Free agency is a time of wonder and miracles, when every fan base dreams of landing the big superstar and each roster combination exists in a quantum state of possible outcomes ranging from total meltdowns to tantalizing best-case scenarios. Armchair analysts ready themselves for the viral hot take, content creators spin up their recording equipment, and Jacob Wolf sharpens his fangs. General Managers dream of the galaxy-brain maneuvers that will both set their team up to contend for a title and flesh out a talent pipeline that will secure their future.
Free agency is a time of hope.
As 2019 free agency opens, I’ve picked out three key players to watch, each of whom could significantly shift the tides for any team in 2020 and trigger chain reactions that affect the entire league.
Possibilities: 100 Thieves, Dignitas, Evil Geniuses, Immortals
To say the least, 2019 was a forgettable year for Ssumday. The 100T squad never really clicked, and Ssumday spent most of the summer split playing for the Academy team, where he put up a massive stat line of 5.2 KDA, +809 GXD10, 9.5 CSPM, and 501 DPM in 26 regular season and playoff games.
Don’t let his descent to the Academy league fool you: Ssumday is still a terrific player who could change the fortunes of an LCS team. If he knows his own value, Ssumday won’t sign with a team that can’t surround him with quality teammates and a clear vision for their squad, so wherever Ssumday lands, it’s likely to be a contender, at least on paper.
If the rumours of Huni switching to mid lane are true, then Dignitas becomes a very intriguing possibility for Ssumday. It would be a return to the first North American team he played for back in 2017, working with a high-pressure, attention-seeking mid who would buy time and space for Ssumday to work.
And Ssumday does need a little breathing room in lane. A central problem for 100 Thieves in 2019 was their lack of balanced early-game threat: if you could shut down Ssumday, you didn’t have to worry too much about their mid or bot lanes smashing you. Bang is more of a late-game carry, not a lane-dominant bot laner, so the team dynamic 100T had built had a clear weak point.
A Ssumday/Huni pairing would overcome that weakness, at least on paper, and Cody Sun and Vulcan would complement that dynamic pretty well. The big question mark would then become the jungle, since there would be no import slot remaining to re-sign Lira.
Speaking of Lira…
Possibilities: Dignitas, Team Liquid, Team SoloMid
Lira is one of the best junglers in the LCS, and one of the biggest free agents in this class. He isn’t the flashiest player, and he doesn’t draw the biggest fan following, but if you’re looking for a well-rounded, flexible, high-quality player who can make your entire team better, look no further.
Two LCS teams stand out as intriguing possibilities for Lira: Team Liquid, and TSM. Liquid should be looking for any and all opportunities to push themselves over the top and finally break through internationally. Jungle is the only position where they have an expiring contract, and Xmithie represents the most upgradeable player from their 2019 roster. Liquid have an import slot available due to Jensen’s conversion to resident status, so everything seems to line up.
Stylistically, though, I don’t think a Lira signing would make the most sense. Team Liquid need to add a dynamic, unpredictable playmaker, someone who can create openings for Jensen and Doublelift. Lira is more of a follow-up player: he worked very well in Clutch because he always had Vulcan, Huni, and sometimes Damonte going in ahead of him, so that he could follow up with surgical precision. By outpathing the opposing jungler and controlling the early game, Lira gets his team in good positions, but he usually leaves the trigger-pulling to others. Team Liquid specifically need a trigger-puller. Lira would be an upgrade with a similar style, but Team Liquid need a style shift.
That brings us to TSM, which is a very different story. Bjergsen and friends have been desperate for a reliable jungler for quite some time, and their stylistic needs aren’t so rigid since they’ll be shaking up their bot lane as well. TSM are looking for a general quality upgrade, rather than a player with a particular profile, and Lira would absolutely be that upgrade. Bjergsen could do very well alongside a control-oriented jungler. If they meshed well, Bjergsen/Lira could form one of the best mid/jungle duos in the league, no question.
Dignitas is also a possibility for Lira, if they decide not to pursue Ssumday, but something tells me the new brand is going to shake things up a bit, even after making it to Worlds with their Huni/Lira/Damonte/Cody Sun/Vulcan lineup.
As a sidebar, Xmithie will probably generate more discussion than Lira, but that’s mostly because Xmithie is a resident while Lira is an import — and not a fresh import, which always produces extra excitement and chit chat, but a seasoned, acclimated import. Lira’s three years of experience in North America make him more valuable than fresh imports, even if it makes him less exciting, so don’t sleep on this player.
Svenskeren Possibilities: Cloud9, Evil Geniuses, TSM, IMT, 100T
Blaber Possibiliities: Cloud9, Team Liquid, TSM, IMT, 100T
Yes, ESPN has already reported that Evil Geniuses will be acquiring Svenskeren (along with Zeyzal, Kumo, and Deftly) from Cloud9, but other reports have suggested that the deal isn’t final yet, so I still feel it’s worth discussing alternatives, as well as considering the impact of the move assuming it does go through. Whatever ends up happening, the domino effect will alter the LCS landscape.
Svenskeren is fresh off an MVP season, and he would push Evil Geniuses into the playoff conversation virtually on his own. Now that he’s a resident player, EG would still have two import slots to put carries around him, giving them a pretty smooth path forward in fleshing out their 2020 roster.
If Svenskeren doesn’t end up moving over to EG, more possibilities open up. Cloud9 could then change course and retain Svenskeren while shipping out Blaber instead. If I’m EG, I’m much less interested in Blaber than Svenskeren, not because of a real gap in general skill, but because of the types of player they are. Svenskeren is a seasoned, stable veteran who could potentially lead the team and help create its culture and identity. Blaber is relatively volatile, a complementary piece rather than a core building block. If Svenskeren is off the table, EG should look elsewhere to lay their foundations.
That could open a door for Team Liquid to get on the phone with Cloud9 — they already have been, I’m sure — and look into Blaber for themselves. Blaber has some of the profile Team Liquid needs: he’s a dynamic, aggressive player who can shape a game around himself. It might be prudent to have a veteran jungler on hand as an insurance policy in case Blaber doesn’t click, but you have to take a risk to earn a reward. Since Team Liquid have an open import slot, it’s not really necessary for them to go after a resident player like Blaber, but I can see why they would kick the tires at the very least.
If Team Liquid aren’t the suitor Cloud9 is looking for, they could still dangle either Svenskeren or Blaber to any of the other LCS teams. TSM should be evaluating all of their jungle options. Dignitas might need a resident jungler. Immortals are likely to spend big after letting go of Meteos, and 100 Thieves have some roster rebuilding work to do. There really are a ton of possibilities.
The news of Evil Geniuses acquiring Svenskeren shut down a lot of speculation early, but maybe there’s still room for speculating. If the C9/EG deal falls apart, LCS free agency will become that much more interesting.
Photos courtesy flickr.com/lolesports