It may seem hard to believe but the 2016 League of Legends World Championship Series or LCS for short begins in just one week. The new season is bringing along a completely different North American landscape as every single team has made at least one roster change, including many brand new teams. I've gone ahead and wrote down my thoughts and predictions for the approaching 2016 North American LCS Spring Split.
The Top 3
I imagine that most people who are ranking the top North American teams will echo my same choices of TSM, C9, and Immortals formerly known as Team 8. Lets start with TSM, a team who was completely overhauled with the exception of midlaner Bjergsen. Former Gravity toplaner Hauntzer is taking over the role left by recently retired Dyrus, SK Gaming's Svenskaren has replaced Santorin and last but definitely not least, the brand new star studded TSM Botlane of former CLG ADC Doublelift and Fnatics star support Yellowstar. Truly a stacked team that will most likely be competing for the top 2 spots all year. It is worth mentioning that the team has not had much time to practice seeing as Yellowstar was stuck in Europe due to visa issues but he did arrive to the TSM house last week.
Now onto Cloud 9 who remained relatively unchanged but they did make some key roster moves. Balls, Incarnati0n who is now known as Jensen, and Sneaky all remained in their respective roles on the team. Hai, who filled the jungle role after Meteos stepped down, has since taken the role of support after LemonNation retired. Hai is know for superior shot-calling and team leading abilities, so support is the perfect spot for him right now. Cloud 9 did more than just move around roles, though; the team acquired former TIP star Jungler Rush as well as signing BunnyFuFu as a support substitute. The signing of Rush helps Cloud 9 significantly as it relieves a lot of the pressure off Jensen in terms of having to carry the team. Rush is a key player to watch this season.
Finally we have Immortals or IMT. Little was known about this Team 8 replacement until fairly recently after we learned that Fnatic stars Huni and Reignover would be leaving Europe and heading to North America to join Immortals. The IMT top lane quite possibly is the best in the NALCS right now. Huni and Reignover have amazing chemistry together and they know how each of them play, allowing for optimal ganks whenever one is needed. Pobelter will be taking the role of midlaner for IMT after leaving CLG this past season. A proven midlaner for sure, Pobelter knows how to take control of his lane and adapting to anything the team needs. The IMT bot lane is the only problem that may hold the team back. Taking the ADC Role is long time LCS Veteran and former TSM ADC WildTurtle. WildTurtle had a rough season 5 and was actually benched for a short time while TSM tested KeithMcBrief. Perhaps a change of scenery is what he needed, and with a support like former TIP Support Adrian, who joined IMT, he definitely has the shot at being a standout player this season. TSM, C9, and IMT in my book are the top 3 NALCS teams right now.
Deciding who the Top 3 teams was easy, but the rest of the North American LCS is relatively unproven and that is what makes this so difficult. CLG remained relatively the same team with the exception of Doublelift and Pobelter leaving and being replaced by Stixxay and HuHi respectively. Aphroomoo will continue to be one of the strongest supports in North America, but Huhi and Stixxay especially will need to step up to prove themselves. With all that in mind, CLG will most likely be a top 5 team this season.
As for the other teams, I honestly don't know. Lets take a look at all the teams we have, Team Liquid, NRG, and EchoFox. Team Liquid remained the same team outside of toplaner Quas stepping down. They struggled at the end of season 5 and personally I don't see that changing.
NRG eSports are a new team to NALCS this year. Team Coast sold their spot to NRG, which I should note is partially owned by the Sacramento Kings, an NBA Team. They are coming into their first season with a decent team consisting of players like former TIP toplaner Impact, Team Gravity ADC Altec, and LCK midlaner GBM. GMB and Impact are the stars of this team without a doubt, NRG has the potential to be a top team but their first year in the NALCS could be a rough one.
This leaves us with Team Echo Fox. After former NBA player and actor Rick Fox purchased Team Gravity, team Echo Fox put together a great looking team on paper. Led by legendary midlaner Froggen, Team Echo Fox look to jump into their first year in the LCS making a big impact. Former substitute ADC for TSM KeithMcBrief and TDK Support Big, formerly known as Baby, make up the Echo Fox bot lane; both players have something to prove in hopes of carrying their team to the top. Challenger Series jungler Hard, who was a part of C9 Tempest, looks to be a solid jungler for team Echo Fox and will play a crucial role in helping out the Echo Fox toplaner, KFO. KFO is the biggest wildcard on this team without a doubt. While he may be a Korean solo queue god, he has no experience on stage with a team. KFO and Froggen can carry Echo Fox very easily, but this all relies on Froggen adapting to the North American play style as well as KFO adapting to life on a competitive team.
Any of the teams I just mentioned could be anywhere from 4th to 7th, the middle of the pack this year looks to be very competitive. For me personally, Echo Fox is my number one sleeper pick this year. If they can mesh together as a team, then I truly believe Echo Fox could be a playoff team come end of the season—keep an eye on this team.
The Relegation Teams
Not much to even say here, but the three teams I left out above are going to have an extremely rough season in the NALCS, those teams being Renegades, Dignitas, and TIP. Renegades won the promotion tournament last season to earn their spot in the LCS, but for how long? Led by midlaner Alex Ich and newly acquired European ADC Freeze, this team has a lot to work on. All of the pressure will be on those two players to carry this team and save them from relegation back to the challenger series. Renegade support Remi, formerly known as Remillia, will need to expand her champion pool beyond Thresh and Morgana. While she is extremely good on those champions, if both champs end up being banned, then the Renegade botlane will have a tough time. As for Crumbzz, he is a veteran and he knows his way around the rift, but going up against the likes of Reignover and Rush will be tough; the same goes for Renegades toplaner RF Legendary. An untested toplaner, RF is going to have an extremely tough time this season without a doubt.
This leaves us with Dignitas and TIP. As rude as it may sound, I don't see either of these teams doing good this season. Dignitas added some new names like former TIP ADC Apollo, but I fear this will not be enough to keep this team alive. As for TIP, they have a roster that was seemingly scrambled together in the eleventh hour. Various untested players thrown together can't save a team that was competing for a top spot just last season. Feng is probably the biggest name on the team as a talented North American top laner and solo queue player, but with some of the top lane names he will face this year will be extremely difficult, and I can't see them coming out on top. Out of Renegades, Dignitas, and TIP, the one team I can not picture in the LCS after this split is TIP, but I do wish them the best this season. Perhaps they will prove everyone wrong but only time will tell
The North American LCS looks to be one of the most exciting seasons we have seen in a long a time. The action gets started this weekend with TSM vs CLG kicking it off. Later in the week I plan to have a European LCS Preview coming out, so keep an eye on that. Unfortunately due to timing, the EU Preview will be finished after EULCS gets started. The EULCS kicked off today, January 14th. All of the LCS action can be found here at Riot's official Twitch channel.