It’s the most wonderful time of the year: LoL offseason!
I love following along with offseason news, reacting to Wolf Bombs and armchair-analysting teams’ roster moves. So let’s get things started by ruthlessly judging the hard work of all the LCS management teams with an early power ranking of the 2020 rosters!
In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on the “bottom 5” teams of the LCS, as I see them. Later this week, I’ll post my order and reasoning for the “top 5”.
Bear in mind that, with a month and a half still to go before the 2020 season actually kicks off, we have plenty of time to gather more impressions, watch more video, and refine our opinions. By the time week 1 arrives, I might be ready to move some teams up or down in these power rankings. But for now, here’s where my analysis has landed.
10. Golden Guardians
Roster: Hauntzer, Closer, Goldenglue, FBI, Keith
I’m going to be honest: I don’t understand why the Golden Guardians traded for Goldenglue and made him their starter when they could be using Damonte or Pobelter or giving a shot to a player with a less-explored ceiling, like Yusui or Ablazeolive.
I have more VOD review to do in order to flesh out my opinions on these three players, but from the games I’ve watched combined with the numbers above, Goldenglue doesn’t come out looking like the ideal option. I’m willing to give GGS the benefit of the doubt and assume they have additional information that led to their choice, but based purely on the evidence I can see, there are a lot of question marks.
GGS do get some credit for signing Ablazeolive to their Academy team, giving them the flexibility to develop him and move him up if Goldenglue isn’t panning out.
As a semi-aside, when I asked around about Yusui, I heard rumours of poor behaviour and coachability issues. But the coaches and analysts I spoke to who have actually worked directly with Yusui had very positive things to say. I’ll be watching Yusui closely on Team Liquid Academy, and I hope other teams will be too, because I think he’s ready for a real shot over at least one full split.
Aside from the mid lane, there’s the matter of Keith swapping to Support, a move that apparently came after the Support players GGS was targeting wound up signing elsewhere. Maybe it’ll work–I hope so!–but the fact that this was at least a Plan C or D, along with the inherent risk/reward balance of this move, has me concerned.
Closer is the real wild card. If Closer acquits himself well, and if the roll of the dice on Keith’s swap to Support comes up as a 6, I’m prepared to see GGS challenge for 6th or 7th, but a lot of things have to go right (including some things going wrong for other teams!) in order for that to happen.
Roster: Soaz, Xmithie, Eika, Altec, Hakuho
The Immortals lack a star carry. Arguably, they lack a star player entirely. I’m willing to stretch my definition of “star” a little to give a nod to Soaz, but I don’t believe Soaz is at his best as a team’s primary breadwinner. Maybe he’d have a chance to really assert himself if he had a more aggressive jungler to work with, setting him up for snowballs, but Xmithie doesn’t fit that profile.
In mid, Eika is three-and-a-half years removed from his last LEC play time. He’s been tearing it up in the French league and EU Masters since then, but he’s not a young, up-and-coming European mid with an unexplored ceiling; he’s a 23-year-old with a decently long competitive history, looking to reclaim a spot in the top tier of play. In the LCS context, he’ll be good but not great–a phrase that could describe Xmithie, Hakuho, and Altec, too. That’s fine for the domestic players, but “good enough” isn’t good enough from your imports. The Immortals could have spent their import slot on someone with a much higher ceiling. If budget was a concern, they could have gone domestic and maintained more flexibility, potentially even importing in another role at a lower price point. (I would like this team better with Lira + Damonte instead of Xmithie + Eika, for example.)
With everything put together, you have a recipe for low-playoff-spot if everything clicks, and bottom of the league if it doesn’t. The coaching staff and management have a lot of ground to cover if they want to prove that they’ve assembled a roster with enough gestalt value to really compete.
Roster: Huni, Grig, Froggen, Johnsun, Aphromoo
First off, I really do believe that Huni is the type of player worth locking down long-term at a high price point, assuming you’re the kind of organization that can justify the budget. It’s very rare to find a player with his profile, someone who is both an in-game star who is able to carry games even in the face of consistent focus from his opposition, and an out-of-game star who creates so many great fan moments with his personality. So to be perfectly clear: I have no issue with Dignitas signing Huni to a reported two-year, $2.3M deal.
The things Dignitas did after Huni, though, have me a bit worried. It isn’t that they’ve put together a bad roster; it’s just that I don’t understand why they underwent such sweeping change, compared to the Clutch roster they were inheriting.
Grig hasn’t proven that he can really run with the LCS junglers, certainly not to a similar level as Lira, who he is effectively replacing. Froggen is a solid mid laner, but he’s not so good that it makes sense to drop Lira for the sake of opening up an import slot. To say this another way: Lira’s standing as an LCS jungler is higher than Froggen’s standing as an LCS mid laner. I would much rather have Lira + Damonte than Grig + Froggen, so either Dignitas disagreed with me in their analysis, or they weren’t able to keep Lira + Damonte due to budget or because the players simply didn’t want to play for the organization. (For what it’s worth, none of those explanations would be especially comforting, but it would still be interesting to know which explanation applies.)
