The League of Legends Championship Series and League European Championship kick off Friday with high-profile matchups between LCS champion Cloud9 and runner-up FlyQuest and G2 Esports facing MAD Lions to debut the LEC summer split.
Here’s what our experts think of both leagues going into the summer and what they expect to play out as we get closer to the League of Legends World Championship.
On a scale of one to 10, how is North America doing at fostering new domestic talent?
Jacob Wolf: I’ll go with 2/10. We’ve seen Greyson “Goldenglue” Gilmer, although not a new talent, get replaced in favor of Tanner “Damonte” Damonte, and we’ve seen Evil Geniuses pick up Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon to likely, next split when he is a North American resident, replace Colin “Kumo” Zhao full-time. He and Kumo will likely rotate this split, with South Korean AD carry Bae “Bang” Jun-sik swapping out and Matthew “Deftly” Chen starting to conform to the LCS rule that three domestic players must start each game.
The only teams that are investing in North American talent are Team Liquid, Dignitas and Team SoloMid, partly because they want to, partly because they’re forced to by the limited availability of foreign players due to the coronavirus pandemic. Liquid are the only team that actually wants to lean into domestic players with AD carry Edward “Tactical” Ra.
We’ve said on our shows that Dignitas’s parent company, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils owner Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, are having financial issues because of COVID-19 and as a result are shedding salary. This is why we saw them get rid of Huni and Damonte’s contracts. Now, we see Dignitas picking up lesser known domestic talent, mostly out of necessity. As for TSM, they’re investing in jungler Mingyi “Spica” Lu after moving on from Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, but that seems to be because of a lack of other options, not because Spica will be the starter forever.
Tyler Erzberger gives his thoughts on Dardoch being signed to Dignitas, saying that while he’s well liked within the league, when it comes to clutch moments he lacks execution.
Emily Rand: I’d say a lackluster 5/10. This may be higher than people expected from me, so I’ll explain a bit.
In a split where the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everything and there were no world championship points at stake, few teams took the spring as an opportunity to take a look at up-and-coming NA talent and give them a chance on the big stage. If they didn’t do it in spring with next-to-nothing at stake, I don’t have high hopes for summer.
As for the summer split, I do think that Spica in a starting role is a good call, regardless of what people think of TSM (on or off the Rift) or their jungle tendencies. Spica was initially on TSM’s Scouting Grounds team back in late 2017, and you can actually draw a developmental throughline between that Scouting Grounds event, his TSM Academy days and his current starting position.
All in all, I do think part of the NA talent discussion requires somewhat of a paradigm shift in what we think of as “success.” I’d argue that we cannot expect to suddenly see players plucked directly out of NA solo queue and starting on teams. One of the main factors brought up by coaches in coaching up North American talent is that due to the lack of amateur structure and the state of solo queue as a practice tool, players generally require more coaching, time and attention than a player in Europe, South Korea or China.
The lack of rookies in North America is a problem, but I think we need to include players like Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme and Robert “Blaber” Huang alongside the likes of Tactical and Spica, with the latter two (presumably) entering their first full LCS splits as starters. There are also examples of amateur players moving up onto Academy teams like Philippe “Poome” Lavoie-Giguere moving up from 100 Thieves Next to 100 Thieves Academy.
Talking to more than a few people behind the scenes this week, the thing that comes up repeatedly is that this is a systemic problem with multiple facets and no easy solution. That doesn’t mean that teams shouldn’t try, though, and it’s continuously disappointing to see that most don’t.
Arda Ocal: Other than Tactical starting for Team Liquid — and that might be more because the team already has two imports (and two players who are naturalized NA residents) — what moves or piece of news really made you say, “Wow, I’m really optimistic about the state of NA talent moving forward?”
