnVyUs to a somewhat unexpected playoff spot following the Summer Split. But Cloud9 fans surely want to see more from him this time around, especially since he has to fill Jensen’s big shoes. Cloud9’s experiments have been received with much more praise by the League community, and 2019 will be a big test for how resilient the roster really is.
- Clutch Gaming
- Golden Guardians
Each of these teams made solid moves with a considerable amount of risk and uncertainty. That’s exactly what they should have done—none were in real contention for a Worlds spot last summer. So reaching for some variance to improve made sense.
CLG replaced Huhi with Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage, who’s probably an upgrade. They still have a lot of empty spots to fill, however. Clutch don’t have that problem—their roster is complete and built around the top-jungle duo of Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon and Nam “LirA” Tae-yoo. The last time either of those looked good was when they were paired with another Korean, so Clutch are banking on that magic to work again.
Golden Guardians made the head-scratching move to bring legendary mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen back to the NA LCS stage, but the move started making sense once they filled the rest of their roster with solid veteran talent. It’s now time to see if their younger players can keep up. TSM lost longtime top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell to Golden Guardians, but may have upgraded with the addition of Turkish player Sergen “Broken Blade” Çelik. He’s a big risk, but probably worth it for an organization that seemed to have plateaued with its previous roster. And of course picking up coach Tony “Zikz” Gray from CLG was a strong move for the “Baylife” boys.
- OpTic Gaming
FlyQuest haven’t really done, well, anything this offseason. They did grab Eugene “Pobelter” Park from Liquid, though, and that’s almost an upgrade by default for a non-playoff team. Maybe they’ll run back three-fifths of the exciting 2016 Immortals squad by bringing in Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin along with incumbent bot laner Jason “WildTurtle” Tran.
OpTic snuck into this tier by adding mercurial jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett at the last minute. Dardoch is an awkward fit alongside import mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-ho. But he also might be the only hope for the team to stay competitive through the lane phase.
- Echo Fox
We get it. Echo Fox swung for the fences in 2018 and didn’t quite achieve playoff glory. They invested a lot into their players, and that meant things were likely to change this offseason.
But really, this is the best they could do? They lost all of their good players from last year. And for their efforts, they got a bunch of spare parts from Clutch Gaming? You know, the team that finished second-to-last in the Summer Split?
Sure, bringing popular jungler Lee “Rush” Yoon-jae back from Korea will score them big points with League fans. But this roster seems destined to fail. It would make sense if they replaced last year’s team with young players who are hungry to prove themselves. But most of their roster consists of veterans who are, by this point, fairly known quantities.
Look, we’re not trying to bash players like bot laner Apollo Price or support Nickolas “Hakuho” Surgent. Some of them are definitely playoff caliber. But as a whole, what Echo Fox did seems like the exact wrong way to build a team.