In the bottom lane, Aphromoo’s peak is well behind him, both as an in-game asset and as a fan attractor. He’ll be guiding a rookie in Johnsun, whose solo queue exploits might provide some rationale for why he was such a featured piece of this offseason. If Johnsun and Aphromoo can come together as a mid-tier LCS bot lane, then Huni and Froggen are good enough to bring this team into the playoffs. But that’s definitely an “if”, and once again, I’d be more comfortable taking the risk on that bot lane if I had Lira and Damonte anchoring the middle of the map and giving Johnsun room to work.
This Dignitas roster may prove to be better than many people’s expectations–I suspect they’ll land 9th or 10th on many other people’s lists–but I don’t think Dignitas will be anywhere near as good as they could have been if they had simply held on to more (or all!) of the Clutch roster they had inherited.
7. 100 Thieves
Roster: Ssumday, Meteos, ry0ma, Cody Sun, Stunt
The success of the 2020 incarnation of the 100 Thieves will depend very heavily on their new Oceanic import, ry0ma. With Ssumday and Cody Sun flanking him, ry0ma needs to be assertive enough to capitalize when opponents throw jungle pressure onto Ssumday, and he needs to keep opposing mid laners from roaming too freely. In other words, ry0ma doesn’t need to directly carry this team, but it will be crucially important for him to control the middle of the map well enough to protect Ssumday and Cody Sun in the lane phase cleanly, and then buy time and space for them in team fights.
After watching a decent selection of 2019 VODs, I see a lot of room for improvement in ry0ma’s ability to sync with his jungler and exert that middle-of-map control. His jungler and support often made plays that he hadn’t moved to join, and when he saw a skirmish breaking out he had a tendency to stay for one or two more CS before turning to help. The games I watched were often decided more by the play of his top and bot lane than they were by ry0ma himself, for better or for worse. I think that will continue to be the case with 100T.
Overall, ry0ma strikes me as a decent player who could prove LCS-worthy in time, but he’s not what I would hope for from someone who is using up an import slot. To outperform my expectations, ry0ma will have to start by improving his ability to read what his jungler is doing and getting out of his lane to help the emerging action in the river and side lanes.
Cody Sun’s job on this team will be two-fold: first, like ry0ma, he needs to create a pressure point in the laning phase to take some weight off of Ssumday’s shoulders. Second, he needs to clean up team fights like he did on Clutch Gaming. For his part, I believe Cody can handle those responsibilities just fine. But will Cody’s new teammates be able to create as much time and space for him in team fights as Huni, Vulcan, and Damonte did? I suspect not. And will Stunt be as effective in asserting lane dominance as Vulcan was? Again, I’m skeptical, but Stunt has room to pleasantly surprise me.
I expect to see Cody Sun take a step back in 2020, compared to the status he achieved in Summer 2019, but this will be due largely to the abilities and play styles of the teammates around him. Cody might end up receiving a lot of unfair criticism because of this.
Ssumday is such a good player that he only needs his teammates to play at a mid-LCS level to allow him to take over some games, particularly if he’s given the resources (in draft and in map posturing) to come out ahead in lane. Because of Ssumday, breaking into the playoffs is certainly realistic for 100T, and reaching playoff semifinals in Spring or Summer wouldn’t be shocking if ry0ma outperforms my expectations.
But I have real concerns about the overall profile of this team, and I think it’s more likely that we’ll see them hover outside the playoff picture throughout the year.
Roster: V1per, Santorin, PowerOfEvil, WildTurtle, IgNar
I really like the way FlyQuest approached this offseason. They came in with very little flexibility in their contracts and a poor finish to 2019, on a downward trajectory as an organization without much obvious opportunity to right the ship. But they found opportunities to move their roster forward in reasonable, incremental ways, without doing anything too drastic, and presumably without draining their bank account.
IgNar to FlyQuest is really nice to see because FlyQuest's hands looked to be tied with their contract statuses. Glad they can still go out and make a bit of a splash.
If they make one more move (mid?), they can climb back into playoff relevance. #LCS
— Tim Sevenhuysen (@TimSevenhuysen) November 19, 2019
V1per is still a young domestic top laner with room to grow, Santorin is an underrated jungler and a known commodity in their organization, and WildTurtle has been the face of the team for brand activations and marketing. Into that mix, FlyQuest added an experienced Support who has proven that he has a very high ceiling, and then they made the secondary move I was looking for and replaced Pobelter with a mid laner whose higher carry potential will have a good chance to shine through if he can benefit from Santorin’s strong pathing.
The roster is one thing, but its ability to perform on the Rift is another. The big question facing FlyQuest is whether the changes they’ve made will allow them to figure out their mid/late game macro/shotcalling issues. IgNar and PowerOfEvil might be able to help with that, along with a change in coaching staff. I’ll be watching Santorin and V1per specifically, since the two of them often looked lost after the laning phase ended throughout 2019.
There are ways that these moves could backfire. PowerOfEvil has higher highs than Pobelter, but potentially lower lows as well. And V1per’s growth curve needs to get a lot steeper again, because if he has plateaued then it will really restrict this lineup and prevent them from delivering at the level of their potential.
I’m optimistic about what FlyQuest have done, though. I expect them to be a better team in 2020 than they were in 2019, straight up, not to the extent that they are title contenders, but certainly to the point that they can find themselves in the playoffs.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my 2020 preseason power rankings, coming later this week!
Summary So Far
10. Golden Guardians
7. 100 Thieves