I don’t know what we were expecting necessarily, but it definitely doesn’t feel like we are in any different position than we were a year ago. The pandemic certainly is a factor, as focus has shifted away from big midseason moves because of logistical complications. We have finals being played online, and worlds may not even look like worlds, who knows. But since the question was asked, I don’t really see much changed, at least for now. Maybe when we get a semblance of normalcy again, those conversations will resume.
Is this the split where Fnatic are able to topple G2’s LEC championship win streak?
Wolf: I don’t think so. With Luka “Perkz” Perković returning to AD carry and Rasmus “Caps” Winther moving back to mid lane, I expect G2 to be a lot more consistent this summer than they were in the spring. In 2019 Perkz was one of the best AD carries in the LEC, despite having never played that position professionally prior to that year. Meanwhile, Caps was incredibly hit-or-miss as AD carry in the spring, and even then, G2 took home the title.
Rand: I was on the Fnatic train for almost all of last split. I loved what they were doing with their team compositions, and despite the fact that they still tunneled on specific strategies and champions at the time, Fnatic were a really fun team to watch. Going into their Week 7 regular-season match against G2, I was convinced that this was Fnatic’s time.
I also thought they would put up more of a fight against G2 in the LEC finals.
To Jacob’s point, this was against a G2 that had role-swapped Caps to bot lane and Perkz to mid. With Perkz back in the bot lane for summer and Caps back to his home in the mid lane, it’s going to be even more difficult for Fnatic this split.
Ocal: No. G2 will reign supreme. They showed that they can compete no matter where Perkz and Caps play. With Caps going back to mid lane for thesSummer split, another role swap between him and Perkz, this lineup might be even more dominant.
Fnatic remained the same from spring to summer. I don’t see them solving the G2 problem this summer, at least on paper.
Which two teams are you the most excited to watch this summer?
Wolf: Team Liquid and Schalke 04 Esports. Although Tactical is a skill downgrade from Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, that change should be a nice mental reset for Liquid. From a skill perspective, they still look like a top team in North America on paper. But it seemed from Doublelift’s lack of motivation to be there and Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen’s well-documented visa issues, the team was in a rut for the entirety of the spring split. I have a feeling Liquid won’t be the same in the summer.
As for Schalke, they’ve committed to using young jungler Lukas “Lurox” Thoma and support Risto “Nukes” Luuri this summer, and I believe those decisions could pay off. I don’t think Schalke will go to worlds by any means, but I do expect them to be better than Team Vitality and SK Gaming and competitive with the middle-of-the-pack LEC teams.
Rand: I would say MAD Lions and Team Liquid.
For Team Liquid, not only do I want to see how the team plays post-Doublelift, but I also felt like due to myriad issues out of the team’s control last split, they had a lot working against them that ended up affecting their in-game performance. Now with more time and a defined starting unit, I want to see what playstyle the new Liquid lineup will have, and additionally how they work at integrating Tactical onto the team in his first full split.
MAD Lions, meanwhile, had so many wins in spring, and I want to see how they build on those victories for summer. From their first game in the split against G2 Esports, MAD were bold, fun to watch and had obvious talent despite their many mistakes. If they can shore up on a lot of those, they’ll be a formidable playoff team.
Ocal: TSM and Team Liquid, no doubt. I want to see a motivated Doublelift. Does the legend of “whenever DL leaves a team they take a dive” continue? Will he fit with his old teammates in his old colors? It was fun watching Jake “Xmithie” Puchero face TL last split, and it will be fun seeing Doublelift challenge Liquid this split, too. Doublelift’s motivation is a huge storyline that I’m looking to following. I want to know where he’s at compared to spring and with the new threads on.
On the Liquid side, this is definitely not how they envisioned the team going into summer at the start of the season after missing the spring playoffs and not defending their domestic championship streak. How will Broxah do now that he’s had an entire offseason to prep and no visa issues to worry about? What about Tactical? How will he fit in as a full-time starter, and how will he fare as a replacement the best North American player to ever do it? Will either team be able to compete against Cloud9? There’s a lot to care about in the LCS this summer in my opinion.
