Academy has been slowly but consistently rising in priority for the LCS over time, with the goal of creating a more productive pipeline for domestic North American talent. According to information first reported by Parkes Ousley of Inven Global and officially confirmed this week, that trend is continuing in 2020, with five on-stage Academy games every week. In addition to giving Academy players more experience in LCS-like competitive environments, the league is clearly hoping to draw more fan eyeballs onto Academy.
One of my personal goals for 2020 is to watch Academy more closely and provide some level of content and coverage around it. To kick off that coverage, I’m presenting three points of interest for the 2020 season.
The LCS implemented a rule change during the offseason that allows Academy teams to field one “extra” import, if that player comes from Turkey, Brazil, Latin America, Oceania, or the Commonwealth of Independent States. That change, paired with a dramatic scaling-back of the OPL, created a flood of Oceanic talent into North America.
The most visible highlight of that movement is ry0ma, who landed a starting role in the 100 Thieves mid lane. Early impressions of the “success” of the Oceanic import wave will mostly (and unfairly) be judged by how well ry0ma performs throughout the Spring split. Shernfire, k1ng, and Fudge also found their way onto Academy teams, and the true test of this movement’s success will be those players’ ability to play their way onto LCS rosters and help raise the overall level of play in both LCS and Academy. The Oceanic imports are following a path paved by Lost and FBI, and they’ll hope to improve on the decent, if unexceptional, returns delivered by those players so far.
Fudge may not have the name recognition of the others, but people who know the OPL much better than I do say he’s very much worth watching. He’s entering just his second competitive split, after manning the Top lane for MAMMOTH in Summer 2019 and competing at the World Championships. According to gol.gg, Fudge put up a 3.8 KDA, 8.0 CSPM, and below-average laning numbers in the 2019 Summer regular season, but came online in the playoffs and dramatically improved to a 5.5 KDA and 527 DPM with +1269 GXD15 in six games. I haven’t had time to scout VODs of Fudge, but you can bet I’m going to!
Time will tell whether the Oceanic influx was the first surge of a growing trend, or just a one-time event caused by this offseason’s unique circumstances.
Any list of young, unproven NA Mids should start with Yusui. He had a cup of coffee in the LCS with Echo Fox last year, but mostly he was the centerpiece of an Echo Fox Academy team that went through plenty of change, but consistently relied on him to carry. He posted a 29.6% damage share in the Spring regular season and 28.6% in the Summer regular season, and when his team played around more actively in the early game during Summer, he put up a +563 GXD10, third in the league behind Deftly and Ssumday among players with 5+ games in Academy that split.
On Team Liquid Academy in 2020, Yusui will be working with Shernfire, one of the most recognizable OPL names (at least, once Shernfire’s visa clears). He has a new coaching staff around him, and he’ll be in the best possible position to study and learn from Jensen.
This is the year for Yusui to prove himself, to make a statement that it was a mistake for so many LCS teams to pass on him. If the Spring split goes well enough for Yusui, and poorly enough for teams like Golden Guardians, Immortals, and Dignitas, don’t be surprised if Yusui gets bought out and brought into the LCS for Summer. You have to think a buyout is exactly what Team Liquid is looking for, given the two-year contract they signed with Yusui (through to end of 2021).
Ablazeolive and Evolved are also NA Mids worth watching closely. In Ablazeolive’s case, it’s because he has the opportunity to compete with GoldenGlue for the Golden Guardians starting spot. It’s GoldenGlue’s spot to lose, no question, but if Ablazeolive wants to earn an LCS spot he has a much better chance here than he would playing behind someone like Jensen or Bjergsen. Evolved deserves your eyeballs because he’s the new kid on the block, having just earned his chance via Scouting Grounds. Don’t expect him to set Academy on fire right away, but consistent incremental improvement and a few highlight plays would be good to see over the course of the Spring split.
Reignover Coaching C9 Academy
After joining Cloud9 as a position coach in summer 2019, Reignover has been moved into the Head Coach spot for C9 Academy. Expectations will be high for Reignover and C9A, based on the history of quality players that have passed through the organization over the last few years and graduated to LCS play, either with C9 or another organization. The 2020 C9A roster might not live up to those lofty standards—though k1ng’s and Fudge’s OPL résumés and Inori’s LCS history are certainly interesting—but even if this team doesn’t win a ton of games, there’s great opportunity for Reignover to grow into an excellent coach and move into an LCS role in time.
Throughout his playing career as a Jungler, Reignover was the quintessential cerebral player. He didn’t rely on flashy mechanics, instinctive play, or flexing his champion pool; he played rock solid fundamentals, played to his team’s win conditions (help Huni!), and picked the right moments to make smart plays. That’s an ideal profile for a coach: it’s far easier to teach rationale-based decision-making than it is to teach instincts. If Reignover can learn to be a good teacher and motivator, his players will benefit immensely from his calculated approach to the game.
It’s hard to say how much influence Reignover will be able to have over his relatively experienced roster, since it might be harder for veterans like Inori and k1ng to change their habits. Fudge’s development in the top lane will be a greater test of Reignover’s ability to mould a young player. If Reignover can harness Inori’s aggressive mentality and lean on the existing relationship between k1ng and Fudge from their time on MAMMOTH, C9A could be a team to watch.
Photos courtesy flickr.com/lolesports