What meta change do you think will impact play the most?
Rand: Over in China’s LoL Pro League, it’s definitely been a more farm-heavy jungle style. This doesn’t mean that teams haven’t been proactive in the early game, but it’s also meant that junglers themselves have a different role on the team. We’ve seen a lot more teamfighting picks come out like the Kindred, Ekko, Graves and Nidalee alongside the LPL staples of Trundle, Jarvan IV and Lee Sin. I’m curious to see how LEC and LCS junglers interpret this more farm-heavy style and if we’ll see some Nidalee poke compositions or Ekko picks out of teams outside of China.
Pick a team that finished bottom two in either the LEC or LCS and make a case for them to make playoffs
Wolf: SK Gaming are taking a lot of risks, and while I don’t believe they’ll pay off, the changes seem necessary and needed.
First, Dirk “Zazee” Mallner is not just joining the team, but swapping from top laner to mid lane, while mid laner Janix “Jenax” Bartels is moving from mid to top. Role swaps may seem easy because of how fluid G2’s Perkz to AD carry move was, but historically, these changes are very difficult. SK Gaming also had a coaching change, with Jesse “Jesiz” Le becoming the new head coach. The last time SK Gaming went to worlds, Jesiz was their mid laner. A playoff berth isn’t impossible for SK Gaming, albeit unlikely, but we need to understand their potential first.
As for Liquid, it feels like a no-brainer that they’ll make playoffs. As I said above, Doublelift leaving provides the opportunity for the team to rediscover itself without one player being significantly demotivated or unhappy. Tactical will grow well under Liquid’s experienced coaching staff and the guidance of Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in, a world champion and one of the best supports in North America. Maybe I’m still too high on Liquid because of how well they did in 2018 and 2019, but I’m confident they’ll be a playoff team and maybe even make worlds.
Rand: This has to be Team Liquid, right? As we mentioned previously, there were a lot of extenuating circumstances around Team Liquid’s spring demise. Given the large amount of parity in North America, I think it’s completely reasonable to say that Team Liquid will be a playoff team in summer.
Ocal: One hundred percent Team Liquid. That team had too much going against it in spring, and I feel like the tide will shift. There’s too much talent and pedigree for it not to.
Will we see stage games from either league this summer?
Wolf: More likely for the LEC than LCS. I still think it’s pretty unlikely given that German chancellor Angela Merkel is barring mass sporting events through Aug. 31, but it’s possible. With the LEC starting the summer by letting a skeleton crew in the studio, they’re showing a willingness to test out the field without breaking that rule, and the coronavirus pandemic is being contained more quickly in Germany than the U.S.
I don’t think the LCS has the chance. Los Angeles is still one of the epicenters of the virus in the U.S. There are medical reports that transmission rates are lowering, but with some shopping and public spaces like beaches reopening, I don’t see how it will get better. That said, the NBA finding a way to reopen in Orlando later in the summer should be a swift kick in the butt for all American sports. Look for the LCS to try to figure out a model to make it work, but I still find it unlikely.
Rand: I think we potentially could see stage games come playoffs in the LEC, but not in the LCS, given how the pandemic has been handled in Germany and the United States.
Ocal: In a conference call last week, LCS commissioner Chris Greeley said there is a plan to go back to the LCS Arena, but there are no timetables or specific dates attached — everything hinges on when it will be safe to do so.
An additional concern is the proximity of the LCS arena to the Riot offices. Greeley said he isn’t very optimistic but hopes that playoffs/finals could be played in person, but again, only if safe to do so. Will gatherings with crowds be allowed in the state of California by that time? Will it be safe? We don’t know.
I would say be ready to accept a fully online LCS once again. The LEC, meanwhile, has a plan in place under different circumstances in Germany, and so stage play seems much more possible, even with the Aug. 31 timeline like Jacob mentioned. I’m more curious about how worlds will look at this point.
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